This piece is cross-posted at Ordinary Times.
Milo Yiannapolous found himself in the headlines yet again this week as his speech to UC Berkeley was canceled due to protests and rioting.
Protests that erupted at UC Berkeley ahead of a planned Wednesday appearance by right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos caused $100,000 worth of damage to the campus, the school said Thursday.
The university blamed “150 masked agitators” for the unrest, saying they had come to campus to disturb an otherwise peaceful protest.
Administrators decided to cancel the Wednesday event about two hours before the Breitbart editor’s speech. UC Berkeley said it removed him from campus “amid the violence and destruction of property and out of concern for public safety.”
Black-clad protesters wearing masks threw commercial-grade fireworks and rocks at police. Some even hurled Molotov cocktails that ignited fires. They also smashed windows of the student union center on the Berkeley campus where the Yiannopoulos event was to be held.
Left/liberal Twitter was aflame in debates regarding the effectiveness and morality of the protests/riot. Committed anarchists and Communists called liberals fascist apologists and insufficiently committed to combatting the rise of right-wing populism. Liberals barked back that even trolls like Milo have a right to free speech and letting masked vigilantes carry out justice as they see fit undermines the basic foundations of free society.
I won’t step into the debate around the ethics and worthiness of direct action or no platforming. This is an essential dispute that the various coalitions of the left will need to continuously discuss in the age of Trump and beyond.
Rather, I want to address my Republican comrades that keep inviting Milo to speak at their respective universities.
I understand that many on the conservative end of the political spectrum find university life challenging. Having spent far too many years in college, I can attest to the overwhelming liberal/left homogony of these institutions. Even those of us who stand in agreement with the overarching philosophical standpoint disseminated in our universities can recognize that it does take some guts to be openly conservative in such an environment.
When I walked into the University of California, Santa Cruz I was a committed leftist and was right at home with the political tone the university maintained. I experienced a slow move away from the radical groups and policies I had spent years defending but could never fathom leaving the left behind. Yet, I did come to respect some of the conservatives in my political science courses for their resolve and tact. They understood that they were operating in unfriendly territory and rather than hide their opinions from their school community, they opted to find common ground with activists that, often unfairly, intrinsically opposed them.
There was a conservative student paper started on campus in 2003 or so. Based on the few actual conservatives I knew, I thought said rag would be a perfect home for some of their long-form reflections on policy and society. However, these individual conservatives I had come to respect would not touch the paper; they saw it as nothing more than childish provocations meant to goad the school community unnecessarily. This “conservative” publication would spend most of its time writing hyperbolic takes on “hippies” and other “stupid commies.” This paper was not intended to debate and persuade but act as comfort food for the disposed campus right-wingers in an era before Reddit and Twitter. It was a lowbrow and injudicious endeavor and one the canny conservatives I studied with stayed far from.
Milo Yiannopoulos reminds me of that short-lived conservative paper. It may be fun to get together with like-minded persons and have a good laugh at your opponent’s expense, but acts like Milo make conservatives forget their own basic principles for the sake of amusement and notoriety. Milo is building his brand at the expense of these Republican organizations and their willingness to bask in his celebrity for a few fleeting hours. He has said countless things that require ostentatious rhetorical gymnastics for conservatives to justify and explain. He has fomented online campaigns of harassment against people in movies he didn’t like. All the while, he defends his actions as a necessary act of anti-PC free speech activism and many conservatives on college campuses have taken the bait.
But Milo’s actions are anything but a defense of free speech principles. His attempts to silence those who dare speak of him unkindly (much like our current president) by using his swarm of online acolytes is not a political act that should find support from any ideology or persuasion.
Worse yet, he has personally attempted to get people fired from their jobs for speaking unkindly of his enterprise.
Milo cares so much about free speech he twice called my former boss and unsuccessfully tried to get me fired for (v benign) things I tweeted
— Abi Wilkinson (@AbiWilks) February 3, 2017
Milo often uses his campus speeches to speak out against activists working to get people fired for their opinions, yet he has no problem engaging in the same behavior when it suits his ends. This is not a man who believes in the fair exchange of ideas but one quite willing to silence his foes if their points are too intense for his fancy.
Campus Republicans have a choice: do they wish to engage in honest debate or invite a man that provides nothing in the way of intellectual examination? Milo may eviscerate college leftists in his speeches but rides all the way to the bank on the backs of Republican students that invite him. This media gadfly is playing every party involved in a Milo event and it’s up to college Republicans to stop his charade.