I was first introduced to Milo Yiannopoulos by Hillary Clinton. Like many—perhaps most—Americans, until Clinton’s speech in Reno in August warning of the dangers posed by “the paranoid fringe [which] now calls itself ‘alt-right’,” I’d paid little attention to what seemed like a tiny toxic cove on the wilder shores of the Web, and even less to Yiannopoulos himself. The night the most hated man on the Internet got permanently banned from Twitter for trolling Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones, I was otherwise engaged in Cleveland. And though my kids are fans of Alt-J, and I’d once inadvertently stumbled into alt-history, I’d received enough hate mail covering the David Irving trial to more than satisfy my curiosity about the kind of fascist weirdo who thinks Adolf Hitler was tragically misunderstood.1

Still, after Clinton put the alt-right in the spotlight, I thought I’d better brush up. Though I found plenty of pieces denouncing the alt-right, most offered little insight into who these people were or what they actually believed. More typical was the boast by the author of a Daily Beast article who claimed to expose “the appealing young face of the racist Alt-Right”: “I’ve never met Milo Yiannopoulos.” Ironically, the most illuminating piece I found on this dangerous tendency was “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right,” a tongue-in-cheek apologia co-authored by… Milo Yiannopoulos.2

So I wrote to the young pariah, promising him only “a fair hearing and a functioning sense of humor.” The interview that follows is the result. It was conducted in late August and has been edited and condensed for clarity. Whether a figure with his views deserves any space at all in The Nation is a reasonable question—though one better directed at the Clinton campaign, which did so much to raise his profile. Since it’s now too late to deny Yiannopoulos the oxygen of publicity, perhaps we’d better try to understand what motivates him, and his hundreds of thousands of followers. Readers who feel otherwise are encouraged to stop here—or to imagine the interviewer constantly wagging his finger in outrage.3

D.D. Guttenplan: I’m going to ask you one personal question first. Are you a real person or are you a meme?4

Milo Yiannopoulos: I’m an invention of the Internet. I’m like, the Internet went away for a few years and designed what the perfect online personality would look like and came back with me.5

I wonder if I might ask you to give us a short definition of the alt-right?6

There are lots of explainers of the alt-right out there, but their primary purpose is to virtue signal to fellow journalists that the writer is not a racist, that the writer has the right views. The movement has been characterized as a warmed-over band of neo-Nazis and racists. That could not be further from the truth—and that also ignores something very important.7

What does it ignore?8

The alt-right for me is primarily a cultural reaction to the nannying and language policing and authoritarianism of the progressive left—the stranglehold that it has on culture. It is primarily—like Trump is and like I am—a reaction against the progressive left doing today what the religious right was doing in the ’90s—which is trying to police what can be thought and said, how opinions can be expressed.9

There are some specifics and belief about the alt-right that I think are important. Globalism and globalization is basically over. It is done. People don’t like it. People will not vote for it. In fact, nobody ever has voted for it. They’ve only ever voted the other way.10

It seems to me inarguably true that Western civilization—by which we mean the modern Western liberal capitalist democracies that we live in in Europe and America—has produced all of the best stuff. It has done that through a combination of freedom of speech, capitalism, property rights. Those things created the conditions for the best art, for the best financial systems, for the best ordering of society.11

It’s not just a cultural thing. It’s political, too. Rawlsian “veil of ignorance”—if you didn’t know where you were going to be born—you’d want to be born in Canada, Australia, America, Great Britain. Right?12

Scandinavia, maybe.13

Maybe, but that wouldn’t be the top of your list, because you might actually want to see a good movie once in awhile.14

You were going to tell me something about the beliefs of the alt-right.15

For the last three decades, the left has been conflating culture with race. If you say you like a particular culture, they can call you a racist. I think the electorate is rejecting that on both the right and the left. This is, for me and I think the majority of the alt-right, a cultural and not a racial argument. There are some racial elements to it, some racial overtones, but this is primarily a cultural argument. The alt-right believes that Western culture is currently imperiled and that the elites on both sides of the political divide are not doing enough to protect it. In that analysis, I think they’re right. Whether that is from mass immigration from backward cultures into rich nations, whether it is, in my case, I care more about Islam. I don’t want it here.16

I think the West is in decline and I would like to see that decline arrested as forcibly as possible by the people who lead us. I would like to see our civilization preserved. I think that kind of apocalyptic language would have sounded ridiculous 10 years ago, but with ISIS I don’t think it does. Syria is not that far away. And Orlando, 9/11, 7/7, this stuff is happening on our own shores. Munich, Nice, whatever the other one was. This stuff isn’t just over there now. It’s here, too, and we welcomed it in. Many people would like to see it expelled.17

