Stephanie Taylor admits that she’d never even heard of the guy a week ago. But on Wednesday night, she led a boisterous protest at the University of Minnesota against a conservative pundit named Milo Yiannopoulos for spreading what she called “hate speech.”
It was the second campus protest in a week for Yiannopoulos, who was shouted down Feb. 9 at Rutgers University in New Jersey by activists smeared in fake blood.
On Wednesday evening, Yiannopoulos packed the 250-seat auditorium at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs along with author Christina Hoff Sommers, while about 40 protesters gathered outside chanting, “Yiannopoulos, out of Minneapolis!”
No one seemed to be enjoying the theatrics more than the target of their anger.
“It’s enormously good fun,” said Yiannopoulos, a telegenic 31-year-old college dropout from London who is now senior editor for the conservative Breitbart News Network. “All of the very worst people in the world get triggered by the mere mention of my name.”
In the past few months, he has emerged as a YouTube star and culture warrior of the right, with withering criticisms of feminism and the stifling of free speech on U.S. campuses.
He readily acknowledges that his message is provocative, deriding modern feminism as “a bitter, nasty, ugly, man-hating empty horror show.” He also insists that, as a gay man, he’s freer to challenge feminist orthodoxy than other men, who fear being shouted down or ostracized for their views.
Among his favorite themes: what he calls the exaggerated myth of a “rape culture” on college campuses, or the frequently cited statistic that women are paid less than men for the same work. “Absurd,” he says, saying the claims don’t hold up to scrutiny.
Critics have blasted him as “an anti-feminist troll” and “crank of the far right.”
“He is eccentric and entertaining,” said Blake Kraussel, 21, of Students for a Conservative Voice, the campus group that invited Yiannopolous to the U. “We didn’t pick him to start controversy. It kind of followed him.”
His appearance at the U, titled “CALM DOWN! Restoring Common Sense to Feminism,” was briefly interrupted by five protesters shouting and sounding noisemakers. They were quickly escorted out by campus police.
The protest was organized by the U chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Yiannopolous’ message “is pretty overtly sexist,” said Taylor, 28, a 2012 graduate of the U’s Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies program.
Outside the packed auditorium, activists held protest signs saying “End rape culture” and “Rape culture is not a myth.”
Taylor insisted that the protest was not meant to shut down free speech. But “we think it’s important to have a clear message … that hate speech isn’t tolerated on this campus.”
Yiannopolous, meanwhile, says he relishes the controversy, describing it as “hundreds of thousands of dollars of free advertising.” The critics, he joked, “make me look reasonable.”
“I don’t want outrage for its own sake,” he said. “I’m happy where it occurs because it draws attention to what I’m talking about.”