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Milo Yiannopoulos claims to hate political correctness. He is about to feel the pain of living without its benefits.
Despite all of Yiannopoulos's talk, the reality is that the Breitbart News editor has thrived on political correctness. He built his brand not by saying substantive things but by demanding that he be allowed to say whatever he wants — while exploiting the fear that nothing could be seen as more politically incorrect than appearing to deny his right to free speech.
That fear — the worry that shutting up Yiannopoulos will make you look like an enemy of the First Amendment — faded over the weekend when the Conservative Political Action Conference canceled a scheduled speech by the professional provocateur after remarks he made last year about sex involving adults and underage teens resurfaced online.
In one interview from January 2016, Yiannopoulos shared his view that “pedophilia is not a sexual attraction to somebody 13 years old, who is sexually mature.”
The controversy also prompted Threshold Editions, a Simon & Schuster imprint that publishes conservative authors, to pull the plug on a book by Yiannopoulos that was scheduled for release in June.
Yiannopoulos has never been a sophisticated voice in conservative politics. He has made a career out of being the gay immigrant who tells his Breitbart audience that it is okay to use gay slurs and discriminate against immigrants. Yet he is remarkably skilled at convincing others that shutting out his kind of intolerance is a kind of intolerance all its own.
As Yiannopoulos has promoted the idea that PC police are trying to silence him, college after college has agreed to let him speak on campus. Even the University of California at Berkeley, a beacon of liberalism, granted a student group's request to host Yiannopoulos earlier this month. A protest that turned violent forced the event's cancellation at the last minute, but the university said in a statement that it felt “bound by the Constitution, the law, our values, and the campus's Principles of Community to enable free expression across the full spectrum of opinion and perspective.”
“Bound” is the key word there. Yiannopoulos knows that people and institutions feel bound to let him talk because of their commitment to free speech and, yes, because of political correctness. Free speech and political correctness have long been Yiannopoulos's best weapons in his relentless PR push.
Now, however, no one will feel bound to give a microphone to someone who thinks sex between a grown man and an underage boy can be consensual. No one will feel bound to amplify a voice that even CPAC deemed unworthy of inclusion.
Until this weekend, the politically correct thing to do was to just let Yiannopoulos talk. Not anymore.