The Milo Yiannopoulos experience was, from the start, political theater. In essence, Mr. Yiannopoulos got exactly what he wanted when the main event was shut down. That allowed him to bolster his claim that the social justice left community is repressive and the administration cowered at their feet.
That momentarily gave him and his supporters the moral high ground – a place that they apparently had no desire to occupy, and quickly ceded as they completed their political theater with a reprehensible reenactment of police brutality in a mocking and disdainful way.
Since early December, the Milo Yiannopoulos event was one of the more highly anticipated in recent years. Indeed, the Vanguard in just a month has received nine guest pieces on the topic – by far the most of any single issue.
At the end of December, Sean Raycraft, a member of the Vanguard Editorial Board, wrote, “Davis College Republicans Have A Lot To Answer For On Milo.”
As Mr. Raycraft wrote, “What has been missing from this discussion is the why. Why did the Davis College Republicans invite this person to speak at UC Davis? What good to the community comes from him being here?”
We wanted to get that answer and reached out to the College Republicans via Facebook Messenger and email for a response. Despite an indication that the message was read, we got no response.
The group has even more to answer for now. During his protest speech, Mr. Yiannopoulos accused the administration of dishonesty in the cancellation of the event. As he told the crowd and after that clarified to the Vanguard, it is true that the College Republicans had cancelled the speech, but that was because “they were told by police that they would be responsible for property damage.”
He told the Vanguard he was hoping with the march, “I want the university to admit that they intimidated those students into cancelling the event in violation of their First Amendment responsibilities.”
Later, he said they were going to have “fun” by, among other things, reenacting the notorious pepper spray incident.
As UC Davis Professor Natalia Deeb-Sossa wrote in a letter to the Vanguard, “Milo and his cabal were trivializing the targeting of students protesters by police officers in riot gear with chemical weapons.”
She added, “What is so hurtful and harmful of what Milo and his cabal have done is that they are laughing at the abuses of police power and police violence that target disproportionately radical and progressive student activism. They are also normalizing the militarization of police which have intensified the surveillance and criminalization of communities of color.”
Here’s the problem – Milo Yiannopoulos is political theater. He’s quite good at his shtick – he’s witty, he’s good on his feet, and he’s very articulate. The problem is that there are boundaries and some things are just not funny.
Given the experience that Milo and his supporters endured on Friday, perhaps they should take a little less glee at the suffering of others, lest they be on the receiving end next time. And, given their world view, that seems a distinct possibility – at least in their own minds.
Part of the problem is that probably very few if any of those students who participated in the pepper spray reenactment were here in November 2011. They don’t remember how it felt, the violation, the anger, the community response.
They may have seen the viral video and memes of the incident, but they didn’t feel. There wasn’t a liberal anger, there wasn’t a conservative anger, there was just an anger.
They weren’t there on the Monday after the incident when the crowd from the community – students and town residents – gathered in numbers never before seen and never since seen. We are talking about between 5000 and 10,000 people on the quad. The entire eastern side of the quad was filled and the crowd extended well onto the western side.
As big as Milo was, he never even came close to touching that kind of audience size.
Real people were hurt. There was the physical effect of the pepper spray burning in people’s eyes for hours and the psychological trauma that followed.
People’s lives were irreparably changed. People got fired from their jobs. The chancellor was damaged and perhaps ended up resigning five years later ultimately because she never really recovered.
Millions were spent to investigate and change the system so that, when this event happened on Friday, there was not a repeat of those mistakes.
Like Sean Raycraft, I wanted to hear from the College Republicans. I wanted to understand what they were thinking by bringing Milo to campus.
I got a glimpse of that on Saturday when I was out there with a group of 200 or so people and Milo. On Sunday, I described the political divide and there is a combination of both anger and a feeling of political vulnerability. While they beat their chests about Trump winning and Obama being on his way out, there was also the recognition that they are largely alone in this community.
Surprisingly, I found an interesting commonality between the vulnerability and isolation that these College Republicans expressed at the event and the feeling of isolation and vulnerability that the LGBT community, women, Muslims and other people of color feel about the future of this nation under Trump.
However, whatever legitimate political message they had on Saturday – and I still think there are some legitimate points raised by Milo in his typical outrageous manner – those were wiped out when they did the pepper spray reenactment.
They should be ashamed of themselves. They have mocked and ridiculed human suffering and trivialized the very sort of state-sponsored oppression that they were supposedly protesting against on Saturday.
Most of all, Milo used these kids. He can leave town and not have to face the consequences of his actions. The College Republicans have to live here and their faces are etched in these photos and these videos for perpetuity.
If the College Republicans had some explaining to do about Milo, they have more explaining to do now. I won’t hold my breath – in the end, I think they lack the political fortitude to stand behind their actions on a platform that won’t be as friendly as the one they had on Saturday.
In this debate over free speech, something has gotten lost. We have freedom of speech in this country and it is troubling when people want to shut that speech down, but we do not have freedom from consequences. With freedom comes responsibility. And, while I will fight for people’s right to speak, they also have to answer for what they say.
—David M. Greenwald reporting