It can happen that fast. Milo Yiannopoulos probably reached his high water mark of public acceptance last weekend when he appeared on Bill Maher's HBO talk show amid the free publicity of Jeremy Scahill refusing to appear with him.Within days it has all come crashing down in a manner that speaks volumes on the ambiguous role of homosexuals -- or, perhaps more specifically, white male homosexuals -- in the current American political landscape.
As noted last week, Yiannopolous is a provocateur, a scourge of "political correctness" who takes pride in refusing various minority groups (or women, some say) the respect they feel entitled to. He had become a hero of the right and/or "alt-right" for his defiance of violent leftist protesters who've tried to prevent him from speaking at various venues. While he was not the first openly homosexual man to espouse Republicanism, he appeared to give the alt-right a certain hipness, as well as armor against the argument that they were just the same old repressive Christianists and rednecks in new clothes. All the while, his status as a supposed spokesman for the "alt-right" and a star of Breitbart News made him a target for what they call opposition research. Just as Yiannopoulos was invited to speak at CPAC, the big annual conservative conference, the opposition research struck paydirt.
A podcast was found on which Yiannopoulos apparently questioned whether an adult's sexual attraction to a 13 year old was pedophilia, since someone of that age, in his opinion, was sexually mature. This was publicized by a nebulous entity called the Reagan Battalion, which consists of a Twitter account, on which the damning excerpt was posted, and a website consisting almost entirely of links to conservative sites critical toward President Trump. The Battalion endorsed Evan McMullin, the independent candidate who tried to snatch Utah away from Trump, in last year's presidential election. One investigation of the Reagan Battalion suggests that it, in turn, has ties to a Democratic PAC opposed to both Trump and Hillary Clinton. Whatever its motives, the Battalion started the dominoes tumbling. CPAC disinvited Yiannopoulos. The new scandal gave the Simon & Schuster publishing firm cover to terminate a contract for a Yiannopoulos book that had alienated some of their regular authors. Finally, after the inevitable "out of context" denials, Yiannopoulos fell on his sword this afternoon and resigned from Breitbart News. There were limits to his freedom of speech, after all.
Apart from possibly destroying his own career as an opinionator, Yiannopoulos probably has done real damage to the gay rights movement by reviving the suspicion that homosexuality is a gateway to pedophilia. I just happened to watch a Young Pope episode last weekend in which a homosexual priest tries to explain to the title character that homosexuality and pedophilia are two different things and not morally equivalent. The Milo scandal has most likely remuddied those waters, presuming of course that many people buy the argument in the first place. All that aside, it might be asked why exactly the damning quote makes Yiannopoulos less of a rallying-point for free-speech libertarians, since it is only yet another politically incorrect thing the man has said, if not the most. Whom, exactly, has he offended with these words more than he's offended anyone else, and why should the offense expressed now, which has cost him much of his livelihood, matter more than the offense felt by others over other statements? My point isn't to defend pedophilia, but to remind people that the great thing about Milo Yiannopoulos supposedly was that he was free to speak his mind regardless of whom he offended -- or was it? Or was it that some people, in other people's opinion, deserved to be offended, and that Milo would be cheered while he offended them, so long as he did not offend people or beliefs that did not deserve to be offended? People are free to think that way, of course, and nearly everyone does so automatically, but does the principle behind the thought really count as "freedom of speech," or was it something else all along?