How would you describe Trump’s relationship to the alt-right?18

I think many of Trump’s voters are animated by alt-right concerns. There’s obviously a big overlap. The only way that people have to express their frustration is at the ballot box, which doesn’t come around very often. When it does come around, people are now expressing themselves that way—Brexit in the last election here and Trump. And using the wilds of the Internet to express deep and profound dissatisfaction with the people who rule over us for a variety of reasons and in a style that horrifies the establishment. That’s by design. That is on purpose.19

Trump is a cultural candidate for president, not an economic one. He clearly loves America and wants America to stay America. America won’t be America if it has open borders and mass Muslim immigration. America will cease to be the country that produced Walt Whitman, you name it. It will cease to be the country that produced Trump himself. In that, I think his concerns and the alt-right’s concerns are in perfect harmony.20

He’s also against the machine, against corporate interests. People very much liked that he wasn’t taking lobbyist money because they see all of that, correctly I think, as part of a broken system. He’s also an unashamed capitalist, which even people who have great suspicion of the banks and governments like. I don’t know if they’d articulate it this way, but the way I see it is, these people like capitalism. They just don’t like crony capitalism. They don’t like that sort of late capitalism where the state and big business exist in intricate symbiosis. I think they would say they like capitalism. Capitalism hasn’t failed. It just hasn’t been tried recently.21

You’ve got no argument from me.22

The reason that I come back to the free speech and the cultural stuff is I think it’s the only thing that matters. The history of nationalism in Europe is long and bloody, and in some cases it’s not particularly proud, but in America, there’s no reason to suppose that a country based not on ethnicity and geography as European countries are but on ideals, on the Constitution, the First and Second Amendment. There’s no reason to suppose that a country based on those things shouldn’t be proud of itself. There’s no reason to suppose that would generate the kind of problems you’ve had in Europe.23

But if you’re based on an agreement to a set of ideals, then surely immigration becomes different because you don’t object to people because they’re of different stock as long as they subscribe to your ideals.24

No. You object to people because of values, which is why Trump’s values test was so popular a few weeks ago. That’s exactly what his voters want. They don’t care about skin color. They want somebody to come over and believe in America. They want the kind of immigrants that came two, three generations ago who came to participate in the American dream, not the kind of immigrants that are coming now to destroy it.25

Do you think that’s really true? I’ve talked to Trump voters in Florida and South Carolina.26

By the time you’re talking about policy positions, you’ve already lost the war. By the time you get down to elections, I lose interest. I like Trump because he’s a cultural candidate for president and because Trump represents an existential threat to political correctness. I will put up with almost anything that he does because of that.27

Why are you so infuriated by political correctness? Why not just laugh it off?28

Because it’s deadly.29

Give me an example.30

Fourteen hundred girls were raped in Rotherham in the United Kingdom over 10 years by Pakistani rape gangs. The government report said that these things were not investigated because the officers involved were afraid of appearing racist. That’s political correctness responsible for 1,400 girls being raped.31

That’s Rotherham. That’s not the US.32

Fort Hood.* People knew this guy, there’s something wrong with him. Afterwards, his colleagues said we didn’t report him because we didn’t want to be seen as Islamophobic. Omar Mateen, Orlando. People knew there was something wrong with him but didn’t report him. The ones that did report him saw nothing happen to their complaints because his managers were worried about seeming Islamophobic. That’s political correctness killing.

*Editor’s note: Yiannopoulos contacted us after publication to say that he had misspoke when he said Sandy Hook. He meant Fort Hood. This article has been corrected to reflect his intent.33

You think people are really that inhibited?34

Yes. Absolutely. The range of socially unacceptable opinions is widening. The range of socially acceptable opinions is narrowing.35

What is a newly unacceptable opinion?36

You can’t keep a newspaper column in this country and say that the wage gap is a myth or that campus rape culture is a myth. We’re reordering society according to myths and conspiracy theories and advocacy research. You cannot deny these things and keep your place in the establishment, even at right-wing newspapers.37

Do you link the rise of the alt-right with a crisis in Western masculinity?38

Yes, absolutely. We’ve been lying to and about men for decades. Feminism now is an ugly, sociopathic, lesbianic, misandrist set of conspiracy theories, and it is having massive and horrifying consequences for men and women.39

Wouldn’t feminists just say that the patriarchy has been an ugly, misogynist, repressive…40

Their answer to that is to make men suffer. They want to visit the sins of the fathers on the sons. They want female supremacy. They want payback. They want men to bleed. They want to squeeze men until their pips squeak. I don’t want that, because the people who suffer the most are women in that situation, because in their 30s, single men in their 30s are fine. Single women in their 30s are a mess.41

