It will be the second time that the Breitbart News tech editor has appeared at the briefing — he stopped by a half-full session in March 2016 — but the Berkeley incident has made Yiannopoulos's every move into headlines. Eleven months ago, Yiannopoulos stopped by the briefing with then-press secretary Josh Earnest to draw attention to how his Twitter account had been shut down after he trolled “Saturday Night Live” actress Leslie Jones.
“It’s becoming very clear that Twitter and Facebook, in particular, are censoring and punishing conservative and libertarian points of view,” Yiannopoulos said, in a half-full briefing room. “The President has made some encouraging comments about free speech. He said, for example, that university students shouldn’t be coddled, perhaps suggesting that the safe space and trigger-warning culture isn’t something he believes in. Is there anything the President can do to encourage Silicon Valley to remind them of the importance — the critical importance of open, free speech in our society?”
After Earnest answered with comments about the “groundbreaking” power of social media and said it was “predicated on the important protection of First Amendment rights to self-expression,” Yiannopoulos made clear he was talking about his own situation.
“My verification check was taken away for making jokes about the wrong group of people,” Yiannopoulos said. “Conservative commentators and journalists are being punished, being suspended, having their tweets deleted by Twitter. Facebook is removing criticism of immigration in Europe. Are there any mechanisms that the government can use to remind these companies that they have that responsibility? Or do we just have to trust that the market is going to punish them if they don’t?
“I’m not sure exactly what sort of government policy decision could have any influence on that,” Earnest said. “Obviously there is, though, a third branch of government, which is our courts; they are supposed to be insulated from politics. They’re supposed to be in a position to resolve those kinds of questions. So if there are private citizens who feel their constitutional rights are being violated in some way, that they do have an opportunity to address that before a judge in a court of law. And that should be the way our system works. But, again, even that is predicated on the idea that our court system is appropriately insulated from partisan politics.”
The Leslie Jones incident was rocket fuel for Yiannopoulos's image. He toured college campuses ahead of the 2016 election, live-streaming each speech. Several speeches were canceled by security concerns; the ones that went forward often carried a whiff of danger, as students walked though metal detectors to enter and Yiannopoulos sometimes theatrically ripped off a bulletproof vest onstage.
But the situation in Berkeley, where anarchists using “black bloc” tactics turned a mass protest into a violent conflagration — with made-for-TV images of garbage fires — has been an even bigger boon to Yiannopoulos. On Thursday night, his trip to D.C. began with a friendly interview on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” a show that has ridden anger at left-wing activism into best-in-class prime time ratings.
There was no discussion of what the peaceful protesters in Berkeley had objected to — namely, Yiannopoulos's kick off of a campaign against “sanctuary campuses.” According to a promotional Breitbart story that ran before the event, Yiannopoulos was set to “call for the withdrawal of federal grants and the prosecution of university officials who endanger their students with their policies,” and the ex-radical David Horowitz would keep up the campaign on other campuses.
“Other targeted groups on our campus have experienced Horowitz’ tactic of publicizing the names and pictures of individuals on posters throughout campus property, and there is a likelihood that there will be Horowitz-backed posters pasted throughout our campus,” wrote students who opposed the speech.
In an email, Yiannopoulos said the claim that he was going to out students at the speech was "false." On Fox News last night, Yiannopoulos was not asked about the content of the speech that was shut down. The conversation focused instead on how a campus might have proven the point that the left was ceding its right to federal grants by cracking down on free speech.
“One thing authoritarians hate, one thing dictators hate, is the sound of laughter,” Yiannopoulos said. He also suggested that his upcoming “Dangerous,” to be published by Simon & Schuster, would be “one of the big books of 2017.”