Brietbart Senior editor and alt-right figurehead Milo Yiannopoulos came under fire this week after a video surfaced in which he condoned relationships between adult men and adolescent boys. In the video, Yiannopoulos asserts that so long as a child has gone through puberty, it is acceptable for them to engage in romantic relationships with grown adults, as “coming of age relationship[s] – [are] those relationships in which those older men help those young boys discover who they are.”
Now, for those who follow Milo (whether out of devotion or disgust), it may not be much of a surprise that Yiannopoulos said these things. For years Yiannopoulos has cultivated his following by crusading against political correctness as he spouted a signature blend of rhetoric that was equal parts misogynistic, homophobic (yes, even though he himself is gay), anti-Semitic and Islamophobic.
Naturally, Yiannopoulos has met significant pushback over the years. However, these “attacks on free speech” only served to embolden Yiannopoulos and his supporters as he rode into alt-right infamy. For Yiannopoulos, it seemed as though there was no topic heinous or controversial enough to take him down – until now.
Frankly, if endorsing pedophilia isn’t enough of a motivation to abandon Yiannopoulos, it’s hard to conceive what else could be. And yet, there are still some people defending Yiannopoulos’ heinous comments. Of course this shouldn’t come as a total surprise; Yiannopoulos has spent the last few years positioning himself as an edgy answer to the establishment class, fueled by growing waves of nationalism and frustration, particularly among white males. In short, there are several reasons why people find Milo so hard to quit.
The first centers on a notion of independence – more specifically, independence from the political and social establishment and the wave of political correctness that has besieged the American dialogue. Now, there may very well be case to be made here. Perhaps the American public has, in fact, become too cautious. Maybe we’ve gone too far with our trigger warnings and our safe spaces. And sometimes, maybe a joke really is just a joke, and not something by which we should judge someone’s character.
These are all valid concerns and can, and should, be debated. After all, the beautiful thing about America is that we welcome a free exchange of ideas. However, while these concerns may be true, the other inconvenient truth is that being politically incorrect does not mean you’re exempt from judgment.
Holding and defending the unpopular opinion may certainly make you unique, but exercising your right to free speech doesn’t mean that what you say is beyond reproach (no matter how much shock value it carries). The First Amendment protects you from being preemptively silenced for voicing your opinion, however it does not protect you from subsequent criticism.
You can be both politically incorrect and a terrible person. These two notions are not mutually exclusive. Likewise, you can both support the First Amendment and fight against political correctness without having to defend Milo.
For Republicans in particular this presents a difficult balancing act. Much in the way that some Republican senators feel obligated to vote along party lines whenever Donald Trump proposes policy or appoints cabinet members, sects of the GOP electorate feel obligated to defend members of their party whenever they come under attack, solely for the sake of protecting their party. While well intentioned, this impulsiveness is not only dangerous for American civil and political discourse, but also for the Republican Party.
Yiannopoulos represents the ugliest parts of the GOP. In his endeavors to become a cult of personality, he routinely exploits all of the stereotypes that liberals either believe about Republicans, or want other people to believe about. However, whether Milo truly believes what he says, or simply says them because he knows other people will listen is beside the point.
The simple fact of the matter is that Republicans are only hurting their own party’s image by refusing to condone these statements or distance themselves from Yiannopoulos. And they cannot afford to further tarnish the GOP brand in the age of Trump.
On a less self-serving note, perhaps Milo’s fans need to imagine how actual victims of these “consensual relationships” feel seeing this language legitimized. As a teacher, I can attest that 13-year-olds are, in fact, children, regardless of their physical appearance or if they’ve gone through puberty yet. Statutory rape laws exist for a reason, and disregarding the mental, emotional and physical manipulation that young teens are especially vulnerable to is an egregious act in and of itself.
So where do we go from here?
While at first it may have been easy to tune Milo and his provocations out, it has become apparent that that is no longer an option. Angling himself as a champion of free speech, Yiannopoulos has become something of an unstoppable force in certain circles, as his fans become more and more fervent every time an opponent attempts to silence him. Milo’s entire scheme as an intentional provocateur is to see just how far he can go before he’s told to stop – at which point he damply doubles down, both in his dismissiveness and in his divisiveness.
In fact, he did just that as he responded to this controversy in a written statement that was posted on his Facebook account on Sunday. In his “note for all [the] idiots” who misunderstood his comments, Yiannopoulos claimed any outrage at his comments is unfounded, before spinning the situation (in typical Milo fashion) to place the blame and divert attention elsewhere.
“This rush to judgment from establishment conservatives who hate Trump as much as they hate me, before I have had any chance to provide context or a response, is one of the big reasons gays vote Democrat,” the statement read.
In the same post he also addressed another comment he had made, stating “I *did* [sic] joke about giving better head as a result of clerical sexual abuse committed against me when I was a teen. If I choose to deal in an edgy way on an internet livestream with a crime I was the victim of that’s my prerogative. It’s no different to gallows humor from AIDS sufferers.”
Now, if Yiannopoulos needs to cope he is, of course, entitled to do so in whatever way he sees fit. But making a joke about himself and a situation he was in (which he did) and making sweeping statements endorsing pedophilia (which he also did) are two very different things.
Sure, it would be very easy for Milo to make the arguments that his critics are simply misconstruing what he said, and taking advantage of his humor to fit their agenda … Except for the fact that he literally and explicitly talked about 13-year-old boys in his broadcast. And frankly, if he has to “cope” with his own past experiences in this type of relationship in the first place, doesn’t that serve as proof that these experiences are not healthy parts of growing up?
Just because we can say something does not mean we should, and just because someone in our party says something does not mean we have to accept it. Condoning Milo does not make you a bad conservative, but refusing to denounce him out of fear certainly does.
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