In the wake of the death of antifascist protester Heather Heyer and the savage beating of students and youth as young as 17 in Charlottesville, VA, the Alt-Right has imploded, while encouraging its base to go underground and begin engaging in “leaderless resistance.” The Unite the Right protest led to condemnation from many sections of the far-Right, largely including the Alt-Lite. But the rifts were growing long before Charlottesville. In the lead-up to August 12th, both the Alt-Right and the Alt-Lite split from each other, a process that began after Nazi salutes followed Richard Spencer’s cries of, “Hail Trump,” and came to a head in late June of this year, as dueling Alt-Right and Alt-Lite “free speech” rallies were organized in DC, with talking heads in both camps taking shots at each other on social media.
But while the Alt-Right is in disarray, so, too, is the largely pro-Trump Alt-Lite, sometimes referred to as the “New Right,” which parrots much of the Alt-Right’s talking points, but rejects its calls for an all-white ethno state. This disintegration was on display with the drastically low numbers seen at the “Mother of All Rallies” protest in DC in support of Trump, and currently in Berkeley, as Milo Yiannopoulos’ “Free Speech Week” has gone up in flames, causing many of his former supporters to distance themselves and denounce the event as a sham. On a recorded Periscope video, Alt-Lite personality Lucian Wintrich of the conspiracy theory website, The Gateway Pundit, and long time Milo friend and supporter stated that, “I can’t even tell you how upsetting it is for me, that this nonsense, sort of, went on.” Later he would remark, “It makes us all look bad…and it’s wasting people’s money.” Responding to his statements in the same Periscope video was Ali Akbar, another Alt-Lite personality who stated that the people who will benefit from this disaster are establishment Republicans, white nationalists in the Alt-Right, as well as antifascists. “This is not going to be a good look,” he commented.
Thus, in a matter of days, the Alt-Lite has gone from calling Milo’s “Free Speech Week” the “Woodstock” of their movement to a complete “shit show,” as many are now left wondering if anything is going to happen at all. One thing is for sure, with reports of Proud Boys and Alt-Right trolls swarming the bay area in anticipation, harassment of students on campus coming from inside Milo’s camp, and outbreaks of racist and homophobic vandalism on the UC Berkeley campus, even if the events are canceled, the potential for right wing violence remains. Moreover, the drive by Alt-Right trolls, white nationalists, and far-Right organizers who have come into town to use these events as opportunities to recruit, to do something else with some new found time on their hands, will be greater.
— Lucian B. Wintrich (@lucianwintrich) September 22, 2017
But while much of the media remains fixated on the possibilities of potential anarchist and antifascist ‘violence’ and disruption, or now, on the chaos and disorganization of Free Speech Week itself, the bigger questions regarding who actually has access to speech, who gets money to get access, who gets space to talk and promote ideas, and also, who gets police protection and who gets the end of a nightstick, remains hardly discussed. The long view of the ramping up of repression against antifascist, Black Lives Matter, and antiracist organizers and also protesters in general is also not looked at critically, as is the reality that Alt-Right, Alt-Lite, and pro-Trump protesters continue to carry out acts of murder, assault, and violence, yet antifascists and the anarchist movement are held up as equal or greater threats to the general public.
More broadly, the ability of the Alt-Lite to continue to brand themselves as both victims of ‘left wing thugs’ and censorship in the media, as well as ‘rebels’ and a ‘counter-culture,’ while being tied to not only the ruling party, but also financially backed and sustained by billionaires and wealthy foundations with clear political and economic agendas, is laughable – but hardly even discussed or mentioned. In this way, engineered groups and social forces, which on their face often mimic actual social movements, are presented on the same footing as grassroots struggles and formations. But in reality, they benefit from connections among the political and economic elites and receive their backing and most importantly funding. Ironically, despite all of their memes and conspiracy theories about Soros, in reality it is the far-Right which is by and large a product of powerful forces and their money; being used to promote the agendas and worldviews of elites.