I don’t know if there’s any data to support that.42

Of course there is. Women have been getting progressively more miserable for 60 years. Every survey shows the same thing. Male suicide is now back up to 2011, 2012 levels but women are getting unhappier faster. Because men can retreat into each other’s company, porn, video games, sports, you name it depending on what kind of man they are. They can deal better with being alone in their 30s. They can go out and get a hooker if they need sex. They can stay home, play video games, and masturbate.43

Women need people. Women are communicative, empathetic social animals. All of the survey data shows that women have been getting progressively more miserable as they’ve been getting more equal. As their actual status in society improves, they’re getting less happy. My suggestion is that that cannot be unconnected to a woman’s changing role in society. It cannot be unconnected to the expectations we now place on women to have a career and a baby and a happy marriage and all the rest of it because you can’t have it all. That’s a lie. That’s a lie that feminism told women.44

Let’s talk about economics. Not as interesting as feminism, but does the alt-right have an economic program?45

I see it as a cultural movement. I think that to the extent that it thinks in economic terms, and I don’t think it very often does. I know a few things that they don’t like and I know a few things they’re concerned about. I couldn’t easily place them into an economic bucket.46

Okay. Things that they don’t like, crony capitalism…47

Wage depression as a result of immigration.48

What about wage depression as the result of a single employer? What about Walmart?49

I see a lot of hostility to big business among the alt-right. They tend to like mom-and-pop stores. They tend to like local communities and localism in general. They are not particularly fond of big companies and big businesses. They’re just as hostile to big homegrown businesses as they are to…50

Globalism.51

Globalism and immigration. Yeah.52

Let’s talk about the alt-right and anti-Semitism. It’s something that you’ve come up against. Where does it come from? How serious is it? How do you deal with it?53

There’s a small slice of the alt-right which is probably genuinely anti-Semitic. I would say 2 to 5 percent, the same 2 to 5 percent that’s racist. The vast majority of it is pushing buttons. The language of the Internet is mischief, schadenfreude, and trolling, triggering other people. That’s what the Internet is for. That’s what it does. All these reporters who are clutching at pearls in horror at the alt-right’s anti-Semitic memes have selectively forgotten that—but only in the case of the alt-right. Normally, they’re perfectly willing to admit that this is what happens on the Internet. When it comes associated with right-wing politics, everything must be really sincere. It’s not sincere.54

Let’s talk about foreign policy. Does the alt-right have a foreign policy?55

I think the foreign policy would be protectionist. That’s economics, but it also extends to getting involved in foreign wars.56

Isolationist.57

Isolationist. I was pro-Iraq and I don’t think anyone in the alt-right would be pro-Iraq.58

Pro–Iraq War?59

The war, yeah. I differ from the alt-right personally in that I’m grateful for America as the only world superpower, and I think America has a responsibility and a right to police the world, a responsibility to preserve democracy and freedom elsewhere in the world where it can to spread American values. At least I’m more open to that position than the alt-right who I think just want to see an end to foreign wars and let’s fix our country first as they would put it.60

You’re more of an imperialist than they are?61

Yeah. Maybe because I’m British. I’m definitely way more of an imperialist than the alt-right. For sure.62

What about, speaking of imperialism, vis-à-vis Russia?63

The alt-right sees Russia as an example of how to do it right—albeit with the wrong values. They see Putin as being ruthless and strong and fearsome, and I think they want America to be seen like that, too. They want people to see America like Crimea and Ukrainians see Putin.64

Don’t you think most of the world already sees America like that? In Latin America, they see America like that.65

The alt-right would say good. Let’s keep it that way, and let’s make sure that that extends to the Middle East and to Europe and to China and to Russia and to everywhere else.66

Can America be feared in the world in the way that Trump seems to sometimes suggest he’d like, and yet pull back and solve our own problems? How can you square that circle?67

I think they would probably say we need to get our house in order first. America can’t protect others when America is weak, and we need to make America great again before we can get involved in more foreign conflicts. I think that they see America as being structurally weak and would like a retreat, regroup, and recharge before any more movement elsewhere in the world.68

If they see America as structurally weak, why is there so much hostility between the alt-right and the neo-conservative right who also see America as structurally weak? They hate Trump.69

Because the neo-conservative right are the enemy. The alt-right hate the establishment on the right even more than they hate the left. The neoconservative right is the apotheosis of everything that they hate about the establishment on the right.70

For what reasons?71

Collusion with big business, foreign wars. All of the excesses of elites in power are perfectly represented by the neoconservatives. It’s why it was brave and brilliant of Trump to attack Bush. There’s a feeling we have to hold the line on Bush. Trump just blew through that and said no. He expressed what a lot of conservatives were thinking but didn’t say. He made it okay for conservatives to criticize Bush in public, which I think was important.72

