to the people I know who know Milo

There are lots of people of my acquaintance who have known Milo for a long time, through his many shape-shifting phases.

Many of them have pardoned him a range of sins and excesses —transgressions which go back a very long way, perhaps all the way to the beginning — perhaps because they see common enemies, such as groupthink or thought policing or political correctness, or because they find his rhetoric to be entertaining, amusingly florid or usefully controversialist.

But really I suspect some people have given him a pass because he flattered and pandered to them, usually by playing into their political or intellectual ideology, or deploying his snake-like charm, or simply by saying things that they enjoyed hearing.

To hear people say that he is now beyond the pale, or suddenly indefensible, or that maybe this time he has gone too far, is to suggest that his behavior is somehow new or exposes some hidden reality. There is no secret Milo behind the façade — his desperate need for succor and his underlying viciousness have been there the whole time. If you’ve chosen to ignore it, then that’s on you.

He has always been a deeply misogynistic troll whose main objective is to seek attention through whichever means he can. He has always been a supplicant to those he wants approval from, and behaved contemptuously towards those who reject him or demand things of him. He knows how to flatter, and how to bully. I do not know what his core beliefs really are, if he has any, but as anybody who has been on the other end of his attempts to silence them will tell you, his supposed commitment to free speech is merely a convenient carrier for his other desires, entirely disposable.

He has always been happy to say whatever it takes to appeal to any audience he desires the approval of, or feels he can manipulate. You may be one of them (I’ve certainly seen a lot of it over the last few days.)

To imagine that there is a line suddenly crossed, or that there has been no previous evidence of his intransigence, or that he has changed, is to be willingly ignorant of the facts. Or, perhaps, it’s to willingly value the enjoyment his attention brings you over the harm he causes.

You have every right to feel that way; and others have the right to judge you accordingly.

Milo has empowered and embodied hate in exchange for attention for a long time now, and has hurt many people along the way. It’s not just those he ideologically opposes, but also friends, followers, colleagues and employees.

At some point, those who burnished his self-belief or regard him with fondness may choose to see how they have enabled him in exchange for entertainment or obeisance. Maybe they will think that perhaps they, too, have been manipulated. Or maybe they will re-examine their deep dedication to certain kinds of free speech over others, and the consequences of their own complicity. Maybe not.

Perhaps for you, his remarks on child abuse are the line that he’s crossed where you can no longer be publicly associated with him. Appparently his views on women, particularly women of color, gays, transgender people, immigrants, did not carry a high enough price. The pattern has always been there, and it is up to you if you have ignored those, or not pushed back at every opportunity you had.

I haven’t spoken to Milo in years. I doubt he remembers our last interaction. But I do, because I remember those moments in which I tell people to their face how despicable I think they are. Since then I have worked on stories about him, or those in his universe, and all of them, I believe, attempt to expose dreadful behavior to the light.

I am not a free speech absolutist: I believe people have a right to think and say what they want, but I do not believe they should expect to be free from the consequences. And I think if you believe in people’s right to offend, you must also take responsibility for what happens if you enable and empower that speech. There are, after all, two sides to “I disapprove what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Many people choose to only parrot the second half, without fully exploring the necessity of the first part.

If you know Milo and, despite his worst moments, you haven’t explained directly to him and others exactly why he is offensive, then I suggest you think about why that is the case.

Trolls, of course, will tell you it’s all a joke. It’s for the lulz. But at some point there is no difference between playing a vile human on the internet and being one. I’m not sure there ever was.

Causing trouble since 1978. Former lives at Medium, Matter, the Guardian.