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Fifty Years After Titicut Follies, Frederick Wiseman Collects an Oscar

The big news from the Oscars last night was the snafu at the evening’s end, when the presenters accidentally announced the wrong winner for Best Picture. But the night before that, at the Saturday ceremony where they handed out honorary Oscars, another moment worth noting slipped by: An Oscar statuette went to the man who directed the only movie in U.S. history to be banned for reasons other than obscenity or national security. The filmmaker in question was Frederick Wiseman, and the film that was banned is Titicut Follies, a 1967 documentary about an asylum for the criminally insane. The state of Massachusetts attempted to suppress the picture on the grounds that by exposing the inmates’ miserable conditions, Wiseman was violating the prisoners’ privacy.

Many of Wiseman’s best-known pictures look at life in intensely bureaucratic or hierarchical institutions—besides Titicut Follies, there’s High School, Hospital, Basic Training, Juvenile Court, and Welfare, among others—but he has also covered topics ranging from a small town in Maine to a department store. I interviewed him for Reason when Titicut turned 40, and we discussed both his free speech case and the career it kicked off. Here’s an excerpt:

Reason: There’s a recent trend toward documentaries in which the filmmaker makes himself a part of the action. Obviously that’s very different from your style. Sicko and Hospital are both about American health care, but their approaches are just poles apart.

Wiseman: Well, I haven’t seen Sicko, but generally speaking I’m not a fan of Michael Moore’s.

Reason: How come?

Wiseman: I think he’s an entertainer. I don’t think he’s interested in complexity.

I’m not against the filmmaker appearing in a film. I think some of the greatest documentaries I’ve ever seen have been made by a filmmaker who’s present in the film. I don’t know if you’ve seen any movies by Marcel Ophuls—The Sorrow and the Pity or Hotel Terminus. Ophuls is a great filmmaker because he’s a great interviewer and he has a very sharp and analytical mind. In the case of Michael Moore, I don’t see any particular filmmaking skills, and I think his point of view is extremely simplistic and self-serving.

One of my goals is always to deal with the ambiguity and complexity that I find in any subject. Even the simplest human act can be subject to multiple interpretations or have multiple causes. In Titicut Follies, for example, there are scenes where you see a guard or a doctor or a social worker being cruel to an inmate. But there are other situations where they’re being kind. Some of them are both kind and cruel, if not simultaneously then serially.

Reason: You’ve said Titicut Follies is more didactic than your later films. Are there sequences you wish you had done differently?

Wiseman: Yeah. The best example is the forced feeding. I show too heavy an editorial hand in that sequence. Instead of intercutting it with the guy being made up for his funeral, it would have been better if I’d shown the forced feeding as a separate sequence, and then had some intervening sequences, and then shown him being made up for his burial later and cutting it in such a way that you recognize that it’s the same person.

I think the way I did it forces the issue of whether the guy is treated better in death than in life. Whereas if I did it the way I just described, the viewer could have come to that conclusion instead of having it forced on him.

To read the whole interview, go here. If you just want to see the wrong movie get called for Best Picture, go here. (But really, doesn’t the wrong movie almost always win Best Picture? This time they were just a bit more upfront about it.)

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Foreign Policy Confusion in the Age of Trump

Two panels on Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) dramatically underscore the tensions over foreign policy among conservatives in the Donald Trump era.

The first was conversation on foreign policy realism sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute (CKI) and the second was a panel on “China’s expansion.” There were a number of other panels and addresses related to foreign policy during the conservative conference, mostly focused on threats abroad, like North Korea, China, and Russia, and threats at home (from abroad), but rarely advocating constraint. (Disclosure: Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website, receives support from CKI and David Koch sits on its board of trustees).

Addressing the main hall earlier in the day on Friday, John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, defined a conservative foreign policy as one that addressed “foreign threats and ideologies and protecting American interests around the world.” The phrase “American interests” (or “national security interests”) in that statement, and statements like it, is doing a lot of work in the definition because it remains mostly undefined and therefore malleable to whatever particular agenda whoever is using it wants to advance.

At the CKI conversation, where American Conservative‘s Daniel McCarthy interviewed CKI Vice President of Research & Policy William Ruger, Ruger explained that within the context of foreign policy realism, national interests are “narrowly defined,” largely around territorial integrity. Ruger also explained that there wasn’t really such a thing as conservative foreign policy. Instead, “there are foreign policies that fit for a time, a place, a threat environment that make sense to secure a state.”

Ruger highlighted the compatibility between foreign policy realism and conservatism, saying that contemporary foreign policy suffered from Friedrich Hayek’s knowledge problem and and ignored constraints like human nature, balance of power, geography, and even unknown unknowns, relying instead on a hubris exemplified by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albrights’s statement that the U.S. stands taller and can “see further” than other countries (it can’t). “Conservatives should recognize those things,” Ruger told the audience. “because they’re fundamentally a part of realism and conservative principles.”

