Until last week, Breitbart senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos was conservatives’ sassy gay friend, glamorizing their misogyny, transphobia, and general viciousness. Unfortunately someone found tapes of him making what sounded like a sassy gay defense of pedophilia, and his $250K book deal, speaking spot at wingnut shindig CPAC, and Breitbart job all vanished within a couple of days.
The rightbloggers reaction to this turnabout was interesting, but let us take a moment first to review what had attracted them to Yiannopoulos in the first place.
Conservatives have always treasured their out-group guest stars as something they can point to and say No-Bigot-You’re-The-Bigot. Think of Lloyd Marcus, who got major coverage on no greater distinction than being the non-Caucasian Tea Party guy, or Grandpa-from-The Boondocks impersonator Thomas Sowell.
But gay avatars have been a little trickier for the brethren. This is largely because gay marriage blew up more recently than the equivalent African-American civil rights milestones, and many conservatives have not yet made the transition from slurs to dog whistles when talking about it. Consequently even deeply invested gaycons like Andrew Sullivan have eventually found themselves obliged to back away from the movement.
So Yiannopoulos was a godsend for the brethren. He attacked the same things straight conservatives did — Islam, women, trans people — even denouncing gay people who were not him. His Mike Leigh movie villain British accent made it classy, but gayness was his real USP. And he wasn’t shy about working it: where the Log Cabin Republicans were more conservative than conservatism, Yiannopoulos camped his conservatism up, dressing like a 1980s club kid or engaging in calculated outrages such as bathing in a tubful of pig blood for a “pro-Trump art show.” And he called The Leader “Daddy,” which gave the brethren a weird, guilty thrill.
When Yiannopoulos went too far and got in trouble — for example, by leading an army of trolls in a vicious campaign against black actress Leslie Jones and losing his Twitter verification checkmark — his acolytes reveled in vicarious victim status, signified with a #JeSuisMilo hashtag. Now who’s picking on gay people, libtards!
And his deliberate cruelty was ballyhooed as a First Amendment cause. “He aims to create a safe space — if it can be called that — for students to express their views, even if those views are vile and offensive,” wrote Reason magazine’s Robby Soave, who posited “Donald Trump and Milo Yiannopoulos as anti-leftist provocateurs” and compared them favorably with snowflake college SJWs (“The inescapable conclusion for many on the right is that they are unfairly policed — not because they are behaving badly, but because they don’t articulate the correct views”).
While some of the more high-toned conservatives were a little iffy about Yiannopoulos, they certainly backed him against anything liberal. National Review‘s Ian Tuttle, for example, called Yiannopoulos “one of that new, unfortunate species: the right-wing Internet celebrity” who “has never given the impression that he cares for much that could properly be described as conservative.” But, Tuttle was quick to add, “the culture of knee-jerk offense-taking that thinks To Kill a Mockingbird promotes racism and would ban The Vagina Monologues as hurtful to ‘women who don’t have vaginas’ is precisely the culture in which people such as Milo Yiannopoulos flourish.” So if that awful Milo was popular with conservatives, it wasn’t conservatives’ fault — it was the fault of liberals for making them love him.
Soon on that enemy-of-my-enemy basis Yiannopoulos was swimming in praise from the conservative press — “Conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos continued his in-your-face crusade in support of free speech,” “School blinks in battle with campus conservatives, Breitbart’s Milo,” “Milo’s brand of right-wing homosexuality has got straight Republicans clamoring for more,” etc.
And the MSM was showing respect, too. On February 17 Yiannopoulos scored his most high-profile gig yet as a featured guest on Real Time with Bill Maher. He seemed poised for bigger things; maybe Breitbart Steve Bannon would get him the White House LGBT liaison job. Why not? The sky was the limit.
Then some conservatives who were not as crazy about Yiannopoulos released tapes that suggested he had a, let us say, cavalier attitude toward sex between adults and minors. They probably could have been explained away to a forgiving audience — which Yiannopoulos attempted to do (“If I choose to deal in an edgy way on an internet livestream with a crime I was the victim of that’s my prerogative”).
Some conservatives continued to give him props as confounder of liberals, but maintained a discreet distance while doing so. At The Federalist, Ben Domenech denied Yiannopoulos was a conservative, but enjoyed that he got those liberals going as “a provocateur who in practice amounts to a blunt instrument to use against the left because he confounds them as something they argue cannot exist.” Hence, “he is not going to go away,” and when he doesn’t, Domenech will be enjoying it over here near the door with his coat collar turned way up.
Domenech’s colleague D.C. McAllister would not defend Yiannopoulos, but attacked the “reaction” to him that she said was “riddled, not only with double standards, but with the hysteria of a witch-hunt that, as Maher admitted, will embolden progressives on the Left and weaken conservatives and libertarians on the Right… That’s the goal. Crush the Right. Label them. Stigmatize them. Silence them. Delegitimize them. Finally, defeat and destroy them. That’s the goal…”
“I’ve heard from friends that Lefties are already piling on to this man who did nothing wrong other than making observations about the realities of the gay world and the physical maturation process,” said Bookworm Room.
Others just went, Milo? I barely knew him. Robby Soave slunk away — “Yiannopoulos is well-known for making disparaging remarks about women, minorities, and transgender people. He’s hardly the right spokesperson for a more tolerant, inclusive GOP” — while his Reason colleague Shikha Dalmia wrote a genuinely anti-Milo piece, “Conservatives Made Their Bed With Milo, Now They Have to Lie In It,” which was almost uniformly lambasted by the magazine’s libertarian commenters (sample: “Dalmia’s principle being that she really really hates white people”).
Some of the Milo trolls are hanging in there (“I’m watching twice as many Milo talks now… #JeSuisMilo”), but the exits are getting mighty crowded. To be fair, some of the brethren never liked the guy (“if Milo is what the norm will be and what’s considered ‘winning,’ then I don’t mind losing”). Then again, many of them never liked any gay guy (“Milo Yiannapoulos’s public identity is foremost assembled around in-your-face homosexuality,” preached Deborah C. Tyler at American Thinker. “Such a persona, ranged against Judeo-Christian moorings, is irreconcilably separated from the advancement of freedom.”) In any case, Yiannapoulos will have to rethink his self-promotion strategy. Maybe a turn to Jesus?
Meanwhile, there’s less controversy among conservatives about The Leader’s executive order withdrawing Obama’s protections for transgender kids in public schools. Some of the brethren were more delicate about it, but American Thinker’s Daniel John Sobieski encapsulated the attitude: “This nonsense about self-identifying as a woman so a man can use the same restroom as someone else’s daughter is just that — nonsense. Just as it is nonsense about the Almighty putting you in the wrong body. You might be confused, but God is not. Male and female He created them and I’m quite sure He knew the difference.”
The moral of the story for conservatives is, it’s okay to experiment with your sassy gay friend, but don’t get involved, and make sure you always come home to Daddy.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 27, 2017