By Jonathon Van Maren
When we pulled up to Conrad Hall at Michigan State University for the—and you’ll have to excuse the language—Milo Yiannopoulos’s “Dangerous F****t Tour,” there was already a massive pileup of angry people up against the double glass doors, their hoarse screams indicating that they’d been there for awhile even though we were an hour and a half early. “Racists! Sexists! Get out of town! By any means necessary shut them down!”
Milo Yiannopoulos, of course, is the tech editor for Breitbart.com, an online Internet news site with a monthly readership of 45 million that many left-wing critics claim helped propel President-Elect Donald Trump to power. After all, they point out, Breitbart’s former head honcho Steve Bannon, who left his position to serve as a prominent campaign staffer for Trump, was recently appointed a “chief strategist” in the new administration. Weirdly, I showed up in the 2012 film Hating Breitbart, strolling behind Andrew Breitbart as he denounced Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. That clip was posted to Facebook recently by Milo, who would soon be arriving at Michigan State.
Milo, a British journalist, started off running an online technology magazine, which he successfully sold in 2014. That was the same year that his infamy began to grow as he defended those being targeted in the Gamergate controversy, and perhaps realized just how much he enjoyed verbal combat and rhetorical bomb throwing. His list of targets grew, including feminism—which is “cancer”—Islam, a murderous religion, political correctness, which must be destroyed, and social justice, a pseudo-Marxist attempt by the Left to control everyone and everything. His inflammatory headlines on Breitbart.com were read aloud by Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail as proof that the barbarians were at the gates, and campus activists consider him Public Enemy Number One, regularly trying—and succeeding—to shut down his campus speeches.
The MSU protesters were loud and clearly determined to ensure that the event would not proceed, brandishing signs that read “No Safe Spaces for Racists and Fascists.” One glowering protestor in a black hood and white mask was holding an ironic sign reading “Hate Speech Free Zone.” For all the leftie love of symbolism, I’ve always wondered why they don’t realize how bad the whole “wearing hoods” thing looks. Many of the protestors were older—I wondered if any of them were MSU professors. One old, bearded gentlemen in a black toque was standing, docile and silent, alongside the shrieking crowd holding a sign that simply said, “Shut Down Milo.”
As the line grew and snaked down the dark sidewalk, event attendees stomped and blew on their hands to stay warm, grinning carnivorously at the protestors. Many of them featured Trump’s “Make America Great Again” red trucker hats, and occasionally they burst into response chants. USA! USA! USA! and Commies go home! Commies go home! were thundered at the seething pile of protestors with such volume that for a brief moment, everyone was warmer. It was a pretty accurate picture of America at the moment—no one had any idea what the other side believed, because even though they were inches away from each other, no one could hear anything. For one side, Trump’s election was a harbinger of hope after eight years of progressive rule. For the protestors clinging to the doors, Trump’s election was the rise of Fascist America.
That’s not an exaggeration, either. A meek-looking woman winding her way through the crowd was handing out neon-yellow pamphlets, and I accepted one. “In the Name of Humanity, We REFUSE to Accept A Fascist America,” it read. “ Rise Up…Get Into The Streets…Unite With People Everywhere To Build Up Resistance In Every Way You Can. Don’t Stop: Don’t Conciliate…Don’t Accommodate…Don’t Collaborate.” And it went on from there, detailing the various demonic genies that Trump had conjured from the rusty lamps of places like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
Several protestors wearing black masks joined the horde at the door, waving signs scrawled with generic leftie slogans, and one that read “Milo Sucks!” The crowd screamed their approval at the reinforcements and moved aside to allow the protestors to join their ranks, Suddenly, the protestor with the “Milo Sucks!” sign pulled off his black ski mask to reveal the smiling, mocking face of Milo Yiannopolous. A simultaneous roar of anger and adulation went up, and as he grinned brazenly at the protestors, police officers materialized out of nowhere to yank him out of the crowd. Milo! Milo! Milo! the reenergized Trump supporters howled. Milo, it seemed, had won before he even started.
When it was time for the event to start, the police officers—who had been lining up their paddy wagons at the curb and gathering inside—acted fast. They forced the doors open, shoving the protestors blocking the entryway aside and barking into a bullhorn. “Get back! Clear the sidewalk!” Several scuffles broke out, but these weren’t Canadian cops, who routinely oversee the temper tantrums of social justice warriors by benevolently allowing them to hijack and shut down events hosted by conservatives. These officers looked resolutely grim, and went to work arresting those who refused to follow orders. Blue Lives Matter! Blue Lives Matter! chanted Milo’s minions. No Trump! No KKK! No Fascist USA! the handcuffed protestors screamed back hoarsely.
The sidewalk was cleared in less than five minutes. By any means necessary! had rapidly melted away into Wow, these guys are serious. Cops checked event tickets at the door, and we filed in. As attendees took their seats, the police led several handcuffed protestors down the aisle to a side door to jeers and chants. The humiliation seemed intentional. Cops are apparently not amused by accusations of fascism.
