Milo Yiannopolous recently expressed a violent interpretation version of his hero Donald Trump’s hatred for the media: “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight,” he said. It was appalling timing for one of Milo’s “jokes” – he later said he “wasn’t being serious” – because on Thursday four journalists and one sales assistant at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, were gunned down by a man they had reported on unfavourably. It is more shameful because Milo once was a journalist, but he failed at serious journalism and became, briefly, a media personality of remarkable popularity and malice. He was Steve Bannon’s creature, designed to attract the young to the cause, and his liberal-baiting roadshow was covered in salacious detail by the mainstream media Milo both loathes and longs to be a part of.
This latest outburst took me back to the week that we spent together in New York City exactly one year ago as he was publicising his book Dangerous. He was trying, largely by buying designer clothing as far as I could see, to become a small god who would produce – or hatch – more Milos to disseminate conservative propaganda. (You can read the report here). It was exhausting because Milo is so many people. He is attractive, he is charming, he is vulnerable, he is vicious, he is kind. It was fascinating because it showed me how dangerous (it was a good title but not a good book) damaged people who turn to politics – and it was politics, the worst kind, the reductive kind – can be. I believe the same is true of some of his enemies.
I reread the transcripts this morning and looked for things I hadn’t published; call it the revenge of the journalist. Now that his career is in decline (he has fallen to promoting vitamin supplements) and I have not seen him since October, what I see most clearly is his self-hatred; so much so that I would offer the suggestion that his feuds are mere projection of his hatred for himself. He told me he didn’t feel loved as a child: “not at all. No, I felt hated”. He described his twenties, in London, like this: “I was treading water, running away from things, burying myself in drink and sex, and not noticing anything of the world around me. If I ever stopped I might have to think about something so I just didn’t stop, and it was exhausting”. He wondered if he was simply trying to find friends: “desperately wanting someone to like me or notice me”. He even wished he wasn’t gay, even as he was famous for being the poster boy for gay Trump supporters: “Being gay sucks. Anyone who thinks otherwise is an activist.” He disguised this essential self with pantomime, and hours of bragging. He said he wanted to be on a statue, or a skyscraper, or Mount Rushmore (it got bigger as the week went on.) “I just want monuments,” he said – like Iron Man. He boasted about his famous friends, who he couldn’t name because they would lose their liberal fans, so I spent days wondering who they were or if they even existed: “There are two different kind of celebrities who like me, both of whom like me very privately and very secretly and I meet them very discreetly in their own homes.” He celebrated his own fame, and generosity: “People never realize how expensive and time consuming being popular and successful and famous is. It costs $100 just to get through an airport and that is twice per journey and I do that five times a week.” He told me he Googled net worth websites and was gratified they estimated him at $4 million: “although it’s still vastly under-estimating.” He even fantasized about producing a fidget spinner with his face on it.
When I read his quotations again, I thought: he reminds me of Donald Trump. They are the same type, but perhaps the president, who is older and more experienced, hides it better. He loves Trump: “his limitless ambition, his utter determination, his ruthlessness, the power that he wields over people. The guy just willed himself into the White House”. If Milo could do that, would he feel safe? Because he felt, to me, most authentic, when talking about his mother Karen Latham, who, he says, brought a step-father into the house who hated him. When I said he seemed to conserve his purest aggression for women, he said: “Maybe it’s my Mum. Maybe I just haven’t forgiven her, so I can’t forgive any of you.” Not that divining him is easy – it is possible that none of this is true. He told me, “I live my whole life in character” and I believed him.
The only part of his act that I respected was the central one (if you are taking him seriously as a political phenomenon, which I did): his defence of free speech. If you feel charitable, you would say that he demonstrated its importance by saying the most repulsive things, mostly about women and other gay people. Now he calls for the murder of journalists it seems he has abandoned even that. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t mean it, or means it only sometimes, or dreamt it.