Op-Ed: Why is Milo Yiannopoulos the exception to the alt-right rule?

Jessica Rowe, of Australian talk show “Studio 10,” was not prepared for her live TV discussion with Milo Yiannopoulos earlier this month. When Rowe, a co-host of the studio, told Yiannopoulos she was a “proud feminist,” Yiannopoulos shot back. “That’s okay, I’m sure they’ll cure you soon, there’s chemotherapy for that,” Yiannopoulos said, likening feminism to cancer, which he also did in a speech to students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2016.

Yiannopoulos is no stranger to controversy. A former Breitbart News writer and technical editor, Yiannopoulos has voiced many convoluted opinions, like his opposition to gay rights (despite being openly gay) and his belief that college rape culture is a myth. Yiannopoulos’ controversies stack to the point where Twitter banned him for life in 2016 for “inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.” Yiannopoulos’  Breitbart News connections ultimately link him to the alt-right movement, and while he claims that he and the alt-right are only “fellow travelers on some issues,” Yiannopoulos’ leaked Breitbart emails, released by Buzzfeed in 2017, show differently. The reports and emails show Yiannopoulos soliciting story ideas from people associated with the alt-right and neo-Nazi movements and singing karaoke at a bar where notable alt-right figures like Richard Spencer cheered him on with Nazi salutes.

Former Breitbart News staffer Ben Shapiro claimed that “Breitbart has become the alt-right go-to website, with Yiannopoulos pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers.” Yiannopoulos’ Breitbart article “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right” presented the movement of the alt-right to establishment Republicans, an act now being completed by Steve Bannon and his war against the establishment Republican Party. Yiannopoulos may claim to only be “a fellow traveler” of the alt-right, but even Andrew Anglin of The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, claimed Yiannopoulos as an alt-right member when Anglin established that racism and anti-Semitism are vital to the alt-right movement. According to Heidi Beirich, the director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Milo is the person who propelled the alt-right movement into the mainstream.”

With the establishment of Yiannopoulos’ connection to the alt-right comes the question: Why is he the exception? A gay man supposedly married to a black Muslim man, and whose maternal grandmother is Jewish, Yiannopoulos is considerably the opposite of what the alt-right’s leaders and spokespeople are. The alt-right has established its anti-LGBT, white nationalism/racism, Islamophobic and neo-Nazi views in the past. Why was Yiannopoulos able to break that establishment and become a leading figure of the movement?

Yiannopoulos gained much of his following when he announced his support of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. And while Yiannopoulos has said that some alt-right members do not like him because he is “a degenerate, race-mixing gay Jew,” that does not take away from the fact that Yiannopoulos has a golden status with the movement.

Well he did, until his pedophilia comments. In February 2017, the conservative website Reagan Battalion posted videos of a January 2016 podcast recording of Drunken Peasants in which Yiannopoulos showed support for pedophilia and illegal sexual relationships. In the videos, Yiannopoulos said that sexual relationships between 13-year-old boys and adult men and women can “happen perfectly consensually.” To make matters worse, Yiannopoulos continued, saying that “pedophilia is not a sexual attraction to somebody 13 years old, who is sexually mature.” These jarring comments were clarified by Yiannopoulos as the “usual blend of British sarcasm, provocation and gallows humour” and suggested as being a way for him to deal with his own sexual abuse. Both Yiannopoulos’ original comments and his apology were slammed by media outlets globally, including multiple conservative news outlets like The American Conservative. Simon & Schuster canceled their plans to publish his autobiography in June 2017. With these comments came the collapse of Yiannopoulos’ political world and alt-right credibility, at least with Breitbart. Shortly after the release of the podcast clips, a report was released that Breitbart employees were threatening to quit unless Yiannopoulos was fired. Thus, Yiannopoulos resigned from Breitbart News, rejected by previous writers and supporters.

Now, in a time where Yiannopoulos is dealing with protestors shutting down his Arizona event before he even departed for it, it would be expected that his fall from grace would leave him as an outlier in politics. Yet, Yiannopoulos seems to be more powerful than ever with his new media outlet, Milo, Inc. The strangest part about this new development is Milo, Inc.’s potentially biggest donor: The Mercer family, billionaires who raised a large amount of money to help Donald Trump become president. According to leaked documents provided again by Buzzfeed and sources close to Yiannopoulos and the Mercers, “Rebekah Mercer loves Milo.” Thus, despite losing his job and his speaking role with the Conservative Political Action Conference, Yiannopoulos still sits comfortably in the alt-right movement.

It is not clear how someone representing many of the traits the alt-right fights against became their poster boy. It is not clear how Yiannopoulos can lose so much credibility after his pedophilia comments and still receive funding and support from Trump supporters and the alt-right. It is not clear, truthfully, whether Yiannopoulos has his opinions and writings just for the controversy and success or if he actually believes in them. It may never be clear. What is clear, however, is that no matter how far Yiannopoulos pushes the envelope, there will always be cash in it from supporters like the Mercers. And where there is money for Yiannopoulos, there is money for the man sitting in the Oval Office.