Ruger stressed that “isolationism and the foreign policy of the Weekly Standard” were not the only options. “There are many options between those two.” Ruger also rejected the idea that realist foreign policy was isolationist, pointing out that it relied on free trade, because of the understanding that economic power is tied to military power, and that realism would also “suggest certain views about grand strategy—the use of military power to secure our ends—but it does not say that we have to stick our head in the hands.”

“The United States should stand up in its diplomacy and rhetoric for values of democracy and liberties,” Ruger added. It should not, he explained, seek out monsters abroad to slay, pointing out that America’s founders recognized that foreign policies of meddling had the effect of threatening the experiment of liberty at home, in part by “giving up the advantages of the new world [and the constraint of geography] by getting embroiled in the old.” War, the founders understood, “would make us more like those old, corrupt European countries, and less the glorious city on a hill.”

“The United States used to have a more realist foreign policy,” Ruger explained, “From Washington’s farewell address to 1898 and the Spanish-American war, the U.S. pursued a very restrained, very realist, very prudentialist foreign policy. The United States eschewed general peacetime alliances, and did not intervene aggressively abroad, particularly for liberal causes.” He pointed out the U.S. declined to get involved in the European revolutions of the late 18th century, because its leaders “differentiated between those things that were necessary for America’s safety, and those that were unnecessary or even harmful.”

Interventionist foreign policy put “conservative principles at stake,” Ruger noted, stressing that it did not mean that any conservative should be “against all war period—the U.S. has to defend itself,” but that it was crucial to understand there are unintended consequences.

“Realism is about the use of military power and support for liberalization and free trade,” Ruger explained. “That’s very different from spreading democracy or liberalism through the bayonet or the sword. We aren’t even making the world safer for the people we say that we are helping.” Ruger pointed to Libya as a prime example of the U.S. intervening in a foreign country and leaving it far worse off than it was before, adding that the Iraq war was also a failure (Ruger, who served in Afghanistan, points to the 2001 invasion as an example of a war justified under a realist foreign policy because of the 9/11 attacks and the Taliban’s support for and sheltering of Al-Qaeda).

“The idealism you see in liberal internationalism and neoconservatism doesn’t take the world as it is,” Ruger pointed out, even though outside of foreign policy such a view is often a conservative one. Ruger pointed out that had President Reagan made the decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Lebanon after the Beirut barracks bombing in today’s political climate, he would be called a surrenderer.

“War is the health of the state, war grows budgets, war grows government, war grows the surveillance state, war threatens liberty,” Ruger stressed. “We have to make sure it’s absolutely necessary for our safety.”

“7,000 Americans were killed since 9/11 in our wars, that’s a consequences, that’s a cost we have to work through,” Ruger said. “We have to be clear-eyed about what those costs (of war) are.”

Addressing the issue of NATO, the alliance President Trump questioned the fairness and usefulness of on the campaign trail, Ruger explained that one had to “look at alliances not in a kind of ideological fashion but in a sense of do these alliances help make us safer. Are they necessary for our security, relative to the costs (not just manpower and budgetary) but also the potential of being dragged into a war, or have an ally act in a way that provokes war?”

Ruger said he had a hard time seeing how NATO expansion makes America safer. “Sometimes you can stimulate conflicts you don’t intend.” Ruger acknowledged there were many reasons NATO made sense,. “Does it make sense now?” Ruger asked. “We ought to have a real conversation about that, because they commit us potentially to war.”

Ruger discussed illiberal regimes abroad, including Russia and China, and how the U.S. ought to relate to them. “U.S. foreign policy should be aimed at making America safer,” Ruger explained. “Sometimes that means that you have to tolerate other states doing things internally that we don’t love… because there’s nothing we can do about it.” The U.S. had to be “kind of hardheaded” about the limits of the power to effect regime change.

“A realist approach isn’t a naive or pacifist approach,” Ruger stressed. “We don’t have to love Russia or Putin… but what could the United States have done [over Crimea]? Were we supposed to fight a war to protect the sovereignty of Ukraine, which is not an ally of the United States?”

Ruger highlighted the importance of the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a deterrent, and that it shouldn’t be undervalued. “That should give us some confidence that it would have to be a very, very foolhardy and irrational set of leaders in another country” to threaten the U.S. Ruger said it was important to talk about modernizing nuclear capabilities, including asking questions like whether all three legs of the nuclear trident were necessary. “Maybe not,” he offered, pointing out that China has an effective nuclear deterrent with a far smaller nuclear arsenal. The most important part, according to Ruger, was demonstrating that the U.S. has the capacity and the credibility on its nuclear arsenal, and that it has the commitments that “sends the signal to the world, if you do X, then this could happen to you.” Ruger pointed to the role of nuclear proliferation and deterrence in India and Pakistan had as a “pacifying effect in those relations.”

Asked about China’s expansion, a fear that ran through a number of the CPAC events, Ruger suggested that the U.S. should “try to command the global commons… what that means is that the United States should have a robust blue water navy, it should be able to do presence patrols in key areas in the world,” and make sure that sea lanes of vital trade routes are open. “We should be able to have protection of government systems from cyberattacks,” he added. “We should be sure we’re very alive to new challenges.”