Before it’s fall from grace, “Free Speech” week was touted as the grand return of Milo Yiannopoulos into the world stage, a massive troll of an entire campus, and also an opportunity for the pro-Trump Alt-Lite faction of the broader Alt-Right subculture to once against attempt to make it’s way off of the internet and into the real world.
However, things quickly unraveled and, according to Lucian Wintrich of The Gateway Pundit, ended in Yiannopoulos lying to guest speakers and to fans, encouraging them to come, while the decision to cancel the event had already been made by Milo, Inc.
Problems began a week ago; as soon as the list of speakers was released, they quickly dropped out, claiming they wouldn’t share a stage with Yiannopoulos, or stated they were never invited to begin with.
Insiders describe a chaotic process, with some potential speakers revolting when they learned Yiannopoulos was hosting, and others revealing they had never been invited at all. Other conservatives had approached Milo Inc. with requests to take the newly empty speaking times but were rebuffed with claims that the schedule was “completely full.”
The original list of speakers included everyone from Steve Bannon of Breitbart; #PizzaGate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich of InfoWars; fired Google employee James Damore, who penned a memo against diversity in the workplace; racist anti-immigrant talking head Ann Coulter, who has known ties to white nationalist groups like V-DARE; to Charles Murray, a white nationalist who argued in The Bell Curve that African-Americans have lower IQs and are more prone to crime than whites.
Many of the speakers quickly cancelled or dropped out and the Berkeley Patriot–a front group for the Berkeley College Republicans, along with Milo Inc., failed to get their paper work done on time, leading them to lose access to a variety of buildings on campus. Even Alt-Lite celebrities like Lucian Wintrich, long tied to Milo, withdrew from the event, and big names like Ann Coulter and Bannon were not far behind.
According to The Atlantic:
Bannon is also not going. Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who had also been on a schedule, told me he had never planned to go to Berkeley.
“When I was first invited to Free Speech Week I saw it as an incredible opportunity,” Wintrich told Mediaite in a Thursday night phone call. “But then it was made clear to me this week that this event definitely wasn’t happening, and I had to drop out — I saw no reason to lie to the public and mislead people into thinking it was happening.”
Cernovich stated to The Hive:
“It’s very frustrating for everyone involved, myself included,” he said. “I know I’m scheduled to speak on the 27th. I plan on speaking on the 27th. But that’s all I know.”
In the face of mass cancellation and people dropping out, Milo’s team had to find a way to change the narrative around the event. By Monday, they had switched to attacking the UC Berkeley administration, claiming that the school was attempting to censor them. A few days later, the group announced they would instead hold a series of outside rallies. Despite this change in direction, on September 22nd, KQED reported that members of the Berkeley Patriot announced that they were pulling the plug on the event, while guests like Wintrich claim this decision was made by Milo Inc on Wednesday, August 20th. But with news of the cancellation getting out, Milo Yiannopoulos went on to try and keep his fans and supporters invested in the event and wrote on Facebook that the “free speech” events were still going to happen and called a march for Sunday, September 24th.
In his Periscope video, Wintrich painted a dismal picture:
People are going to be stranded in Berkeley, surrounded by hippies…with no speakers!
Further, Milo Inc. seemed to go out of the way to push potential speakers away from the event:
Perhaps more oddly, the speaker I spoke with forwarded me an e-mail from Milo Inc. asking speakers not to book their flights or hotels, as the company would do it for them. But it provided an unusual stipulation: Milo Inc. would not even tell the speakers what flights it had booked, or what hotels they would be staying at, until 48 hours before the day they were scheduled to speak. “We are doing this in order to prevent any more sabotage then [sic] we have already faced, especially with the university’s behavior,” it read.
(“Those two things don’t make sense. Berkeley doesn’t control the airports,” the speaker complained, calling it “needlessly chaotic”—perhaps on purpose. “The only real read on that is that they might be banking on this not happening, and if it doesn’t happen, they don’t want to waste money on plane tickets.”)
