On stopping Yiannopoulos (and Lahren, Spencer, Conway, Bannon, Trump)

In this Jan. 25, 2017 file photo, Milo Yiannopoulos speaks on campus in the Mathematics building at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo. Sales are soaring for, "Dangerous," the upcoming book by the right-wing commentator. The book, scheduled to come out March 14. was in the top 10 on Amazon as of Thursday afternoon, a day after violent protests led the University of California, Berkeley to cancel his scheduled talk. (Jeremy Papasso/AP)

The newest controversy over free speech [unfortunately] centers on Milo Yiannopoulos, a far-right white supremacist who pretends at being a journalist/intellectual. Henceforth, I will either refer to this person as either “Yanni,” a Greek musician whose music I used to fall asleep to, or “Yawn,” because Yiannopoulos is dangerously unfunny.

Yanni’s college speaking tour – entitled “Dangerous Faggot” – has caused riots within and nearby campuses throughout the country. Conservatives point to this as proof of liberal snowflakes who are against differing viewpoints and the First Amendment. A small portion of elite-white-Democrats agree, but the Left, for the most part, rightly references efforts to intimidate/push back against Yawn and his bigoted ilk as a way to overpower their increasingly normalized hate speech.

College students are not against differing viewpoints. We welcome vigorous debate on issues of policy. But when the matter at hand is humanity, or basic morality, there is no discussion to be had.

The University of California Berkeley College Republicans had invited Yanni to speak, and there was immediate backlash from professors and students alike, citing Yawn’s threatening rhetoric that often surpasses Donald Trump’s in immaturity, incoherency and vulgarity.

Angry demonstrations in opposition to Yanni’s speaking event at Berkeley led to $100,000 in property damage. This is unproductive for those against Yawn. Still, it’s imperative to note that this vandalism was not perpetrated by students but rather by “150 masked agitators,” according to the university administration; anarchists who are a part of the group “Black Bloc,” which is well known in the Oakland area for disrupting events not to their liking.

Given the Republican party line regarding protests, it is ironic that, in a separate Yanni event, which occurred last month, a Trump/Yawn fan shot one of the demonstrators outside of Yanni’s speaking engagement on the University of Washington Seattle campus. Where was the outrage from The Right over free speech then?

I’ll admit that more aggressive modes of protest only provide ammunition to the alt-right: after Berkeley, supporters of the ideology inevitably proceeded to claim that institutions of higher education and their liberal faculty/students stifle expression. That being said, confronting Yawn and his lucrative form of hatred becomes more necessary with the passing of every dire day of Donald’s reign.  

It is plain wrong to make and lead an onslaught of misogynistic, racist remarks toward the black comedian Leslie Jones, as Yanni has on Twitter. It is plain wrong to disparage a religion based on ignorance, but Yawn saw nothing problematic with his Breitbart article: “10 things Milo hates about Islam”. It is plain wrong to say women don’t work as hard as men, as Yanni did in a misguided and unintelligent attempt to justify the gender wage gap. It is plain wrong to call being transgender “a mental disorder,” a favorite refrain of Yawn’s. It is plain wrong to describe Black Lives Matter, feminism and “progressive social justice” as bad ideas, which Yanni repeatedly does. It is plain wrong to say rape culture doesn’t exist, that white men are victims of social justice, that people become feminists because they are “deeply physically unattractive,” as Yawn has.

Stop sugarcoating it. Yanni is plainly racist, sexist, misogynistic, transphobic, Islamaphobic and xenophobic. If you support him, you are too. It’s likely you also back Trump, who has spoken out on Yawn’s behalf. Allowing this charlatan a platform is without value. The First Amendment protects speech, yes, and in this case, said speech is taking the form of impassioned rebuttals to Yanni’s affronts to human decency.

You, Yawn, are part and parcel as to why there were nearly 900 “hate incidents” reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in the ten days following Trump’s illegitimate election, where he lost the popular vote and needed every shred of tampering Putin had to offer. You, Yanni, are tangentially responsible for the 172 instances of hate on college campuses in the month succeeding Trump’s election. Confrontations to Yawn’s capitalistic brand of right-wing treachery are healthy and necessary. This is a man who, according to American Nazi leader Richard Spencer, inspired him. And yet, conservatives, including their president, flew to Yanni’s defense under the guise of free speech, all the while denigrating the press and cheering when Trump took time out of his day to vilify journalistic enterprises, such as the New York Times, a paragon of free speech.

The arguments over protest tactics and safe spaces are but tiny aspects of a larger whole. Consider the situation our country finds itself in: a reality TV show personality and failed businessman who, it becomes clearer by the day, is entirely without political acumen, has risen to the highest office in the nation with the vehement encouragement of the KKK and neo-Nazi groups. His chief advisor is a white supremacist and just so happens to own a media outlet (Breitbart is the new ministry of propaganda). His cabinet picks are unqualified, but that doesn’t begin to cover it – some are actively opposed to the supposed tenets of the agencies they were chosen to lead. And the unifying characteristic of these cabinet choices? They’re disgustingly wealthy. Trump is also attempting to ban Muslims and waste billions of dollars on a Mexican border wall the vast majority of the U.S. is not in favor of.

This is why I refuse to condemn violent protests. In fact, their expression of anger is a logical reaction to the fascist wet dream we are plummeting into. While I understand, as I’ve mentioned earlier, that these protests can warrant unwanted attention toward the resistance of Trump and Yawn, those who are opposed to what Trump and Yanni represent must not take their cues from Republicans, who have recently been converted into extremists. If it’s a peaceful protest, conservatives say the marchers are crybabies. If otherwise, they say there is no place for this in a democracy, and liberals are becoming an affront to the First Amendment. There is no winning in this game, so again: our movement is not meant to appease.

Instead of judging understandable responses to Yawn’s outsized prejudice, we should be making it clear that, even if it is his right to say it, saying it doesn’t make it right.


Sten Spinella is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sten.spinella@uconn.edu.