A micro-controversy is bubbling in the world of liberal infotainment. Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart editor and self-described internet supervillain, was booked as a guest on Friday’s Real Time with Bill Maher. In protest, Jeremy Scahill, a founding editor for The Intercept, canceled his own scheduled appearance on the show. Maher responded by saying, in part, “Liberals will continue to lose elections as long as they follow the example of people like Mr. Scahill.”
Maher further explained, “If Mr. Yiannopoulos is indeed the monster Scahill claims – and he might be – nothing could serve the liberal cause better than having him exposed on Friday night.” But Maher is missing the point. Exposure is precisely what Yiannopoulos craves. It doesn’t matter if he’s revealed as a full-throated Nazi and booed out of the building; he has already won.
Yiannopoulos’s rap sheet is revealing. He was famously banned from Twitter for inciting a gaggle of alt-right trolls to harass black actress Leslie Jones over her starring role in the all-female Ghostbusters film. During a speech at the University of Wisconsin, Yiannopoulos pointed out and attempted to shame an innocent transgender student. A planned appearance at Berkeley, as part of Yiannopoulos’s “Dangerous Faggot” tour, had to be canceled after violent protests erupted.
What’s so striking about Yiannopoulos, apart from the awfulness that is his brand, is just how dim he actually is. Hateful supremacists have come and gone; many were total dunces while others have been sinisterly intellectual. Yiannopoulos is somewhere in between. He speaks quickly and charismatically, but filibusters a great deal and rarely contributes an original idea. When he does get around to making a point, his philosophy can often be boiled down to “No fat chicks.”
Presumably the Berkeley issue will come up on Real Time, as Maher and Yiannopoulos share a distaste for the politically correct climate on college campuses. But Yiannopoulos goes beyond political incorrectness. His truly is a brand of hate speech, often closely aligned with white supremacist and alt-right views. While pretending to oppose identity politics, he and his troll army’s constant use of the “white male” card has fostered perhaps the most toxic ideology in the US today.
Because Yiannopoulos does traffic almost exclusively in hate – hatred of feminists, Black Lives Matter, Muslims, immigrants, and even his fellow homosexuals – Scahill’s decision not to join a panel with him is understandable. Yiannopoulos is a professional troll, and quite open about it. For such people, victory doesn’t come from a persuasive argument; merely being heard is the goal. Landing a gig on a college campus or an appearance on HBO are huge wins for Yiannopoulos no matter what happens.
The right-wing troll culture, of which Breitbart and Yiannopoulos are proud leaders, has radicalized white men and even incubated terrorists. In the last few years, those terrorists have committed some of the deadliest attacks in North America. Among their worst attacks have been the murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston and six Muslims in Quebec. Of course Yiannopoulos can’t be blamed directly, but his rhetoric is emboldening.
To allow Yiannopoulos airtime in the name of free speech is well within Maher’s right. But Yiannopoulos is no free speech champion. His troll army regularly attempts to silence women and ethnic minorities through vicious harassment and intimidation. If Maher wants to make anything of this opportunity, he will meaningfully challenge Yiannopoulos over his leadership position in the vicious, hate-filled climate of the far-right internet.