Dispelling the Myth of Milo Yiannopoulos: Alt-Right Provocateur Doesn’t Care About Free Speech
Milo Yiannopoulos: The Vapidly Contrarian, Identity Politicking Snowflake Of The Alt-Right
Milo Yiannopoulos, a luminary in the field of euphemistic racism and 40 volume bleach, wants to talk about the First Amendment and “political violence”. I would like to indulge him.
Let’s begin with some background: Milo Yiannopoulos had a speaking engagement at UC Berkeley. A protest against the event prompted its cancellation. There were minor fires, some roughhousing, and property damage.
Evidently, property damage is now the only valid measure of violence. Yiannopoulos’s M.O. is to incite his frothing faithful to harass, intimidate, and stalk anyone he finds distasteful. He whistles and his dogs leap, playing havoc with the lives of professors, students, and celebrities at a whim. Evidently, a burning light pole and some sundry broken glass is an unacceptable extreme of violent unrest, but the case of demonstrator getting shot outside one of Milo’s speaking engagements is unworthy of the same designation. When Milo attacks, it’s free speech. When his targets resist, it’s violence. This is a perennial in Breitbart contradictions, along with the weird inability to decide whether “the left” is constituted of hypersensitive weaklings or violent, domineering thugs.
It’s not surprising to see this kind of rhetorical sleight of hand from a shyster like Yiannopoulos. He has it down to a science. He pushes hate speech to its legal extreme. He cherry picks statistics, distorts events, and outright lies. Milo is a renaissance man, bullshitting passionately on any topic trending, with his only consistent theme being a passionate desire to attack minorities. Certainly this was his agenda at Berkely, where Yiannopoulos reportedly planned to single out alleged undocumented immigrant students, painting targets on their backs. Yiannopoulos denies the claim, but his history of using lucrative speaking engagements as a platform to single out and attack individuals, along with his record of launching harassment, stalking, and doxing campaigns, speaks for itself.
People had just cause for anxiety. Yiannopoulos is, after all, an avatar of the alt-right—working alongside nationalist Steve Bannon and palling around with Richard Spencer, now infamous for his Nazi salute in celebration of Mr. Trump’s inauguration. Certainly Milo’s history makes his alleged threat to launch a witch hunt against immigrant students seem credible.
About one-hundred and fifty masked resistance fighters apparently decided to address the problem proactively. Americans protected Americans from Mr. Yiannopoulos’s ad hoc inquisition, and now the media is panicking about broken windows, a bit of roughhousing, and a modicum of fire. In some limited sense, then, I agree with Milo: liberals are too soft. Given the often devastating effects that Milo’s view of the First Amendment has repeatedly had on people’s lives, it can only be considered an extreme of pacifism that no one has as yet opted to retaliate with the Second.
Milo makes a great fuss over the concept of “freedom of speech”. But to see him as any kind of a First Amendment poster child is to have a very flimsy interest in the constitution itself. The American public’s grip on that document is notoriously cursory, and he relies on that fact.
Yiannopoulos’s career of victimhood rests on two major conceits.
1) That he is continually having his first amendment rights violated
2) That “the left” is suppressing him with “violence”
But to assert that Milo is having his right to freedom of expression violated, we first have to have an actual picture of what the First Amendment is.
The truth is that the amendment makes one very broad guarantee, and that is, very simply, protection from government censure and control of speech and assembly.
Some nuances of the amendment:
Free speech is limited to begin with. For Yiannopoulos to demand infinite largesse to spew his vitriol, without consequence, is morally absurd. But more importantly, it is legally unprecedented. The First Amendment is limited by a fence of many, many posts. Which of these restrictions are and are not justified is a matter for debate, but it is objective fact that freedom of speech is not unlimited, nor has it ever been. You can’t scream fire in a crowded theater. You can’t rally 20 people without a permit. Mr. Yiannopoulos could be denied a platform in any venue, public or private, for any number of reasons without any constitutional discussion to be had.
Freedom of speech is a negative right, not a positive one. The First Amendment denies the government a prerogative to censor or silence your expression because it finds it inconvenient. That is all. The amendment does not entitle you, me, or Milo to a platform or a venue from which to speak. It does not entitle anyone to shielding from the consequences of their speech.
If Milo wishes to speak, the public is at no inherent obligation to amplify him at their cost. He can, quite literally, set up a soapbox in central park, and, with the proper permits, set up an amplification system and holler his heart out. Now, if men in dark glasses proceed to disappear him on behalf of the state because they find his message inconvenient, then his First Amendment rights have been trampled on. But not until that point.
A cancelled event at a university is not the act of a tyrannical government oppressing poor Milo. Despite his posturing as a victim, the constitution never entitled him any right to be there in the first place. This is not a new story. Yiannopoulos has been milking this routine for ages. Consider the prequel to Milo’s rash of university cancellations: his Twitter ban.
After launching a campaign of racist harassment centered around actress Leslie Jones, Mr. Yiannopoulos (@Nero) was, after an enormous amount of envelope-pushing, removed from Twitter. His devotees saw it as the act of some kind of censoring shadow cabal. Milo fellated himself as a “first amendment martyr”.
Being banned from Twitter, though, couldn’t violate a right Yiannopoulos never had. Twitter is a private, not a government entity, and has every freedom to deny its services at will. Yiannopoulos, ever the advocate of free markets, should understand this better than anyone—and yet there he was, up on the cross.
The reality? He was banned by a private entity for violating terms of service which he explicitly agreed to when he created the account in the first place. If anything, Twitter was exercising its rights as an autonomous business entity, not violating Milo’s as a citizen.
This is a simple trick that Milo exploits ad nauseum. He wanders into spaces which have either explicit or implicit rules of conduct. He violates either the terms of service or reasonable expectations of human decency. Or both. People not sympathetic to his racism, self-loathing pathologizing of homosexuals, or his fetish for authoritarian statism, expel him from said space. No government agency is ever involved. No secret police ever sweep him up. No black bars ever mar his tirades at Breitbart.
But Milo interprets the First Amendment to mean that Milo can say and do absolutely anything he wants, at any place, at any time. And that if anyone should inconvenience him, this presents a constitutional crisis. As if Jefferson and Madison were spinning in their graves, bemoaning the trials of a semi-literate Twitter celebrity.
Milo Yiannopoulos isn’t an advocate of free speech. He’s an identity politicking huckster who gives his audience exactly what they want: victimhood.
Milo’s Twitter ban is admittedly different from his Berkeley fiasco in that it didn’t involve broken glass or incendiaries. In the (alt) right narrative, a vast left-wing power is suppressing Milo, the lonely rebel, with enormous violent force.
This is a great opportunity to talk about the massive blind spot we have, as a culture, when discussing “violence” as a concept. I am not necessarily herein advocating for or glorifying violence, as a political tool or anything else. I only want to point out that violence is omnipresent in our society, but we are actually very comfortable with it most of the time.
It is undeniable that there are many ways to inflict violence, and that violence does not have to be intimate and personal, but can be inflicted on a large scale. Violence can be enacted through a screen of bureaucracy. The flint water crisis is not as dramatic as broken windows and rockets aimed at an auditorium, but the damage inflicted is more grievous and widespread by far. A state government, GOP-controlled and austerity crazed, poisons an entire city, particularly its children, in a hamfisted attempt to trim spending. Neither governor Rick Snyder, who dodged the issue for years, or Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who pilfered crisis cash for her political PAC, had to wear black masks to poison the people of Flint. How is this not violence?
To the south, the Dakota Access Pipeline threatens an inevitable, eventual leak into a source of water relied upon by thousands of people. You would have a steep case to argue that destroying an entire population’s water supply is not violent. It would be a war crime if it were engaged in by a national military. Even if you fail to accept this as violent, it would be harder still to defend the bullets, tear gas, and attack dogs deployed by Energy Transfer and by the Morton county sheriff’s department, who have elected to act as private mercenaries for a private corporation, launching brutal attacks on American citizens.
Here again, no black masks were necessary. Only uniforms and badges. But the bloodshed is undeniable. The injuries are documented. The images are graphic. Where is the cry about political violence?
The Washington Post estimates 43,000 deaths a year as Republicans dismantle the Affordable Care Act without any kind of healthcare plan to replace it. People dying en masse of treatable diseases to preserve the profits of insurance companies is also violence, but where is the outrage for that? Is that body count not enough? Are the injuries and sufferings of our populace worth less than Milo’s hurt feelings? Americans are brutalized and killed every year by poverty, homelessness, and lack of an adequate healthcare system. The paranoid zeitgeist of Milo’s gender obsessions and race war rhetoric fuels hate crimes, which have surged since his beau ideal, Mr. Trump, took the presidency.
Why is all of this not “political violence”?
Joseph Stalin is purported to have once quipped that “A hundred deaths is a tragedy, a thousand is a statistic”. And science has borne out that human beings struggle with feeling empathy for large numbers of people. This might explain the absurdity of some of the public’s responses to what they perceive as “violence” – 563 drone kills during the Obama administration bubble under. Later, a white supremacist who has argued for genocide gets punched in the face and the brutality is somehow unbearable. Why? Because we saw his face? Flint, Michigan is full of faces. So are the camps at Standing Rock.
Ultimately, Milo wants us to engage in another act of doublethink: when Congress rips healthcare away from Americans, when it fails to address homelessness and poverty and child hunger, these are all just “the way it is”. The violence that follows Milo wherever he goes is just an exercise in “freedom of speech”. But if anyone on the other side elects to fight back, only then do we break out that epithet, “political violence”, and all the associated stigma.
Milo is a monster of identity politics. He depends on the assumption that he can’t be a racist because he is an immigrant, or because he is Greek, or because he (purportedly) sleeps with black men. That he can’t be a bigot, or have an anti-LGBT agenda, because he is a homosexual. Despite his rampant support for Mr. Trump, who appears to intend to govern by fiat, who has ignored the authority of the independent courts, and threatened the free press—Milo can’t be a fascist because he selectively invokes “freedom of speech” when it serves his victim narrative. The stakes are much too high at this point in our history to fall for hucksters like this.
I actually doubt Mr. Yiannopoulos believes the things he says. He is a product of the social media era. He’s canny enough to realize that flamboyance sells, and that there will always be an audience for a fringe message, and that that audience is loyal because of their sense of superiority. If most of the world finds his message contemptible, it’s because they’re “sheep”. If he is painted as a villain, it’s because of the villainous bogey, the “liberal media”. A shared sense of persecution builds bonds, and Milo is excellent at making his audience feel persecuted. He offers exactly the same victim complex of which he accuses the left, and he milks it exceedingly well. In the narcissistic and indulgent ideology he offers, being called a racist is equivalent to being lynched.
Milo likes money, and he knows how to make it off of his own brand of inverted identity politics: Milo has crafted bigotry into a new identity, entitled to protection and special consideration. This is a strange new world, where ethno-nationalists present themselves as under the boot of the “inferior” races. The new ubermensch is a perpetual victim. The First Amendment is primarily a license guaranteeing citizens and the press a right to criticize their government, and yet Yiannopoulos and Spencer and Bannon feel the need to invoke it—despite the fact their movement now is the execute branch of our government.
Liberals and conservative alike, in their insatiable hunger for moral grandstanding, can bemoan the “violence” of the antifas all they like. But the real violence is done with either the authority of the state or the authority of wealth, While everyone is demonizing the new black-masked bogey, who really only countered Milo’s own terror tactics, the real violence in the world is committed by people with uniforms, and badges, people who have titles and authority, people who come from money and wear nice suits, people whose violence poisons cities, and gasses protesters, enlists public police as private mercenaries, and rips medical treatment out of reach of the poor. And the real silence is the silence of the poor, who have no one to speak for them in Trump’s America: only conciliatory Democrats who collaborate to preserve their own place in the status quo, and Ayn Rand-infected Republicans, who will either embrace or tolerate the administration’s lunacy as long as it serves some of their own goals. There is a tremendous amount of silence and violence in our society, but it is inflicted by people who look a lot like Richard Spencer, and Steve Bannon, and yes, Milo Yiannopoulos.
They do their harm without the need for black masks. The common people, fighting back, are not given such freedom.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images