It was called the America First Unity Rally, but you could be forgiven for missing the part where the unity was supposed to come in.
In fact, as Breitbart writer and self-proclaimed “supervillain of the internet” Milo Yiannopoulos stood on a stage at the small riverside gathering in Cleveland yesterday, he described political incorrectness as a sort of life mission, even a spiritual calling.
“Political correctness is a disease that is now killing people,” said Yiannopoulos, dressed all in black under the powerful July sun. “I try to fight it by being as outrageous as possible, as offensive as possible.”
He went on to illustrate the point by saying that transgender people have “a brain disease;” that “it’s perfectly rational to be terrified” of Islamic people; and that “the left is a cancer that you need to eradicate.” When one eager fan near the front yelled out, “You need to die on your feet or live on your knees,” Yiannopoulos, who is openly gay, replied, “Well, I do live on my knees. But that’s all right, as long as I’m not facing Mecca.”
So yeah, pretty offensive! And not altogether, er, unifying, with one big exception: Yiannopoulos’ rant did unite the relatively small crowd that had gathered to pledge their support for Donald Trump. And that’s a good thing for Trump at least, because at that very moment, the prospect of his candidacy was inspiring a full-on insurrection inside the arena where the Republican National Convention was taking place.
As Yiannopoulos gleefully dismantled the norms of common courtesy at the waterfront rally, several state delegations were breaking with tradition and demanding a new vote on the party’s convention rules in hopes of unseating Trump as the party’s presumptive nominee. The effort failed for the umpteenth time, but not before revealing a deeply divided Republican party to the world as the floor fight streamed to the world on social media and cable news.
Yiannopoulos’ address illustrates just why that divide exists: the Republican party can’t control its trolls.
Throughout this election cycle, Trump supporters and Trump himself have taken online trolling to a new and shocking level. But when it comes to trolls, Yiannopoulos, who made a name for himself during the Gamergate debacle, is king. And the audience at the waterfront, dressed in shirts that read “Hillary for Prison” and “9/11 Was An Inside Job,” treated him as such. They huddled around Yiannopoulos during his grand entrance and as he spoke, iPhones in the air, eager to grab a shot of a man most only know from the Internet.
“We got your back, Milo,” yelled out one bearded guy in a camouflage shirt.
As he spoke, Yiannopoulos thanked his faithful followers, calling them “angels” as they showered him with praise.
You could be forgiven for missing the part where the unity was supposed to come in.
“You’re goddamn beautiful,” roared one.
“Thank you, angel. I do own a mirror, but it’s nice to be reminded,” Yiannopoulos replied.
Afterward, some attendees would say it’s Yiannopoulos’ bravado and bluntness that draws them in, the very same qualities they admire in the candidate Yiannopoulos was there to support. “Political correctness, like he said, is taken way too far,” said Adam Keffer, a 32-year-old engineer from Columbus, Ohio.
“He’s outspoken, he says it how it is, and he doesn’t care if he hurts other people’s feelings,” said Tyler Smith, a 30-year-old veteran and machinist from Leavittsburg, Ohio. “Right now, we’re past feelings.”
And also, it seems, unity.