Everyone Who Enabled Milo Yiannopoulos Should’ve Seen This Coming
There’s poetic justice in Yiannopoulos’ precipitous fall from grace.
I t appears there is a point where a white man can be denied a major platform on moral grounds.
This weekend, Breitbart tech editor, crypto-Nazi, and serial online abuser Milo Yiannopoulos discovered, the hard way, that there are still some taboos you can’t ironize your way out of. After he was confirmed as a keynote speaker for CPAC, the annual gathering of conservative movement leaders, video resurfaced of him explicitly defending pedophilia. In the wake of the controversy, Simon & Schuster canceled his book deal, his CPAC invitation was revoked, and he resigned from Breitbart.
However, I say resurfaced for a reason — and that’s what this brief reflection on Yiannopoulos’ downfall is about.
While his legion of conservative and liberal defenders are now suddenly having heart palpitations and saying “I didn’t know!” the truth is that Yiannopoulos was always a known quantity, and his defence of pedophilia — deploying arguments common to MRAs in general — was already out there. This blog post, laying out some of what resurfaced this weekend, is from April of last year, long before Yiannopoulos’ destructive appearances on college campuses, his Simon & Schuster contract, or his appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher.
No one listened, in part because at the time he was still best known as a GamerGate ringleader who was marshaling attacks against women, cis and trans, who, while not public figures, had the temerity to publicly oppose the long-running harassment campaign. Yiannopoulos used GamerGate as a personal army to give his Breitbart column some bite, ruining or attempting to ruin the lives of women who annoyed him. His past flirtations with neo-Nazism were known, as was his attempt — with co-author Allum Bokhari — to lend respectability to Nazis like Richard Spencer and helping to popularize the euphemism “alt-right.” His gutter-level racism against Leslie Jones, calling her a man, an ape, and barely literate, earned him the boot from Twitter, but quite arguably raised his stock among conservatives and free-speech-obsessed liberals who enjoyed how he infuriated the left.
Free speech absolutism turns out not to be so absolute after all.
Of note is that all the concerned liberals who, armed with apocryphal Voltaire quotes, vowed to defend Milo Yiannopoulos’ free speech to the death, are conspicuously absent now that the people doing the “no-platforming” are white conservatives upset about pedophilia. Free speech absolutism turns out not to be so absolute after all when those with power can imagine their white children being harmed by the man they lend a platform to.
Yet, for those of us who dealt with Yiannopoulos and the reactionary troll movement he’s co-opted since 2014, none of this was especially shocking. Indeed, for those of us familiar with his depredations, the fact that pedophilia advocacy caused his downfall is a kind of poetic justice.
“Mirroring” is the name I gave to a troll tactic that draws on rather old agitprop techniques: Accuse your opponent of that which you are guilty. GamerGaters became quite adept at it, turning all the adjectives used to describe them back on both their critics and their victims. In their first month, they had not a care in the world for the issue of online harassment. But once the media widely reported that they were a harassment campaign, GamerGaters suddenly began posing as victims of online abuse and accusing their very victims of perpetrating it against them. To an outside observer, it looked like two equally squalid factions going “no you!” at each other, and the smokescreen had its intended effect: making powerful people throw up their hands and dismiss the campaign being directed at women, people of color, and queer folks in game journalism and development as “just another flame war on the internet.”
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The other major coup for the mirroring strategy came when Canadian media critic Dan Olson exposed one of GamerGate’s main staging sites, a 4chan clone called 8chan, as a hub for the spread of child pornography. He presented incontrovertible evidence of the site’s depravity — and notably how it was defended by both 8chan’s owner and many GamerGaters as a bastion of free speech (apocryphal Voltaire quotes abounded, naturally). The photos on the site included photos of actual children forced into sexualized positions; there could be no question about the harm being materially perpetrated.
This is not to say that all GamerGaters were pedophiles, but the movement was so fixated on their hatred of feminists in videogames that this was something they were willing to tolerate.
Indeed, instead of retreating from or disowning 8chan, GamerGaters viciously attacked Olson, accusing him of pedophilia and trying to play up the fact that he had to view the porn on 8chan in order to write about it.
At around the same time, Sarah Nyberg, another inveterate critic of the movement on Twitter, found herself similarly attacked. She had initially been an anonymous critic before GamerGate doxed her and exposed her legal name. From there she found herself the repeated victim of hacking and other efforts to dig up dirt on her. Nevertheless, she persisted in a campaign to deprive 8chan of its funding from Patreon and PayPal, arguing that the site’s willingness to host child pornography made them ineligible for the services. Both websites eventually agreed, and GamerGate wanted revenge.
Unlike Olson, however, Nyberg was a transgender woman who made a tantalizing target for a movement that always sought to attack those with the fewest resources to defend themselves — thus she was hit forcefully with the same false accusations he was.
The Berkeley protest against Milo Yiannopoulos raises questions about what a right to free speech is — and is not.theestablishment.co
Bigotry infused this act of vengeance: The idea that trans people are sexual predators is one Yiannopoulos himself spread on Real Time and elsewhere, after all. It was all made worse by the fact that GamerGate exploited hacked and leaked private chatroom logs from Nyberg’s teen years that they decontextualized and spun as support for pedophilia.