Neverthless, given all that, Ruger continued that “in some cases, we don’t have to worry so much about China threatening our blue water capability. China is a rising power but still not a peer competitor, and certainly not a peer competitor in open water.”

“We have a lot of ability to cramp the style of China if it tried to break out,” Ruger explained, “there are also other powers in the region that want” to be a balance to China.

“It’s not as if China’s course is obvious,” Ruger continued. “The progress and the rate of change does not predict that it will go on forever. They’re not going to grow at the same economic rate forever.” Ruger recalled a line by President Calvin Coolidge that the thing to remember when looking to deal with 10 problems coming down the road is that “you don’t have to deal with all 10 at once—nine could end up in the ditch.”

“You don’t want to undermine our economy today,” Ruger warned, “in case China does become a peer competitor in the future.” Less government spending now, then, Ruger explained, could help make a necessary build up in the future possible. Ruger stressed that increased military spending did not mean increased defense, and told conservatives they ought to stop treating the military bureaucracy as an “honorary member of the private sector,” saying it was prone to the same problems any other part of the government is.

“Let’s try to spend the money we do allocate better before we spend more,” Ruger offered, suggesting that that was something the American people would support. He pointed to polling by CKI on military defense spending that showed the public in general underestimating how much the U.S. spends on defense but believing that that low-ball amount was sufficient. “We’re not, as conservatives, treating the Defense Department the way we treat other government spending,” Ruger noted. “Terrorism is a threat, it’s not the same kind of threat the Soviet Union posed during the Cold War.” Some of the best counterterrorism, Ruger explained, is “done through policing and police cooperation,” not regime change and/or large-footprint military excursions.

Ruger was also asked about Iran, another country whose threat ran through other events at CPAC. Bolton called on Trump to abrogate the Iran nuclear deal—the president was one of a few Republican candidates who declined to tear up the deal on day one of his administration, and his defense secretary, James Mattis, has expressed support in the U.S. continuing to make a good-faith effort to honor the deal so long as Iran does. The questioner pointed out Iran was a “theocratic regime,” and in his answer Ruger stressed that that “doesn’t necessarily matter for what the U.S. should do” because it “can’t just deal with countries that look like” the United States. “We shouldn’t think of the regime type of another state” to determine how to deal with that state, Ruger explained. “The American national interest is territorial integrity. That should be number one.”

Ruger warned about the “fatal conceit” in contemporary U.S. foreign policy that “you can control the world and achieve the results” you want, and pointed out that it was necessary in order to defend and protect the country.

“The United States is the greatest country in the world,” Ruger told the audience, “but it doesn’t mean we’re responsible for every good or bad thing that happens in the world.”

Earlier in the day, John Bolton boasted that the U.S. had created its “own world order,” saying the U.S. had to fight ISIS in a way that would not only destroy them but keep Iran from taking advantage of that. “Our worldview rests on the exceptionalism of America,” Bolton told the crowd in the main hall, “faced often with a hostile world that neither understands nor appreciates what makes America different. We are not looking to be a part of an international world order.” Bolton and his fellow-travelers just want to shape it. Ruger’s want to engage the countries of the world where it works, but avoid engagements that end up putting America’s homeland at greater risk. Bolton echoed another fear common at CPAC, about globalists looking to tell the U.S. want to do. But foreign policy realism—which focuses on America’s national interests in a narrow way and sees the rest of the world as full of potential partners—not as one giant playground for the U.S. to reshape in its image—is the surest way to protect the country from bulwarking. A world in which you don’t meddle will likely not be as interested in meddling with you.

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Sean Spicer Checking Cellphones for Leakers, Cockfighting Ring Busted in Newark, Moonlight Wins Best Picture: A.M. Links

  • President Trump is now expected to sign a new travel ban executive order on Wednesday. White House Press Secretary and Communications Director Sean Spicer is reportedly checking staffers’ cellphones in search of leakers. Philip Bilden withdrew from consideration as navy secretary. A White House spokesperson said it’s likely the president will honor a request for an investigation by the father of the Navy SEAL killed in an operation in Yemen.
  • Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and chose his opponent Michigan Rep. Keith Ellison as deputy. President Trump took to Twitter to call the race rigged.
  • The FBI interviewed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as part of a corruption probe.
  • Two men were charged in Newark after police busted a massive cockfighting ring.
  • Moonlight won Best Picture at the Academy Awards last night, with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty first mistakenly announced that La La Land won after receiving the wrong envelope. Host Jimmy Kimmel was upset President Trump didn’t livetweet the ceremony.
  • Producers of Dancing With the Stars reportedly pursued Hillary Clinton to appear on the show, as a dancing star.

