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Milo Down Under: Free Speech and Violence in Australia

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To what limit protest?  Naturally, this was exactly what colourful agitator and former senior editor for Breitbart News Milo Yiannopolous wanted: outrage, insensible anger, and heady adoration.  Without any of these, he would vanish, a figure charged on a narcissism that would otherwise vanquish him.  Left alone, and the shallowness would be overwhelming.

His visit to Australia triggered the usual fanfare over the credentials of controversy. Australian authorities tend to prefer their visitors to be of a milder sort, but Milo has touched a vein.  He has shown himself, rather artificially, to be radical, contrarian, different.  He is Right wing impulse made chic; prejudice made glamorous.

Milo has also managed to marry a few curious themes that grate with the traditional left: he is flamboyant, gay and totally uninhibited, even if all of these seem forced. He, in fact, inhabits a confused being, a soul that sells anger while also charming establishment outlets. By his own admission, he can change, evolve, adapt.

Michael Brull, writing for New Matilda, remarks pertinently that Yiannopoulous has been given expansive exposure on media outlets across Australia, more out of curiosity than anything else.  The Murdoch Press, through The Australian, has offered him opinion space to tease and vent; Channel 7 has fawned and praised; and the Kyle and Jackie O show floated with his waves.

His Melbourne show itself resonated with customary fleshiness and garish distraction.  Models were in ready supply, given the sponsorship provided by Penthouse. Preliminary photo shoots involved a gathering of up to 100 supporters.  Then came the smoke, lights and music, the projected messiah, champagne glass in hand, gracing the stage.  Other performances also supplied a private dinner option, if you dared.

The performances have wooed those present.  Reservations evaporate.  This is the impression from a far from critical Luke Kinsella: “Milo is so unyielding, captivating and charismatic; it’s easy to understand why a cult of followers has developed around him.  He uses humour to make his point, and humiliate his opponents.”

Brull’s uses a comparison that gives pause for thought. Gideon Levy, a progressive Israeli scribe not keen to play to the halls of lukewarm acceptance, is also on tour in Australia. He has garnered a relatively poor harvest in fielding reviews and interviews, including an aggressive session on Lateline.  “Certainly, no-one invited him on commercial television.”  Those “rare occasions” which see leftists appear on television require the sort of balance that sees them drowned “out with conventional wisdom.”

The Melbourne event on Monday duly became rowdy, a process that made the police work for their brief.  Hundreds from the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism squared off against the True Blue Crew.  Two arrests, one from each side, were duly made.

A battle of accounts began to circulate: who agitated whom?  Avi Yemini, a self-proclaimed “Ozraeli” and former Israeli soldier, insisted that there was “a small group of pro-Milo supporters.  People who are standing up for freedom of speech. People who are proudly announcing that they are Aussies.  You don’t have to agree with all their different schtick.”

Yemini describes a scene of aggressive chaos, a kaleidoscope of “Muslim women in burkas”, “Antifa with their face coverings”, the enthusiastic sporting of middle fingers with calls of being a Nazi.  There were flashbacks: “I felt like I was in the Middle East on the Gaza Strip again where they were throwing rocks at the police.”

Forces of occupation are hardly going to engender support, though Yemini’s sentiment does point to the unnecessary attention given to Yiannopoulous.  That he has generated that much incendiary interest from so-called members of progressive groups suggest the unfortunate mirroring of tribal anger, the great trap of incarnating an image he attacks.

If the streets are supposedly awash with the prospect of Islamic terror, best not try to please Milo by donning Islamic outfits and throwing rocks at police and rival supporters.  This is music to the reactionary Yiannopolous machine showing, to a certain degree, Australia’s troubled relationship with the rigorous engagement of free speech.

The political and sometimes legal response has tended to be the executive action of immaturity.  Even Milo is onto this, suggesting that the country, suffering “a deeper malaise in the state” has “a serious problem with free speech.”

Yiannopolous promoter Damien Costas puts on a face that barely conceals the glee generated by the promise of violence. It is meant to be affirming: the left populated by blood thirsty loons keen to shut off avenues for discussion on the right. “There have been many death threats targeted at Milo, myself and others in the team.”

The politics of Milo is the politics of anger speared with humour (not always of the ha-ha variety), but even more than that it entails the show of a pantomime driven poseur.  He draws his detractors in, and mocks them for slipping up.  It is school boy debating tempered by occasional evidence marked by a fashion statement.

The most pronounced effort at erasing influence would be to ignore him, allowing the fruit, in time, to fall into ecological oblivion.  Much suggests that this will not happen – neither forces of the political spectrum will permit that to happen.  Instead, the Milo show saw the need for a police presence at his Melbourne event to the tune of $50,000.  The cost, perhaps, of aggressive free speech, whatever the substance.

 

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Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

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