This was when Yiannopoulos got involved. He published a sexualized photograph of Nyberg from when she was an underage teenager, one she’d sent to her then-girlfriend, on the front page of Breitbart. This headlined an article libeling her as a paedophile, which sired not only a wave of harassment against her but a strangling of her economic resources. Yiannopoulos knew full well that the accusations against Nyberg were poorly sourced and flimsy, that she had even gone so far as to voluntarily go to the police to have the “evidence” assessed and summarily dismissed as trivial. Yet he did to her what he tried to do to Shanley Kane, Brianna Wu, Randi Lee Harper, and others: libel her with salacious accusations. Yiannopoulos gave a media platform to the GamerGate tactic of piling into the life of a critic and attempting to undermine or destroy them with false — sometimes mirrored — accusations. I myself was accused of any number of fake scandals, and I’ve been in my share of red-line conspiracy flowcharts. I even have my very own Zapruder-style blown-up photograph.
But it was the false accusations of pedophilia that represented GamerGate’s most desperate strategy to discredit their critics. Trolls harassed those of us who defended Olson and Nyberg, asking in our places of work, “Did you know so and so is friends with a pedophile?” Some GamerGaters even convinced themselves that the hated “Social Justice Warriors” they opposed were actually a secret ring of pedophiles in videogame journalism.
GamerGate represented a new form of reactionary and neo-fascistic organization.
If this sounds familiar, it should. GamerGate represented a new form of reactionary and neo-fascistic organization, deploying troll tactics and the echo chamber of social media to their advantage. Pizzagate had all of GamerGate’s hallmarks: weaponized pedophilia accusations, a conspiracy theory about media collusion, misinterpreted and decontextualized hacked emails being spun as a “smoking gun,” on and on. As if that weren’t enough, Yiannopoulos wanted to talk about Pizzagate on his “Dangerous Faggot Tour” of college campuses; it appeared to be quietly cancelled after the shooting at Comet Ping Pong pizza.
Thus, yes, there’s poetic justice in Yiannopoulos’ precipitous fall from grace being caused by his own sincere advocacy of pedophilia and mocking the plight of the Catholic Church’s many sexual abuse victims.
But will there be actual justice? An attempt to make his victims whole again? What will be done to prevent the mainstream from feting the next Yiannopoulos?
Both liberals and conservatives let themselves get seduced by his shtick, after all. Given that the media’s favorite description for the man is the debonair-sounding “provacateur,” even in reports on his demise, I’m not optimistic about the right lessons being learned. To look at the responses of Yiannopoulos’ most ardent right-wing fans is to see a crowd chanting the usual lines about “fake news.” For instance, this contrite (if doubtlessly opportunistic) tweet from Yiannopoulos’ former manager is being slammed with angry and disappointed responses from his fans.
What will be done to prevent the mainstream from feting the next Yiannopoulos?
There will be another Yiannopoulos; someone who minds his words just a little more carefully, someone who will become the new troll messiah to those disaffected hashtag spewers in their fallen hero’s Facebook comments. That was always the saddest thing about Yiannopoulos: his interchangeability. He was a mass-produced YouTube-comment-made-flesh who had no original thoughts and whose public persona was simply a copy of the depersonalized, collective nihilism found on 4chan. If he doesn’t succeed in a Hail Mary pass to save his career, he’ll simply be replaced.
As to the fact that Simon & Schuster cancelled his lucrative book contract, Roxane Gay, who pulled her own book with S&S in protest, put it best when she called it a “business decision” that exposed their willingness to accept Yiannopoulos’ manifold bigotries and abuses. Indeed, S&S likely dropped the man because they realized that they might lose the only audience they could bank on for his book: conservatives who got off on offending liberal/left sensibilities.
For Yiannopoulos’ most ardent fans, they’ll continue to hold a candle for him; but in time, it’ll sink in that — to use their phrase — he cucked himself. His apology on Facebook committed three sins: It was cloying, it was PR-friendly, and it existed. As I pointed out when I wrote about Richard Spencer, you defeat trolls by exposing the fact that their invulnerable, “I have no feelings” tough guy act is simply that. Milo was forced to publicly appear to care about something, to appear to demonstrate sensitivity. In the world of trolling, where you’re never supposed to say sorry, that’s not easy to live down.
That was always the saddest thing about Yiannopoulos: his interchangeability.
We can only speculate about what will come of his scheduled press conference this afternoon.
In the meantime, the media’s doyens would do well to listen to women of color and other routine victims of this abuse-as-discourse shtick. It’s so common as to be the background radiation of our daily lives. We know it’s nothing new, nothing truly edgy — just garden-variety prejudices with a spray tan and a dressing of naughty words. It may be a delectable scandal for the chattering classes, but it’s nothing if not a hack clown act that’s both destructive and oh-so-replaceable.
When that new Milo comes along, those in power should be ready to show them the door instead of the stage.