Julia Hoban finished class on Friday around 2 p.m. and immediately got a jump on her weekend plans. She met up with her friend, Brittany Reynolds, and headed to the Ohio Union’s West Plaza. Milo Yiannopoulos, the controversial free-speech advocate and technology editor at conservative website Breitbart, was speaking inside later; Hoban wanted to make sure she got a seat.
“I’ve been following Milo for a long time, before he got to be big, really,” said Hoban, a second-year in architecture, while waiting outside the Union. “You see, free speech is being crushed so much on campuses in the name of diversity, but it’s about a very shallow kind of diversity: a diversity of appearance but not of ideas … I think it’s very important the message Milo has been spreading.”
Yiannopoulos spoke on most of the topics he is well known for having controversial opinions on: political correctness, feminism, Islam and the political left. This speech, however, was more specifically about the election and why Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump should be president. The event was organized by the Ohio State chapter of Students For Trump. The group’s president, Nick Davis, said Yiannopoulos did not charge the group.
Some of the hundreds in attendance had known about Yiannopoulos for years from the internet, as Hoban did. Others, like first-year civil engineering student Tyler Bennett, began taking note during the current election cycle, in which Yiannopoulos has become a noted backer of Trump.
“I focused on (the election) because it’s the only thing people are talking about. I think the election is important. It matters,” Yiannopoulos, who is not an official campaign surrogate, told The Lantern. “I speak about it obliquely when I talk about other subjects, but I decided to go head on today because it’s the important thing happening at the moment.”
Indeed, Tuesday is Election Day and Trump’s campaign has momentum, both across the country and in Ohio. After trailing by as many as six points nationally in the middle of October, according to RealClearPolitics, Trump now trails Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by 1.5 points. In Ohio, the real-estate mogul leads by an average of 3.3 points, according to RCP’s aggregated polls.
“The polls have been rigged so badly they had to come up with the phrase ‘enthusiasm gap’ to explain why Trump was trailing Hillary, but she couldn’t get 200 people out to her rallies and daddy had 30,000,” said Yiannopoulos, referring to Trump by the nickname he personally gave the candidate. “Coincidentally, of course, these polls are now normalizing because (pollsters) don’t want to make as much of an embarrassing mess of things just before the election as they did with Brexit.”
While some estimates have disputed the 30,000 attendance number at a rally in Mobile, Alabama, in August 2015, Trump has drawn large crowds over the course of his campaign— often larger than Clinton, according to a Washington Post story published last month. But Trump has also been known to inflate those numbers, even when they’re already large. Crowd sizes for the two candidates have started to even out in the month leading up to Nov. 8, according to the article.
Clinton’s rally on campus earlier this year drew a campaign record crowd of more than 18,000, according to Secret Service estimates, larger than any Trump rally in the Columbus area.
It’s common, given his penchant for polarizing statements, for protesters to interrupt Yiannopoulos’ speeches. It’s happened at Rutgers University and DePaul University, for instance, but nothing occurred on Friday. The only interruptions, in fact, came from his supporters in the raucous crowd. One yelled to Yiannopoulos, who is gay, early on that he would “be gay for you.” Another quickly followed with “I second that.”
In one of his speech’s main portions, Yiannopoulos laid out his reasons for why he believes Clinton cannot be elected president, most of which are commonly articulated by Trump and other Republicans. The litany included the need to nominate a conservative justice to the Supreme Court, Clinton’s support of amnesty programs for undocumented immigrants and desire to accept Syrian refugees. He also cited her support of the Affordable Care Act and free-trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership. Clinton came out against the TPP during the Democratic primary race, citing that it doesn’t live up to her standards; she had previously supported it as secretary of state, though negotiations were not finalized by the time she left office in 2013.
“America is the best country in the goddamn world,” Yannopoulos said to cheers. “I say this as an admiring visitor, it is the greatest country in the history of civilization. It is a tremendous place but it’s not going to stay a tremendous place unless (Trump) gets into the White House.”
His speech elicited frequent laughter as he often made jokes when addressing topics, such as the dead voting Democrat because they “are the only people who can get a good deal on Obamacare.” Yiannopoulos quipped that Clinton “trades favors for cash and flagrantly breaks the rules at every turn” like “the Ohio State football team for the last five years.” That one drew a mixture of laughs and boos. He even poked fun at Trump for posting a picture of himself on Twitter in August eating KFC with a knife and fork.
“This is the relationship we all have with our fathers: we love them, we know they’re the best for us, we know that they’re going to lead us to the promise land, but occasionally they do make us cringe,” Yiannopoulos said.
Until this election cycle, Yiannopoulos was not overtly political, at least in terms of backing candidates. But in his interview with The Lantern, he said he knew from the moment Trump launched his campaign on June 16, 2015, that he would begin backing the businessman.
“It was one of those things where it takes a certain personality to appreciate how knowing he is and how much he’s laughing along with you,” Yiannopoulos said. “It was so funny, and so theatrical, and so self-aware — just the whole spectacle of that shit … it was something that if you had a particular sense of humor than you just fell in love with him that moment.”
After finishing his prepared remarks, the release of confetti, the throwing of candy into the crowd and a theatre-wide singing of national anthem, Yiannopoulos took questions for nearly 40 minutes.
He was asked, among other things, about Harvard recently suspending its men’s soccer team after it surfaced the players had been caught ranking the athletes on the women’s team by their physical attributes. Yiannopoulos blasted the decision; He said it was boys being boys.
Another attendee asked about advice for young conservatives with political aspirations. Yiannopoulos offered thoughtful encouragement and said the left is “scared” of young Republicans.
“The reason (the left) hates you so much is A. You’re right on the facts, B. You’re much cleverer and funnier and C. You’re loud, aspirational and hardworking,” Yiannopoulos said. “The left hates all of those things.”
Perhaps the loudest applause of the night, minus Yiannopoulos’ entrance and exit, the most powerful moment and the most pressing question all came from the same audience member. The middle-aged women approached the microphone stand just after Yiannopoulos joked about telling a New York Times reporter he was “Trump-sexual.”
“Hi, Milo. I’d like to start saying I survived cancer twice,” she said before applause filled the room.
She then continued overtop the clapping, “And I definitely want to say —” Yiannopoulos cut in, acutely aware of where it was going. “And I know what you’re going to say, and so does everybody else, but say it anyway,” he said grinning.
“I’d rather have cancer than feminism,” she said emphatically, in clear a reference to a February headline on Breitbart which Clinton has often blasted while on the campaign trail. The crowd of a few hundred erupted into applause. Many stood and clapped. One stood and waved a blue Trump flag.
Yiannopoulos called her up to the stage. They embraced. She said she was in remission now for six months.
“Congratulations. I wish you the best,” he said.
She left the stage and went back to the microphone to ask her question about fixing the immigration system.