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Sean Spicer Checking Cellphones for Leakers, Cockfighting Ring Busted in Newark, Moonlight Wins Best Picture: A.M. Links

  • President Trump is now expected to sign a new travel ban executive order on Wednesday. White House Press Secretary and Communications Director Sean Spicer is reportedly checking staffers’ cellphones in search of leakers. Philip Bilden withdrew from consideration as navy secretary. A White House spokesperson said it’s likely the president will honor a request for an investigation by the father of the Navy SEAL killed in an operation in Yemen.
  • Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and chose his opponent Michigan Rep. Keith Ellison as deputy. President Trump took to Twitter to call the race rigged.
  • The FBI interviewed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as part of a corruption probe.
  • Two men were charged in Newark after police busted a massive cockfighting ring.
  • Moonlight won Best Picture at the Academy Awards last night, with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty first mistakenly announced that La La Land won after receiving the wrong envelope. Host Jimmy Kimmel was upset President Trump didn’t livetweet the ceremony.
  • Producers of Dancing With the Stars reportedly pursued Hillary Clinton to appear on the show, as a dancing star.

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Interview: This Male Student Was Expelled for Raping His Girlfriend Even Though She Said He Did Nothing Wrong

NealThere was one moment during Colorado State University-Pueblo’s investigation into sophomore Grant Neal—an athlete accused, and eventually expelled, for sexually assaulting his girlfriend—that made Neal realized he was about to be railroaded.

Neal’s girlfriend, Jane Doe, never accused him of wrongdoing, and famously stated, “I’m fine and I wasn’t raped.” But CSU-Pueblo initiated an inquiry into their forbidden relationship, which violated an informal rule about physical trainers dating athletes. The university prohibited them from contacting one another during the course of the investigation, but Doe paid little heed to the no-contact order and sent Neal several supportive messages.

Neal, though, was worried her messages could get him in even more trouble, so he promptly informed Roosevelt Wilson, the university official charged with investigating the matter under Title IX—the federal state prohibiting sex-based inequality at institutions of higher education.

“it really hit me after the second meeting I had with the Title IX officer, Roosevelt Wilson,” Neal recalled during an interview with Reason.

Neal asked Wilson what he should do about the fact that Doe was still texting him.

“I said, well, she’s snapchatted me, what do you want me to do? He told me to open [the snapchat messages] and take a screenshot and send them to him, so I did that.”

This turned out to be bad advice.

“[Roosevelt’s] email response back to me was, you could be potentially be in complication with your no contact order for opening the snapchats that she sent you.

In other words, the man in charge of investigating whether Neal had raped a woman—a woman who emphatically stated that Neal had not done so—first told Neal to open emails from his girlfriend, and later told him he could be disciplined for opening them.

“That’s when I immediately knew,” said Neal. “That’s when I really knew that the situation was above my control.”

This was just one of many injustices perpetrated against Neal by his university. After denying Neal any meaningful way to demonstrate his innocence, CSU-Pueblo effectively ended his career, cancelling out his scholarships and opportunities to play football and pursue a wrestling career.

“One day I woke up and I had all my dreams in front of me and I was doing very well academically and on the football field, and then I just got a wrestling scholarship, and for that to be yanked away from me for no justifiable reason… that’s hard to cope with,” said Neal.

More than a year after being expelled, Neal has finally achieved a victory of sorts: a magistrate ruled just last week that his pending lawsuit against CSU-Pueblo should not be dismissed. Neal has filed suit against the university and its board of regents, as well as the federal Education Department. His lawsuit argues that CSU-Pueblo violated his due process rights, in part because of Title IX guidance from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights.

The magistrate was not persuaded that OCR was to blame for Neal’s situation and recommended dismissing his complaint against the feds. But the magistrate left room for him to amend this aspect of his lawsuit, and left intact his due process case against CSU-Pueblo.

When it comes to sexual assault allegations on college campuses, there are two sides to every story. Usually.

Neal’s case is unique in that Doe, the alleged, victim never made a complaint, and denied that Neal had done anything deserving of punishment.

Instead, a third party—who was an acquaintance of Doe’s—made the complaint. This person, a female student and trainer, spotted a hickey on Doe’s neck and surmised that she had been assaulted by Neal. Doe texted Neal to let him know he was likely to be questioned by university officials.

At the time, Neal had no idea his life was about to be made a living hell. In fact, he was worried Doe would be in trouble—for dating an athlete. When he went to meet up with Doe, he assumed he was going to “console” her.

“What happened then was she just seemed very visible upset so my immediate reaction was that she probably got kicked out of the athletic training program,” Neal says.

Instead, Doe began to explain to Neal that the other trainer had suggested to Dr. Richard Clark—director of the athletic training program—that Doe might have been assaulted by Clark. Clark immediately informed his wife, who was a CSU-Pueblo faculty member, and Wilson.

Doe attempted to put an end to the matter at once: Neal recorded her making the definitive statement, “I’m fine and I wasn’t raped” to university officials. But no one cared. In the eyes of the university, it was not Doe’s place to determine whether she was a victim of sexual assault—that was Wilson’s job.

“I was just under the impression that there was a big mix-up and I didn’t understand the magnitude of the situation that I was really in at that time,” says Neal.

What followed was a mockery of due process. Roosevelt met with Neal and thrice accused him of raping Doe. At this point in time, no one had suggested to Doe that he should consult a lawyer, let alone inform him of the seriousness of his situation.

The investigation continued, even though Doe did not consider herself a victim of assault and was in fact interested in continuing her relationship with Neal. She even engaged in consensual sex with him the night after the Title IX investigation began.

Incidentally, this act was accidentally witnessed by one of Neal’s roommates, and he thought it should count as evidence in his favor. But Wilson declined to interview the roommate. Wilson went so far as to lecture Neal that it was his job—not Neal’s—to decide which witnesses were worth interviewing.

“[Wilson] would deem things evidence if he wanted to,” says Neal. “He didn’t allow me to call any witnesses in my favor.”

Since Wilson wasn’t interested in any opinion that contradicted his theory of what happened, his investigative report could reach only one conclusion, even if that report contradicted the opinions of both Neal and Doe. In early December of 2015, Wilson submitted his report to Jennifer DeLuna, CSU-Pueblo’s director of diversity and inclusion. Neal was given just 24 hours to make himself available to appear before DeLuna. This meeting was, in Neal’s view, a “sham.”

“It wasn’t actually a hearing at all,” says Neal. “I was allowed to have legal counsel there if I wanted to, but the legal counsel wasn’t allowed to counsel.”

This meeting represented Neal’s first opportunity to read the report and take stock of the charges against him, and the university’s evidence. He was not allowed to make a copy of the report—all he could do was try his best to commit it to memory.

Note that the report was not an exact transcript of Wilson’s conversations with relevant witnesses: it was merely Wilson’s recollection and summarization of those conversations. According to Neal, it contained numerous factual errors. For instance, the report cited the Clarks as claiming that Doe did not consent to sex with Neal. Neal says that’s a clear mistake: Doe did not consent to unprotected sex, but enthusiastically agreed to have sex with Neal after he put on a condom.

On December 18, DeLuna informed Neal that he would be suspended for sexual misconduct until Doe finished school. Neal’s lawsuit alleges that DeLuna’s decision contained further errors: it referred to Doe as the complainant, even though Doe never made any complaint against Neal.

Neal appealed the decision. His appeal was denied.

In the months that followed, it was difficult for Neal not to succumb to depression. He made several attempts to transfer schools, but was denied admission every time. His status as a sexual misconduct violator killed his chances.

“It’s one thing for someone to tell you that your dreams aren’t attainable but to have that written to you on multiple occasions and still have to apply and try, and still to keep going forward… I can’t even begin to describe the pain,” says Neal, beginning to choke up.

He became a nutrition specialist at GNC, and draws strength from his grandmother, who reminds him to “control the controllables.” He’s currently watching his friends prepare to graduate and pursue opportunities that are no longer available to him.

It’s an experience that would make anyone bitter, though Neal says he doesn’t hold Doe responsible. How could he, when she never complained?

“I blame Roosevelt Wilson for conducting a non-impartial investigation,” he says. “I blame the university for standing by and watch a miscarriage of justice happen. I blame Title IX and the Department of Education for profiling males in a certain manner, scaring universities into making decisions that aren’t necessarily just.”

Then there are the unsettling details. Neal, like so many male students disciplined as a result of Title IX investigations, is an athlete of color. And Doe, like so many alleged victims, is a white woman. Could racism have been a factor here? Neal doesn’t want to believe so—he hates to “assume the race card”—but finds it hard to ignore.

“I want to think that that’s not true but I wouldn’t put it past them,” he says. “It’s terrible, and black, white, Latino, I would not want this to happen to anybody. I wouldn’t wish this upon my worst enemy.”

Neal pauses.

“I wouldn’t wish this upon Roosevelt Wilson, who put me through this,” he says.”

Dozens of wrongfully punished students have brought lawsuits against universities. Neal’s is novel in that it seeks to hold the federal government responsible for eroding due process rights on campuses. At Reason and elsewhere, I have made the case that the Education Department’s Title IX guidance does not comport with basic principles of justice, and should be revised.

Unfortunately, it was this aspect of Neal’s lawsuit that the magistrate contested. The magistrate’s recommendation suggests that CSU-Pueblo’s treatment of Neal was so glaringly unfair, it might be a stretch to blame the government.

And yet OCR’s Title IX guidance is at the center of so much of the college war on due process. Universities are worried that they will lose federal funding if they do not obey the dictates of OCR, which requires the use of the preponderance of the evidence standard while discouraging cross-examination. This puts many accused students in a position where they are unable to prove their innocence, because they have been deprived of the means to do so.

“One rape on the campus is horrible and I will not stand for it whatsoever,” says Neal. “But then again, one false accusation does not solve the problem. I really feel like the Title IX proceedings and things like that are a band-aid solution to a bigger problem, and I feel like it’s not going to help anything.”

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Colorado’s Governor, Who Opposed Pot Legalization in 2012, Is Ready to Defend It

Two years ago today, during his appearance at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference, Donald Trump said states should be free to legalize marijuana, but he also said, “I think it’s bad, and I feel strongly about it.” He added, “They’ve got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado, some big problems.” Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who opposed legalization in 2012, disagrees with Trump’s impression of the consequences. The president, whose press secretary last week predicted “greater enforcement” of the federal ban on marijuana in the eight states that have legalized the drug for recreational use, may be interested in what Hickenlooper had to say in an interview with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press yesterday:

Todd: If this were put on a ballot today, I know you opposed it before, but if it were put on a ballot today, would you now support it?

Hickenlooper: Well, I’m getting close. I mean, I don’t think I’m quite there yet, but we have made a lot of progress. We didn’t see a spike in teenage use. If anything, it’s come down in the last year. And we’re getting anecdotal reports of less drug dealers. I mean, if you get rid of that black market, you’ve got tax revenues to deal with, the addictions, and some of the unintended consequences of legalized marijuana, maybe this system is better than what was admittedly a pretty bad system to begin with.

Hickenlooper’s views on legalization have been evolving since 2014 based on what has actually happened in Colorado, which suggests the “big problems” that Trump perceived in 2015 may have been exaggerated by the prohibitionists who were feeding him information. Even if legalization were a disaster in Colorado, of course, that would not mean the federal government should try to stop it. The federalist approach Trump has said he favors allows a process of trial and error from which other states can learn.

According to Hickenlooper, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, prior to his confirmation, told Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) that marijuana enforcement “wasn’t worth rising to the top and becoming a priority.” That assurance is consistent with Sessions’ vague comments on the subject during a confirmation hearing last month but seems to be at odds with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s statement last week.

If Sessions does try to shut down state-licensed marijuana businesses in Colorado, it sounds like Hickenlooper is ready for a fight. “Our voters passed [legalization] 55-45,” he told Todd. “It’s in our constitution. I took a solemn oath to support our constitution….The states have a sovereignty just like the Indian tribes have a sovereignty, and just like the federal government does.” Asked if he questions whether “it’s clear that the federal government could stop you,” Hickenlooper replied, “Exactly. I don’t think it is.”

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Brickbat: Ending the Dispute

assaultA federal jury has awarded Jillian and Andrew Beck $1.6 million after the Becks sued the Las Cruces, New Mexico, police department. The jury found that an officer had used excessive force against Jillian Beck when he threw her down and slammed her face into rocks, breaking her nose and wrist, and unlawfully arrested Andrew when he tried to help his wife. The officers had responded to a dispute between the Becks and a neighbor.

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CPAC 2017 Mostly a ‘Safe Space’ for Establishment Conservatism

Sure, there were more “Make America Great Again” hats this year. And Donald Trump’s talk was now the main course, rather than an appetizer. But overwhelmingly, there was little at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to betray that the past year or two of U.S. politics had happened or anything like the “alt right” had ascended. For four days, the massive, annual gathering of right-of-center students, strategists, activists, media, and general GOP enthusiasts functioned mostly as a “safe space” for establishment conservatism and traditional Republican politics.

For one thing, there was nary a Pepe the Frog in sight, nor millennial men sporting the undercut hairstyle so popular among young neo-“deplorables.” At CPAC, the hordes of young people packing the expo-hall and after-parties could mostly be found in long-standard young-conservative trappings: navy-blue blazers and bow-ties, shorts dresses with sheer tights and high-heels, khaki pants, polo shirts, elephant-print skirts, and swag t-shirts bearing slogans like “Socialism Sucks.”

Even the Breitbart News party Friday night was rather subdued, at least by 2016 standards of absurdity. During the 2016 election, Breitbart emerged as perhaps Trump’s biggest cheerleader in the press and the media epicenter of the alt-right. At the Republican National Convention (RNC) last July, a Breitbart-funded party featured far-right figures like anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller and Dutch politician Geert Wilders backdropped by borderline-pornographic “Twinks4Trump” posters and renderings of Trump as Superman, while notorious alt-right web figures like Chuck Johnson, Roosh V, and Lauren Southern roamed the crowd. The whole place was charged with a manic, bizarre, youthful, and sometimes frightening energy.

In comparison, Breitbart’s luau-themed CPAC shindig might as well have been a think-tank book party. Journalists from publications like The Hill and The Weekly Standard mingled over cocktails with staffers from D.C. lobbying firms and policy institutes. Sweet-looking old ladies sat eating roast pig and watching smiling hula dancers. The Breitbart staffers on hand wore sensible conference clothing and refrained from shouting wildly about Sharia Law and how feminism is cancer—a notable difference from the RNC party, at which alt-right provocateur and former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos was the featured speaker. Not even the three-story boat or the arrival of Dog the Bounty Hunter could cut through the stultifying normalcy of the night’s event.

The specter of Yiannopoulos—disinvited as a CPAC keynote speaker earlier in the week over comments he made about teens and sex—loomed large in the minds of TV pundits and Twitter conversations going into the conference. Yet the only time I heard him (briefly) mentioned by CPAC speakers or attendees was during a third-day panel on campus politics. And the one mainstage speech explicitly addressing the alt-right (from the American Conservative Union’s Dan Schneider) portrayed them as a left-wing fascist movement. Meanwhile, white-nationalist of recent renown Richard Spencer showed up on CPAC’s opening morning, but the only folks who flocked to him seemed to be reporters, and within an hour he was kicked out by conference organizers with little fanfare.

