There was a bit of jostling — and at least one thrown cup of coffee — Friday evening at Davis.
But mostly there was a lot of chanting and yelling as several hundred vociferous protesters succeeded in shutting down an appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos, the puerile 33-year-old Breitbart writer who is best known for getting banned from Twitter after leading a charge of racist harassment against “Ghostbusters” actress Leslie Jones.
This was supposed to have been a stop on Yiannopoulos’s “Dangerous Faggot” college campus tour. He was to have been joined by Martin Shkreli, the ethics-challenged pharmaceutical entrepreneur who jacked up the price of an AIDS drug before being indicted on federal securities fraud charges. Last week, Shkreli was suspended from Twitter after harassing Lauren Duca, the journalist whose Teen Vogue essay, “Trump is Gaslighting America,” went viral.
For anyone who has followed the debates over campus political correctness, Yiannopoulous offers nothing new. His appeal seems to be a matter of packaging; he is a flamboyant gay Brit who wears jewelry, makeup and Gucci accessories, and carries a gold lame backpack. I guess this is what passes for daring on the right.
To give you the flavor of his schtick, here’s a sample of things he said recently at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where, among other things, he mocked a transgender student by name for filing a Title IX complaint about bathroom access:
“Black Lives Matter is the ultimate divisive movement.”
“If white privilege is a thing, why are people working so hard to be black? All of the award shows and cultural events favor black culture.”
“‘Man up’ is a big no-no for liberals, intent on eliminating masculinity from our culture. ‘Toxic masculinity’ and ‘rape culture’ and all the other idiotic things they like to say in their war against men.”
As I scanned news stories about the UC Davis protest on Saturday morning, I was amused to see outlets like Breitbart accusing protesters of engaging in acts of “leftist violence.”
“This was in no way a peaceful protest,” said Davis College Republican executive director Andrew Mendoza, when we spoke Saturday morning. “I want to make that very clear.”
I was there and that’s not how I saw it. There were definitely a lot of raised voices. UC Davis police officers, having been singed by the famous pepper spray incident of 2011, in which one of their men brazenly sprayed peaceful seated protesters, were surprisingly passive.
If you’d been there, you might have wanted to cover your ears from the noise, but to allege violence is to be guilty of the same snowflake sensibility that right-wingers love to fling as an insult when they denigrate the concepts of “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings.”
Yiannopoulos is a guy whose business model is to be provocative and then to feign outrage when people are provoked. Getting banned on Twitter, or shut down by protesters, only oxygenates him. It is what he lives for. His talent for polarizing is the surely the only reason that Simon & Schuster saw fit to give him a reported $250,000 book contract.
It was a pity that UC Davis could not figure out a way to deal with high-decibel demonstrators and still find a way to protect the right of people who stood in line a good long time to hear the right’s latest darling. Not everyone who turned out to hear him was a fan, but all of them were passionate about his right to be there.
“Freedom of speech is meant for speech that is controversial,” said Christan Santos, a 20-year-old San Jose State student and Trump supporter. Santos said he was put off by Yiannopoulos’s campaign of insults against Leslie Jones, but added, “We need to respect our differences and engage.”
As he spoke, protesters chanted, “Say it loud, say it clear, racists are not welcome here.”
Clayton Germolus, 25, a doctoral student in biophysics, held a sign that read: “Hate Speech is Free Speech.”
“I’m not particularly upset about the protesters,” Germolus told me. “I hate the things that Milo says and I don’t like the message he sends. But I’m here to support his right to speak.”
David DuPlantier, a 28-year-old electromechanic from Woodland, had a ticket for the event. “I don’t agree with everything he said, but I do want to hear it.”
On Saturday afternoon, unbowed, Yiannopoulos returned to UC Davis. Word had gotten out on social media that he’d be back, and indeed, shortly after 2 p.m. he strode onto campus and stepped onto a tree planter outside Memorial Union, a hub of student life.
A crowd of perhaps 150 turned out, many of them people who’d been disappointed by the previous night’s cancellation. The half-dozen or so protesters who showed up were shouted down repeatedly by the crowd.
Yiannopoulos stood with a child-size megaphone in one hand and a dozen white roses in the other, and accused “universities like this” of pandering “to Black Lives Matter and feminist groups, no matter how hateful and divisive they are.”
“I’m right about everything,” he said after wrongly claiming that windows had been broken during Friday night’s demonstration.
He invited the crowd to march across campus with him, spraying Silly String in honor of the infamous pepper spray incident.
In a funny way, this tangle was a draw. Or perhaps a victory for both sides. Those who came out Friday to shut down a bigot had the pleasure of silencing him, at least briefly.
He got the last word a day later, and the satisfaction of knowing that the more he is protested, the more famous he becomes, and in all likelihood, the more books he will sell.