Profile on the Right: Milo Yiannopoulos

About Peter Montgomery

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Milo Yiannopoulos. Photo by Kmeron for LeWeb13 Conference via Flickr.

Milo Yiannopoulos is the technology co-editor for Breitbart News Network, the right-wing media operation that former CEO Steve Bannon—now chief strategist for President Donald Trump—proudly called the platform for the Alt Right.1 But that title does not begin to describe Yiannopoulos’s public persona as Breitbart’s enfant terrible, or, as he described himself in a recent speech on his “Dangerous Faggot Tour” of college campuses, “the supervillain of the Internet.” The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Heidi Beirich says, “Milo is the person who propelled the alt-right movement into the mainstream.”2 Bloomberg’s Joel Stein has called him “the pretty, monstrous face of the alt-right.”3

Yiannopoulos made a name for himself during the gamergate controversy, in which female gamers and journalists were subjected to online abuse by internet trolls who complained that women were trying to ruin video games with feminism and “political correctness.”4 After Gamergate made him an icon, at Breitbart, Yiannopoulos has turned himself into a full-blown media personality thriving, like writer Ann Coulter, on provoking liberal outrage with deliberately offensive comments. The Yiannopoulos brand—Milo to his fans and MILO to his promoters at Breitbart—combines his attacks on political correctness, feminism, transgender people,5 and Islam with a sort of flamboyantly narcissistic performance art.

During the July 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Yiannopoulos appeared at a rally sponsored by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and at a “Gays for Trump” party sponsored by Breitbart, the latter of which featured anti-Islam extremist Pamela Geller and Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who believes western societies must “de-Islamize.” Yiannopoulos said that liberals have become “traitors to the gays” by accommodating Islam. At both Cleveland events, Yiannopoulos came to the stage wearing a bulletproof vest and theatrically peeled it off as he began speaking, as if to demonstrate his bravery.6

Yiannopoulos spent much of 2016 promoting the candidacy of Donald Trump, whom he calls “Daddy.” Trump is “an obvious gay icon,” he said in a profile in Out. “He’s brassy, he’s outrageous, his taste in interiors is gaudy and exhibitionist. He’s a heavy-handed caricature of a billionaire. Everything about him is at once fantastic and camp. He’s the drag queen you can vote for.”7

And Yiannopoulos shares Trump’s declared political enemies. “I’m fighting political correctness wherever I find it,” he said at the Alex Jones rally. “I’m fighting hateful third-wave misandrist feminism wherever I find it. I am fighting Black Lives Matter, a hateful, destructive movement, wherever I find it. Donald Trump is going to fight the same things wherever he finds them, too.”8

In a recent speech at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he said Black Lives Matter is “dedicated to racial hatred” and called it the “last socially acceptable hate group in America.” And he praised Trump for knowing “above all else that making America great and welcoming in Islam are mutually exclusive futures.”9

Yiannopoulos insists that he is not actually part of the Alt Right, even though, he says,  “the press seems determined to crown me the queen of it.”10 He says he’s simply given them a fair hearing as a reporter.11 Yiannopoulos has tried to wave away charges of racism and antisemitism against the Alt Right by saying that essentially the movement is all about trolling for a group of youthful merry pranksters who will say anything to get a rise out of the humorless, politically correct “social justice warriors” they despise.12 Posting antisemitic memes isn’t a sign that the posters are actually antisemitic, argues Yiannopoulos, just that they want to provoke liberal outrage. He has claimed that, “What motivates the left now is anti-white hatred, particularly of straight men.”13 And he says that the sort of “performative racism” he practices is really meant to expose liberals’ double standard when it comes to race.14 Listening to him sounds a bit like hearing Trump apologists explain away his extreme statements by saying he should be taken seriously or symbolically but not literally. Indeed, Yiannopoulos says, “We live in a post-fact era. It’s wonderful.”15

Yiannopoulos acknowledges that there are White nationalists and antisemitic neonazis in the Alt Right but contends they are a small minority. They don’t like him, he says, because he’s “a gay Jew.”16 (He says his maternal grandmother was Jewish.) It is true that some of the movement’s neonazis despise him for downplaying the White nationalism and antisemitism that they believe define the movement.17

Milo talks frequently about how he likes to have sex with Black men, as if that suggests he cannot be a racist, but that didn’t stop him from telling partygoers in Cleveland a racist joke that he said was the one thing he couldn’t get past Breitbart’s editors.18

On the same day as the Gays for Trump party, Yiannopoulos was “permanently suspended” from Twitter for violating “rules prohibiting participating in or inciting targeted abuse of individuals.”19 Twitter charged that he had incited a campaign of racist and misogynist abuse directed at Leslie Jones over her appearance in the Ghostbusters remake. He has since refused to apologize for insulting her and refused to accept responsibility for the actions of followers who targeted her.