According to Mediaite:
And according to people involved in Free Speech Week that Mediaite spoke to, Yiannopoulos’s claims that the University is to blame for troubles with organization are unfounded, and strike more as a cover for the week’s likely cancellation.
As is the case for much of the Alt-Lite and Alt-Right, every time they lie to their supporters in an attempt to retain money and support, they end up alienating and attacking their own vastly diminishing fan base. As one commentator wrote in Wintrich’s Periscope video, “I’m literally eating 800 dollars.”
Not About Free Speech, But Who Can Pay for Access
The Alt-Right and Alt-Lite have successfully advanced the idea that free speech means access to all platforms to spread ideas, guaranteed protection from the State for those ideas, and, more over, that to counter-protest any idea, no matter how harmful, is in turn an attack on free speech itself. This conception of free speech of course has nothing to do with the reality of what free speech actually is.
In short, the logic of protecting free speech is to protect freedom of thought, speech, expression, and the written word – from the State; from censorship. However, it does not mean that everyone is magically granted access to institutions to spread their ideas. In theory, free speech means that the police don’t have the right to shut you down for handing out flyers, holding a sign, or shouting like a street preacher– but it doesn’t guarantee you a platform to do it. In practice, we also know that the State itself is not committed to free speech and will use massive violence to put down movements and struggles it deems a threat to its power.
But there is another misplaced argument when it comes to the terms on which we debate free speech. All of the current kerfuffles over “suppression” of free speech — particularly those in Berkeley, which celebrated Free Speech Week recently — ignore the fact that the speech that students are protesting is not really free in the sense of that word. It is paid-for speech, the promoted speech of conservatives given a platform by rich benefactors. There is a demonstrable difference between protest signs, and rich people forking over money to have those who share their oppressive ideologies foist their shared ideas on others.
Thus, the idea that there is an elaborate conspiracy against those on the Right is important for the Alt-Right and the Alt-Lite, at a time when their ideas have more broad acceptance than ever before. By painting themselves as victims of a conspiracy to silence them, and thus the sole defenders of “free speech,” as opposed to simply organizers for a reactionary and racist worldview, the Right can appeal to Centrists and liberals and paint themselves as underdogs.
Milo insists it's still on, students tell some reporters it's off. Some listed speakers dropped, whole event is outdoors. Total shit show. https://t.co/fCoaqjDdo0
— Jack Smith IV (@JackSmithIV) September 22, 2017
No one has projected this more than Milo, but what makes Milo even more of a fraud is the fact that he has had unparalleled access to a vast array of platforms to share his views and is backed by a wide array of political and financial elites, who despite declining interest in ‘his work,’ continue to promote him because it matches with their political and economic far-Right agenda. As one of the professors that is pushing for a boycott during free speech week stated:
Milo Yiannopoulos is a provocateur. He is peddling discredited ideas that have no place on a public campus. If he wants to speak, he can rent the Paramount theater in Oakland and sell tickets at the front door. The University of California is not obligated to provide him with a platform.
In fact, I’m not really worried about Milo’s words, we know what he says and does. I’m worried about Milo’s followers, the Alt-Right activists that follow him, that on January 20th on the University of Washington, shot someone.
And the money behind Milo? Milo Inc. is the company run by Milo. It launched in the wake of Milo’s firing from Breitbart once videos of him defending pedophilia and attacking the “feminist” idea of consensual sex surfaced and it doesn’t have much to boast about. After a launch party where models paid to be there hid in the bathroom so they wouldn’t be photographed with Yiannopoulos, Milo Inc. announced a “news” website that mimicked similar blogs such as the Gateway Pundit and mostly focused on mocking “social justice warriors” while attempting to sell copies of Milo’s book.
