The story of Milo Yiannopoulos’s fall from conservative grace ended when a conservative blog posted video footage of him making comments that seemed to rationalize pedophilia. But it started when a 16-year-old high school student in Canada decided Yiannopoulos was embraced much too closely by mainstream conservatives.
The teen was moved to dig up footage on Yiannopoulos when she heard that he’d been invited to speak at the highest profile gathering of conservatives each year in America, the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). She defines herself as “very socially liberal,” but leans right on economics and foreign policy. Yiannopoulos, who has built his personal brand on anti-Muslim, anti-feminism, and general bigotry, exemplifies the place where she doesn’t believe the conservative movement should go.
“I see Milo as this embodiment of the awfulness you see over the past few years with the general tilt of millennial conservatism,” said the teen. “It’s diverged from this traditional conservatism so much. You’ve seen it essentially become full of awfulness and all about attacking the left and not about actual principles. It has nothing to do with conservative ideology so much as it has with opposing the leftists, SJWs, and so on and so forth.”
Within days of his old statements coming to light, Yiannopoulos lost his spot at CPAC, his book deal, and his job at the ultra-conservative website Breitbart.
I am keeping the teen’s name and social media accounts out of the story because of her and her parents’ request to protect her safety, and will only refer to her as “Julia.” But we have confirmed her identity and her communications with the conservative blog that resurfaced the Yiannopoulos tape for a wide audience.
Many critics have tried and failed to take Yiannopoulos down, from feminists to other liberals who despise his bigoted messages. But those efforts only buoyed his appeal among his fan base on the far right, rocketing his profile among movements like the alt-right, a far-right fringe movement that spouts white nationalist ideals and opposes social liberalism. But this 16-year-old helped take Yiannopoulos down by managing to get not just the left angry at him, but the right as well.
How a 16-year-old took down Milo
Julia closely follows political news from her home in Canada, with a deep interest in American politics. She has been particularly alarmed by the recent rise of Yiannopoulos and others like him. So as soon as she heard Yiannopoulos would speak at CPAC, she was appalled.
Then an old moment popped in her head. She remembered hearing an obscure podcast, the Drunken Peasants, in which Yiannopoulos, responding to a video by YouTube pundit Kevin Logan, defended the idea of “13-year-olds” having sex with “older men,” arguing that child molestation provided a “sort of ‘coming of age’ relationship” for teenagers.
Her memory was right. She found the July 2016 clip.
She didn’t think she’d have much luck spreading the news herself with her small Twitter following, so she contacted a conservative outlet to get the story out. She figured a liberal outlet would have less credibility among CPAC followers.
She landed on the previously not-very-well-known conservative blog Reagan Battalion, which, after a bit of back and forth, tweeted out the video — leading not just to CPAC canceling Yiannopoulos’s speech, but to Simon & Schuster pulling his already controversial book deal and his resignation from Breitbart.
“I thought it would only get, like, 200 retweets,” Julia said. “I had no idea that it would blow up to the extent that it did.”
It ended up at thousands of retweets.
Reagan Battalion confirmed that screenshots of Julia’s conversation with the blog were legit. As the screenshots show and as she relayed to Vox, she first saw the Reagan Battalion tweet out other videos showing Yiannopoulos making offensive comments. She told Reagan Battalion that there’s more damaging stuff out there. In private messages, she linked the video to them, with specific timestamps for Yiannopoulos’s pro–child molestation comments.
The teen’s mom couldn’t have been more proud of her kid, initially contacting Vox because she said her daughter’s story deserves more attention. She told me that the Canadian family is “more libertarian than anything,” but they’re nonetheless “devastated to see that Orange Julius win.” And in particular, they’re dismayed by reactionaries taking over the conservative movement and especially the alt-right, a movement that Yiannopoulos had become a leader for through his provocative, extreme work at Breitbart.
Julia and her mom have taken part in some activism before, including at a Women’s March last month. But when Yiannopoulos was invited to talk at CPAC, this Canadian teenager saw an opening. She worked to get his speech canceled — and she won.
This anti-Trump teenager is terrified by reactionary conservatism
The Canadian 16-year-old had a concise way of describing Yiannopoulos: “He’d be more accurately described as anti-liberal than he would be conservative.”
This is an accurate description of the reactionary movement Yiannopoulos is a part of. It’s not necessarily that they support any specific conservative policies or political ideals; they by and large just oppose social liberalism — multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, equality for people of all races, religions, and genders, and so on.
