This is probably the most bizarre example of “politics makes strange bedfellows” I’ve seen. The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, aka D.C. Metro, for rejecting four “controversial” ads. Three of the ads—one from the ACLU itself, one from an abortion care provider, and one from PETA—seem to be in line with the ACLU’s usual agenda. But take a look at the fourth:
That’s a surprise! Yiannopoulos, a conservative troll formerly of Breitbart, is the poster boy for pushing the bounds of free speech on topics ranging from race relations to feminism to basically anything else that might piss people off. His speeches at universities in America have been subject to protests, near-riots, and cancelations. When Bill Maher had him as a guest on his show, the backlash was severe—it would be an understatement to say that the ACLU’s typical supporters aren’t down with Milo.
The ACLU explained their position in a blog post:
That brings us to our final client: Milo Worldwide LLC. Its founder, Milo Yiannopoulos, trades on outrage: He brands feminism a cancer, he believes that transgender individuals have psychological problems, and he has compared Black Lives Matter activists to the KKK. The ACLU condemns many of the values he espouses (and he, of course, condemns many of the values the ACLU espouses).
Milo Worldwide submitted ads that displayed only Mr. Yiannopoulos’s face, an invitation to pre-order his new book, “Dangerous,” and one of four short quotations from different publications: “The most hated man on the Internet” from The Nation; “The ultimate troll” from Fusion; “The Kanye West of Journalism” from Red Alert Politics; and “Internet Supervillain” from Out Magazine. Unlike Mr. Yiannopoulos’ stock-in-trade, the ads themselves were innocuous, and self-evidently not an attempt to influence any opinion other than which book to buy.
WMATA appeared to be okay with that. It accepted the ads and displayed them in Metro stations and subway cars — until riders began to complain about Mr. Yiannopoulos being allowed to advertise his book. Just 10 days after the ads went up, WMATA directed its agents to take them all down and issue a refund — suddenly claiming that the ads violated the same policies it relied on to reject the ads from the ACLU, Carafem, and PETA.
To some extent, credit goes to the ACLU for sticking to their principles, even in the face of what they surely knew would be a swift backlash. And the backlash has come—just read the replies. That said, the distinction between “hate speech” and “hey, it’s only a cover of a book that represents hate speech!” seems a little dubious. Overall, this is strange battle to fight.