He certainly said things during the Republican debates that astonished me.73

Right and everyone at home was cheering while the press was like—gasp. Everyone at home was literally clapping and jumping up and down on their sofa and like thank you Lord, God, emperor Trump, somebody finally saying it to these bastards. This guy on stage beating these people up in a way that they never could, it’s wonderful. It’s a sort of abuse.74

These are conservative in name only politicians, these RINOs who say the right things and we know they’re not going to do it and they know they’re not going to do it. We’re forced to vote for them because what are we going to do, vote Democrat? Of course not. We have to vote for these Republicans who we know are going to betray us and they know they’re going to betray us. It’s an abusive cycle and Trump has come in promising to break that cycle of abuse. That’s why people love him so much.75

What about the Libertarians?76

What about them?77

Are they not an acceptable alternative?78

No. They’re a joke.79

Why?80

Libertarians are children. Libertarians are people who have given up looking for an answer. This whole “everybody do what they want” is code for “leave me to do what I want.” It’s selfish and childish. It’s an admission that you have given up trying to work out what a good society would look like, how the world should be ordered and instead just retreated back into selfishness. That’s why they’re so obsessed with weed, Bitcoin, and hacking.81

I always thought those were the most attractive things about them.82

Maybe so, but that’s why you can’t take them seriously. It’s all introspective and insular and selfish.83

Okay, if Trump doesn’t win, then what?84

America is done. The Second Amendment won’t survive.85

You read the newspapers and the polls, and it’s likely that Trump is not going to win. Then where do all these people go? Hillary wins in a fairly large landslide. The Republican party has been destroyed. What happens next?86

I’m an engine of chaos. I want both parties to be torn apart. I think Hillary will enter the presidency as the most unpopular president in US history. She’ll be a one-term president and somebody like Sanders will rise up and do the same to the Democratic party that Trump did to the Republican party. We’re living in a time when anti-establishment, anti-globalism, anti-political correctness… this is a movement that is not bound by political ideology. This is a grassroots thing that is springing up everywhere in the Western world. That is the new alignment of politics, not Republican and Democrat, not liberal and conservative.87

Then there’s the struggle between left populism and right. If you’d had Bernie versus Trump…88

That’s a world I want to see. I want to see a real choice. I want to see full socialism against red in tooth and claw red-blooded capitalism. I want a real battle of ideologies. I think most people do. They want to see something real. They want to know that their vote matters because Republican, Democrat, who really cares? Trump, Sanders, something is on the line.89

For you, left-right is about culture, not economics.90

For most voters now, too. Yes. We’re in rich countries. Nobody cares about economic models because everyone’s got food in their bellies. They have the luxury of caring about what they believe, not where their next meal is coming from, which is why things are about culture now.91

As we say in England, where did you go to school?92

Simon Langton, which is a grammar school in Canterbury. Then, a sixth-form college in the Midlands. Then, Manchester and then Cambridge and I dropped out of the last two.93

Why did you drop out?94

Boys and booze and other things that shouldn’t be in print if I want to get a Visa one day. Things that can’t be in print while I’m applying for an O1. Cambridge asked me to take a break for the ridiculous and petty reason that I didn’t hand in essays and didn’t show up for exams. I thought that people like me were given exemptions from exams and essays, but apparently not. I have a sense of personal ordination, which was a problem right up until I started to become successful, and then it became an enormous asset. Now I like to say my personality never really made sense without fans.95

Do you recognize connections with other movements in Europe? How would the alt-right feel about Marine Le Pen or how would they feel about Chrysi Avgi [Golden Dawn] in Greece?96

I don’t think the alt-right gives much of a fuck about Marine Le Pen, because by definition these movements are nationalistic, so they care more about their own countries than about others. I think the cultural concerns travel, but the national concerns don’t necessarily. I don’t think the alt-right is popping up in Europe. I think the alt-right is an American thing. I think that Brexit is a British thing and the Front National is a French thing. These groups are motivated by some of the same overarching principles and frustrations, but they have their own individual priorities. The people they read and they look up to and they like are some of the same people, but they’re pretty focused on the local project.97

Okay. Who do they read and look up to and like? Who are the intellectuals here?98

It’s a populist movement so it rejects that. It’s not really into that. Anyone sufficiently qualified for your definition is probably one of the bad guys from a populist movement. It’s people like me, people who get banned from Twitter. I am the 2016 equivalent of Madonna in the 1990s when her music videos were getting banned from MTV and they were the only music videos you wanted to see. Me getting banned from Twitter turns me into a cultural icon.99

In a world of conformity, when the left thinks that the highest virtue is to say the right thing about women or blacks or whatever and the rest of the world thinks that’s nuts, the people who really succeed, the people who get ferocious, fanatical devotees are the people who stick two fingers up to the consensus and say go fuck yourselves. That’s me and that’s Trump.100