While dozens of survivors of the mass shooting at Orlando’s LGBTQ Pulse Nightclub recovered from gunshot wounds in area hospitals, senior editor of the far-right outlet Breitbart Milo Yiannopoulos appeared at the site of the massacre for a press conference. Dressed in a dark, neatly tailored suit, flanked by a burly, sunburned bodyguard on one side and his racist hipster friend and Vice co-founder Gavin McInness on the other, Yiannopoulos unleashed a rambling tirade against Muslims, collectively blaming them for the shooting spree by the Afghan-American Omar Mateen.
“We will shoot back,” the openly gay former tech entrepreneur vowed, dabbing the sweat pouring from his brow with a handkerchief.
Racing breathlessly through his lengthy manifesto and glancing down at notes on his smartphone every few seconds, Yiannopolous took time to deny the existence of a rape crisis on college campuses — “to believe that you’d have to believe that America resembles the Congo” — trashed the columnist and CNN commentator Sally Kohn as a “Jewish lesbian feminist lunatic,” promoted the Israeli army as a model for gay self-protection, compared himself to Alexis de Tocqueville, and celebrate the Catholic church in Ireland for supposedly “looking after gay people before any Western state did.”
“I want you to listen me on social issues,” he pleaded before a small crowd of supporters. “I want you to listen to me on this minority war that the left has forced us into.”
It might have been easy to dismiss the display of sneering, English-accented resentment as the irritable mental gestures of an attention starved, neo-fascist popinjay. But Yiannopolous had not traveled to the scene of a blood soaked hate crime to promote himself alone. He was also in Orlando as a surrogate for the Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, helping the campaign’s roll out its gay outreach strategy, which paints immigrant friendly liberals as the true enemy of LGBTQ communities.
“Trump is probably the most gay friendly candidate for president in either party in decades…” Yiannopolous proclaimed. “He could be the most gay friendly president in history.”
Yiannopolous’s extremist absurdism has made him an icon of the movement known as the alt-right. Alt-right adherents present themselves as an edgy antidote to the corporate-run, ideologically sanitized GOP, but their politics reflect little more than a lumbersexual, artisanally handcrafted rebranding of the black and brown-hating white nationalism that has always festered at the base of the conservative movement. While Yiannopolous won’t go as far as the ideologues who yearn for “an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans,” he makes no secret of his hatred of women and rails against Muslims with an almost violent fury. During his press conference in Orlando, for instance, Yiannopolous seemed to lament that the police presence around local mosques had prevented people from taking righteous revenge, which he downplayed as “being rude to Muslims.”
To Richard B. Spencer, a white nationalist champion of “peaceful ethnic cleansing” who is widely credited with authoring the alt-right brand, Yiannopolous is “alt-right lite,” an effective “entry point, gateway drug pushing towards us.”
Through Trump, the movement has found a vehicle for promoting its ideas to the general public. “Donald Trump has ironically had a huge effect on the explosion of the hashtag alt-right…” Spencer explained. “He has inspired the alt-right because he has attacked and humiliated a lot of the things that I hate.”
Spencer has referred to Trump’s rise as an “implicit white revolt.”
Israel’s pinkwashing inspiration
The massacre at a gay club by a Muslim born in the US to Afghan immigrants provided Yiannopolous and the alt-right with what seemed like a prime organizing opportunity. In Orlando, Yiannopolous painted the presence of Muslims in the West as the greatest threat to gay people like him and held immigrant friendly progressives directly responsible for the bloodbath. “The social justice warrior left is the single biggest enemy to gay people, to gay security,” he declared, “and to the wellbeing of homosexuals and every other minority they claim to represent that exists in America today.”
Yiannopolous’s rhetoric tracked closely with a speech by Trump the day after the Orlando shooting, in which the Republican nominee attacked his opponent, Hillary Clinton, as a danger to gay people. “Clinton wants to allow radical Islamic terrorists to pour into our country — they enslave women, and murder gays,” Trump thundered. “I don’t want them in our country.”
Though Trump was probably unaware, his talking points were first honed by the Israeli government and its international network of supporters. Popularly known as pinkwashing, the Israeli propaganda tactic aims to recast a settler-colonial apartheid state as a gay-friendly bastion that all principled liberals must support. Exported into the Western political atmosphere through an aggressive public relations operation, pinkwashing is used to undermine solidarity between Muslims and LGBTQ communities, disrupting the progressive coalition building that Israel’s government views as a strategic threat. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put the technique on display by delivering a characteristically exploitative June 15 video message linking the Orlando mass shooting to Palestinian violence and anti-Christian atrocities in Syria, and pointing to Islam as the common thread that united the killers.
As with Israel’s pinkwashing propaganda, Trump’s gay outreach strategy makes the support of gay people contingent on their fear and loathing of Muslims. Within a community that won its rights through solidarity with other targets of discrimination, Trump’s appeals to bigotry stand little chance of finding traction. The wider electorate has rejected his anti-Muslim messaging as well, driving his unfavorability ratings to new heights.
For Yiannopolous, however, the rejection of Trump’s response to the Orlando shooting — by extension, his own — is just an illusion cooked up by liberal elites. “The only people who are surprised by the fact that Muslims don’t like gays very much are journalists, politicians and celebrities,” he proclaimed. “Everybody else gets it.”