On Monday, Simon & Schuster announced it was cancelling publication of Milo Yiannopoulus’s forthcoming book “Dangerous” after a recording emerged Sunday in which Yiannopoulus defended pedophilia.
Yiannopoulus, a conservative provocateur and former senior editor for Breitbart News (he resigned Tuesday), has a long history of creating controversy. At Breitbart, he published articles with titles like “Male students: do not go to consent classes” and “Here’s why there ought to be a cap on women studying science and maths.”
In the summer of 2016, he was banned from Twitter for inciting his followers to harass Ghostbusters and SNL actor Leslie Jones on Twitter. In an interview with ABC’s Terry Moran, Yiannopoulus denied any responsibility for the racist and sexist comments his followers made to Jones. In the same segment, he defended his history of body shaming and blamed the body positivity movement for telling women the “lie” that “you can be fat and you can be unattractive and you’ll be happy anyway.”
During an appearance on Bill Maher’s Real Time just last Friday he said he doesn’t hire gay people because “you can’t trust them to show up to work on time” (Yiannoupolus is himself a gay man). He then qualified the statement by saying gay people “are not as bad as women” and later in the show repeatedly claimed that transgender people have a disorder.
As Roxane Gay pointed out on her Tumblr page, none of this was enough to prevent Simon & Schuster from offering Yiannopoulus a platform in the first place. Rather, the publishing house canceled publication of the book only after comments about pedophilia surfaced.
The comments also prompted the Conservative Political Action Conference to cancel Yiannopoulus’s scheduled keynote address to the group. Yiannopoulus would have appeared alongside Vice President Mike Pence, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and Chief Strategist to President Donald Trump and former executive at Breitbart News, Steve Bannon. The fact that Yiannopoulus had a book deal despite his bigotry is certainly a disturbing indicator of the degree to which pandering to prurient tastes is profitable, but the fact that his bigotry did not preclude him from appearing on the same stage as senior officials from the White House is perhaps even more troubling.
Yiannopoulus’s vitriol has typically been defended by conservative groups as a type of free speech extremism, less an indication of Yiannopoulus’s actual beliefs than a general rebuke to political correctness. His defenders even include the president himself. When his appearance at the University of California, Berkeley, was canceled due to riots, President Trump tweeted that if the university did not allow free speech, it should lose its federal funding.
There is certainly a case to be made, as Justice Brandeis did, that the cure for bad speech (or as Brandeis put it, "noxious doctrine") is not less speech, but more speech. However, considering the administration's aversion to the freedom of the press, its magnanimity with Yiannopoulus seems less rooted in its commitment to the First Amendment than its desire to pander to those conservatives who actually agree with the things Yiannopoulus says. Indeed, this is how Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, defended the decision to invite Yiannopoulus to deliver the keynote at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference. Speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Schlapp suggested that Yiannopoulus had been invited to share the CPAC stage even though he has made offensive remarks, including anti-semitic ones, because he had a voice that “a lot of young people listen to.”
There is certainly nothing inappropriate about the furor over Yiannopoulus’s endorsement of pedophilia. Yet nothing reflects the mainstreaming of sexism and racism within the conservative movement as much as its previous embrace of Yiannopoulus. His swift fall from grace has served less as a rebuke to what counts as unacceptable speech than as an emphasis of the fact that everything short of endorsing pedophilia is acceptable in the conservative movement that has emerged with the campaign, election, and presidency of Donald Trump.
The notion that Yiannopoulus crossed a line with his comments belies the fact that it is not surprising that someone who is willing to belittle the humanity of women and minorities is also willing to belittle the humanity of a child. And as long as the conservative movement gives safe harbor to sexism and racism, it will likely continue to find other evils in its midst.
This column is informed by the belief that an honest and brave conversation about what it means to be a woman is vital to understanding what it means to be a human. Its scope is temporal but its ambition is to discern the essential. Above all, it seeks to connect Milk readers to each other and the world around them. Email Jennimaria with corrections, questions, comments, and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.