Milo Yiannopoulos and the end of the pro-Trump fameballs
From Right Richter, a weekly newsletter on right-wing media
Welcome to this week’s Right Richter, where we’re doing something a little different and focusing on one single topic.
That’s All, Folks: Milo Yiannopoulos’s “Free Speech Week” imploded over the weekend in Berkeley, cutting short what was supposed to be the British provocateur’s big comeback.
Stymied by the Berkeley administration and bumbling student hosts, abandoned or even publicly attacked by nearly all of the ideological allies who were supposed to speak with him, Yiannopoulos was stuck holding a sign for a few minutes with some of his catchphrases — “Feminism is cancer,” “Liberalism is a mental disorder,” etc.
And I was struck by something: it all looked irredeemably lame.
Yiannopoulos’s whole schtick has always been pretty cringeworthy — his signature move last year was bathing in pig’s blood while surrounded by pictures of twinks in MAGA hats and the scrawled names of murder victims, all to make a point about something. But for a while there, Yiannopoulos looked like the head of something that was ridiculous, dumb, but also undeniably successful.
Yiannopoulos was the most famous of the far-right provocateurs, but there are plenty of others, defined mostly by their willingness to do anything for publicity and their relentless social media use.
For a moment between 2016 and 2017, they were everywhere — shouting down plays in Central Park, baiting antifa for viral brawls, going to any campus that would have them, asking questions in the White House briefing room, egging on conspiracy theories about Pizzagate or Seth Rich, all while making some brain pill money on the side.
A previously little-known Gamergate lawyer named Mike Cernovich got profiled in the New Yorker, then somehow started getting legitimate national security scoops. Kyle Chapman, a felon multiple times over, brought a stick to a rally and started bashing heads and became “Based Stickman”, with a comic book as part of the deal.
For a second, it seemed like the combination of right-wing politics and utter shamelessness could make anybody a star. But Yiannopoulos’s failure to do much of anything in Berkeley feels like the big sign that the provocateurs’ era of mainstream relevance is ending.
Yiannopoulos’s event imploded partially because UC Berkeley administrators have finally figured out how to deal with him, and partially because the students he teamed up with seemed singularly unable to translate gobs of Mercer family money into a successful event.
More damaging for Yiannopoulos’s career: so many of his allies turned on him, or pretended he didn’t exist. Steve Bannon was on the speaker’s list but never showed; ditto Ann Coulter. Controversial academic Charles Murray said he never would have actually agreed to speak with such a “despicable asshole.”
Most ominously in terms of Yiannopoulos’s standing in the right is how Gateway Pundit White House correspondent and planned Free Speech Week attendee Lucian Wintrich treated his former patron. Keep in mind that Wintrich’s career as a store-brand Yiannopoulos effectively wouldn’t exist if Yiannopoulos hadn’t promoted Wintrich’s twinks in MAGA hats “art.”
Wintrich went on a sort of anti-Yiannopoulos media tour shortly before the event fizzled, first begging off with a Gossip Girl-level excuse — he was busy, he said, with an unspecified book project — and then livestreaming a video to his hardcore followers saying that the event would never happen.
Wintrich even emailed Berkeley administrators to tell them the obvious: “Free Speech Week” was never about speeches, it was always about getting shut down and blaming the left.
But maybe it’s not a surprise that a group of people so obsessed with Julius Caesar would know a little about betrayal.
Yiannopoulos isn’t the only far-right provocateur going through hard times. “Baked Alaska,” a former BuzzFeed employee and would-be rapper who made a rapid descent from Yiannopoulos prankery to straight-up anti-Semitism and white nationalism, has backed away from the alt right and attempted to rehabilitate his image after Charlottesville suddenly made the social stigma of being a white nationalist a little too serious for him.
But his would-be image makeover has been going nowhere, with the would-be alt right mascot now best known for getting repeatedly beclowned on his continuous live stream. In the latest incident, a woman Baked Alaska was livestreaming smashed his phone.
Cernovich, one of the savvier operators, has been trying to make his career pivot for months. No longer is Cernovich a pro-Trump pundit, he says, he wants to be a journalist. He’s been helped along by having legitimate sources tied to the National Security Council — although that appears to have dried up somewhat after a purge of Trump loyalists.
What happened to those wild boys? A couple things, I think: the libel threats from places like Comet Ping Pong have made conspiracy theories less lucrative, while the Trump administration’s refusal to actually favor them over the mainstream press has dented the idea that they were going to take over the media.
They’re getting pushed off social media, with the latest threat coming with YouTube taking ads off their videos. And, like everyone else, they’re having trouble getting heard above the daily noise created by the White House.
The decline of Yiannopoulos & Co. might be amusing for their political opponents to watch, but it’s not a sign that the right is flagging.
In fact, the really far-right — the white supremacists of the alt right — no longer need to work with the likes of Yiannopoulos to get press for their extreme ideas. Instead, the future of the far-right looks less like puckish speeches meant to trigger Berkeley “social justice warriors” and more like California’s “Rise Above Movement” — a group of neo-Nazis so anonymous their uniform includes a skull facemask, but who have still managed to win admirers from across far-right forums.
Right-wing media itself will chug along forever, no matter what happens to the right’s latest charismatic, say-anything fameball. Breitbart has been reinvigorated by Bannon’s return and a chance for scalps in the upcoming GOP civil war; Rush Limbaugh will always have the culture war to press. The most successful far-right provocateurs will have a chance to join them, leaving the weekend rally grind for, say, a guest spot on a SiriusXM talk radio show.
Even far-right troll Jack Posobiec, who made his name yelling at theater actors and promoting Pizzagate, wants to settle things down. Posobiec “disavowed” trolling in a recent social media post, and told me over Twitter direct messages recently that he’s leaving behind trolling because it’s “best for me and my family.”
“Trying very hard to build up a credible and trustworthy brand,” Posobiec wrote.
Posobiec’s latest gig: regular appearances on InfoWars.
Follow me on Twitter @willsommer for updates on the right-wing media between issues.