But in the wake of Dangerous tanking, it was revealed that Milo was in fact backed by the billionaire Mercer family, who provided Milo with the startup capital to get Milo Inc. off the ground. The Mercer family are also significant financial backers of both Trump and Steve Bannon and play a key role in the promotion of Alt-Lite media in the same way the Koch brothers played in promoting the Tea Party movement towards its own ends.
This seems to be from where much of the financial backing for “free speech” week has come. Moreover, other conservative speakers who have come to the Berkeley campus, for example former Breitbart chief Ben Shapiro, have similar sugar daddies, such as the Young America Foundation, or YAF. Far from being a grassroots group made up of ‘young people,’ the YAF is actually the product of right wing movers and shakers with access to vast amounts of wealth.
The recently-protested speech by Ben Shapiro at the famously liberal campus falls into this category. Shapiro, a Breitbart columnist and co-founder of the Daily Wire, had his visit to Berkeley funded by a peculiar nonprofit called the “Young America Foundation,” which spent over $8 million bringing speakers to campuses around the country in 2015. The Young America Foundation donor list reads like a whos-who list of prominent American archconservatives, including the DeVos family and the Koch brothers.
So then, in what sense of the word is Ben Shapiro’s speech “free”? The only reason he was given an elevated platform in Berkeley is because of the funding of astonishingly wealthy far-right donors, who have an agenda to pursue, and know clearly that they will win on their terms by letting their speakers stoke protests, then publicizing a sophistic vision of the left “suppressing” free speech. Of course, you or I or a stranger who scrawls slurs on bathroom stalls will never be granted the privilege to speak in front of a comparable audience. Our speech may be “free,” but right-wing foundations aren’t paying us to speak in front of unwilling crowds. Doing so doesn’t benefit their rich benefactors, or advance their agendas.
Again, as people like David Horowitz and Yiannopoulos spin yarns about ‘secret’ networks between people on the Left and Islamic terrorists, or complain that academia is completely controlled by ‘communists,’ etc, they are in turn backed by a vast network of political and economic elites who use their wealth to promote their ideas.
Guess speech isn’t free.
Millions for Trolls, Tuition Hikes For Students
Despite whining from Milo Inc. and The Berkeley Patriot, UC Berkeley is spending a massive amount of money and planning for the events to go forward, though they appear to be completely falling apart.
Mogulof said that the school had offered the Patriot free indoor venues but that they had requested larger venues for which they would have to pay, and then missed three deadlines to reserve them. Mogulof said that organizers had reserved one of the free indoor venues, Anna Head Hall, but then canceled the reservation on Wednesday (“Not to my knowledge,” Yiannopoulos said.). He said that campus police is continuing to plan as though the event was going forward and that security costs for the event as planned could have mounted to a million dollars. University of California president Janet Napolitano had said earlier this week that the UC system would help cover security costs.
Behind the scenes at camp Milo, it is a known secret that the event was cancelled. Meanwhile, the University continues its plans as if the event is still in full swing. The reality is that UC Berkeley is going to spend and waste upwards of one million tax payer dollars, while massive budget cuts and tuition increases continue.
UC-Berkeley currently faces a $110 million budget deficit. Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, has said the school needs to reduce that by $53 million this year. In July, UC-Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ asked for $25.4 million in budget cuts across academic and administrative departments for fiscal year 2018.
Juan Prieto called it an “embarrassment” that the university is willing to spend that much money for an event that will allow people with extreme, hateful opinions to come out of the shadows.
“They spent $600,000 to defend hate speech,” he said. “That’s money that could have gone to students who are housing insecure or skipping meals. These are students coming from those same communities that the alt-right is targeting…. It really was a waste of resources that the university just cannot be wasting.”
The university has tried to lessen the impact of the deficit on students, according to a statement, excluding scholarships, contracts and grants, academic salaries and benefits, student health insurance, and sexual harassment prevention programs from the cuts.