A young Iraqi-American was sitting in front of us, and he turned around to ask why we were attending the event. His mother moved with him to America after her brother died stepping on a land mine, he told us. She had always warned him to treasure liberty. And as for the rabble outside—of such people, his mother had noted that “they were born into freedom so they can spit on freedom.”
Milo’s PowerPoint appeared on the screen. It featured his MILO brand, and an enormous photo of the Hagia Sophia, which was the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years before the Turks invaded Constantinople, renamed it Istanbul, and turned the church into a mosque. The corner of the photo had a nuclear bomb painted with the Stars and Stripes heading for the mosque. It seems Milo’s plan is to draw fire from Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller for awhile. The event organizer, a member of Spartans for Free Speech, headed up to the mic to explain how anonymous social media users had utilized bullying and intimidation tactics to attempt to shut the event down. “It didn’t work,” he smiled, stating the obvious to cheers. He gestured at the door, and the man himself swept in.
As usual, Milo was arrayed in full costume. This time, apparently, he was a Roman emperor during the final decadent days of the empire, sporting a black toga-like garment, black lipstick, and a kitschy gold laurel wreath planted firmly on his blond extensions. Perhaps emperor was what he was going for, but the effect more closely resembled the Joker in drag. He smiled, waved, and his adoring crowd promptly went crazy. It didn’t feel like a lecture. It felt like a reality-show, which perhaps it is. After all, Milo’s cameramen were swarming throughout the room, on hand to catch any interaction or reaction that might be of interest. Milo is in many ways the self-aware Kim Kardashian of the campus culture wars.
I had previously found Milo interesting for his debates with feminists like Julie Bindel, and his commentaries on political correctness and the Left. It seems that his modus operandi has changed somewhat—the first thing I noticed is that he has begun to rely increasingly on jokes about being gay, crude remarks about his sexual activity, and suggestive glances and quips when the slightest opportunity to find a double entendre in anything presents itself. None of these comments even rose to the level of innuendo, and the abrupt but consistent crudeness got very boring, very quickly, sort of like how you might find it amusing to hear a child use a bad word they picked up somewhere once, but it becomes immediately unfunny the second time around.
The laughing and clapping that erupted whenever Milo made a reference to his promiscuity was also sort of depressing from a different perspective. Milo is very clearly conflicted about the chasm between his lifestyle and his faith—he wears two crucifixes around his neck and leaps to defend the Catholic Church at every opportunity. Back when he worked for a Catholic newspaper in Britain, he regularly defended traditional marriage, even stating on a TV show with David Mitchell and Boy George that “something inside of me tells me that being homosexual is probably wrong.” Mitchell challenged Milo for having written of homosexuality that, “the feelings of rejection and alienation that it engenders are responsible for the sorts of repugnant tribal posturing you see on the streets of Soho on a Friday night, as bitterly unhappy queers engage in degrading and repulsive behavior.” Milo’s response: “I’ll stand by that.”
The one thing that Milo has both flamboyantly used for professional purposes yet admitted he wishes to change is his lifestyle. He admits, to any interviewer who asks, that he is playing the sexuality card because he knows it allows him to get away with saying things that a straight man could not. He also tells anyone who asks him that he wishes he wasn’t gay. He left Joe Rogan stunned when, after a moment’s pause, he mused that even though it might cause “career suicide,” he’d take a pill that would change him from gay to straight. On one campus, he responded to a question about his sexuality by stating, in all seriousness, that he would love to have kids but didn’t want to bring them up in a gay household.
“I’m kind of stuck in a rut now,” he said with a rueful chuckle and palpable sadness. “You know what I do want to do, though, I do want to do that ‘pray the gay away’ therapy, just to see if it works.” He waved away the laughter, remaining serious. “No, because lots of people say it works, and lots of people say it doesn’t work, and the ones who say it doesn’t work say [that it’s] bigoted hateful religious nonsense. But there are just as many people who you will never hear about because the media doesn’t want to report on them who say, yeah, it transformed my life, I’ve got a wife, I’ve got kids, and I’m happy now, and I wasn’t before. There’s all kinds of explanations the Left has for this—internalized bigotry or whatever—but I’d quite like to try it and see.”
By his own admission, Milo feels conflicted at best, and trapped in his lifestyle at worst. In a bit of a rut, as he put it. At a recent campus event, he explained he’d take a “straight pill” because the idea of not being able to create a child depressed him, and mused that “some day, when I’m done triggering special snow flakes on campus, when I’m tired of all this, I might quite like a little Milo.” To hear the laughter at his stale comments regarding a sexual lifestyle he himself has admitted is depressing is emblematic of how we treat celebrities: We don’t care if they destroy themselves, as long as we’re entertained, and as long as they let us watch.
All of that gave his next joke an air of wistfulness. He pulled up a slide featuring a smiling, 1950s housewife. He started to comment on how universities had ruined women with “grievance culture” and women’s studies, and then turned to look at the slide. “Even I would want to come home to her at 6:20 every day,” he said to laughter.
