Milo Yiannopoulos is truly emulating “daddy Trump” right now. With the resurfacing of an interview in which he defends pedophilia, he is having his very own “grab ‘em by the pussy” moment.
For those fortunate enough to be unfamiliar, Milo Yiannopoulos is a leader of the “alt-right,” a conservative movement that combines neo-Nazism and white supremacy with misogyny and male supremacy to form a uniquely fascistic force in modern American politics. Yiannopoulos is a senior editor on Breitbart, the leading alt-right “news” site. While this ideology was relegated to the fringes of online conservative culture for years, it broke into the mainstream in 2016 with the Trump campaign. In August, Trump hired ethnonationalist Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon to be his campaign CEO, a move that gave ideological coherence to the rambling buffoon that is now the president of the United States.
With the alt-right having launched itself into the presidential election, the movement’s favorite self-identified “virtuous troll” began to be invited to speak at colleges by official campus conservative groups. His recent tour has focused in particular on transgender women, with Yiannopoulos accusing us of being perpetrators of sex crimes and claiming that transness doesn’t actually exist. His hatred reached a new level of dangerousness in December when he went so far as to out a transgender student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In his public disparagement, he deadnamed and misgendered her, leaving her vulnerable to hate crimes. (Transgender women, particularly transgender women of color, are more likely than any group to be victims of hate crimes.) This forced the student to leave the school entirely.
But what truly launched Yiannopoulos into conservative stardom occurred on February 1, 2017. The professional bigot had been invited to speak at the University of California Berkeley by the official campus Republican group. It should come as no surprise that many liberal students came out to peacefully protest Yiannopoulos. But after a few anarchists started fires and threw objects, the event was canceled.
Immediately, commentators all over the political spectrum began to defend Yiannopoulos’ “freedom of speech.” They conveniently ignored Yiannopoulos’ bigotry and particularly the fact that he had outed transgender students and was planning to out undocumented students at UC Berkeley. Because “hate speech” is more important than the safety of marginalized students. Bill Maher, one of the most prominent “liberal” defenders of hate speech, even had Yiannopoulos on Real Time, his HBO talkshow. (They bonded not only over their obsession with hate speech rights but also their hatred of transgender and black folks.) Yiannopoulos was then invited to speak alongside Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Ted Cruz at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
But on February 19, videos resurfaced of Yiannopoulos explicitly defending child rape and pedophilia. While this shouldn’t come as a surprise for the “virtuous troll,” it is particularly ironic given that one of his main anti-trans arguments is that transgender women are just child rapists and pedophiles. (Bill Maher agreed that transgender women are a threat to women and children.) Similar to how cisgender white Americans were only truly disturbed by Trump when his “grab ‘em by the pussy” comments leaked, cisgender white Americans are finally denouncing Yiannopoulos for his pro-pedophilia statements. When it comes to violent rhetoric against marginalized folks, including outing transgender and undocumented students, it’s “free speech.” But this, and only this is going too far.
But it’s not really too far. Nothing is, at this point. Trump won an Electoral College victory despite “grab ‘em by the pussy.” He won a majority of white voters across the board. Disgust with a serial sexual assaulter did not Trump white voters’ attachment to white supremacy. The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research found that a majority of whites still approve of Trump’s performance as president. Yiannopoulos will likely be no different. Even though the Conservative Political Action Conference had rescinded his keynote speaker invite, even though he has resigned from Breitbart, his rhetoric will not disappear from the conservative mainstream. There will inevitably be another Milo.
Another troll who will attack transgender, undocumented, black, and other marginalized folks, who will “provoke” colleges liberals, who will write at Breitbart, and be interviewed on Fox News. This isn’t over. This is conservatism in 2017. One troll down, millions more to go.