Still, this year’s budget cuts come on the heels of a $40 million deficit reduction last fiscal year, primarily through budget cuts — part of a five-year plan to eliminate the $110 million deficit.
In short, the UC system pushes out working-class, poor, and students of color at the same time it makes itself a door mat for a movement that would in turn bury those same students.
Painting Themselves As Victims While Attacking Students on Campus
Central to the narrative that Milo Inc. and the Berkeley Patriot/Republicans have tried to nurture is the idea that they are victims whose free speech is being violated; that they are being persecuted simply for being supporters of the ruling party. Recently, Milo’s team even launched a civil rights lawsuit with the Department of Justice (DOJ).
As The Hive wrote:
[U]niversity spokespeople told the press that the Berkeley Patriot, a tiny extreme-right organization of five to 10 students, had not filled out the proper paperwork to reserve the several buildings required to host such a large, multi-day affair. Without those papers, university spokesman Dan Mogulof told me, the campus would not be able to provide security or speaking venues. “One of the befuddling things here is that they were first shown that contract about five weeks ago,” he said. “They missed three deadlines to sign it, would not take no for an answer, would not accept that we were not going to treat them differently than any other of the 1,000 student organizations on this campus.”
“It really does seem like Milo and his people don’t actually want this event to happen,” one speaker on the lineup told me. “I do know there will be more press if this doesn’t happen, and then they can blame the big, bad, Berkeley University.”
As Salon wrote:
It is worth noting, however, that while Berkeley Patriot is small, it was working closely with Milo, Inc., the multimillion-dollar organization Yiannopoulos launched in April. There are also indications that Yiannopoulos and the student organizers had access to legal counsel during their discussions with the university. So this tiny group, which seems to have come into existence just in time to be the official host of this event, has considerable resources. That could be said to cast doubt on the proposition that this was a bunch of college kids who couldn’t fill out paperwork on time.
Perhaps it’s true that Berkeley threw up a bunch of bureaucratic obstacles in an attempt to shut down a conservative-themed gathering. But Salon’s attempts to gather evidence of that — evidence Yiannopoulos insists is available — came up with nothing. (As mentioned earlier, Yiannopoulos actively encouraged his Instagram followers not to talk to Salon.)
But in the week leading up to “Free Speech Week,” Alt-Right and Alt-Lite trolls were hard at work trying to “trigger” the Berkeley campus as best as possible. This includes chalking various anti-immigrant, racist, “antifags,” and Alt-Right slogans around campus, putting up posters that read, “Feminists, Stop Being Fat and Let Milo Speak,” selecting various students for targeted harassment, and putting up flyers that labeled various activists as supporters of Islamic terrorism.
As the SF Gate wrote:
Uncertainty among student organizers over whether to proceed with the event came a day after campus police opened a hate crime investigation into the discovery Thursday of posters around campus that named students and faculty as “terrorist supporters,” and chalk grafitti targeting immigrants, gays and feminists. The posters were distributed by an organization run by David Horowitz, one of the Berkeley Patriot’s featured speakers. The Horowitz group says its mission is to “combat efforts of the radical left and its Islamist allies to destroy American values.”
Furthermore, an editorial in The Daily Cal wrote:
In just the past few days, Yiannopoulos’ army of trolls went after ASUC senators and confirmed speaker David Horowitz’s organization hung targeted, hateful, false posters on campus. This is not diverse dialogue. The Berkeley Patriot, the sponsors of Free Speech Week, and Berkeley College Republicans invited a parade of trolls to make headlines. The system doesn’t just allow them to plan these events. It’s bending backwards, bleeding resources to ensure they happen.
BCR has clung to a victim narrative, pointed out problems where there were none, saying the campus was not willingto support it, that they were restricting access to venues, that capacity was unfairly limited.
The reality is very different: BCR received an unprecedented level of support and free press from UC Berkeley. BCR is a privileged group of people, and those people abuse it. Chancellor Carol Christ said in an interview with The Daily Californian Editorial Board that she decided campus would pay the Zellerbach Hall rent for the Shapiro event specifically to avoid “reputational damage” and prove campus was open to conservative thought.
