Milo Yiannopoulos is the Breitbart journalist who has recently become famous for breaking America, with his anti-SJW tour. His shows are more performance art than they are lectures. Typically, Trots-for-brains Far Left student activists turn up and protest and threaten Milo’s audience and his right-wing and libertarian supporters, proving Milo’s point nicely that much of the Left has given up on debate and prefers intimidation. Milo suggests that his arguments should be countered with facts rather than with threats and insults.
Meanwhile, Milo has become an advocate for a Trump presidency; not so much for anything Trump has promised to do, as for the cultural message this sends across America; that no longer are Americans going to feel restrained be the PC atmosphere harnessed by the US’ liberal media.
Several sensible conservative commentators have pointed out the flaws of a Trump presidency; including Jews like Ben Shapiro, Bill Kristol and Jonah Goldberg. Trump’s supporters have begun targeting these Jewish commentators with Holocaust memes and antisemitic posts calling for prominent Jews to be placed in gas chambers or deported to Israel. They have started to identify Jews by “echoes“: the signs ((( and ))) used to denote the surname of a Jewish public figure.
Such antisemitic trends were current on Twitter, but they have increased noticeably in recent weeks. This coincides with two boosts given to them by Milo Yiannopoulos. The first was in an article for Breitbart News, in which he repackaged the Alt-Right as cultural rebels:
These young rebels, a subset of the alt-right, aren’t drawn to it because of an intellectual awakening, or because they’re instinctively conservative. Ironically, they’re drawn to the alt-right for the same reason that young Baby Boomers were drawn to the New Left in the 1960s: because it promises fun, transgression, and a challenge to social norms they just don’t understand.
Just as the kids of the 60s shocked their parents with promiscuity, long hair and rock’n’roll, so too do the alt-right’s young meme brigades shock older generations with outrageous caricatures, from the Jewish “Shlomo Shekelburg” to “Remove Kebab,” an internet in-joke about the Bosnian genocide. These caricatures are often spliced together with Millennial pop culture references, from old 4chan memes like pepe the frog, to anime and My Little Pony references.
Are they actually bigots? No more than death metal devotees in the 80s were actually Satanists. For them, it’s simply a means to fluster their grandparents. Currently, the Grandfather-in-Chief is Republican consultant Rick Wilson, who attracted the attention of this group on Twitter after attacking them as “childless single men who jerk off to anime.”
Responding in kind, they proceeded to unleash all the weapons of mass trolling that anonymous subcultures are notorious for — and brilliant at. From digging up the most embarrassing parts of his family’s internet history to ordering unwanted pizzas to his house and bombarding his feed with anime and Nazi propaganda, the alt-right’s meme team, in typically juvenile but undeniably hysterical fashion, revealed their true motivations: not racism, the restoration of monarchy or traditional gender roles, but lulz.
In a few paragraphs, Milo had repackaged antisemitism as cultural rebellion. Being an antisemite online today is like free love in the 60s: if it feels good, do it, and don’t listen to those squares telling you otherwise. The message that sent to antisemites was this: keep doing what you’re doing, and I’ll give you cover. I think you’re cool.
This message was reinforced in an interview with Dave Rubin, in which Milo presented himself as Jewish (he usually portrays himself as Catholic), and said:
Most of the Generation Trump, the Alt-Right people, the people who like me, they’re not anti-Semites. They don’t care about Jews. I mean, they may have some assumptions about things, how the Jews run everything; well, we do. The Jews run the banks; well, we do. The Jews run the media; well we do! […]
When Jonah Goldberg of the National Review is bombarded by these memes, whatever it is, antisemitic, take a hike Kike!, all this kind of stuff, it’s not because there is a gigantic outpouring of antisemitism by 22 year olds in this country. What it is is a mischievous, dissident, trolly generation who do it because it gets a reaction; that’s been the case for young people for generations, it’s just that now they have access to things that under people’s skin and internet-scale economics and viral dynamics. And they can get to people in positions of power, and people in positions of power keep biting. And they keep taking the bait.
It’s trolling, and this is a direct response to the language policing. This is a direct response to people being told they can’t say things. These people don’t know what the Holocaust was. They don’t know! They don’t have any relatives who were in it, they don’t even in many cases remember 9/11! They haven’t lived through these big traumatic events in world history, they’re just trolling, and they recognise that saying stuff about Jews means you can get on the nerves of journalists. I’ve seen this guy on Fox News, and now I’ve sent him this stupid Jew meme and look at him, he’s so triggered! You know what it’s fun! It’s funny! I find it funny! Because once you recognise it’s not about the Jew thing, it’s about trolling and provocation, and they’ve identified it as something that works really well, when you look at it it starts to make more sense, you’re like: Yeah of course! Yeah!
Milo here identifies Jews with power and establishment, therefore it’s not antisemitic to tweet at Ben Shapiro a picture of himself in a gas oven with his wife and newborn son, the day after he is born, because this is challenging power.