One of the reasons Yiannopoulos blended in so well with reactionary conservatives — despite being an openly gay man — is because he spouted the anti-feminist, anti-Muslim, and otherwise bigoted messages that the fringe movement trumpets. To them, his bigoted comments have become an example of Yiannopoulos standing up for “free speech” and against “political correctness” by plainly saying what many of them believe despite opposition from the left.
Yiannopoulos, for example, said that he “went gay” so he “didn’t have to deal with nutty broads.” He suggested that gay and transgender people are “disordered.” He set up the “Yiannopoulos Privilege Grant,” a college scholarship available only to white men to put them “on equal footing with their female, queer and ethnic minority classmates.” And he flashed his sexuality as a gay man in ways that he knew would offend liberals, like when he wrote an article headlined “My Grindr Profile Says 'No Whites' — Am I Racist?” in which he exoticized and stereotyped black men.
As my colleague Zack Beauchamp explained, Yiannopoulos’s entire shtick is to say something inflammatory, anger a whole lot of people (particularly on the left), get widespread media attention, refuse to back down, and say he did it all to stand up for free speech — because no one can control what he says. Yiannopoulos pushes the boundaries just enough to force this chain of events, which conveniently prop him up as a hero.
Reactionary movements like the alt-right and Gamergate love this. As they see it, political correctness has stifled discourse, particularly on college campuses. So when someone like Yiannopoulos purposely says offensive things, they celebrate it as a brave defense of free speech.
Indeed, this is why CPAC said it invited him to speak. As American Conservative Union Chair Matt Schlapp said, “We initially extended the invitation knowing that the free speech issue on college campuses is a battlefield where we need brave, conservative standard-bearers.”
But as many people are quick to point out, much of this just seems like an excuse to say horrible things. Yiannopoulos isn’t pushing the boundaries of free speech to make salient political arguments; he’s just said provocative things that denigrate minorities, women, and especially feminists — and even defended child molestation. All of this is meant to anger liberals, but there’s really not much substance there.
Still, reactionaries such as Yiannopoulos and the alt-right, despite initially remaining on the fringes of conservatism, have made an impact — most recently helping Trump get elected. They loved that Trump was essentially willing to do and say whatever he wanted, from decrying political correctness repeatedly on the campaign trail to proposing outright bigoted policies like banning Muslims from entering the US. This was the kind of candidate people like Yiannopoulos, who took to calling Trump “daddy,” had long hoped for.
This terrified a lot of liberals and conservatives, including the Canadian teenager who helped bring down Yiannopoulos. With Trump and his support from reactionaries, they were worried that we were seeing the mainstreaming of a fringe of the far, far right — and that could have horrible consequences for the Republican Party, America, and the world.
“America is a global power, and it affects the entire world,” Julia said. “Whatever Trump says now in terms of foreign policy does change the course of world history and does alter not just America’s position in the world but it will also affect Western civilization’s position in the world stage.” To this end, she added, “There’s not a politician in American politics today that would be worse than Donald Trump.”
There’s a lesson for the broader conservative movement in this story
Still, that an anonymous Canadian 16-year-old had the ability to take down Yiannopoulos — by teaming up with a conservative blog like the Reagan Battalion — shows the resistance against Trump and reactionaries more broadly really can work.
Consider CPAC’s position: They thought they would get away with inviting someone as inflammatory as Yiannopoulos, despite his past bigoted remarks. In doing this, they were pushing the boundaries of the acceptable — potentially letting a hateful man speak in detail about his ideas on a mainstream conservative stage, supposedly in the defense of free speech.
Then it all backfired. And CPAC, along with Yiannopoulos’s publishers and Breitbart, disowned him.
If you’re an organization like CPAC looking at all of this, it will probably make you think twice about giving someone like Yiannopoulos a platform. Maybe these reactionaries really are a dangerous kind of breed of conservatism, and they should be treated as such.
The Canadian teenager said she hopes this is the lesson conservatives draw from the Yiannopoulos debacle. And more broadly, she hopes that her actions will push groups like CPAC to stand up for traditionally conservative values instead of embracing provocative figures just because they attack the left.
“You shouldn’t have to feel intimidated to stand up for what you believe in,” she said. “Hopefully they’ll realize that you can’t keep being this reactionary movement — if you can even call it that. You can’t just keep looking for enemies to attack and pointing the finger. Eventually, you have to stand up for something.”