What Does It Take to Fell a White Nationalist? (Hint: Pedophilia)

Poor Milo Yiannopoulos. Looks like he should have just stuck with the racial bigotry and religious intolerance; promotion of pedophilia turned out to be a bridge too far for white conservatives. With one resurfaced video of the “alt-right” sweetheart seemingly condoning sexual relationships between young boys and men he’s fallen from grace, losing his contested book deal with Simon & Schuster, a speaking invitation from the Conservative Political Action Conference and his post as senior editor of Steve Bannon’s Breitbart, all within 48 hours.

I first became familiar with Yiannopoulos last summer, when he cyber-bullied black comedian and actress Leslie Jones off of Twitter—a harassment campaign that escalated to her personal information being hacked and nude photos of her being released on the web. The incident became a flagrant example of the online abuse that women—especially women of color—face on social media, and resulted in Twitter permanently banning Yiannopoulos from the platform.

At the time I saw him as just another knuckle-dragging internet troll that could just be ignored into irrelevance. But then something terrifying happened. The trolls left their bridges and set up camp at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Poisonous philosophies that had been rightfully relegated to the internet backwaters of Reddit, 4chan and 8chan became national directives.

Yiannopoulos, like Breitbart and like President Trump, ceased to be a joke. His troubling views became romanticized and legitimized.

The question remains: why did it take so much? Besides having one of the most punchable faces on the internet (after Martin Shkreli, of course), you would think a man who used his platform for the unceasing targeting of feminists, racial and religious minorities and transgender women would be recognized immediately for what he was: an attention-seeking, reckless extremist. But it turns out statements like “Behind every racist joke is a scientific fact” don’t disqualify you from being invited to speak on college campuses or at conservative fundraisers.

It gives little comfort to know that white nationalists only draw the line at the predation of young boys—and barely even that, since legions of his admirers can be seen defending and encouraging Yiannopoulos on his Facebook page, where he has 1.8 million fans.

These comments weren’t even new. The video where he endorses pederasty has been floating around for some time. Yiannopoulos only received a pedestal-toppling backlash when the comments made their way back into the news cycle and became known to a wider audience. In other words, Breitbart, CPAC and Simon & Schuster only cared when it impacted their bottom line.

Roxane Gay, a feminist author who pulled her own upcoming book from Simon & Schuster after the publisher promoted Yiannopoulos’ now-cancelled book, pointed this out in a Tumblr post:

In canceling Milo’s book contract, Simon & Schuster made a business decision the same way they made a business decision when they decided to publish that man in the first place. When his comments about pedophilia/pederasty came to light, Simon & Schuster realized it would cost them more money to do business with Milo than he could earn for them. They did not finally “do the right thing.”

Yiannopoulos is only the most visible part of the regressive movement that swept Trump into office. Like an iceberg, most of the movement’s mass—white evangelical Christians, disillusioned or apathetic voters, and some well-meaning, but disconnected liberals—remained submerged and unseen, until Election Day when it ripped a gash in the hull of our democracy.

I highly doubt Yiannopoulos will slink completely into oblivion. Similar to a bigoted, anti-Semitic phoenix rising from the ashes, white privileged men like Milo always seem to bounce back with another book deal, another commentator gig and more notoriety. White nationalism is one very persistent hydra, and those who think this is the end of Yiannopoulos seem to be underestimating what he means to the young “alt-right” movement.

Yiannopoulos seems to agree, posting this message to his Facebook page last night: