In a letter sent to students Thursday, Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks affirmed that alt-right Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos would be granted the right to appear on campus at a planned engagement on February 1, perhaps also ensuring his own continued unpopularity until he departs the Chancellorship by the end of the year. Yet Dirks's letter to students, published by the campus newspaper the Daily Californian, was measured: “We are defending the right to free expression at an historic moment for our nation, when this right is once again of paramount importance,” Dirks wrote. “In this context, we cannot afford to undermine those rights, and feel a need to make a spirited defense of the principle of tolerance, even when it means we tolerate that which may appear to us as intolerant.”
Yiannopoulos's appearance at UC Davis was cancelled amid protests earlier this month, reportedly for fears regarding his safety, and his would-be interlocutor, the equally reviled "pharma-bro" Martin Shkreli, was pelted with poop and otherwise harassed by angry students. Similarly, other stops, like at UCLA and UC Santa Barbara, have been canceled on his "Dangerous Faggot" tour. That's named for Yiannopoulos himself, who is gay but also revels in attacks on "political correct" LGBT culture in headlines like "Gay Rights Have Made Us Dumber, It's Time To Get Back In The Closet."
Dirks also added a bit of a warning in his letter. “Our student groups enjoy the right to invite whomever they wish to speak on campus," he wrote, "but we urge them to consider whether exercising that right in a manner that might unleash harmful attacks on fellow students and other members of the community is consistent with their own and with our community’s values."
Meanwhile, San Francisco magazine contributing writer Scott Lucas caught up with another Breitbart editor-in-chief Alex Marlow on Berkeley's campus recently. There, as Lucas writes, he and Marlow sometimes sparred as undergraduates, and they reconnected for the purposes of the piece.
"Years before Marlow helped Donald Trump take the White House, he was taking shots at me, a college newspaper columnist at the Daily Californian in Berkeley who served up the kind of soft-boiled, mushy-headed, center-left political opinions that a young(er) Marlow couldn’t help lashing out against. I was one of his first sparring partners. He was my very first troll." Now he's everyone's troll. According to Lucas:
Perhaps more than any other person working in media today, he has a direct line into the head of the 45th president of the United States. His most recent boss and constant adviser, Steve Bannon, stepped down as executive chairman of Breitbart in August to run Trump’s campaign and has been named senior counselor in the White House—one of the two or three closest advisers to the most powerful man on earth.
Marlow "denies any connection to the alt-right," he tells Lucas, but he's a staunch conservative. He says he was drawn to the opportunity to "descend into the belly of the liberal beast," at Berkeley, and in Lucas's words, "once there to give it a raging case of indigestion" as an outspoken campus republican. Nevertheless, in those days they were civil to and understanding of one another, and they were again in person for the interview. That's Lucas's point. To quote the magazine:
Marlow's a radical nationalist, yes, but he’s also the product of an elite West Coast education, the son of a Jewish mother and a Catholic father, who likes his iced coffee from fancy third-wave cafés, who proposed to his girlfriend in the campus library at UC Berkeley, and who became an early adherent of the social-network-propelled new-media revolution right around the time Mark Zuckerberg was launching Facebook. Had they been paying attention, the experts might have gleaned that the head of the most important—and, some say, most insidious and dangerous—right-wing news site in a generation isn’t a them. He’s an us."
Discussing his piece, Lucas tells SFist that he's unbothered by the blatant bias of Marlow's work. "In the long sweep of the history of journalism, especially political journalism... what he does has been the model. It's partisan, it comes from a particular point of view, it owns its biases." In fact Lucas has plenty of praise for Marlow: "I think Breitbart is the most important news site right now, it's driving American politics, and Alex is driving it, [making him] frankly the most important political journalist."
So, should Marlow be the next Breitbart speaker at Cal? Lucas registered approval. "I think there's a lot that current students can learn from him, people who are interested in journalism and politics... can learn from what he's done."