Milo Yiannopoulos is an editor at Breitbart, a news site of the so-called alt-right. He is a self-described “super villain”, a viciously right-wing internet troll who publicly attacks women, black people, Muslims, immigrants. Unsurprisingly he is a great supporter of Donald Trump. So bad is he, he is permanently banned from Twitter.
He is currently making a hugely controversial speaker tour, and hit the mainstream news when his planned appearance at UC Berkeley was cancelled due to the protests against it. There is now a debate on whether this cancellation was an attack on free speech. The alt-right have gone into online overdrive, attacking their opponents for being unable to handle opposing views, calling “liberals” illiberal etc. But in the age of social media and Yiannopoulos’s penchant for making YouTube videos, as well as the format of Breitbart itself, this is not so much a free speech restriction as a question of his access to certain platforms.
Media attention has focused on anarchist “black bloc” protestors as the instigators of the cancelled appearance, their destruction of property and the violent response of the police. This ignores the fact that the black block was only “successful” because they were protected by a much larger and broader demonstration. Yiannopoulos denies it, but in the build up to his appearance it was believed he would provide details of undocumented migrants studying at Berkeley. The college is one of many sanctuary campuses that has policies against the removal of undocumented migrants without a warrant and non-cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Whether Yiannopoulos intended to do this or not, he can be seen on video at previous talks displaying details for ICE and encouraging people to, as he called it, protect “women and homosexuals.” In the same talk, he shouts down several Muslim women who heckle him, tells them where the airport is and then jokes that actually that is the last place “we want you.” He has previously named and projected pictures of a trans student who he mocked. And he incited his Twitter followers to harass the black actress Leslie Jones. In this context, stopping his appearance was argued as a case where a direct threat was being made on students. That seems reasonable.
The US media has said this case in Berkeley was a travesty, due to its birthplace of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s. That is wrongheaded. As the International Socialist Organization have said, “this accepts the upside-down story of the free speech struggle sanctioned by the university administration that was opposed to the struggle. “The fight for free speech at Berkeley was never about ‘dialogue’, but militant demonstrations and direct action to overcome the university’s restrictions on civil rights activism.”