Milo Yiannopoulos was a far-right influencer, but bans and backlash faded him into obscurity.
Now he's interning for Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has a history of spreading conspiracy theories.
An expert said it's "incredibly hypocritical" Greene would hire Yiannopoulos after his past remarks.
Milo Yiannopoulos was one of the most prominent voices in far-right media during the mid-2010s, until his comments appearing to defend sex between adults and children as young as 13-years-old led publishers and former backers to cut their ties. But the 37-year-old British commentator re-emerged in headlines this week after announcing that far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene hired him as an unpaid summer intern.
That Greene, who frequently attacks her opponents and critics as pedophiles, would hire someone who infamously minimized pedophilia may seem like an obvious contradiction. But Greene's decision to employ Yiannopoulos is a stunt that fits her strategy to attract media attention and troll her colleagues, one expert told Insider.
"Marjorie Taylor Greene is also someone who's very good at online trolling, she's perhaps the most online troll member of congress," Ari Drennen, the LGBTQ Program Director for Media Matters, told Insider. "Hiring Milo, even as an unpaid intern, shows that she's really doubling down on her strategy of headlines over everything."
Yiannopoulos gained online attention as a Breitbart editor and far-right troll
Yiannopoulos began writing for the far-right media outlet Breitbart in 2014, and soon became the site's tech editor. He had a significant media influence during the lead up to the 2016 US presidential election — promoting far-right movements, sourcing story advice from white nationalists, and writing articles engineered to stoke controversy for viral attention.
Yiannopolous specifically targeted Muslims, Transgender people and numerous other minorities with bigoted statements that appeared intended to court backlash and attention. He called feminism "cancer" and said Islam is "way worse than cancer," comparing the religion to a sexually transmitted disease. He was also a major voice in the Gamergate harassment campaign, where internet trolls and men's rights activists launched coordinated misogynistic attacks against female journalists and game developers.
"Milo, first and foremost, is an internet troll. He's had a long series of media jobs and other kinds of right-wing grifts," Drennen said. "He is an expert at getting attention by saying or doing extreme things on the internet."
Despite his associations with the far-right and hateful rhetoric, access to mainstream platforms and figures allowed him to reach a growing audience. Comedian Bill Maher hosted him on his widely watched HBO show, publisher Simon & Schuster gave him a book deal and he gained hundreds of thousands of followers on platforms like YouTube and Twitter. He headlined a Gays for Trump during the Republican National Convention in 2016, and a year later was invited to speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
But Yiannopolous faced a rapid decline back into obscurity in early 2017, when comments he made appearing to defend pedophilia resurfaced. Discussing relationships between adult men and 13-year-old boys, and referencing his personal experience, Yiannopoulos said, "those older men help those young boys to discover who they are and give them security and safety and provide them with love and a reliable sort of rock."
"We're talking about 13 [year-olds and] 25 [year-olds]. 13 [year-olds and] 28 [year-olds]. These things do happen perfectly consensually," Yiannopoulos said in one clip from a recording of the Drunken Peasants politics podcast. He also referenced what he called "the arbitrary and oppressive idea of consent," and stated "we get hung up on this child abuse stuff."
The resurfaced clip, originally recorded in January 2016, and accusations of him supporting pedophilia set off a wave of backlash. In the span of a few days in February 2017, Yiannopoulos' invitation to speak at CPAC was rescinded, and Simon & Schuster dropped his deal. He also resigned from his position at Breitbart. Yiannopoulos attempted to apologize, blamed "sloppy phrasing" and stated he condemned pedophilia—saying "I said some things on those Internet live streams that were simply wrong," but it did not stem the backlash.
Months before his pedophilia scandal, Twitter had already permanently banned his account after he attempted to lead a harassment campaign against comedian Leslie Jones. Facebook banned him in 2019 along with a number of other far-right influencers and conspiracy theorists, including Alex Jones.
Yiannopoulos' precipitous fall became held up by many extremism researchers as an example of how deplatforming—blocking people from using mainstream social media platforms or other avenues to propagate ideas—can limit access to funding and mainstream audiences. In 2018, Yiannopoulos wrote on Facebook that he owed millions in debt and said he was "pretty broke, relatively speaking" after "two years of being no-platformed, banned, blacklisted and censored," according to Vox.
Yiannopoulos remains banned on major social media platforms, including on Parler, an alternative social hub often used by far-right influencers who have been deplatformed. He still has a following of 30,000 users on the communications app Telegram, and in 2021 he started writing articles for the fringe, right-wing Catholic blog Church Militant. He has since tried to shift his persona to heavily promote conservative Christianity, and has described himself as "ex-gay."
Yiannopoulos and Greene's style of trolling have a number of similarities
Though it's surprising that Yiannopoulos would suddenly intern for Congress after falling out of the spotlight for several years, his desire for attention is a match for Greene, Drennen told Insider.
Greene, who has a long history of espousing baseless far-right conspiracy theories, has been one of the most prominent voices in a recent right-wing narrative baselessly framing the LGBTQ community—and people who support LGBTQ education and rights—as pedophiles.
Yiannopoulos announced the internship in a post on Telegram Monday, saying he had "finally been persuaded out of retirement" and "the best role I could land was an unpaid internship with a friend."
Greene previously confirmed the internship in a statement to Insider, saying she had hired "an intern that was raped by a priest as a young teen, was gay, has offended everyone at some point, turned his life back to Jesus and Church, and changed his life."
Drennen said it's "incredibly hypocritical" of Greene to hire Yiannopoulos now considering his past comments about pedophilia.
"The right-wing used to care about not wanting to have an association with somebody who defended pedophilia," Drennen said. "But Marjorie Taylor Greene doesn't seem to care, she just is looking for anything she can do to harm LGBTQ people and get herself in the headlines, and this is her latest plan."
Drennen said that despite Yiannopoulos' status in Greene's office as an intern, he's a veteran of the alt-right sphere and it's likely a sign of where Greene is looking to make connections.
"You just really have to wonder, what is that workplace like?" Drennen said. "If this is the kind of person that she's bringing on."
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