'The most fabulous supervillain on Internet' who sparked campus riot

Mr Milo Yiannopoulos, a flamboyant poster boy of the “alt-right” movement, has drawn criticism for spreading hatred through his writings and public speaking engagements. His planned appearance at the University of California, Berkeley, incited vi
Mr Milo Yiannopoulos, a flamboyant poster boy of the “alt-right” movement, has drawn criticism for spreading hatred through his writings and public speaking engagements. His planned appearance at the University of California, Berkeley, incited violent protests on the campus last Wednesday, and even got US President Donald Trump involved. PHOTO: FACEBOOK PAGE OF MILO YIANNOPOULOS

Before the violent events of last Wednesday at the University of California, Berkeley, not many people outside of America knew who Milo Yiannopoulos was or why the 32-year-old's planned appearance on campus incited a riot and got United States President Donald Trump hot and bothered.

Thousands of students gathered to protest while a group of black-clad demonstrators lobbed fireworks at the police and smashed the windows of a building where Mr Yiannopoulos was due to give a speech.

Berkeley cancelled the event. The next morning, Mr Trump took to his Twitter account. "NO FEDERAL FUNDS?" he threatened, accusing the university of not allowing free speech.

Ironically, the man that the tweet-happy President was defending was banned from Twitter for life last July for "inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others", said the social media company.

Mr Yiannopoulos had goaded Twitter users to target black Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones, who suffered a barrage of sexist and racist attacks by trolls.

To the critics of Mr Yiannopoulos, a flamboyant poster boy of the "alt-right" movement and senior editor at Breitbart News website, his public speaking engagements and writings spread hatred and should not be given a platform.

SURPRISED BY REACTION

I'm just stunned that hundreds of people... were so threatened by the idea that a conservative speaker might be persuasive, interesting, funny and might take some people with him, they have to shut it down at all costs.

MR MILO YIANNOPOULOS, commenting on the Berkeley incident in a live video posted on his Facebook page, now his main public platform after Twitter banned him.

To his mostly young and white supporters, he makes being a Republican cool, and he's not afraid to speak his mind.

"I'm just stunned that hundreds of people... were so threatened by the idea that a conservative speaker might be persuasive, interesting, funny and might take some people with him, they have to shut it down at all costs," he said of the Berkeley incident in a live video posted on his Facebook page, now his main public platform.

DISHEARTENING

It is tragic that the birthplace of the free-speech movement is also its final resting place.

BERKELEY COLLEGE REPUBLICANS, which invited Mr Yiannopoulos to speak on campus. Berkeley had led the way in student activism across the country when undergraduates demonstrated in 1964.

The self-professed "cultural libertarian" delights in taking down feminists, Islam and social justice, routinely firing off offensive statements designed to titillate and provoke­- and in turn draw attention to himself.

"The most fabulous supervillain on the Internet," as he describes himself on his Facebook page, is a self-styled rock star of modern conservatism, carefully cultivating an over-the-top public image monopolised by fur coats, artificially blonde locks and lots of bling. Throw in dark lipstick and sunglasses as well for effect.

Yet, he has also refused to be labelled a "white supremacist" and does not approve of fellow conservative Richard Spencer, a 38-year-old controversial white nationalist who coined the term "alt-right" in 2010.

"I like black guys for my love life, straight white males as employees, and girls as drinking buddies," he told Bloomberg last September.

Raised in a small town in Kent in England, the Greek-British firebrand dropped out of the University of Manchester and then University of Cambridge.

In 2011, he founded The Kernel, an online technology magazine, together with two Cambridge friends and two journalists. After selling the business, he was put in charge of the tech section of Breitbart News.

In 2015, he began a campus-speaking tour, The Dangerous Faggot Tour, covering the US and Britain. While several of his scheduled appearances in Britain were cancelled, his US gigs were met with protests, including the most recent one at Berkeley.

In a statement, the Berkeley College Republicans, which invited Mr Yiannopoulos to speak on campus, said it was disheartened that the event was disrupted by violent demonstrators.

"It is tragic that the birthplace of the free-speech movement is also its final resting place," said the group. Berkeley had led the way in student activism across the country when undergraduates demonstrated in 1964 for political expression on campus.

But the limelight-loving agitator could well benefit from the publicity - he signed an autobiography deal with publisher Simon & Schuster last December, immediately drawing a review ban on all of the publisher's titles by The Chicago Review of Books.

As Mr Yiannopoulos put it to Bloomberg: "I think my legacy might be longer than Trump's."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2017, with the headline ''The most fabulous supervillain on Internet' who sparked campus riot'. Print Edition | Subscribe