In Cleveland, Yiannopoulos seemed to relish the Twitter suspension as a way of bringing more attention to himself as a free speech martyr, suggesting that he would take advantage of his access to the world’s political media to make life hell for Twitter executives. They seem to have done fine without him, and he seems to be doing fine without them: he has accumulated a million fans on Facebook20 and in late December reportedly received a $250,000 advance from Simon & Schuster for a new book.21

Like “Daddy Trump,” Yiannopoulos is given to hyperbole about politics and about himself. At the Gays for Trump party he declared, “Donald Trump is the most pro-gay candidate in American electoral history”—a ridiculous statement given that Trump had spent the campaign promising to make the Religious Right more powerful by doing away with restrictions on churches’ politicking and giving them the Supreme Court of their dreams. In an interview, Yiannopoulos talked up his own cultural significance:

And I am one of the primary engines of change in American culture because I’m demonstrating that someone sassy and silly and gay and flamboyant who loves RuPaul’s Drag Race and sucks black dick doesn’t have to vote Democrat. That matters. That’s really important.22

Talking openly about his sex life is part of Yiannopoulos’s shtick, even, or maybe especially, to audiences he knows will be uncomfortable with it. “I might be a dick-sucking faggot,” he told participants at the Alex Jones rally in Cleveland, “but I fucking hate the left.”23

As one of the world’s most famous trolls, provocation is his stock in trade. At an art show, #DaddyWillSaveUs, Milo bathed in pig’s blood in a bathtub positioned in front of photographs of people he said had been “murdered by illegal aliens who had no right to be in the United States.”24 He says “it’s fun” to be mean to people and that he will continue to be deliberately offensive in the service of smashing political correctness.25

Intellectual consistency is not a priority for Yiannopoulos. He portrays himself as a “free speech fundamentalist”26 but also says he is “dedicated to the destruction of liberal media in this country.”27 He slams Leslie Jones for not being willing to take abusive criticism as a public figure, but he cheered when Peter Thiel funded a lawsuit designed to destroy Gawker in retaliation for a story that outed Thiel as gay.28 He mocks liberals for playing the role of victims, but he complains regarding his banishment from Twitter that, “I am held to a totally arbitrary, unique, hypocritical double standard because people don’t like my politics.”29 While he celebrates his sexual prowess, he declared in a recent speech that Catholics are “right about everything.”30

The Catholic comment came in a speech at Minnesota State University in December 2016 in which he focused on the supposed “war on Christmas” that Religious Right leaders argue is being waged by the Left. The war is real, argued Yiannopoulos, “and Christians are losing.” He added, “Our media, cultural elite, and educators don’t understand Christianity and have no interest in doing so. THAT is why we must fight them.”31

Yiannopoulos’s praise for the Catholic Church’s teachings and his persona as “the world’s most dangerous faggot” suggest some kind of inner conflict. Yiannapoulos shares the Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to gay couples being allowed to get married,32 and when it comes to gay couples being parents, he sounds like National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown, arguing that children need a mother and father.33 He has said publicly he is not happy being gay.34

In 2015, when confronted by podcast host Joe Rogan about the conflict between his persona and his arguments about Christianity, Yiannapoulos said “I don’t think my sexuality is an important component of my personality,” and said “it would be better if I didn’t behave like this” sexually. “If I could choose,” Yiannopoulos said, “I wouldn’t be a homosexual.”35

It can be difficult to know how much Yiannopoulos believes what he says, and how much is purely about provocation and branding. “It’s like he’s joking: ‘Ha ha, let me popularize the worst ideas that ever existed,” says SPLC’s Beirich.36 But in weighing the impact of his “performative bigotry,” argues writer Laurie Penny, “it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t mean it.”37

It doesn’t matter that he’s secretly quite a sweet, vulnerable person who is gracious to those he considers friends. It doesn’t matter that somewhere in the rhinestone-rimmed hamster wheel of his mind is a conscience. It doesn’t matter because the harm he does is real.38

Endnotes

[1] Sarah Posner, “How Donald Trump’s New Campaign Chief Created an Online Haven for White Nationalists,” Mother Jones, August 22, 2016, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/08/stephen-bannon-donald-trump-alt-right-breitbart-news.

[2] Joel Stein, “Milo Yiannopoulos Is the Pretty, Monstrous Face of the Alt-Right,” Bloomberg Businessweek, September 15, 2016, https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-america-divided/milo-yiannopoulos/.

