The Current

What the rise and fall of Milo Yiannopoulos says about conservatism and online trolling

Milo Yiannopoulos made his name as a self-labelled troll on Twitter — until he was banned from it for racist, misogynist comments. The Current looks at what his popularity says about American conservatism and online trolling.
After a video surfaced where Milo Yiannopoulos appears to condone pedophilia, a lucrative book deal with Simon and Schuster and an invitation to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference was cancelled. (Jeremy Papasso/Daily Camera/Associated Press)

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It has been a tough week for Milo Yiannopoulos, one of the leading poster boys for modern white supremacy, the alt-right and professional trolling.

The former Breitbart editor had built a lucrative career off his hardline views on feminism, minorities, Muslims and Jews — views that his many critics decried as blatantly racist, misogynist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic.

On modern feminism, Yiannopoulos has said: "It's about man hating. It is a very angry bitter profane lesbianic sort of feminism."

On the modern civil-rights movement: "Black Lives [Matters] wants the same thing as KKK — segregation at colleges. They leave black cities in flames because they are so self destructive."

On anti-Semitism and the alt-right: "[Alt-right supporters] aren't anti-Semites. They don't care about the Jews. They may have … some prejudices about Jews, like the Jews run everything, like the Jews run the banks, well we do! The Jews run the media, well we do! They are right about all that stuff."

Yiannopoulos turned his rhetoric into a major book deal with a mainstream publisher — Simon and Schuster — and an invitation to speak at the influential Conservative Political Action Conference.

But his career went off the rails when a video surfaced in which Yiannopoulos appears to condone pedophilia. The book deal and keynote address were swiftly cancelled.

"[CPAC organizers] are supposed to pat themselves on the back for that?" Pete Wehner asks The Current's Friday host Laura Lynch.

Wehner is a conservative writer and former advisor to previous three Republican administrations.

"This is the boundary that can't be crossed — endorsing pedophilia — but everything short of that message [was okay?]" Wehner wonders.
Conservative writer Pete Wehner says Milo Yiannopoulos' invitation to CPAC is a sign of conservatism's moral decay. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

He says Yiannopoulos' anti-Semitism and racism were well known when the conference invited him to speak, yet officials did it anyway because of his burgeoning profile.

"They handled it poorly. I agreed with them to rescind the invitation, but it never should have been said in the first place."

Yiannopoulos rose to national prominence last year after leading a hate-filled online campaign aimed at African-American actor/comedian Leslie Jones after she was cast in the all-female remake of Ghostbusters.

Yiannopoulos was barred from Twitter for his role in the trolling campaign.

Whitney Phillips doesn't like calling Yiannopoulos an online troll. She's an assistant professor at Mercer University and the author of This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture.

"The problem with the word 'troll' is that it tends to posit a kind of playfulness, this idea that it's not really real life; it's something that happens on the Internet. And if you take offense to it you're just being oversensitive," Phillips tells Lynch.

"I [would] call him a nihilistic, mean-spirited opportunist and a racist and a bigot and a person who has created a lot of pain for a lot of people."

Phillips says the media must shoulder a lot of the responsibility for turning Yiannopoulos into the high-profile personality that he has become.

"It's impossible to talk about Yiannopoulos outside of the context of a media environment that rewards sensationalist headlines, of clickbait. He is a grotesque extension of that."

But Phillips admits that simply ignoring Yiannopoulos isn't an option either.

"I have done a lot of soul-searching myself because as a cultural critic, as an academic I'm also part of this system that I'm critiquing."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Lara O'Brien and Ashley Mak.