His insistence that he hated feminism but loved women was contradicted by his liberal use, throughout the hour-long speech, of the c-word, which I find truly abhorrent. The cackles of the apparently pre-pubescent university students sounded simply ugly. Some conservatives seem to be forgetting that we are supposed to be in the business of conserving things, and that just because free speech gives us the right to say anything we want, that doesn’t mean that we should say anything we want. Once upon a time, the Left and Right agreed that such terminology was repulsive, even if they thought so for entirely different reasons. The destruction of that consensus by those on the Left who are willing to make exceptions for pornography and rap music and those on the Right who are overzealous in their destruction of political correctness have deprived us of something important, and have made our society a much cruder one in the process.
I do understand the driving urge to destroy a system of speech codes that was designed to convict those on the Right from the very beginning. And to destroy political correctness we needed to tear down a large number of recently-constructed fences. But it appears we have gone on a bit of a fence-smashing binge, and we’re forgetting that some fences were erected for a reason. Zeal to correct errors can turn into iconoclasm with such lightning speed that we don’t even notice it until we hear the glass breaking, or listen as a room full of so-called conservatives laughs wildly at an entertainer calling actresses he disagrees with the c-word. Milo may style himself as a dangerous intellectual presenting compelling points in a risqué fashion, but after the fourth or fifth crude joke the room at Michigan State seemed to resemble a Safe Space for Bro Culture.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the presentation—it was provocatively titled “Reclaiming Constantinople”—is that it was incoherent. He poked fun at feminism, provided a few ludicrous examples of university professors giving presentations with titles such as “Why White People Are A Plague on the Planet,” and took another victory lap over the election of the “glorious god-emperor,” Donald Trump. The adulation of Trump—from Milo calling him “Daddy” to Ann Coulter titling her new book In Trump We Trust—is a bit bewildering to me. Conservatives stand for principles, they don’t weep like Justin Bieber fans at the very thought of a political leader. Trump, of course, is now “President Daddy” to Milo. I’ll give him this—he’s probably one of the first pundits to unashamedly politicize his daddy issues.
The presentation, which was supposed to deal with the evils of Islam, was a hodge-podge of traditional conservative talking points (but with swearing), jokes about nuking Mecca and Muslim predilections for goats, and the failure of Europe to respond to mass Muslim immigration. There were stats—a PEW Poll revealed that 30% of young American Muslims believe they can respond with violence if Islam is insulted and 26% of them believe suicide bombings were justified—and then a loud condemnation for Angela Merkel, who is most definitely a cuck. “I’m surprised Europe’s ground is not torn asunder by the deceased knights of yesteryear rising up in indignation at what Merkel has done,” he proclaimed. I had to admit that was a pretty good line.
But there was no real consistency to the presentation. Milo mentioned Charles Martel (“the original Daddy”) and the routing of the Turks at Tours. He asserted that many Muslims carry a very problematic worldview with them to the West, and asserted that the West should retake Constantinople without really saying how or why, or explaining if he was talking about a “culture war” or real military action. Now, I know Milo is smart—I’ve seen him do many debates and discussions extremely well and very succinctly. But this particular presentation seemed very much as if he’d needed new material, didn’t do his homework very well, and thus resorted to overt offensiveness simply to breath bravado back into his presentation. I’ve seen many speakers on the topic of Islam—Mark Steyn being the best of them—and Milo didn’t compare very well. You can be offensive and politically incorrect while also putting forward and defending a coherent thesis.
Nonetheless, a crowd gave Milo Yiannopoulos two standing ovations.
I came away from the event with a different conclusion that I had hoped. I wanted the destroyers of political correctness to explain what it is they are protecting and defending. I wanted to see what distinguished the conservatives from the progressives, not hear a speaker respond to name-calling (transphobe!) with different name-calling. Gutter-brawling has its appeal, but part of me thinks that the catharsis many of us felt at the post-election left-wing meltdown has perhaps gone too far. We can condemn political correctness without simultaneously exhibiting compelling reasons for its existence. We can discard feminism without calling women degrading names. We can celebrate free speech without intentionally using it as a club. We’re conservatives, and that means that much of what we believe and say will be condemned as hate speech anyways—we don’t need to sound like drunk teenagers with a vocabulary limited to profanity. If provocation is what we seek, we can stick to reciting bland facts like, “There are only two genders.” Trust me, that’ll do it.
Obviously, I know that Milo’s shtick is to facilitate outrage. That’s what he does, and he does it very well. But there’s a difference between saying “feminism is cancer” and then having a merry time defending the metaphor and calling women you disagree with the c-word. Conservatives who have felt suffocated at the spread of draconian speech codes and accusations of the original sin of white privilege and the never-ending oppression pyramid and identity politics should resist the temptation to abandon our own principles in the heat of combat and victory. After all, if we forget what we are fighting for in the first place—a worldview that truly respects women, that believes in according dignity to each human being because they are created in the image of God, and a society based on family values and mutual courtesy, then we become no different than the enemy we fight.
I know that gleeful and savage iconoclasm is providing many people with catharsis at the moment. But to forget who we are would be to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.