By: Pat Peters
Milo Yiannopoulos is in the news again this week after the re-release of a podcast interview where he seems to support pedophilia. Since that news broke, Milo’s invitation to give a keynote speech at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference), where he was expected to give conservatives a taste of his alt-right, fire-breathing style of free speech, has been rescinded. Yiannopoulos’s Dangerous book deal with Simon & Schuster has been cancelled, despite S&S having given him a $250,000 advance. And the latest is that Milo has resigned as editor of Breitbart Tech, purportedly so as not “to allow my poor choice of words to detract from my colleagues’ important reporting.”
What do intellectual freedom fighters do about someone like Milo?
The ACLU has come under attack in recent months for supporting his right to speak on university campuses after his Dangerous F****t tour brought about violent protests and cancellations at some locations. In an interview with NPR, ACLU senior staff attorney Lee Rowland said, “We must all reach out and protect the speech that we most disagree with or else the First Amendment is just reduced to a popularity contest and has no meaning.” She went on to say, “It’s easy to protect speech we agree with, but more important to protect speech we abhor.” (Listen to the entire interview here.)
College campuses as places where a variety of viewpoints may be heard and considered is a tenet of education and academic freedom, particularly when a speaker is part of a series that offers a range of ideas from alt-right to alt-left and everything in-between or sideways.
However, when a speaker calls transgender people “mentally ill” or equates feminism with cancer, it’s hard to make the case that there is content of value that would help new adults develop their own opinions and stances on life issues. Hearing the extremes may let us more easily find the reasonable center that we can most identify with. But, of course, when speeches like this are followed by an increase in hateful acts and hate crimes toward people of color, LGBT students and people of particular religious faiths, there is a clear path from this kind of speech to the actions of those who listened.
Fortunately, the First Amendment does not guarantee that people with hateful messages should be given giant book deals or conference stages in front of some of the most well-known powerbrokers of the day. And apparently, statements that seem to espouse pedophilia are too much even for the staff at Breitbart, as many of Milo’s colleagues had been calling for him to be fired before he resigned on Tuesday.
Nothing in this post is new. Nothing here is earth-shattering. Just trying to sort through what I really mean when I say that I stand for intellectual freedom for all people. I welcome your thoughts.
Pat Peters is director of the Decatur Public Library, Decatur, Texas. In her spare time, she is an adjunct professor of Library Science for Texas Woman’s University, having taught both graduate and undergraduate Children’s Literature and Youth Programming. Pat is the 2016-17 chair of the Texas Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee. Pat and her husband Jeff live in Denton, Texas. Pat can sometimes be found @PatriciaP628.