The small Spencer kerfuffle aside, CPAC ’17 showed little evidence of intra-right drama. Certainly there was nothing like the CPAC “civil war” between more traditional, limited-government conservatives and Trump supporters that some in the media and conservative movement predicted. Trump’s Friday morning speech did draw an enthusiastic crowd, but the president’s presence was notably absent from the story CPAC speakers and movement leaders told about conservatism.

Even discussions of the 2016 election seemed to largely ignore Trump or his fans as unique phenomenon. Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign strategists gave a session touting the success of their data-driven strategy in Iowa, leaving out the part where this tack failed to match Trump’s polar-opposite appeal. A Friday breakout session titled “Revolt of the Deplorables: Inside Election 2016” had seemed like a promising space to find some mention of some of the unique factions, forces, and rhetoric that drove Trump’s victory; instead, it featured conservative media insiders dwelling on how the liberal press doesn’t get “real” Americans and #NeverTrump conservatives had ineffectual messaging.

At panel after panel, people’s talking points—liberals are dumb, conservative are being censored, socialism is evil, guns are good, and God Bless America—could have come direct from many CPAC stages past. Former president Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act were still a frequent target of ire (Cruz jokingly asked if we could “retroactively impeach” him), as was the supposed sensitivity of college students these days and the liberal bias in the mainstream media. Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, played a 2003 clip of him fighting with a CNN news anchor, which he also showed at CPAC 2016. Limited-government groups and criminal-justice reform advocates plowed on like Jeff Sessions isn’t attorney general and Trump doesn’t want to spend billions on a border wall.

And the fact that Republicans now dominate Washington seemed who matter little in terms of tailoring CPAC content. Speakers and panelists managed to mock Democratic voters, policies, and leaders (sometimes laudably and sometimes tediously) but failed to focus much on what conservatives could do to make things better.

This is, of course, a trap that many conferences and panels fall into (the amount of substance-lite, lean-in, lip-service-to-intersectionality feminism that plagues prominent panels on the subject could make you weep into your free Bloody Mary). And CPAC is not an academic or professional conference but an event designed to rally broad Republican bases and allow for conservative schmoozing. Some degree of rose-tinted, ra-ra rhetoric is understandable, and probably no more common this year than at conferences past.

Trump’s speech was, predictably, it’s own uniquely odd and anti-liberty phenomenon. But what’s remarkable is how the overall CPAC milieu seemed so little attuned to or affected—visually or rhetorically—by the bizarre past year in American politics, and conservative soul-searching it’s spawned. Gadsden flags may have had competition from #MAGA hats at CPAC 2017, but the basic conflation of conservative characters and factions was familiar—the pro-lifers and tax reformers, center-right think tanks and college Republicans, older men in Founding-Father cosplay, groups of frat bros in U.S. flag shorts, hardcore anti-immigration and carceral types (ProEnglish, Sheriff David Clarke), Rick Santorum-style family values crowd, libertarian-leaning millennial groups, smiling ladies at aggressively pink Enlightened Women’s Network and Future Female Leaders booths, conspiracy-spouting talk-radio hosts and perfectly polished TV pundits, gun-rights advocates, chubby middle-age couples in slogan t-shirts, and various identity groups bearing signs explicitly announcing their allegiances (“Blacks for Trump,” “Transgender Conservatives,” “Jews for Trump,” etc.),

While the Democrats spent the weekend warring over control of the Democratic National Committee and, more broadly, the future of the party’s purpose and coalition, CPAC conservatives seemed emphatically avoidant of anything that looked like big-picture conversations or redefining what it means to be Republican.

So how do we read CPAC: a sign of surprising health in the conservative political coalition, or a carefully curated and sanitized synthesis of it? A safe space for mainstream/establishment conservatives to talk without the distracting din of white nationalists, men’s rights activists, Twitter edgelords, and Ann Coulter? The conservative movement’s leaders sticking their collective heads in the sand? Tacit approval for “Trumpism,” or a rejection of it? A sign—to use two recently popular words—of resistance, or normalization?

I don’t presume to know the answers to these questions. But it does seem clear that whatever shake-ups have happened in the Republican coalition, and whatever disproportionate share of online attention and horror the “alt right” might command, much of the machinery of the conservative movement is little touched by it. They are (for better or worse) busy doing their own wonky, weird, intellectual, insane, freedom-promoting, or reactionary but long-established things. Many of these things are not simpatico with small government or libertarian ideals (as Eric Boehm details here), but such has long been the case with right-leaning gatherings, where religious and socially conservative contingents, “compassionate conservatives,” national-greatness and neocon types, etc., outnumber those there for fiscal responsibility or getting government out of our lives. Whatever CPAC 2017 did represent, it wasn’t a radical departure from the same mixed-bag of limited-government principles, frightening authoritarianism, and performative populist rhetoric that the conference has cultivated for years.

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Trump’s Big Government Ideas Challenge Conservatives Who Applaude Him

A year ago, hundreds of conservative activists planned to protest Donald Trump’s appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference by staging a walk-out in the middle of his speech.

