The Alt-Right Does Not Defend Free Speech. It Threatens It.

01/04/2017 05:02 pm ET Updated Jan 05, 2017
Drew Angerer via Getty Images

Were you to investigate the meaning of the term “alt-right”, the Associated Press Stylebook might be the perfect place to begin. The AP recommends that the term not be used without context, as it is a rebrand of beliefs that it once referred to as “racist, neo-Nazi and white supremacist”. Being anti-Semitic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic – the list of those it targets is as inexhaustible as the lengths to which members of the movement are willing to go to make their supposed enemies’ lives unbearable – the alt-right does not comprise the future of American belief; in fact, it is stunningly reactionary, and exists outside of all established political norms.

This ideology has abused and beguiled its way into receiving mainstream media attention, and therefore legitimization as an acceptable belief system, though it is obvious that its attitudes towards any it considers to be outside of a white straight male ideal is an insult to American ideals of opportunity and equality.

Perhaps the first time you heard of the alt-right came when President-elect Donald Trump appointed Stephen Bannon, editor of Breitbart News, to be his White House chief strategist. When Bannon inherited Breitbart – after the death of its founder, Andrew Breitbart, in 2012 – he began to cultivate a website steeped in widespread hatred and white supremacy, earning the ire of Democrats and Republicans alike. One of the most famous benefactors of Bannon’s platform is Milo Yiannopolous, who was a major player in another major news story involving the alt-right in 2016: Twitter banned Yiannopolous for his role in the online abuse of actress Leslie Jones, prompting a sigh of relief from those of us who began to find bullies tiring in elementary school, and just plain mystifying in adulthood, and an outcry from self-proclaimed representatives of the alt-right, who claimed that their right to free speech was under attack from social justice warriors, feminists, and that ever-present specter, the politically correct.

Milo Yiannopolous will never be a defender of free speech while he actively attempts to suppress the opinions of those he disagrees with

There is no honest way to describe Yiannopolous without sounding dismissive of him; he is an ideologue, a bully, a writer whose words carry so little weight that he must rely on outrageous headlines and stunts – his college speaking tour, “Dangerous Faggot”, comes to mind as a particularly onerous one – in order to maintain what little semblance of relevance he possesses. In his world – a world to which few of us are invited –white men are deprived of opportunities to pursue higher education (a “problem” his Yiannopolous Privilege Grant hopes to rectify) and feminism is always lurking right around the corner, waiting for the perfect moment to strike and ruin our way of life.

He thrives on outraging people, presenting his uniquely vicious misogyny and bigotry with the flair of a performer who knows he has the full attention of his audience, and at the same time presenting them with a zero-sum game: do we ignore him, and hope that he simply disappears, or do we fight back against his attempt to weaponize our identities, and risk coming across as overly sensitive and willing to feed into his hunger for our anger?

The 2017 we are living in is, for many of us, not the 2017 we anticipated. In the same vein, Milo Yiannopolous is not a person I expected to think about at any length, ever; with such a rich collection of battles to pick from, he seemed to be a minor concern. Then, I learned that just last week it was announced that Yiannopolous had received a $250,000 book deal from Threshold Editions, an imprint of publishing giant Simon & Schuster. The book will be entitled “Dangerous”, though it will probably be anything but; provocation ceases to be particularly interesting once you realize that the provocateur is not saying anything new. It just so happens that Yiannopolous will get to profit off of his mass-produced abuse, and send signed copies of it to friends and family, rather than shout it from street corners and car windows at unsuspecting passerby.

Unfortunately, when you do not fit into this particular author’s narrow mold of humanity, there is little you have not heard shouted at you in locker rooms and on the street, and little that can surprise you. Besides, who has not thought, with some tiny measure of satisfaction beneath layers of exhaustion and fear and anger, that if simply living your life is enough to threaten the security of those who would insult and attack you simply to make themselves feel stronger, then you must possess some greater power than you ever imagined?

Simon & Schuster’s decision to give Yiannopolous yet another chance to convince us of his sincerity prompted outrage, and with this outrage came those who defended the publishing company’s right to publish whomever they pleased, no matter their political leanings. Of course, Simon & Schuster are allowed to publish anything they want. Of course, anyone is allowed to write a book. But it has never been true that a person can say or write whatever they want, and not be held accountable for the effect their words have. If you yell “fire” in a crowded theater, there will be consequences; if you hurl hate language – no matter if you are protected by a book deal or the title of “editor”– you will have committed a hate crime.

Milo Yiannopolous will never be a defender of free speech while he actively attempts to suppress the opinions of those he disagrees with. He doesn’t defend anything but himself, and his tools are slurs, abuse, and schoolyard taunts. From what I can tell, his only goal is our continued despondency at his message, and therefore our continued attention. I refuse to believe he is at the center of a debate about free speech. Rather, he is at the center of a debate about himself, and I imagine that is the place where he is most comfortable.

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