In recent days, former Breitbart Editor Milo Yiannopoulos has gone from the highest highs to the lowest lows, all in a matter of hours. He was invited on Saturday to keynote this weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
This was in addition to the fact that his book, Dangerous, was set to be released as a top seller, and he had become so popular that he had become the namesake of Republican legislation in Tennessee which aimed to protect freedom of speech. Even President Donald Trump got in on the action, tweeting about revoking federal funds from UC-Berkeley following Milo’s failed attempt to speak there:
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
That all changed on Sunday, when conservative blog Reagan Batalion released a compilation of clips seemingly showing Milo defending pedophilia. On Monday, CPAC uninvited Milo, and soon thereafter, Simon & Schuster cancelled his book. On Tuesday, he resigned from Breitbart.
This fall from grace at first blush seems unprecedented. However, perhaps the best parallel comes from an unlikely source: Pro Football Hall of Famer and accused murderer OJ Simpson.
Much like Milo, Simpson was beloved by an unlikely crowd. He grew up in one of the poorest and blackest areas in all of the United States during a time of extreme racial turmoil. Nonetheless, due to his star-power as a Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Southern California, white Americans soon took a liking to “The Juice.” Unlike his contemporaries like Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Simpson did not use his platform to shine a light on racial injustice. Instead, he charmed and quietly ran his away to one of the greatest NFL careers of all-time.
His popularity was so real that Simpson became a movie star, appearing most famously in The Towering Inferno and many iterations of The Naked Gun. He also became the spokesperson for the Hertz car rental service, appearing in multiple commercials.
In many ways, Simpson was able to escape the racist stigmas traditionally associated with black men. He lived a wealthy lifestyle and never wished to “rock the boat” in addressing race relations. For many white Americans, he was not one of “those” black men; he was instead “one of the good ones” which they could point to as an example of what black Americans “should be.”
That all changed in 1994 when Simpson was charged with the murder of his ex-wife and her friend. Perhaps most importantly, his ex-wife was white and blonde. As it became clear to most of the world that Simpson likely committed those heinous acts, Simpson was no longer “the exception” for white Americans; he was downgraded to the rule.
Instead of being a shining example of class and being acceptable to whites, he was now the negative stereotype which so many white Americans unjustly feared: criminal, violent, and sub-human. To compound the situation, he expressed these attributes by (likely) defiling the most precious commodity to white civilization: a beautiful white woman. Even though Simpson was acquitted of the murders, he never reclaimed anything close to his past life.
Now, over 20 years later, American conservatives found what they had longed for: a “good” gay man who was not going to make issues with the fact that conservatives had long mistreated gays, instead focusing his anger toward Muslims, immigrants, and other “out-groups.”
The United States, and conservatives in particular, have an extremely ugly history of how they treat gay Americans. One ten-minute public service announcement entitled “Boys Beware” encapsulated these fears well, maligning “the homosexual”:
Because Milo did not exhaust his time campaigning for gay rights, he seemed much “safer” for American conservatives. This amount of comfort was shown by the fact that GOProud, a gay conservative group, was banned from sponsoring CPAC in 2012 and 2013, only 4 years prior to Milo’s invitation to become the keynote.
Then came the stunning revelations about Milo on Sunday. As noted by Nathan J. Robinson of Current Affairs:
Yiannopoulos has quickly found out which ideas will actually get you booted from the public square, and they’re left-wing ones rather than right-wing ones. It turned out the real people you can’t offend are the conservatives whose latent homophobia make them instantly pounce on a gay man as a defender of pedophilia when he tries to explain his world to them. How fitting that Yiannopoulos should fall victim to the very kind of vicious misrepresentation of LGBT people that he has spent his time encouraging. How appropriate for him to discover that his friends on the right only supported him so long as he nurtured their prejudices; they loved their campy gay mascot until the moment he challenged them. Then he was a pervert.
In short, once Milo revealed himself to the right, he was no longer “their” gay man. He was “just another” gay man who preyed on young boys, like “the homosexual” in the 1950s PSA.
While being accused of defending pedophilia and being accused of double-murder are two very, very different charges, the governing point remains correct: when the in-groups who were so accepting found out that their “favorite” of the out-group was actually that which they so feared, the support quickly faded, and they quickly returned to their original prejudices. After all, in their minds, that person was always replaceable with another individual who could better spout their agenda.