Recently rocketing to fame in the shadows of the 2016 election, free speech provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos has proven to be one of the most influential poster boys of any political movement in our history. With a penchant for offending people and “trolling” liberals with his work, he has become a highly controversial figure in the wake of Donald Trump’s campaign. A gay, British, conservative-leaning libertarian who’s both Greek and Jewish, he is hardly the expected leader of a rising alt-right wave in this country. While he is known far and wide as an offensive troll, he is also praised as a leader of free speech.
Starting his journalism career as a technology writer, he eventually signed on as a journalist for the far right news media organization Breitbart News. Eventually becoming a top editor, he used this platform to further voice his incendiary political rhetoric to a much larger audience. He began a tour across college campuses consisting of serious political discussion blended with “edgy” humor and satire. Being very fond of Donald Trump’s political agenda, he took to calling him “daddy” in interviews and became a vocal supporter throughout the campaign. Milo often considers himself the harbinger of the dangers of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies, being a direct witness to the crisis they have caused, and has stated he wants to inform the U.S. before we go down the same road and repeat her mistakes. He was famously banned from Twitter permanently due to harsh criticism of Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones, which spiraled into large-scale harassment from his supporters. His defense was that he had no direct control over his supporters’ actions, and if someone can’t handle criticism, they should get off the Internet, as it is a platform for discussion of opposing views.
Milo’s most recent foray into public scandal came on Monday, Feb. 20, as an anonymous source found a clip from the Drunken Peasants Podcast from over a year ago in which Milo appeared to advocate pedophilia. The video was sent to a conservative blog called The Reagan Battalion, and the subsequent media attention it received was unprecedented. Within hours, the video was retweeted thousands of times.
In the podcast, Milo is seen to say that he thinks relationships between “younger boys and older men” are sometimes a “coming-of-age” experience for some that helps young gay men to find out who they are. He then makes the distinction between having sexual relations with underage children who haven’t reached puberty, and those who are fully sexually developed at an early age. He goes on to say he believes there are children capable of giving consent at an earlier age. He makes comments defending a relationship between a 13-year-old boy and an older man.
Milo went on to give a press conference to clarify what he meant, and admitted he had “misspoken,” but it was too late. The damage had already been done. The video resulted in the Conservative Political Action Conference rescinding their invitation for Milo to speak, and Simon & Schuster abruptly canceled their $250,000 book deal with Milo for his autobiography, Dangerous. In his press conference, he pointed out that the video clips shown in the media deliberately edited out his comments on how he agreed with current age-of-consent laws, and how he did not advocate pedophilia in any way. He clarified that his comments about a 13-year-old boy and a man were from personal experience. Being a victim of sexual abuse at a young age, he felt he had the right to speak about this subject. He stated he was disgusted by pedophilia, and that in his case, he chooses to cope through edgy humor and trying to cast his experience in a positive light. He felt his experience led him to figure out who he was, even if it was sexual abuse. While he did not condone pedophilia, he believed that in his case, he felt he was capable of giving consent at a younger age (though the age of consent in the United Kingdom is 16, unlike the U.S.).
His official statement posted on Facebook contained the following apology:
“I’m partly to blame. My own experiences as a victim led me to believe I could say anything I wanted to on this subject, no matter how outrageous. But I understand that my usual blend of British sarcasm, provocation and gallows humor might have come across as flippancy, a lack of care for other victims or, worse, ‘advocacy.’ I deeply regret that. People deal with things from their past in different ways.”
Later on, he posted:
“I am a gay man, and a child abuse victim. I would like to restate my utter disgust at adults who sexually abuse minors. I am horrified by pedophilia and I have devoted large portions of my career as a journalist to exposing child abusers. I've outed three of them, in fact—three more than most of my critics. And I’ve repeatedly expressed disgust at pedophilia in my feature and opinion writing. My professional record is very clear.”
Milo then stated that he would continue to release his book through a different publisher, and would resign from Breitbart News and begin his own endeavors running an independent news platform. He stated, “When your friends have done right by you, you do right by them. For me, now, that means stepping aside so my colleagues at Breitbart can get back to the great work they do.” He also posted on Facebook that this scandal would not defeat him, and that his endeavors would just be the beginning of a new chapter.
While many people find Milo’s remarks incendiary, vulgar and bigoted, it is crucial to remember that he has a right to make those statements. The First Amendment may not guarantee Milo a platform for his speech, but it guarantees him the right to voice his opinions, and if he is given willingly a platform, that’s not your call to make. The constant rioting and death threats made in order to shut down his talks is a form of censorship. He is open to intelligent discourse, but many choose to let emotions get the best of them and react without any discussion whatsoever. And that kind of outlook, the idea that although “hate speech” is subjective, it should somehow be an enforceable offense, is what is truly “dangerous.”