Ringling Brothers circus is going out of business but the college tour of the Milos Yiannpoulous continues. In Seattle on Inauguration Night, his appearance at Kane Hall spawned demonstrations and resulted in one of his supporters—reported to be a UW student—shooting a protester. Last week in Berkeley, CA, his appearance was cancelled due to rioting. In response, President Donald Trump wondered if the University of California in Berkeley should have its federal funds cut because the college wasn’t protecting free speech.
Questions in Seattle still swirl around Yiannpoulous’ visit. Should he have been speaking on campus? Did his talk amount to hate speech, in violation of campus policy? Did the UW do enough to protect free speech and deescalate the demonstrations? Is Yiannpoulous’ message worthy of a college campus, or is he a guy looking for crowded theaters in which to yell “Fire!”?
One thing that surprised me about Yiannpoulous’ UW presentation—which is available on YouTube—is how bad it was: self-conscious, disjointed, narcissistic, nasty and unprofessional. It was as if some random guy with a head injury was trying to turn himself into a martyr. He claimed demonstrators arriving on campus were armed—that gun-toting liberals should be our worry. Have you ever heard of a liberal militia? I thought not. He assumed that the shooting outside was an armed lefty attacking one of his supporters (it was exactly the opposite). His sexist, misogynistic jokes were lame, not even worthy of Archie Bunker status. He'd like to position himself as a symbol of free speech, but his rantings and ravings sound more like a lunatic on the street corner.
Yiannpoulous rails about being held back by a lack of free speech on campuses. But here’s what he said to CNN in an interview last month: “I just want to burn it down...I am speaking on college campuses because education...is really what matters. It's a crucible where these bad ideas are formed. Bad ideas like...progressive social justice, feminists, Black Lives Matter...that I think is so cancerous and toxic to free expression.”
So he and his supporters decry violence in opposing his “free speech,” but he wants to “burn down” “cancerous and toxic” expression of ideas he doesn’t like. There is lots of ridiculous talk on campuses, left and right. But this sounds like a guy encouraging a violent outlook. And, he’s leaving nasty trolling in his wake, as one UW professor is learning. He wants to provoke those who disagree with him to market his hateful ideas.
The only free speech he is really promoting is his own. He’s building a national brand. His college tour is promoting his upcoming book (he got a $250K advance from a Simon & Schuster imprint), and he’s taking advantage of provoking controversy with new rounds of publicity. His “oppression” includes access to the Breitbart website with its ties to the White House, major media appearances, a swirl of controversy that is largely undeserved and support from the president’s Twitter account. He’ll undoubtedly make a small fortune out of “free speech.” Who says circuses are dead?