"BUILD THE WALL! BUILD THE WALL! BUILD THE WALL!"
More than 800 very right-aligned people are chanting in the Titan Student Union (TSU). I've never heard a louder crowd in my life—and I've been to World Series games, World Cup matches, concerts and a Donald Trump rally, not to mention some pretty terrible concerts. But listening to Milo Yiannopoulos rile up his circus of trolls is far, far worse than sitting through a shitty band.
On Halloween, the former senior editor of Breitbart and alt-right diva brought his Troll Academy Tour to Cal State Fullerton (CSUF). Yes, that's what he calls his speaking engagements at universities around the globe in which he lectures about free speech and why conservativism is being held hostage by politically correct liberalism, especially on campus. As noted in extensive coverage of the event, there were nearly 1,000 adoring fans, dozens of protesters, fights, arrests, tons of media, choppers and riot police.
Before Divanopoulos spoke, he did a quick meet-and-greet with about 40 fans—apparently part of the VIP experience. Among the first to take a picture with Yiannopoulos was a young woman with short pastel-pink hair wearing a dark green punker jacket with the words "Trump Won, Deal With It" on the back accompanied by an image of a skeleton hand holding up the middle finger. She brought along her Chihuahua, which she dressed up as Trump in a blue suit, red tie and had a tiny blond toupee atop its head. I'm pretty sure that counts as animal abuse.
A guy wearing a suit was next to meet Yiannopoulos. The front of his extremely gelled hair was parted and cemented down to his head, while the back was spikey and styled. At first, I thought maybe he was a business executive who grew up during the emo era of the early 2000s and came from work to hear Yiannopoulos speak. But it turns out he was actually dressed as "Old Milo," according to a CSUF Republican named Mikey. The fact there's an "old" and "new" Milo adds yet another self-reverential layer to the strangely cultish culture of the alt-right.
Five young Latino men—presumably CSUF students—wore red "Make America Great Again" hats. From their row in the middle of the TSU, they laughed at Divanopoulos' jokes, cheered for him, chanted and hi-fived one another. I'm sorry, but how can you be Latinx and still support Trump? How can you cheer for someone who is also an immigrant and encourages his following to call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)? How you can be Latinx and chant, "BUILD THE WALL!"?
It's a bleak realization when it dawns on you that all the people around you are brainwashed.
Yiannopoulos is portrayed in the conservative media as being a genius. And they're not entirely wrong. It's just that his specific variety of genius is how he's able to spread messages of hate in the guise of humor and then justify it under the cloak of first-amendment-protected unpopularity.
He denies all accusations of being racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, etc. because he's a gay immigrant who's married to a black man—plus, he grew up Catholic and has Jewish roots. But he plays on technicalities. Sure, he doesn't outright say he hates blacks—but he says the Black Lives Matter movement is bullshit and believes people of color don't give a shit about whites. He never actually says he hates women, but he says feminism is cancer, Hillary is a wench and Michelle Obama is a hideous transsexual.
He says all identity politics, including LGBTQ (so, him included?), "are poison because at its heart is the idea that we should treat people differently based on their identity . . . when there should be different rules for different people based on things no one can change about themselves."
He doesn't say he hates any specific race, but he preaches that cultural sensitivity negates the First Amendment, therefore justifying hate speech.
He verbally dances around all of these hateful themes, leading his followers to come up with the bigoted ideas on their own. He says that neo-Nazis don't like him and have "declared a holy crusade" against him, which is technically true—but he's not appealing to neo-Nazis: He's appealing to their kids and their alt-right-adjacent cousins, a generation of people between the ages of 16 and 30. He's the Justin Beiber of the alt-right, nurturing the young, moldable minds of a political culture to come.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
When I interviewed Yiannopoulos, we spoke about neo-Nazis, free speech, why he calls Trump "daddy" and global warming. (You can read it here.) I also asked him if he believed in climate change. He said he didn't believe in "anthropomorphic" climate change, which makes about as much sense as saying he doesn't believe in rainbow sprinkle climate change. I believe he meant to use the word anthropogenic, or "caused by humans," which is used when talking about environmental pollution and pollutants. The Troll Factory was quick to blame me for his vocabulary mishap because, I was told, "Milo is too smart to ever use the word anthropomorphic in the wrong context" (hear it here).
What's most baffling of all is that he can't vote in America and basically told me has no intention to. So why has he become so invested in American alt-right politics? What carrot has Steve Bannon dangled in front of him? If America explodes—which is within the realm of possibilities—it won't matter to him because he can go back to the U.K.—he has an escape plan. Most of us don't.
It all feels like one big joke, a scheme for Yiannopoulos to become powerful, rich and famous by fooling a segment of the American people. Just look at Milo's "Daddy": This is what American politics has become.