[3] Joel Stein, “Milo Yiannopoulos Is the Pretty, Monstrous Face of the Alt-Right,” Bloomberg Businessweek, September 15, 2016, https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-america-divided/milo-yiannopoulos/.

[4] Kristen Brown, “The ultimate troll: The terrifying allure of Gamergate icon Milo Yiannopoulos,” Fusion, October 27, 2015, http://fusion.net/story/220646/the-terrifying-allure-of-gamergate-icon-milo-yiannopoulos/.

[5] “Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos Doubles Down on Harassing Transgender University of Wisconsin Student,” Media Matters, December 16, 2016, http://www.mediamatters.org/blog/2016/12/16/breitbart-s-milo-yiannopoulos-doubles-down-harassing-transgender-university-wisconsin-student/214849.

[6] Peter Montgomery, “’Gays For Trump’ Join Conspiracy Theorists In Bringing Anti-Islam, Anti-PC Message to RNC,” Right Wing Watch, July 20, 2016, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/post/gays-for-trump-join-conspiracy-theorists-in-bringing-anti-islam-anti-pc-message-to-rnc/.

[7] Chadwick Moore, “Send In the Clown: Internet Supervillain Milo Doesn’t Care That You Hate Him,” Out, September 21, 2016, http://www.out.com/out-exclusives/2016/9/21/send-clown-internet-supervillain-milo-doesnt-care-you-hate-him.

[8] Peter Montgomery, “’Gays For Trump’ Join Conspiracy Theorists In Bringing Anti-Islam, Anti-PC Message to RNC,” Right Wing Watch, July 20, 2016, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/post/gays-for-trump-join-conspiracy-theorists-in-bringing-anti-islam-anti-pc-message-to-rnc/.

[9] Ben Kew, “MILO: Black Lives Matter Is ‘The Last Acceptable Hate Group,’” Breitbart, December 13, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/milo/2016/12/13/milo-black-lives-matter-last-socially-acceptable-hate-group/.

[10] Milo Yiannopoulos, “How To Destroy The Alt-Right,” text of speech delivered in Houston, posted at Breitbart September 19, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/milo/2016/09/19/milo-destroy-alt-right-speech/.

[11] “Are You Alt-Right? Milo Distances Himself From Controversial Movement,” Heat Street, November 18, 2016, http://heatst.com/culture-wars/no-longer-alt-right-milo-distances-himself-from-the-controversial-movement/.

[12] Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide To  The Alt-Right,” Breitbart, March 29, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2016/03/29/an-establishment-conservatives-guide-to-the-alt-right/.

[13] Milo Yiannopoulos, “How To Destroy The Alt-Right,” text of speech delivered in Houston, posted at Breitbart September 19, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/milo/2016/09/19/milo-destroy-alt-right-speech/.

[14] Milo Yiannopoulos, “How To Destroy The Alt-Right,” text of speech delivered in Houston, posted at Breitbart September 19, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/milo/2016/09/19/milo-destroy-alt-right-speech/.

[15] Joel Stein, “Milo Yiannopoulos Is the Pretty, Monstrous Face of the Alt-Right,” Bloomberg Businessweek, September 15, 2016, https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-america-divided/milo-yiannopoulos/.

[16] Lucas Nolan, “MILO on Channel 4: ‘I am a Gay Jew and Steve Bannon Made Me Into a Star,” Breitbart, November 18, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/milo/2016/11/18/milo-channel-4-gay-jew-steve-bannon-made-star/.

[17] Jeff Taylor, “Neo-Nazi Site Declares ‘Holy Crusade’ on Homocon Milo Yiannopoulos,” LGBTQ Nation, October 3, 2016, http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2016/10/neo-nazi-site-declares-holy-crusade-gay-homocon-milo-yiannopoulos/.

[18] Peter Montgomery, “’Gays For Trump’ Join Conspiracy Theorists In Bringing Anti-Islam, Anti-PC Message to RNC,” Right Wing Watch, July 20, 2016, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/post/gays-for-trump-join-conspiracy-theorists-in-bringing-anti-islam-anti-pc-message-to-rnc/.

[19] Charlie Warzel, “Twitter Permanently Suspends Conservative Writer Milo Yiannopoulos,” BuzzFeed, July 19, 2016, https://www.buzzfeed.com/charliewarzel/twitter-just-permanently-suspended-conservative-writer-milo.

[20] Mike Ma, “MILO Hits One Million Facebook Fans,” Breitbart, December 10, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/milo/2016/12/10/milo-hits-one-million-facebook-fans/.

