by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
The provocative editor at the conservative news site Breitbart, Milo Yiannopoulos, is scheduled to speak to a sold-out crowd at the University of Washington's Kane Hall on Friday. The event, sponsored by the College Republicans at the University of Washington, is billed as 'Make UW Fabulous Again' and is expected to draw large protests by both student and non-student groups that seek to 'shut down' hate speech on the campus.
You've no doubt heard of Milo Yiannopoulos by now. The inflammatory British journalist and Breitbart editor seems to incense the masses with his harsh attacks on liberals and what he calls 'PC culture.' Some see his style of public speaking as more of a standup comedy variety than actual political and social commentary. Either way, Yiannopoulos often wades into the pool of personal and cruel attacks whenever he speaks about an individual or group that defies him.
Yiannopoulos is best known for leading a hate campaign that resulted in a lifetime ban from Twitter. On July 18, 2016, Leslie Jones, 'Saturday Night Live' star and actress in the remake of the hit movie Ghostbusters, became the target of Yiannopoulos and his nearly 400,000 followers on Twitter. Jones was subject to a barrage of racist and demeaning tweets (which included her being called an ape among other deplorable so-called jokes), which prompted the comedian to tweet, 'I feel like I'm in a personal hell. I didn't do anything to deserve this.' After sending that Tweet, Jones took a break from Twitter in response to the jeering tweets that targeted her race and her appearance.
For years, Yiannopoulos used Twitter to voice his controversial opinions as well as to direct his legion of followers toward his opponents. He'd been temporarily banned from Twitter (where he was known as @nero) a number of times for violating its terms of service and stripped of his verified status. Twitter officials said that the Leslie Jones attack went too far, and the result was Yiannopoulos being banned from Twitter for life.
But, as Yiannopoulos has proven to liberals and supporters of politically correct speech time and time again, a win doesn't always end up being a win. Following the lifetime ban from Twitter, Yiannopoulos's popularity seemed to burst at the seams. In fact, in direct response to the Twitter ban, it was announced late last year that Yiannopoulos landed a $250,000 memoir deal with Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Yiannopoulos parlayed a history of online abuse into a lucrative career.
'I met with top execs at Simon & Schuster earlier in the year and spent half an hour trying to shock them with lewd jokes and outrageous opinions,' Yiannopoulos told the Hollywood Reporter regarding the meeting that earned him a quarter-million-dollar advance. 'I thought they were going to have me escorted from the building - but instead they offered me a wheelbarrow full of money.'
Yiannopoulos gloated about his ban from Twitter.
'They said banning me from Twitter would finish me off. Just as I predicted, the opposite has happened,' he told the Hollywood Reporter. 'Did it hurt Madonna being banned from MTV in the 1990s? Did all that negative press hurt Donald Trump's chances of winning the election?'
Perhaps what frustrates people the most about the infamous Internet troll is that the book deal proves that a Twitter ban doesn't necessarily mean the conversation - or the so-called hate speech - is over.
'Every line of attack the forces of political correctness try on me fails pathetically,' Yiannopoulos said to the Hollywood Reporter. 'I'm more powerful, more influential, and more fabulous than ever before, and this book is the moment Milo goes mainstream. Social justice warriors should be scared - very scared.'
The term 'social justice warrior,' or SJW, is used in a demeaning way when the alt-right (whom some accuse of being the modern white nationalist or white supremacist movement) describes feminists, Black Lives Matter activists, Transgender activists, etc. Whenever Yiannopoulos speaks at college campuses, he often uses the term when describing his enemies.
But that's not all that Yiannopoulos did in 2016 - a year in which he went from pretty much an unknown to famous on the college speaking circuit - to provoke and harass his way to the bottom.
During the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Yiannopoulos headlined a 'Gays for Trump' event. He was joined by far-right anti-Muslim leaders Pamela Geller and Geert Wilders, who gave pro-Trump speeches full of anti-Muslim vitriol. For his part, Yiannopoulos claimed that Donald Trump was 'the most pro-Gay candidate in American electoral history' and proclaimed, 'The left's stranglehold on homosexuals is over.'
