Conservative firebrand Milo to speak at USF tonight
Two hours before the first presidential debate, alt-right firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos will take the stage in front of hundreds at the University of South Florida.
His speech Monday night will explain “why Donald J. Trump deserves the White House,” according to Breitbart, the conservative news outlet he writes and edits for.
“Milo will examine the reasons Hillary could be crushed in the upcoming debate, including her ongoing health issues, her chronic trust problem, and her lack of charisma,” the site said Monday.
Yiannopoulos has made a name for himself through his contrarian, far-right rhetoric and online presence, gleefully denouncing feminism as “cancer” and throwing his weight behind Donald Trump. He made headlines this year when he was permanently suspended from Twitter after leading a crusade against Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones.
“The biggest conversation we really want to start is to get a dialogue going about the First Amendment, who it applies to, and what its limits are,” said Ryan Hoskins, president of the USF chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, which is hosting the event.
Hoskins had been scrolling on Twitter a couple of months ago when he saw an application to have Yiannopoulos speak on campus.
“Why not? I’ll give it a shot,” Hoskins thought. A few days later, Yiannopoulos’ team replied with the next steps.
Hoskins readily admits he’s not a believer in much of Yiannopoulos’ rhetoric, and that Yiannopoulos has a tendency to take things too far. He wasn’t surprised to hear a common question from students: Why Milo?
“That’s a fair question,” Hoskins said. “It’s really for notoriety, to get people to start thinking. ... It’s more to make a statement than show support.”
If he’d simply brought a state representative devoted to free speech, people wouldn’t pay attention, Hoskins said. An appearance by Yiannopoulos, though, would make waves.
Known on Twitter as @Nero — at least until he was banned — Yiannopoulos found a rabid following among the alt-right, a growing contingency of conservative thinkers who largely gather online. Some of its louder members spew anti-Semetic insults, crusade against political correctness and espouse openly racist views.
“The bits of the Alt-Right that matter right now are those who say that members of different races should be kept apart, who aim abuse at Jewish Americans and think that calling a podcast ‘The Daily Shoah’ is striking a bold blow for freedom of speech and against political correctness,” the Economist wrote recently. “To the extent that the Alt-Right dabbles in economics it is highly protectionist. It sees misogyny as a bold rebellion against the prevailing culture.”
A self-proclaimed leader of the alt-right, Yiannopoulos has spoken about how sexual assault cases are exaggerated on campus, chalking up concerns about rape culture to “man-hating.” After his followers bombarded Leslie Jones with racist and misogynist tweets, and after Twitter suspended his account, he wrote this: “With the cowardly suspension of my account, Twitter has confirmed itself as a safe space for Muslim terrorists and Black Lives Matter extremists, but a no-go zone for conservatives.”
More than 500 people had RSVP’d to the event by Monday morning, Hoskins said. Since Yiannopoulos didn’t charge speaking fees, the group only had to pay security and room costs.
Several dozen students plan to protest, said Sam Beutler, a member of USF’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society.
He said he hadn’t talked to event organizers, but presumed Yiannopoulos’ appearance was in the name of the free exchange of ideas.
“That’s what universities are built upon, the creative discourse,” Beutler said. “But I think the problem is marginalized people are continually excluded from this discourse, and a speaker like Milo, the messages he puts out are not aimed at rectifying the lack of equality that exists on campus.”
Yiannopoulos, a gay man, included a slur in the provocative title of his speaking series: the “Dangerous F----t” tour.
“It’s a word that has been invoked during acts of violence against LGBT folk in the United States,” Beutler said. “Him being a gay man doesn’t allow for the spread of ideas that are hateful.”
Beutler said tonight’s protest will be nonviolent. He hopes it gets people’s attention.
“I think a lot of students are questioning why the administrators would allow a person such as him on campus,” he said.
Hoskins said he doesn’t mind the protesters. For those inside the student center, he holds out hope the talk will resonate.
“If they’re instantly offended and just put their guards up, then this will be a waste of time,” Hoskins said. “If they go into it with an open mind, and are not immediately appalled by what he’s saying, and really think critically about what he’s saying, what they believe, about America at large, then there’s a really good chance it might resonate with people.”
The event begins at 7 p.m. at the Marshall Student Center’s Oval Theater.