On Groundhog Day, Thursday Feb. 2, a far-right provocateur stuck his head out from his underground movement and discovered that the winter of liberal discontent is far from over.
Milo Yiannopoulos, the senior editor for Breitbart News, was invited to speak at the University of California, Berkeley by the Berkeley College Republicans.
A peaceful protest of the event by over 1,500 students was disrupted by 150 masked agitators who became violent, burned vehicles, smashed windows and caused around $100,000 worth of damage to the campus. University police cancelled the event.
Yiannopoulos has made himself famous by essentially being an Internet troll. As a self-termed “free-speech fundamentalist,” he has written Breitbart articles with titles such as, “Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer?” and “Here’s Why There Ought To Be a Cap on Women Studying Science and Maths.” These pieces are composed with the express purpose of getting a rise out of the left, and like so many in the Trump movement, Yiannopoulos thrives on the attention this generates.
His appearance in Berkeley was part of a national tour called “Dangerous Faggot”—Yiannopoulos is openly gay and a British immigrant to boot, which just goes to show that in America you can grow up to be anyone you want to be.
His speaking engagement on Berkeley’s campus does not rise to a level that justifies property violence. Right wing pundits such as Tomi Lahren, however, were quick to blame the left without any real evidence that the black bloc protesters are part of any movement aligned with the left.
Events like the riot that erupted against Yiannopoulos play directly into his hands politically—he would like nothing more than a chance to complain about the “intolerance” of the left and pose as a free speech martyr. Some argue that because of this dynamic, it would be more effective to ignore Yiannopoulos completely than to protest him.
These arguments might be more convincing if all Yiannopoulos had done was publish a few incendiary articles online. In fact, however, that didn’t seem to generate enough attention for him, and he has used his tour to abuse individual students.
At the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, Yiannopoulos gave his typical mockery of the feminist criticism of the phrase “man up,” when all of a sudden he pulled up a picture of a transgender student on the projector screen.
“I’ll tell you one UW-Milwaukee student that does not need to man up,” he said of the transgender woman. “This quote unquote nonbinary trans woman forced his way into the women’s locker rooms this year … I have known some passing trannies in my life …The way that you know he’s failing is I’d almost still bang him.”
The student was in the audience, and after the speech she withdrew from college over displeasure with how the administration handled of the situation.
Fifty percent of transgender youth struggle with depression, and they attempt suicide three times as often as their cisgender peers. It doesn’t matter whether Yiannopoulos’s abuse was rooted in bigotry or a desire for attention—it is sickening either way. It says a lot about the alt-right movement that so much of their platform is based deeply in a desire to make people suffer. This shows that Yiannopoulos is a pathetic bully.
Officials at UC Berkeley should have precluded the entire mess by canceling Yiannopoulos’ speaking engagement despite the protestations of the radical right. Let them squeal. If it saves one transgender student from violence so abhorrent she felt induced to give up her education, then it will have been more than justified.