BCR only had to whine, and its event was funded. For other student groups, room reservations, and their costs, and PR are their responsibility. Right-wing student groups are receiving unprecedented exceptions, such as deadline extensions and subsidies.
As we have seen in past months on the Berkeley campus, and in the surrounding community, the Alt-Right and Alt-Lite are not just interested in creating a climate of intimidation, but in carrying through with it.
Where the Alt-Lite and City Bureaucrats Can Agree: Social Movements, Not far-Right Violence, Are the Real Threat
In the wake of the massive and successful demonstrations in San Francisco and Berkeley on August 26th and 27th, the Mayor of Berkeley pushed to have antifa classified as a gang. The city council also gave special powers to the City Manger’s office to declare events without permits unlawful assemblies, allowing the police more free reign to make arrests. The city also lifted the ban on pepper spray, claiming that the police could use it on ‘violent’ individuals.
Meanwhile on campus, the university used protests as a pretext to clamp down on protest, dissent, and free speech in general. For instance, when Ann Coulter was supposed to give a talk in April, they made it a crime to hold signs. When Ben Shapiro talked, they shut down large sections of the campus, including many offering student services, all in an effort to contain the crowds and protesters.
In short, despite massive concerns from the campus student body and the community at large about the threat of Alt-Right violence, the administration of UC Berkeley as well as the City Government was obviously more concerned about counter-demonstrators than anything. This drive to clamp down on dissent and popular mobilization isn’t based on logic; but instead a desire to preserve law and order on the campus and attack social movements and struggle that seek to push back against the authority of the State and the police.
Trolls Backed by Billionaires Aren’t Rebels
After Ben Shapiro spoke, white nationalist trolls close to Milo—Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman and Lauren Southern, were surrounded by police as a crowd of hundreds pushed them back from the university. After Chapman was allowed to return to the safety of his car by police, he took to Twitter to promote a conspiracy that antifascists stabbed a woman, leaving her in a pool of blood. By the next morning, it had been picked up by Milo, and local police intervened, stating that the woman had fallen, and it was not related to the Shapiro protests.
— Berkeley Antifa (@berkeleyantifa) September 19, 2017
As with “Free Speech” week itself, Milo and his cronies had to lie to their base of support to keep them interested and engaged. Ultimately, this strategy will backfire as it always does, and Milo’s fans will come to see him as the liar that he is, just like Trump.
But while Milo was attempting to spin himself as a victim and lying to his base of support, a broad coalition of community based groups have been organizing across the bay area. Actions and marches are already planned, and while the Milo shit show will unfold in real time, so too will masses of people take to the streets against white supremacy and the Alt-Right goons who help enforce it.
The collapse of Milo’s “Free Speech” week shows many lessons, some yet to unfold. The first is that even billionaires can’t keep afloat a drowning ‘movement’ based on supporting an unpopular reactionary and racist President in the face of growing popular mobilization and direct action. Also, wherever the Alt-Lite tries to organize, the Alt-Right will be there to poach and recruit right along with them. Despite the hostility between the camps, they both need each other and see themselves as competitors in the same arena for a reason.
Above all, we can see that both the police and the UC Berkeley administration don’t have any legitimacy to the claim that they seek the safety of all students and the community at large. What they care about is stopping the campus and the broader community from fighting back against threats to their safety; chief among them the out of town far-Right trolls who continue to use the bay area as a place to recruit, make money, and boost their social media followers.
In order to protect ourselves and our communities from these threats, we need to organize broad community self-defense. We also must come to see these liars and frauds just for what they are. They aren’t rebels, they aren’t a counter-culture, but they are propped up and made possible by people with real power and massive amounts of money. Despite all their connections to the ruling party, their access to wealth and foundation money, they are still losing.