Despite objections from those who see Milo Yiannopoulos as a standard bearer for the white nationalist movement, Simon & Schuster’s traditionally conservative imprint Threshold Editions will print his book Dangerous, for which it paid $250,000 later this year. Politically speaking, giving a soapbox to someone who has previously bashed soapboxes over the heads of women, African-Americans, and transgender people, is questionable practice, but financially, it makes sense. The “alt-right” movement is ascendant thanks to the rise of Donald Trump, who put out Great Again with Threshold. As the leaders of the movement step into the halls of power, the market for a foot soldier’s memoirs grows. That provides Threshold Editions Editorial Director Mitchell Ivers with the cover to offer Yiannopoulos a contract and still claim to not condone hate speech. But it doesn’t justify financing a book tour that is likely to consist of political rallies that move beyond violent rhetoric toward real violence.
Opposition to a Yiannopoulos book couldn’t have surprised Threshold and was likely part of the plan from the get go. But it was only ever half the plan. The truth is that the publishing industry, which can seem like an extension of the media but with more MFAs, has long profited on conservative books. It’s a major part of how the industry works and, as the Los Angeles Times puts it, “business as usual.” As such, shock that Yiannopoulos got a deal was probably evidence of a fundamental misunderstanding about an industry’s economic model. Is it worrisome that a man who got himself banned from Twitter for leading a horrific campaign of online harassment targeting actress Leslie Jones is so readily embraced by publishers? For many, the answer is understandably “yes.” Still, publishing has fallen on hard times so desperate measures feel inevitable.
But this narrative won’t turn from unseemly to “corporate hate speech” until Simon & Schuster gives Yiannopoulos a stage and removes the mediating force of an editor. If and when Yiannopoulos goes on a book tour financed by the Threshold imprint or Simon & Schuster or its parent company CBS (however you wish to see it), the typical “It’s just capitalism!” excuse will cease to hold water.
Yiannopoulos likes public appearances. They work for him. They do not work for many of the people in the places he visits, who have historically been subjected to violence and harassment. The pot stirring is not charming. During an appearance at DePaul University in Chicago, Yiannopoulos took the stage after it was occupied by protesters. “The statistics of Black incarceration are about to go up,” he quipped. The name of that tour was “Dangerous Faggot,” and it was a wind-up for progressives and non-bigots who protested at UCLA and American University.
More recently, in December at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Yiannopoulos used his time on stage during an event hosted by a conservative student group to mock a transgender student. He displayed her photo and name, going on a hateful tirade where he referred to trans people as “trannies,” and stated that Title IX was being used to put men into women’s bathrooms. It was to politics what cross burning is to lawn decoration.
Schools, including New York University and Florida Atlantic University, scrapped Yiannopoulos’s visits. NYU Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Marc Wais wrote in an email announcing the cancellation, “On other campuses his events have been accompanied by physical altercations, the need for drastically enlarged security presence, harassment of community members both at the event and beyond and credible threats involving the presence of firearms or explosives.”
Yiannopoulos takes his harassment wherever he goes because he is a catalyst. He’s joking on some level when he calls himself a “Dangerous Faggot,” but the modifier really isn’t intended to be funny. He portrays himself as dangerous and he is correct. This is especially true given a political climate that has led to an increasing number of violent incidents during Republican rallies.
Simon & Schuster is in the book publishing business so — whether its readers like it or not — it will seek out and publish books it believes will make money. That much is inevitable. What it cannot do in good conscious is finance violence — and that’s exactly what paying for a Yiannopoulos book tour would constitute. At best, paying to put an unfiltered Yiannopoulos in front of crowds would constitute gross negligence. At worst, it would constitute corporate sponsorship of an aspiring lynch mob.
The irony here is that Yiannopoulos may not have to go on a book tour at all. Like his boss Steve Bannon and his boss’s boss Donald Trump, Yiannopoulos is great at getting himself free press by flouting social norms and sidestepping decency. The same people that protested his book deal will do his outreach for him gratis. And that will be the end of it, unless it isn’t, in which case those responsible will have charted a dangerous course for not just an imprint, but an industry.