I was surprised that LS Professor Michael Rectenwald did not think to cancel white supremacist Milo Yiannopoulos’ speech to his class, slated to take place barely two weeks after the deadliest recorded attack on Jews on U.S. soil. I was surprised when NYU, an institution that prides itself on its diversity, did not tell Rectenwald that placing students of varying races, religions and sexual orientations in the direct line of a professional troll’s fire is not only inhumane but a gross abuse of power. I was also surprised at how many students I heard excusing Yiannopoulos’ racism, anti-Semitism and comments on pedophilia in the name of the First Amendment.
Rectenwald was entirely aware that Yiannopoulos visit would be canceled, and that’s the very reason why he invited him. He wanted to show that the left, which prides itself on safe spaces and free speech, isn’t able to handle a self-proclaimed provocateur who simply shares a different worldview.
What so many thought was in the past was made painfully present when Rectenwald decided to further his political agenda with Yiannopoulos’ visit. Not only is anti-Semitism alive and thriving, but by refusing to condemn Yiannopoulos and his hate speech, NYU’s administration is condoning all of the ideas that come with him.
In the tumultuous two years since Donald Trump’s election, a simple pattern has become evident: when hate speech is perpetually propagated with little to no condemnation, imitation inevitably ensues.
Said hate speech being allowed to grow is what propelled a neo-Nazi to murder 11 Jews in Pittsburgh. This, along with President Donald Trump refusing to condemn white supremacy and Kellyanne Conway saying that these people were killed because of an anti-religious sentiment rather than because they were Jewish, is undeniably vile. But this behavior is what I have come to expect of these people.
However, Milo Yiannopoulos is not just part of a political party that NYU’s majority-liberal student body does not share. The speech he delivered in a Facebook live stream in response to his talk being postponed is riddled with jokes about Anne Frank, underage sex and suicide. Yiannopoulos’ offensive and immediate reaction to the talk’s postponing speaks for itself.
If Rectenwald had invited an actual conservative — maybe someone who has the actual credentials to speak about what he’s slated to, or is famous for something other than bullying his audiences and feeding off liberal fear — perhaps the backlash from NYU students would not have been as strong. But he didn’t. He invited Milo Yiannopoulos: the embodiment of the deep underbelly of the “alt-right” and its apologists. A man who waves his “blind for love” black husband and Jewish grandmother around like they signed his permission slip to be hailed by Richard Spencer. A performance artist whose specialty is being so deliberately offensive that he can call himself “the most censored man in America.”
I understand that there was not much to be done by President Andrew Hamilton in this situation. NYU’s official policy on speakers and other campus visitors clearly states that the university supports “the presence of speakers and other campus visitors without subjecting them to political, social, and moral tests.” However, Hamilton had absolutely no reason not to condemn white supremacy. Instead, NYU made broad, vague statements about unity and equality — statements that were interpreted as a go-ahead by bigots and anti-Semitics on campus silently observing the university’s actions.
But anti-Semitism is alive and well at NYU. I saw others in NYU Facebook groups — who have since had their comments reported and deleted — calling Jews both Nazis and kikes in the same sentence. These statements were not only disturbing but terrifying. They were spurred by inviting someone like Yiannopoulos to NYU — before he had even made it to campus. The longer we allow for NYU to not acknowledge what it means to condone Yiannopoulos and other figures like him, the further we are pushing this toxic agenda of anti-Semitism.
Email Abby Hofstetter at [email protected]
Correction, Nov. 6: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Yiannopoulos’ husband is Muslim. It also incorrectly stated that students had excused his pedophilia. There is no evidence that Yiannopoulos is a pedophile. It also incorrectly stated that Yiannopoulos speech mentioned pedophilia. It mentioned underage sex.