This piece also appeared on Common Dreams.
We should all have compassion for a wounded animal, but be ready for his bite
Milo Yiannopoulos is like a wounded tiger right now. I have pity for him, but I still know that, given the chance, he would gladly strike me down.
In just 48 hours, the right-wing joy ride of Milo Yiannopoulos crashed and burned. Over the course of just two days, in the aftermath of the release of videos showing Yiannopoulos defending pedophilia, he lost his gig as keynote speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington DC, he lost his book deal for his upcoming book “Dangerous,” and then he felt compelled to resign as senior editor for the right-wing website Breitbart. Before his speaking gig was cancelled, I and other antifascist activists had planned to protest at his speech.
Many of us cringed through Yiannopoulos’ defense of pedophilia in two videos that emerged this week. One video shows an impassioned Yiannopoulos saying that it’s not pedophilia to commit a sexual act with a child who is past puberty. One video shows him carefully defending the identities of older men who abused children.
We also learned from the videos that Yiannopoulos is a survivor of child sexual abuse. We learned that when he was thirteen he was abused by a priest. Yiannopoulos, who has made a business of being hated, who has trolled Leslie Jones in the most racist way, who has attacked feminists and lesbians, who has violently opposed transgender people, who has called homosexuality a sin even while practicing it, and who has been at the center of vitriolic protests — this man was actually molested when he himself was just a confused child, when he was a teenager, well before the age of consent.
Somehow, Yiannopoulos makes a bit more sense now. His young heart was torn and his young mind was rattled. According to his words at his press conference on Tuesday, his parents had not found out about this abuse until this week. He had been carrying this toxic secret all this time.
Of course, we have to approach Yiannopoulos’ life experience with compassion. As a survivor myself of sexual violence, which I experienced as an adult, I know how it can turn life upside down. Like all abuse, if left unaddressed and misunderstood, it can create a gangrenous darkness in your heart. Maybe that’s what happened to Yiannopoulos.
Since he is a survivor, we must regard his horrible words as someone trying to process their own unexamined experiences. Yes, we should be sensitive here and be our better selves in respecting his experience.
But we should be careful of his bite. He is a wounded animal, and his work is still our enemy. We must still realize that his advocacy maintains rich white male privilege and explicitly throws everyone else under the bus.
If he is able to keep his following as a right-wing personality, he will still be pursuing his hard-right libertarianism and his protection of hyper-capitalism. He will still be making the most offensive racist statements under the sun. He will still be outraged that some women deign to fight for equality. He will still be trying to protect white male privilege with special college scholarships and other shenanigans. He will still be attacking safe spaces and trigger warnings and claiming that we are violating his free speech. He will still be criticizing lesbians and transgender people, and denouncing homosexuality while being himself openly gay. And he will still be masking his persuasive tirades as long trails of lewd jokes at the expense of everyone involved.
We must not forget that, if he is able to recover from this publicity crisis, he will spare nothing in going back into attack mode.
If his attack mode returns, we can expect that he will be back on his “free speech” kick. He announced this week at his press conference that he still wishes to go on a speaking tour of college campuses and other venues. He believes that his free speech is violated when we refuse to give him a platform — a platform to enable him to continue building momentum for violating other peoples’ rights.
No, acting in protest does not violate the free speech of people who wish to do us harm. We protest precisely because they have already spoken, and we have heard them, and we believe them when they say that they wish to violate our rights. That’s why stopping their momentum is noble and necessary.
Let’s be clear that Yiannopoulos never represented a free speech issue. He has a larger platform for his speech as he espouses his irrational and often self-contradicting rhetoric than most of today’s pundits.
We must stand ready to protest.
At the same time, I can’t help but wonder, what if schoolboy Milo Yiannopoulos had had access to a safe space on his school campus? What if he were in a place where trigger warnings were respected? What if his environment had been one of respect for people of color, women, people of different faiths, the LGBTQIA+ community, poor people, and anyone living on the margins? What if, instead of descending into luxurious escapist parties and elitist reverie, he had sought help from others in processing his feelings?
He’s done nothing but denounce safe spaces and trigger warnings. But if he actually had had access to them when he was younger, maybe he would have found a healthier way to process his feelings that didn’t involve concluding that pedophilia might have been okay, even announcing it on video. Maybe he wouldn’t have that dark place in his heart that descends into fascism. Maybe he wouldn’t think rich white males are superior. Maybe he wouldn’t be so afraid of losing control as his white male power slips out of his fingers, and balances equally into all of our hands, where power belongs. Maybe he wouldn’t be so threatened by a world in which he as a white male didn’t dominate the rest of us.
For me, the train wreck of Yiannopoulos’ life right now only illustrates why ultimately his hateful worldview is wrong. Every young person deserves safe spaces. Every survivor should find a world in which they can ultimately feel safe. Everyone should also be free and safe from having their rights violated by the right wing, who want the power for themselves.
If we all lived in a supportive world like that, maybe the right wing with its worldview of fear and competition, would gradually subside, leading to a world of love and collaboration. Maybe our hierarchies would gradually become less relevant. Maybe we would all learn to base our interactions on mutual consent, respect, and celebration of diversity.
Maybe that is what the right wing is afraid of in the first place.