Thanks, internet: Steve Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos and the rise of the ‘alt-right’

Steve Bannon, former White House chief strategist for President Trump, encouraged former Breitbart tech news editor Milo Yiannopoulos to “help save Western civilization” by online trolling his way into the hearts and minds of the “alt-right.”

Amid the growing number of stories of how social media affected the U.S. presidential election, a BuzzFeed report published Thursday provides a detailed peek into how Bannon groomed, encouraged and sometimes criticized Yiannopoulos on his way to becoming a face of and voice for aggrieved conservatives. Emails between the two men, Breitbart staffers and others show that social media and Breitbart’s website were key to what both men described as “war” — against liberals and those they deem to be politically correct.

“Just get into the fight — u r Social Media and they have made it a powerful weapon of war,” read one of Bannon’s emails to Yiannopoulos. That December 2015 exchange actually started off with a criticism because, as the BuzzFeed piece noted, Yiannapoulos published “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” on the same day the New York Times published an article about the radicalization of American Muslims on Facebook.

Get tech news in your inbox weekday mornings. Sign up for the free Good Morning Silicon Valley newsletter.

With those marching orders, Yiannapoulos proceeded to target on Twitter and via articles on Breitbart people such as former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, writer and Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King, actress and comedian Leslie Jones — and eventually people who were anti-Trump. It was Yiannapoulos’ incitement of hate against Jones that got him kicked off Twitter in 2016 — he denies it, naturally — in what was supposed to be a permanent ban. However, he has resurfaced not only at a “liberal” university near you with no clear agenda except to cause chaos but also on Twitter with a new handle.

As Twitter, its users and the world all know by now, it’s hard to contain the hate — especially when the banning of those who perpetrate it become free-speech heroes.

Notable tidbits in BuzzFeed’s deep dive, which also includes details about the billionaire Mercer family, who have funded the efforts:

  • The piece included a video of Yiannopoulos singing “America the Beautiful” on karaoke in front of a crowd that included Richard Spencer and Devin Saucier, popular figures among white supremacists and the alt-right. Spencer and others did Nazi salutes during the performance. In a statement to BuzzFeed, Yiannopoulos said his “severe myopia” kept him from seeing the Hitler salutes by the audience.
  • Yahoo’s Mayer was a target because Bannon called her “the poster child for the narcissistic ecosystem.” The resulting article written by Yiannapoulos, whose byline on Breitbart was simply “Milo”: “Marissa Mayer has become a symbol of Silicon Valley’s disastrous tokenism.”
  • Speaking of Silicon Valley, people from the tech industry contacted Yiannopoulos to sympathize with the cause. They included, according to the report, a Google employee who was bothered by a brouhaha over a male gingerbread man on a sign at the workplace; a Twitter software engineer who felt the removal of Yiannopoulos’ Twitter verification in 2016 was “politically motivated”; and Vivek Wadwha, a high-profile conservative entrepreneur and academic.
  • The “mainstream media” got in on the action: Dan Lyons, a tech writer and editor who formerly worked at Newsweek and Forbes magazines, plus on HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” suggested at least one story idea to Yiannopoulos and also “wondered about the birth sex” of GamerGate target Zoe Quinn. He’s just one of the journalists named in the piece.
  • Yiannopoulos has repeatedly insisted he can’t possibly be racist because he’s gay, Jewish and married to a black man. But this revealing passage from the BuzzFeed article suggests a kinship with Nazis by the way of his online passwords: “In an April 6 email, Allum Bokhari mentioned having had access to an account of Yiannopoulos’s with “a password that began with the word Kristall.” Kristallnacht, an infamous 1938 riot against German Jews carried out by the SA — the paramilitary organization that helped Hitler rise to power — is sometimes considered the beginning of the Holocaust. In a June 2016 email to an assistant, Yiannopoulos shared the password to his email, which began “LongKnives1290.” The Night of the Long Knives was the Nazi purge of the leadership of the SA. The purge famously included Ernst Röhm, the SA’s gay leader. 1290 is the year King Edward I expelled the Jews from England.”

More from Yiannapoulos’ statement to BuzzFeed: “As someone of Jewish ancestry, I of course condemn racism in the strongest possible terms. I have stopped making jokes on these matters because I do not want any confusion on this subject. I disavow Richard Spencer and his entire sorry band of idiots. I have been and am a steadfast supporter of Jews and Israel. I disavow white nationalism and I disavow racism and I always have.”

Bannon, who left the Trump administration in August, is back at Breitbart as its executive chairman.


Photo: Milo Yiannopoulos appears briefly in front of a crowd in Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley on Sept. 24, 2017. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


Share this Post

  • Tom_in_SFCA

    Where’s the story?

  • Don’t_mess_with_Poland

    Considering that they hacked many years worth of Milo’s emails, I’m surprised that they came up with so little. Compare that to what the Podesta emails revealed!