The Milo Yiannopoulos debacle tells us some terrible truths about conservatives
Roughly 48 hours after outrage erupted over his comments in defense of “cross-generational” relationships between “younger boys and older men,” Milo Yiannopoulos resigned from Breitbart News. On Tuesday afternoon, New York Times writer Michael M. Grynbaum tweeted a statement from Yiannopoulos announcing the news, which stated he is “resigning from Breitbart, effective immediately.” Perhaps to proactively counter rumblings that he was pressured to step down—including rumors that multiple Breitbart staffers planned to quit if Yiannopoulos remained—the right-wing provocateur noted, “This decision is mine alone.” The statement comes as numerous other entities scramble to disassociate from Yiannopoulos, who has built a highly profitable brand on a foundation of racist, misogynist, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Monday, the Conservative Political Action Conference disinvited Yiannopoulos from making a keynote speech at its high-profile annual event. Hours later, publisher Simon & Schuster rescinded a book deal—which the company had steadfastly defended for months amidst widespread criticism—that has already lined Yiannopoulos with a non-refundable $250,000 advance. As tech editor, Yiannopoulos was reportedly given “free rein” at Breitbart, where he helped former boss Steve Bannon, now U.S. president in all but name, transform the outlet into the “platform for the alt-right.” Stories like “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” and “Gay Rights Have Made Us Dumber, It’s Time to Get Back in the Closet” helped him gain cachet among the site’s readers, elevating and celebrating their anti-woman, anti-black, and anti-Muslim views.
None of this was enough to earn disavowals from the right-wing that instead made him its darling in recent months. Earlier this year, Yiannopoulos attacked African-American comedian Leslie Jones as “barely literate,” purposely misgendering her as a “black dude.” On a stop at the University of Wisconsin as part of his “Dangerous Faggot” tour of U.S. college campuses, he spent the better part of his speech singling out a trans woman for mockery and maligning Black Lives Matter as “the last socially acceptable hate group.” At a pro-Trump event last year, Yiannopoulos, who is openly gay, sported a t-shirt emblazoned with a rainbow flag-decorated gun and the words “We Shoot Back.” In his overtly Islamophobic speech, Yiannopoulos railed against Democrats he claimed “were welcoming in… belief systems that are completely incompatible with the Western way of life.”
At every turn, the right has lauded him as a free speech hero, while disregarding how his assaults degrade the rights of expression of vulnerable folks he targets. Several weeks ago, a Yiannopoulos supporter shot a protester at his University of Washington tour appearance, an incident that conservative corners apparently shrugged at. When riots broke out at Berkeley in opposition to Yiannopoulos’ appearance, Donald Trump angrily threatened to withdraw federal funding from the school, claiming Yiannopoulos’ First Amendment Rights had been violated. This from a man who has not once expressed anger or concern about six Muslims killed last month in a Quebec terror attack or the possibility of election meddling by the Kremlin. According to this thinking, CPAC, Simon & Schuster and Breitbart, in cutting ties with Yiannopoulos, are also oppressing the alt-right mascot’s free speech rights. Yet Trump, who has never been much on principles and isn’t starting now, has remained conspicuously and uncharacteristically silent on the topic.
That’s probably because pedophilia is a low to which the right wing has begrudgingly decided not to sink. The lesson of this whole disgusting debacle seems to be that to hit rock bottom for half this country, you have to dig past racism, xenophobia, misogyny and religious hatred, and then keep right on digging until you hit pedophilia. It’s not surprising that a segment that believes boasting about pussy grabbing is no biggie would be fine with any horrific thing Yiannopoulos said as long as he railed against those it resents—the non-white, non-Christian and non-male—for demanding equal treatment, an idea it disparages as “political correctness.”
It’s hard to imagine that, were he straight and talking about promoting with very young girls, the reaction would’ve been same. The right wouldn’t brushed this off as yet more locker room talk, which is conservative code for “we don’t care.”
This is the same group that values the lives of children less than it values gun rights and has little problem with recorded admissions of criminal sex acts. For Yiannopoulos to overstep the line of what passes for decency among conservatives, he had to raise the specter of a Republican boogeyman—the false idea that gays are pedophiles. It was never about free speech to begin with, because why close down the show now? There is a large segment of this country that wants women to shut up and black folks to sit down. If you’re putting your very best efforts into making that happen, as Yiannopoulos was, there’s a rich market demand for your services. It includes corporate book sellers and right-wing media outlets, and it pays handsomely.
But with bad PR and profit losses on the table, the entities that were so ready to sign up with Yiannopoulos are pretending to be surprised an awful person turned out to be exactly what he seemed. That turns him, for those groups, into a liability. It’s odd to read that Alex Marlow, editor in chief of Breitbart, says that Yiannopoulos’ latest “comments are absolutely indefensible,” “appalling” and “disappointing,” mostly because I always find such glaring displays of hypocrisy striking. Yiannopoulos says he himself was molested by an older priest when he was a teen. Here’s hoping that if he is a survivor, he’ll put his time in dealing with his trauma, instead of inflicting his pain on everyone else for a quick buck.
But I’m not holding my breath. At a press conference late yesterday, Yiannopoulos announced a new media venture and live tour, and promised while he doesn’t plan to compete with Breitbart, he “does intend to do more of the same.”
“I haven’t ever apologized before and I don’t anticipate doing it again,” he said, and there’s reason to believe he might not need to. There’s a massive swamp full of racists who want what Yiannopoulos is selling. They voted for it November and like Yiannopoulos they aren’t going anywhere, either.