The fall of Yiannopoulos

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Dear College Republicans: you got trolled. You chose provocation over substance by standing by Milo Yiannopoulos, and did everything you could to stand by the, in his own words, “virtuous troll” rather than attempting to start a real dialogue about your ideas. You blamed “snowflake” liberals to justify Yiannopoulos’ bullying so much that your party invited him to speak at the largest annual conservative conference, CPAC. Of course, that was when the party of “family values” promoted a provocateur disguised as a political commentator, up until year-old comments he made surfaced.

Yiannopoulos promoted older men having sex with young boys, as well advanced myths about the gay community. A few years ago, I couldn’t imagine the Republican Party wanting to be associated with a bully like Yiannopoulos to spread his non-conservative viewpoints and call President Trump, “daddy,” but the party has changed quite a bit.

The Republican Party is no longer just inspired by talk radio, it’s governed by it. Talk radio often times blames immigrants for job loss, foreigners for personal strife and Muslims for every violent attack in America. In actuality white extremists have killed more Americans in the U.S. than Jihadists since 9/11. The fringe is now the mainstream.

Don’t believe me?

Milo Yiannopoulos speaks during a news conference, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, in New York. Yiannopoulos has resigned as editor of Breitbart Tech after coming under fire from other conservatives over comments on sexual relationships between boys and older men. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Milo Yiannopoulos speaks during a news conference, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, in New York. Yiannopoulos has resigned as editor of Breitbart Tech after coming under fire from other conservatives over comments on sexual relationships between boys and older men. (Mary Altaffer / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Ask Donald Trump where he got the claim about three to five million “illegal” voters. Alex Jones might be able to answer that. Just look at Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who hired Yiannopoulos at Breitbart, causing conservative Ben Shapiro to quit because of Breitbart’s edging into the alt-right universe.

College Republicans have been a necessary part of all campuses and I’m glad we have diversity in thought that can challenge presumed bubbles and ways of thinking. I stood with John Minster of Young Americans for Freedom against DePaul’s disallowing Ben Shapiro to speak on campus.

We need diversity of thought, but for as much as conservatives love to attack the concept of what they see as “victim culture” happening on the left, they sure love to play up their own victim hood on campus. So much so that the only reasonable defense in their mind is to bring a speaker associated with the mainstreaming of the alt-right and someone who makes a living provoking, targeting and bullying individuals, including a DePaul student on Twitter the day of his speech at DePaul University organized by the College Republicans.

To some conservatives, it’s all fun and games and lots of free media from the friendly conservative blogs. But politics isn’t just fun and games — it affects people.

A recent study by from Johns Hopkins and Harvard University showed that the suicide rate among gay youth dropped after the legalization of same sex marriage. Policy and societal treatment of people have a real impact on people’s mental health and safety. Yiannopoulos’ attacks on the transgender community have been damaging to say the least. I need not remind readers of the high rates of suicide in the trans community.

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(Graphic by Lauren Johnson / The DePaulia)

The rolling back of transgender protections in schools across the United States by the new administration will hurt their community as well. This stuff matters.

How we talk to each other also matters, and I was saddened when College Republicans across this country chose to ignore that to hear from a bully in order to expose us “snowflakes.” Yiannopoulos considers himself a “virtuous troll,” but he is anything but virtuous. He fat shames, he says America has a Muslim problem, he believes feminism is a cancer, he denies campus rape culture, he targets individual transgender students, called Leslie Jones “barely literate”, was banned from Twitter due to the online harassment that he incited and he calls Black Lives Matter a hate group — just to name a few of his beliefs.  If you want to use his shock value to prepare liberal students for the “real world,” how about you join the real world first?

Work on real issues you care about, because when you leave college no one will care whether you fought against “snowflakes” by bringing a troll to campus. They will ask you what you stand for and what drives you. And if your answer is “pissing off snowflakes” and “proving those feminists wrong,” then my guess is that you are further removed from society than those you seek to provoke.

We need to aim high with our speech and never waver on values of decency. Instead, pushing Yiannopoulos only spreads misleading information about marginalized groups of people and hurts our neighbors in the process. I’ve talked to too many friends who had Yiannopoulos trolls flood their inbox with death threats, the n-word, calls for black genocides and anti-Semitic remarks. This sort of ugliness comes from a dark place and has to be internalized and addressed.

This would all be surprising if not for the dramatic turn by conservatives to embrace some of the darkness in their party in exchange for winning elections. President George W. Bush visited a mosque after 9/11 and said Islam was a religion of peace.  Sen. John McCain made sure to put a lid on the town hall questions about then candidate Barack Obama regarding claims that he was a Muslim or a terrorist. Now the party’s leader and our President is a man who ran on fallacies and dark rhetoric about the black community, Latinos and Muslims, called for a Muslim ban, and didn’t condemn any troubling or violent behavior from his supporters. It took him until last week to condemn the huge rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes across the country.

Conservatives traded quality of character and value sets they may have been able to tout before inviting Milo for racist trolling and ratings. It’s now up to the Republican party and College Republicans to reexamine their motives and ask what can lead to productive dialogue on campus. I will stand with you when liberals aren’t fair to you for your beliefs, but I will not be silent when you promote, endorse and normalize corrosive rhetoric that causes serious distress and damages our ability to have a free exchange of ideas.

Jack McNeil is the president of the DePaul College Democrats and president of the College Democrats of Illinois.