Follow @csteditorialsTo casual observers, it might seem like the backlash against Milo Yiannopoulos was swift and definitive. In the past week, a guest refused to appear on a late-night talk show with him. The popular Conservative Political Action Conference ejected him from their annual event. Simon & Schuster rescinded its offer to publish his book.
Just Tuesday afternoon, he announced he was resigning from his post as tech editor at Breitbart.com.
This punctuates a rocky few months wherein Yiannopoulos had a speech at the University of California at Berkeley canceled in the wake of violence there and was banned from Twitter for instigating an abusive online campaign against actress Leslie Jones.
What was the final straw for the young, British, gay gadfly, an ardent supporter of President Trump? Tapes surfaced this weekend showing Yiannopoulos defending pedophilia.
He himself was a victim, but he nonetheless advocated for relationships between 13-year-old boys and older men.
“I’m grateful for Father Michael, he boasted, saying that he wouldn’t be as skilled at sex if not for the man who had violated him.
There’s nothing puritanical about the reaction to Yiannopoulos’ abhorrent comments. They are disgusting. CPAC was right to disinvite him.
But in many ways, all this comes too late.
To understand conservatives’ Yiannopoulos problem, you have to examine his rise from obscurity and separate his own intentions from the ones many of his supporters projected onto him.
Yiannopoulos is an opportunist, not a political visionary. After dropping out of university, he launched several failed tech journalism startups, one of which dissolved when contributors sued him for failure to pay.
His first minor success as a parasitical controversy generator was attaching himself to Gamergate, a 2014 harassment campaign against perceived political correctness and feminism in video game culture. Gamergate supporters, many anonymously, threatened to rape or murder female game developers, whom Yiannopoulos called “an army of sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners.”
That episode landed him a job at Breitbart.com as a tech editor, where, since 2015, he has written such searing social commentary as: “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy”; “Trannies are gay”; “No, JCPenney, fat people should absolutely hate themselves”; “Sorry, girls! But the smartest people in the world are all men,” and “I’m worried not enough teenagers are self-harming.”
Provocation is his priority, and he isn’t afraid of trafficking in bigoted stereotypes to collect as many vocal opponents as possible. For example, he once called a BuzzFeed reporter “a typical example of the sort of thick-as-pig-s–t media Jew.”
But in between these puerile and goading posts that few mainstream Republicans would have noticed, let alone celebrated, he was most effective in exposing the hypocrisy of liberal college campuses and their aversion to free speech and tolerance. Like Trump, he has capitalized on the rise of political correctness, effectively turning every obnoxious outburst from him or Trump into a courageous affront to the PC thought police.
I’ve defended Yiannopoulos’ right to be offensive, while vehemently disagreeing with most of his beliefs. When Bill Maher, whose show I regularly appear on, kept him on a panel despite the refusal of another guest to appear with him, I applauded the decision. I condemned the violent Berkeley protesters for keeping him off-campus.
Rather than meeting bad speech with no speech, we should meet bad speech with more speech.
But there’s a difference between college campuses, late-night talk shows and a conservative conference meant to highlight conservative values. Milo wasn’t invited to CPAC to debate conservatives. His invitation elevated, even celebrated, a vile strain of the far right that conservatives should not promote under their own banner.
Conservatives should defend free speech — but we must not amplify it when it’s blatantly grotesque.
A seat at Bill Maher’s table is defensible; a seat in the White House, where Breitbart’s CEO advises the President, is not. Yet until pedophilia came up, Yiannopoulos’ ugly ideas were given an imprimatur by CPAC’s American Conservative Union and other conservative groups.
Now, Yiannopoulos resigning from Breitbart is a little like David Duke resigning from the KKK: neither are made clean by the breakup; both will likely continue to be awful. Conservatives need to be twice as diligent about who they allow to wear their namesake, and condemn bad speech, even as they defend free speech.
Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com.
This column first appeared in the New York Daily News.
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