On the surface they seem like very different scandals: Lt. General Michael Flynn resigning as White House National Security Adviser last week after lying about speaking with the Russian ambassador about sanctions before the inauguration; the British Breitbart senior editor, Milo Yiannopoulos, dropped as keynote speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) yesterday, and losing his book deal with Simon and Schuster on the same day, after clips surfaced of him promoting sex between an adult and a 13-year-old, and reveling in learning his oral sex technique from a priest who abused him as a teen.
But the quick spiral downward of Yiannopoulos is actually the cultural equivalent of Flynn’s political free fall, as both caused consequential Trumpian casualties amid full-blown disasters. Both men were backed by Donald Trump, and were expected to provide a function that in both cases is still murky but seems quite nefarious. (We still don’t yet know all the details of Flynn’s relationship with the Russians, for example, but the reports of top campaign officials, of which Flynn was one, in “constant contact” with Russian intelligence operatives during the election is cause for great concern.)
The quick spiral downward of Yiannopoulos is actually the cultural equivalent of Flynn’s political free fall.
Both men are close to Stephen Bannon, Trump’s power-hungry chief strategist who came from Breitbart, where he was chairman and which he dubbed the “platform of the alt-right,” the online version of the old-fashioned white nationalists and white supremacists. In both cases, Trump, perhaps with Bannon’s urging, looked the other way of clear problems these men had in their pasts.
In the case of Yiannopoulos, who has said Bannon “made me into a star,” his rise as a supposed college campus free speech crusader with his attention-grabbing “Dangerous Faggot Tour” across the country in the past year, and a major book deal that would net him high-profile TV appearances, had him primed to be leading a possible Trump Youth Brigade. That was in fact an early action taken by Trump’s kindred spirit, Vladimir Putin, who informally created his own youth brigade in Russia, the Nashi movement, to help him tighten his grip. And anyone who’s studied history knows that authoritarians and dictators create such youth movements to command authority and silence dissent.
In both cases, Trump, perhaps with Bannon’s urging, looked the other way of clear problems these men had in their pasts.
Trump did dismally with millennial voters ― except for white millennials, who voted for him over Clinton 48-43 ― and he barely eked out an electoral college win while losing the popular vote. But with the rise of the alt-right, which has received the kind of media attention about which some young people who are predisposed to the message might find hip, Trump could pull in more of those younger white voters, however small in number, to boost a re-election. And bleached-blond, young and rude Yiannnopoulos, rising higher, could surely help in that regard.
Yiannopoulos speaks the grievance-ridden language of Trump ― whom he affectionately calls “Daddy” ― similarly attacking “political correctness,” and giving young people permission to act on racist impulses. Yiannopoulos brutally mocks colleges’ and universities’ attempts to fight hate speech against minorities and protect students from bullying and violence on campuses, expressing the resentment prevalent among those who feel threatened by diversity and a U.S. that is demographically changing.
He grotesquely uses his identity as gay as some sort of badge that allows him to attack other minorities and defame feminists, transgender people, Muslims and immigrants, and he gets support from the white supremacist, anti-Semitic alt-right, despite his being gay and Jewish himself (something we’ve seen many times over in the past among those used as tokens). Yiannopoulos called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization” and promoted racist harassment online of comedian Leslie Jones, forcing her off Twitter. He also uses his gayness as some kind of false proof that Trump is pro-gay ― since he must be if Yiannopoulos, a gay man, supports him.
Trump has returned the favor. When the University of California, Berkeley, canceled Yiannopoulos’s speech three weeks ago, Trump threatened the school with pulling federal funds.
Just as Flynn provided an ally for Bannon on the inside, taking on factions within the White House, Yiannopoulos has helped stoke the hate against the opposition to Trump on the outside. If he grew bigger, he could be much more valuable to Bannon and to Trump.
But like Flynn, who’d said he’s a big fan of Yiannopoulos’s, calling him “phenomenal,” Yiannopoulos fell in a startling crash ― as of this writing his future even at Breitbart is in question ― largely because he wasn’t vetted before his debut in a much larger spotlight. Like Flynn’s Russia connections ― known since 2015 when he was photographed at a dinner table with Vladimir Putin at an event in Moscow ― Yiannopoulos’s comments, in which he talked of adults having sex with teens, have been around on various interview clips online for months. But after he appeared bedecked in strings of pearls on “Real Time with Bill Maher” last weekend, viciously defaming transgender people without challenge from a pathetic Maher (though getting some powerful pushback from comedian Larry Wilmore), a lot of people were wondering who this idiot was.
The fact that he’d been chosen by CPAC as keynote speaker revealed how far conservatives would go in toeing the Trump line, kicking off their annual conference with a hardened Muslim basher and someone who might enthrall the crowd of younger activists who attend CPAC. But the announcement of his speech raised eyebrows in addition to Yiannopoulos’s profile. And so it wasn’t a shock that tapes that had been around for a long time, buried online, suddenly were seized upon by other conservatives on social media, such as the group Reagan Battalion, who made the comments go viral. Within hours, Yiannopoulos was out of CPAC while Simon and Schuster pulled his book, which was due in June and surely would have been part of his ongoing campus tour.
The fact that he’d been chosen by CPAC as keynote speaker revealed how far conservatives would go in towing the Trump line.
But no college will now want Yiannopolous within a mile, and conservatives wouldn’t dare criticize them for keeping him away ― as they have in the past ― because they’ve now silenced Yiannopolous themselves at CPAC. He is essentially shut down from organizing at the very venues that were his life blood, where he promoted racism and misogyny and brought in youth for Trump.
This episode also means that Bannon’s zeal, and his distrust of anyone who would help in vetting people and ideas ― evidenced by his getting Trump to rush out a Muslim ban days into the administration, without the agencies given input ― could be his downfall, as well as Trump’s. In the meantime, we should count it as a victory that Flynn and Yiannopoulos, both dangerous, have crash-landed.
Follow Michelangelo Signorile on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msignorile