I find it very revealing that Milo claims that the explosion of antisemitism online is a “direct response” to language policing, when language policing is exactly what the conservative targets of this abuse – Shapiro and Goldberg – have consistently opposed. Milo’s message here amounts to saying that there is nothing Jews can do to prevent antisemitic online abuse against them; as Jews they are responsible for language policing, even if their own politics tell us otherwise.
But Milo is aware of the zeitgeist, and realises he can tap into antisemitic trolling in order to further his own cause.
He is not a newcomer, but a 32-year old man who knows exactly what he is doing.
I have to contrast Milo Yiannopoulos’ words on internet trolls in 2012, to those he uttered in 2016. He was 28 years old then; hardly young and naive, but rather the editor of a technology journal with an appreciation of how the world works.
Here are some extracts from his Kernel Magazine article, in which Milo correctly diagnoses the current trends underlying internet trolling:
Glibness and superficial charm. Manipulation of others. A grandiose sense of self. Pathological lying. A lack of remorse, shame or guilt. Shallow emotions. An incapacity to feel genuine love. A need for stimulation. Frequent verbal outbursts. Poor behavioural controls. These are just some of the things that social media are encouraging in all of us. They’re also a pretty comprehensive diagnostic checklist for sociopathy – in fact, that’s where I got the list. Social media are often blamed for a coarsening of discourse on the internet – for the depressing and seemingly exponential rise in libellous, abusive and unpleasant behaviour between human beings unencumbered by worries about consequences. In fact, the problem has been around a lot longer than that. And social media is only turbocharging a fundamental structural problem with people and the internet: the mediating layer, we might say, of a screen and keyboard encourages us to write unspeakable things to other human beings that we would never dream of saying in person.
There has always been abuse on the internet, but, before the social revolution, it was largely restricted to anonymous comment threads, message boards and chat rooms. Any site owner who allowed anonymous comments could reasonably be held responsible, morally and legally, for the content appearing on his site. But now there is a disturbing bleed from anonymous hatred to defamatory and spiteful language being posted under the authors’ real names using their social networking profiles. It’s as if our usual moral safeguards are being broken down by a terrifying new online landscape in which the default mode of communication is a form of attack.
What’s disturbing about this new trend, in which commenters are posting what would previously have been left anonymously, is that these trolls seem not to mind that their real names, and sometimes even their occupations, appear clamped to their vile words. It’s as if a psychological norm is being established whereby comments left online are part of a video game and not real life. It’s as if we’ve all forgotten that there’s a real person on the other end, reading and being hurt by our vitriol. That’s as close to the definition of sociopath as one needs to get for an armchair diagnosis, though of course many other typical sociopathic traits are also being encouraged by social media.
We are all by now accustomed to the periodic whinging of public figures after another round of drive-by shootings on Twitter. But the problem isn’t restricted to those who put themselves on a public platform. Just take a look at how people are talking to each other as well. Frankly, it’s terrifying, and it occurs to me that one of the great challenges of the next decade will be how we, as a society, manage those people unable to manage themselves.
Milo suggests the erosion of anonymity, and acknowledges the legitimate fear that internet trolls bring to people:
It’s clear that existing hate speech laws are inadequate for the social media era. And if we decide, as we perhaps might, that a lifetime ban on the internet is unworkable and disproportionately punitive, given the centrality of the internet to our professional and personal lives these days, what on earth are we to do? No one has yet offered a convincing answer. In the meantime, we are all, bit by bit, growing ever more fearful of the next wave of molestation.
Together with other commentators, I have in the past argued for verified identities on social networks, so those responsible for abuse and persecution of public figures and the vulnerable might be held accountable for their actions. That seems redundant when trolls are now so brazen they don’t care about disapproving words from their loved ones back inside Facebook when they leave furious missives using that social network’s commenting system elsewhere on the internet.
So perhaps what’s needed now is a bolder form of censure after all, because the internet is not a universal human right. If people cannot be trusted to treat one another with respect, dignity and consideration, perhaps they deserve to have their online freedoms curtailed. For sure, the best we could ever hope for is a smattering of unpopular show trials. But if the internet, ubiquitous as it now is, proves too dangerous in the hands of the psychologically fragile, perhaps access to it ought to be restricted. We ban drunks from driving because they’re a danger to others. Isn’t it time we did the same to trolls?
In 2012, Milo Yiannopoulos wanted to ban internet trolls for life. Now he encourages their abuse of Jews online, because he disagrees with them. He is the mirror-image of the SJWs he opposes, fermenting identity-politics abuse of people he cannot defeat intellectually.
But while Milo himself is a cause celebre in 2016, Jews are not. Milo is consciously harnessing and hastening a tidal wave of antisemitism, because it rather suits him right now. He knows precisely what he is doing: revising his view of people he wanted banned from the internet and casting them as rebellious free speech heroes, in order to weaponise them against his Jewish peers.