The 450 students in the room were split — applause rang through most of the room, but large pockets sat silently. They did not remain silent for long.
Self-described “firebrand” Milo Yiannopoulos held a contentious lecture and question and answer session in a packed room in Scott Hall on the College Avenue campus Tuesday night.
The event, which was hosted by the Young Americans for Liberty at Rutgers University, was the kickoff of Yiannopoulos’s “Dangerous Faggot Tour.”
The tour’s moniker is a reference to Yiannopoulos's sexuality and politics.
“I’m very obviously homosexual,” he said. “The Left finds me very dangerous because it sees in me someone it cannot dismiss as a bigot, cannot call me a racist or a sexist or a homophobe, because I'm not any of those things.”
Yiannopoulos, tech editor at Breitbart.com and an outspoken free-speech advocate, came to the University to speak about how the Progressive Left was destroying higher education in America.
He said the Progressive Left, which includes third-wave intersectional feminism and the Black Lives Matter movement, seeks to crush academic discourse at its root.
“These people do not believe in the free open exchange of ideas. They do not believe in intellectual inquiry, in full open frank discussion of ideas,” he said. “They don't believe in the basis of classical liberalism, which is one of the founding principles of our civilization.”
Young Americans for Liberty invited Yiannopoulos to further their campaign of free-speech activism, said Matthew Boyer, president of the organization's Rutgers chapter and School of Arts and Sciences senior.
Some students believed the talk was a forum for hate under the guise of free speech.
“A lot of people say this tour is about free speech. In my personal opinion, it’s about racism and sexism hidden behind the blanket of free speech,” said Egypt Pringley, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
Yiannopoulos believes that offensive free speech is a driving force for progress.
“Offensive free speech is what gave women the right to vote. Offensive free speech is what Martin Luther King (Jr.) was doing. Offensive free speech got gay marriage,” Yiannopoulos said. “Standing up to the establishment and saying 'fuck you guys' has been the primary engine of progressive progress for decades.”
Now that the Progressive Left is in a position to control the dialogue, they have a vested interest in shutting down opposing viewpoints, he said.
Among Yiannopoulos's grievances were the spread of trigger warnings and safe spaces on college campuses.
“If you go to university and you want trigger warnings on your texts, and you want safe spaces to protect you from dissenting points of view, you have demonstrated to the world that you are incapable of fulfilling the requirements of your degree,” he said.
Trigger warnings and safe spaces are a response to increasingly rare ideologies on campus, intended to prevent these points of view from surfacing or being discussed, he said. Further, anyone asking for either a trigger warning or a safe space should be “immediately expelled."
The two practices have imposed limitations on what is acceptable to say or think, he said, an idea called the "Overton window."
“We call this limiting ... the Overton window,” he said. “The Overton window has been pushed so far to the left and narrowed so much that it has become socially and professionally dangerous to tell the truth about certain things or to just discuss facts.”
Yiannopoulos aims to shift this window by being a “hell raiser.” By lending an extreme voice to his cause, he seeks to open up a dialogue between more reasonable voices.
“I'll come in and sort of wind up the feminists, say ‘feminism is cancer,’” he said. “I'll get them clutching their pearls … Once that's happened, people are more receptive to other points of view and people actively seek out other opinions.”
Starting the discourse can be difficult, he said.
In October 2015, Yiannopoulos had planned to debate Julie Bindel, who he called a “radical feminist” at the University of Manchester. Both the participants were banned and the talk was canned before it ever started, he said.
“They just didn't want to have the discussion at all,” Yiannopoulos said. “They don't want to have the debate, they don't listen to alternative points of view. That, for me, is profoundly anti-intellectual. It’s totally antithetical to the purpose of a university.”
Nikita Biryukov is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies. He is an associate news editor for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @nikitabiryukov_ for more.