The party was officially called 'Wake up! (the most fab party at the RNC).' A large yellow Gadsden flag reading 'Don't tread on me,' a common libertarian symbol, was hung on the wall behind the DJ. Each speaker stood behind the Trump-Pence poster, but in front of photographs that depicted young, slim white men wearing 'Make America Great Again' hats. The photos were part of a series by art photographer Lucian Wintrich titled 'Twinks4Trump.' The event was funded by Breitbart.
In June, Yiannopoulos held a press conference near the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando to talk about the danger of Radical Islam to the West - in particular the LGBT community. The press conference infuriated many in the community, as it was held just days after the horrific June 12 attack on the nightclub - the nation's worst mass shooting event, with the highest number of LGBT people killed at one time. A majority of the LGBT community took the opportunity to speak out against hate - but also to warn of the danger of blaming Muslims as a whole for the actions of Omar Mateen, who according to police records claimed loyalty to ISIS during the attack. Yiannopoulos, of course, did exactly the opposite.
'America has to make a choice,' he wrote on Breitbart.com following the attack. 'Does it want gay rights, women's emancipation, and tolerance for people of all nonviolent faiths - or does it want Islam?'
Regardless of how one feels about Yiannopoulos and the things that he says, the fact remains that he is allowed to say them. It's a tough thing to stomach, but a necessary one if you believe in free speech. It would be hypocritical of a journalist to say otherwise. The Seattle Gay News does not believe in censorship of any kind, nor do we endorse Yiannopoulos and his rhetoric. We endorse organizing to counter-protest what he stands for. We agree that people should not say such vitriolic things. But, with the First Amendment in mind, we recognize that you can't pick and choose who is allowed to say what. Free speech is, and always shall remain, broad and encompassing of all opinions, groups, political views, etc.
Ronald K. L. Collins, a scholar at the University of Washington Law School who specializes in constitutional and First Amendment law, recently wrote of Yiannopoulos and his visit: 'Let us be clear: hate speech is abhorrent; it is an affront to the dignity of every person and to all persons. But that said, let us not speak falsely: it is also protected under the First Amendment. US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall affirmed that idea in 1969 when he signed onto the court's unanimous opinion in Brandenburg v. Ohio (upholding the rights of KKK members to engage in racist expression). Justice William Brennan, a stalwart defender of equal justice, agreed with that idea when in 1977 he signed onto the court's opinion in National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie. And in 1992, liberals and conservatives alike voted unanimously to affirm the right to engage in race-hate speech in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (the ACLU defended the First Amendment right).'
Collins does point out, however, that hate speech plus certain forms of conduct can and should be punished. For example, hate speech that is tantamount to a true threat, as defined by the Supreme Court, is not protected.
'Washington law tracks this prohibition against threats by way of our malicious harassment statute and likewise criminalizes injury to person or property if done with animus based on race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, or with reference to other specified groups,' he said. 'Fighting words and incitement intended to and likely to produce imminent illegal conduct, again all properly defined, can also be regulated.'
Many people called on UW President Ana Mari Cauce to dismiss the law and disinvite Yiannopoulos. However, doing so would subject the university to legal liability for abridging First Amendment rights.
'Equally important,' reminds Collins, 'such rash action would contravene the long-held principle of our democracy that all ideas are entitled to have their say in order that they might be tested and even rejected.'
It was announced that Yiannopoulos canceled a scheduled sold-out event at Washington State University in Pullman on Thursday, due to the snow-and-ice-related closure of Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass and 'unsafe conditions on all highways leading to Pullman.'
As the SGN goes to press, the 'Make UW Fabulous Again' event will proceed as scheduled, Friday, from 7 to 10 p.m. at Kane Hall (Room 130) at the University of Washington. The event is sold out, with more people reserving tickets than there are seats available, meaning people will be left out.
Seattle Police Department officials tell the Seattle Gay News that they are sending extra officers to help keep the peace at the event, as University of Washington campus police requested, in case the protest against Yiannopoulos grows too big for them to handle. Yiannopoulos's speech at the University of California Davis last Friday was canceled by its sponsors after protesters blocked access to the lecture hall and the event was deemed an 'unsafe environment' by UC Davis campus police.
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