[21] Ruth Ben-Ghiat, “How Trump made hatred profitable for Milo Yiannopoulos,” CNN, January 2, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/02/opinions/milo-yiannopoulos-and-trump-profitable-hate-ben-ghiat-opinion/.

[22] Chadwick Moore, “Send In the Clown: Internet Supervillain Milo Doesn’t Care That You Hate Him,” Out, September 21, 2016, http://www.out.com/out-exclusives/2016/9/21/send-clown-internet-supervillain-milo-doesnt-care-you-hate-him.

[23] Peter Montgomery, “’Gays For Trump’ Join Conspiracy Theorists In Bringing Anti-Islam, Anti-PC Message to RNC,” Right Wing Watch, July 20, 2016, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/post/gays-for-trump-join-conspiracy-theorists-in-bringing-anti-islam-anti-pc-message-to-rnc/.

[24] Gaby Del Valle, “Bathing in Pig’s Blood: Inside The Alt-Right’s Pro-Trump Art Show,” Gothamist, October 10, 2016, http://gothamist.com/2016/10/10/pro_trump_art_show.php#photo-1.

[25] Milo Yiannopoulos, “How To Destroy The Alt-Right,” text of speech delivered in Houston, posted at Breitbart September 19, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/milo/2016/09/19/milo-destroy-alt-right-speech/.

[26] Matthew Breen, “’Milo’ Kicked Off Twitter,” Out, July 20, 2016, http://www.out.com/news-opinion/2016/7/20/milo-kicked-twitter.

[27] Peter Montgomery, “Yeah, About That ‘Gays For Trump’ Party: A Breitbart Editor’s Laughable Defense Of Steve Bannon,” Right Wing Watch, November 17, 2016, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/post/yeah-about-that-gays-for-trump-party-a-breitbart-editors-laughable-defense-of-steve-bannon/.

[28] Chadwick Moore, “Send In the Clown: Internet Supervillain Milo Doesn’t Care That You Hate Him,” Out, September 21, 2016, http://www.out.com/out-exclusives/2016/9/21/send-clown-internet-supervillain-milo-doesnt-care-you-hate-him.

[29] Chadwick Moore, “Send In the Clown: Internet Supervillain Milo Doesn’t Care That You Hate Him,” Out, September 21, 2016, http://www.out.com/out-exclusives/2016/9/21/send-clown-internet-supervillain-milo-doesnt-care-you-hate-him.

[30] Milo Yiannopoulos, “A Merry Milo Christmas,” speech delivered a Minnesota State University, posted at Breitbart, December 15, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/milo/2016/12/15/full-text-merry-milo-christmas-minnesota-state-university/.

[31] Milo Yiannopoulos, “A Merry Milo Christmas,” speech delivered a Minnesota State University, posted at Breitbart, December 15, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/milo/2016/12/15/full-text-merry-milo-christmas-minnesota-state-university/.

[32] Televised debate with Boy George and Milo Yiannopoulos, “10 O’Clock Live,” August 6, 2015.

[33] Milo Yiannopoulos, “Kids Need a Mum and a Dad,” Breitbart, May 7,2015, http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/05/07/kids-need-a-mum-and-a-dad/.

[34] Eric Dolan, “Comedian explodes on ‘self-loathing’ gay conservative who wants to be straight: Face it, ‘you are gay as f*ck!’”Raw Story, October 1, 2015, https://www.rawstory.com/2015/10/comedian-explodes-on-self-loathing-gay-conservative-who-wants-to-be-straight-face-it-you-are-gay-as-fck/.

[35] Eric Dolan, “Comedian explodes on ‘self-loathing’ gay conservative who wants to be straight: Face it, ‘you are gay as f*ck!’”Raw Story, October 1, 2015, https://www.rawstory.com/2015/10/comedian-explodes-on-self-loathing-gay-conservative-who-wants-to-be-straight-face-it-you-are-gay-as-fck/.

[36] Joel Stein, “Milo Yiannopoulos Is the Pretty, Monstrous Face of the Alt-Right,” Bloomberg Businessweek, September 15, 2016, https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-america-divided/milo-yiannopoulos/.

[37] Laurie Penny, “I’m With the Banned,” Medium, July 21, 2016, https://medium.com/welcome-to-the-scream-room/im-with-the-banned-8d1b6e0b2932.

[38] Laurie Penny, “I’m With the Banned,” Medium, July 21, 2016, https://medium.com/welcome-to-the-scream-room/im-with-the-banned-8d1b6e0b2932.

Peter Montgomery, a Washington, DC-based writer, is an associate editor for Religion Dispatches and a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way. His work focuses on religion, politics, and LGBT issues. Follow him on twitter @petemont.