So Milo Yiannopolous is back to the news, so I can finally, fully tell my very instructive anecdote about him.
Never heard of him? Feel blessed.
He was one of the Right’s most prominent alt-losers in the lead-up to Trump’s presidency and in the early years of the administration. His main schtick was that he was a gay man who said outrageous things about minorities and leftists — basically Roy Cohn with a British accent and better hair.
I actually hadn’t heard of Yiannapolous until I was invited in 2016 to be on a panel with him at Long Beach City College hosted by its student conservative club. I basically take every invitation people offer me if I can make it, and I always love speaking to student groups, so I accepted without even researching.
I didn’t think anything of it — two other people were scheduled to appear with Yianopolous, both daily newspaper reporters.
When they pulled out, I grew suspicious. When I told people I was gonna debate some Greek guy named Milo, people told me not to do it. That the guy was a fascist and didn’t deserve a platform. COOL…
Okay, I didn’t say that. But I did say that Yainnopolous didn’t stand a chance against me, and my appearance wasn’t about him – it was about convincing the audience that I was right and he was wrong.
Reach one, person, and it was worth it.
But how about if the audience didn’t want to listen to you, or opposed you from the start?
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As I read up more on Yianapolous and his toxic, too-rehearsed jokes, I looked forward to the day even more. When it comes to haters, I’m of the mentality that you meet them where they’re at, to expose them as the fools that they are. I don’t believe in letting hate fester alone so it can metastasize. Let the darkness die with light.
Few think like that anymore.
The panel topic was supposed to be something about corruption in California government, a subject I was very familiar with as the editor of OC Weekly. What I wasn’t familiar with was the circus Yianapolos carried with him wherever he went — vile statements, pathetic fanboys, and angry opponents who sometimes disrupted him, always protested him, and occasionally got arrested for disrupting the peace.
My kind of afternoon.
I didn’t flinch when the faculty advisor for the LBCC student group told me there’d have to be security — I used to infiltrate neo-Nazi groups, after all. I was told to show up early, and use a back entrance to avoid the hundreds of people who’d be outside.
But a day before the scheduled debate, my little man told me Yiannapolus wouldn’t show. Don’t know what it was…but I was right.
On the afternoon of the scheduled debate, just as I pulled into the parking lot, I got a call from the LBCC advisor: Yiannpolous wouldn’t show. Said he was afraid of death threats because a UCLA professor had been killed earlier that day and that someone had issued a bomb threat against Yanapolas.
Of course — JUST as I pulled into the parking lot.
Word that Milo’s event was canceled quickly spread across the alt-loser universe as further proof of cancel culture. But it wasn’t canceled.
I showed up.
I told the LBCC advisor that I was here, and there was still a topic to talk about, so why not do it?
Flabbergasted but also happy, he agreed.
The room where I was scheduled to speak had at over 100 students there, ready to do God-knows-what. Security was swarming. But when the LBCC advisor announced that Yiannapolous would not appear, and that I would be the sole speaker, 90 percent of the crowd — overwhelmingly people of color — left.
Too many on the Left really don’t want to hear the other side, especially the fringes of it. Do it! Challenge them with words, not with walkouts or screams. That’s what the alt-losers want: victimhood. Don’t give them that.
Give them what I gave Yainapolas.
The only people who stayed were my ostensible opponents: the conservative students who worshiped Yiannapolus, and now were stuck with a Marxist of the Groucho variety.
They were ready to carve me up. Instead, I won them over.
We didn’t agree on everything, of course. But at the end of the speech, we hung out for about half an hour, and they admitted how shocked they were that I didn’t immediately demonize them. I could also tell they were hurt Yiannapolous had ditched them, although they consoled themselves with his promise he would reschedule.
He never did. And his fears of bomb threats magically disappeared the following day at UC Irvine, where Yanapala knew there’d be an even bigger crowd than a community college at 4 in the afternoon.
I, on the other hand, have kept up with some of those students all those years later. We still don’t agree on everything. But we both see each other than more than just politics. And they saw I wasn’t a showboat, but rather someone with substance.
I wasn’t Milo Yiannapolo.
GRÍTALE A GUTI
This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…
Why were you such a proud hard-ass during a global crises? We’re experiencing a historic social uprising and all you could offer was half-assed critique? C’mon. I liked the piece you wrote about Toñita in Duranguito and I usually enjoy your newsletters, but honestly this one really disappointed me..
To quote Homer Simpsons: But I was using my full ass!
I can’t remember which newsletter of mine disappointed you, but I fully embrace my Spartan outlook. Life is hard, thankless, and joy only comes from seeing the world for the damned place it is. The sooner you realize this, the better. Otro mundo es posible…and then life laughs at you. Didn’t you read Ecclesiastes?
Got a question for Guti? Email me here.
Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:
IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Yard sale sign, SanTana.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “It must look easy, but it takes me forever to get it to look so easy. Of course, there are those critics—New York critics as a rule—who say, Well, Maya Angelou has a new book out and of course it’s good but then she’s a natural writer. Those are the ones I want to grab by the throat and wrestle to the floor because it takes me forever to get it to sing. I work at the language”
–Maya Angelou, to Paris Review
LISTENING:“Figures,” Jessie Reyez. This will be about as hip as I get here — Canadian-Colombian singer-songwriter doing indie…oldies-but-goodies? Slow, agonizing wisdom beyond her years. How the hell did I get hip to her? Details to come…
READING: “Why They Loved Him”: One of the best meditations on why Diego Maradona mattered, in the pages of Commonweal, the Catholic Left publication that’s one of my favorite magazines.
SHOUTOUT TO: Alfredo, who kindly donated 50 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! He writes: “No plug…keep up the good work!” YOU GUYS!!! Gotta give me plugs, because that’s how this works!
Gustavo in the News
“Xavier Becerra was a member of Chicano separatist group in college”: You know the Right is scurred when they have to trot out the MEChA card in a Washington Examiner op-ed and use my own work to buttress their weak-salsa argument.
“Santana: Despite Victory Laps, Orange County Supervisors Keep Failing Homeless Residents”: The Voice of OC shouts out my columna from last week on SanTana’s El Centro Cultural de Mexico fighting for homeless.
“Essential Politics: With Cabinet picks and poverty policy, Biden wins over progressives”: One Los Angeles Times newsletter you should subscribe to shouts me out…
“Essential California: Life in the red tier”: As does another…
“Latinx Files: Do these Latinx movies deserve to be in the National Film Registry?”: And another…
“Today: A wounded city on edge”: Another one!
“California Playbook”: Politico’s Golden State newsletter remains the only publication to refer to me by my Colonel title. When will others learn…
“Tamale Kitchens”: Something called Tales from Topographic Kitchens mentions my Taco USA work.
“Scripps Howard Awards honor best of 2020 journalism with finalists in 14 categories”: I’m a finalist in Opinion category — HWUT.
“LA Times Today: A community garden hopes its cash crop is a hot sauce called Los Angeles” I appear on the Spectrum News 1 show to talk a tasty columna.
“Recalling California’s wild and crazy and crowded 2003 gubernatorial recall”: My latest Los Angeles Times columna finds five people who ran to replace Gray Davis way back when. KEY QUOTE: “So you might think that these folks would understand and sympathize with the anger that voters have toward a governor accused of gross negligence during hard times. They’re a great California slice of political, geographic and ethnic diversity. But when I rang up five of them, not a single one supported the recall.”
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