Yiannopoulos has gone from conservative upstart to a fringe figure of the alt-right.
On April 4, controversial alt-right figure Milo Yiannopoulos posted on Facebook: “GREAT NEWS! Will shortly be speaking at The University of Tulsa. Details soon… That’s two golden hurricanes in your town.” The next day, Yiannopoulos posted something similar referencing a speaking engagement at Tulsa Community College. The first post prompted a frenzy of action on behalf of TU, primarily because no one invited him.
Almost immediately, TU spokeswoman Mona Chamberlin insisted that there were no plans for Yiannopoulos to speak at the university. Frankly, it’s unlikely that the supposed event was a subject of any modicum of oversight or approval in the first place. Ignoring the free speech argument (which wouldn’t apply to the private University of Tulsa in the first place), it’s unlikely that a figure as controversial as Yiannopoulos would be approved to speak at the school in the first place, even if the proper procedures were followed.
I find it hard to believe that any argument in favor of Yiannopoulos visiting TU can be made in good faith. He is perhaps most notorious for his comments surrounding pedophilia in the gay community, and his time as a writer at Breitbart News only adds to his polarizing image. Yiannopoulos’s alleged hate speech famously incited riots a few years ago at the University of California-Berkeley, and he is banned from Twitter as well as the entire country of Australia. Yiannopoulos isn’t your typical right-wing speaker, and it’s important to remember that.
Yiannopoulos was famously barred from appearing at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, following his comments about young gay men and pedophilia. He has effectively moved too far to the right for mainstream conservatism. However, it’s important to consider that the other venue eyed by Yiannopoulos —Tulsa Community College — does not have the luxury of turning him down due to the nature of his event. The booking at TCC has similar origins to that of the University of Tulsa’s: a group with no affiliation to the school has attempted to schedule the event.
Although TCC has not officially confirmed the event, a letter was released confirming that the college is working with organizers to coordinate a time. However, this is contingent on them meeting the criteria outlined in their venue rental agreement. The most important detail of this must be reiterated: no one affiliated with TCC invited Yiannopoulos, and no student organization at the college is sponsoring the event.
However, one organization has been responsible for the controversial speaker, Transparency for Oklahoma. The group is spearheaded by Chris Barnett, an individual with a relevant history with both the University of Tulsa and Tulsa Community College. Barnett and his husband have been embroiled with a lawsuit against TU for the past several years as well as a related lawsuit and similar legal history with TCC. This lawsuit is one of many that was prompted by the expulsion of Barnett’s husband, Trey, from the TU theatre program around five years ago. The cascade of legal action has spawned a variety of litigation related to the free release of university documents, communication between the two colleges, as well as the lack of transparency surrounding disciplinary action towards students.
It can be reasonably inferred that this history has something to do with the intentional stirring of controversy for the two college communities. Barnett attempting to stoke bad publicity for his opposing litigants is a compelling motivation, although it remains to be seen if this will harm TU in any tangible way. The speed in which this unsolicited “event” was addressed was admirable; it was a fast, decisive response from TU that reinforced a standard for the speakers invited to speak on campus.