This year, when Trump addressed CPAC, the crowd got to its feet for a different reason. They were giving a standing ovation.

Trump didn’t let the moment pass without noting it.

“Sit down, everybody, come on,” Trump said, to more cheers. “The dishonest media, they’ll say ‘he didn’t get a standing ovation.’ You know why? You know why? Because everybody stood and nobody sat.”

Trump has a complicated relationship with CPAC, the nation’s largest gathering of conservative activists, power brokers, and professional politicos. He was wildly cheered during an appearance at CPAC in 2015—an reaction, he said Friday, that helped convince him to seek the presidency—and then backed-out of an appearance at the event in 2016 during the Republican primaries amid threats of protests and walk-outs.

The crowd at CPAC has an equally complicated relationship with the new president.

“Unless he’s had a more dramatic inversion than is really apparent, he’s not really a conservative,” said Patrick Korton, who saw Trump speech Friday at CPAC. “Everybody here knows that, and everyone accepts it for what it is.”

Korton has attended dozens of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference gatherings, including the very first CPAC in 1973, when California Gov. Ronald Reagan addressed a crowd of a few hundred at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. (the massive conference has long since outgrown downtown hotels; the 44th edition of CPAC was hosted at the Gaylord Resort in nearby National Harbor, Maryland), but he acknowledges that conservatives have never dealt with someone like Trump running the show.

Still, aside from Trump’s occasional lack of decorum and his tendency to tweet too much, Korton said he’s been impressed with most of what the Trump administration has done during its first month in office. The new presidential cabinet, he said, might be more conservative than Reagan’s.

“When he does the right thing, we should be fully supportive,” Korton said. “When he does the wrong thing, we have to call him on it.”

That, of course, depends on your definition of what “the right thing” might be.

Trump’s remarks on Friday were remarkable mostly because of how un-conservative they sounded. Trump talked about expanding the power of the federal government to round up illegal immigrants, to make life more difficult for legal immigrants, to spend untold billions of dollars on the construction of an unnecessary border wall, and to spend more money on the military (though he also bemoaned how tax money is wasted by that very same military).

The president delivered his speech less than 24 hours after the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, suggested that the U.S. Department of Justice could soon take action against states that have legalized marijuana, an unnecessary escalation of the destructive war on drugs.

Those proposals aren’t just at odds with the notion of smaller government, but will require a more powerful, muscular government.

Pollster Nate Silver has postulated that today’s Republican Party is best understood as a fusion of five overlapping-but-distinct groups: the “moderates,” the libertarians, the “tea party” (those who value fiscal conservatism), the Christian right (those motivated by culture conservatism), and the Establishment.

All the elements are visible at CPAC, but the event is mostly a showcase for the tea party and the Christian right—arguably the two parts of the party coalition most important to the GOP’s post-2008 successes. It’s the type of place where you’d expect to see Ted Cruz or Rick Santorum, but where Chris Christie (firmly in the “moderate” wing of the party) would seem out of place.

That understanding of the party’s structure might need to be revised in the age of Trump, but the basic formulation is still accurate. His cult of personality has already overwhelmed the moderate wing of the party (see: Christie, Chris) and the Christian Conservative wing of the party, which embraced a man who has been thrice married and apparently holds to very few of the principles exposed by the so-called “moral majority” (see: Fallwell, Jerry, Jr).

Now, if this year’s CPAC is any indication, Trump’s cult of personality is threatening to body-snatch the fiscally conservative activist wing of the party—people energized by the tea party rallies and opposition to the budget-busting policies of Bush and Obama.

People like Albert Bryson, a self-described “independent who usually votes Republican” from Chester County, Pennsylvania who was attending his third CPAC this weekend. Bryson said he first got involved in politics after the 2008 election—he attended one of the first national tea party rallies, organized in opposition to the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

On Friday afternoon, sporting one of those unmistakable red hats, Bryson said Trump’s message on immigration resonated with him.

“We should go after the illegal immigrants,” Bryson said.

Even if it would require growing the power of government to do it, I asked him.

“Temporarily, it may need to get a little bit bigger so we can get these people out of here as quickly as possible,” he said.

Parts of the so-called establishment wing of the GOP have resisted Trump, with limited success. That leaves the libertarian wing of the party, whose most prominent voices were absent from CPAC (a deliberate move, it seems) as perhaps the only remaining portion of the GOP that can claim to be committed to the principles of limited government that formerly unified it.

Gov. Matt Bevin, of Kentucky, made the case for a “big tent” conservative movement focused on cutting regulations and handing power back to the states.

“The people need to be engaged,” Bevin told me. “The people who are on the right, the people on the left, the libertarians, the authoritarians, and everyone in between.”

But what do libertarians have to gain by fighting for the future of a party that has ignored or abandoned them?

Perhaps that’s why libertarian leaders and liberty-minded groups largely were absent from the CPAC stage. Instead, prime speaking spots went to Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, to his controversial White House adviser Steve Bannon, and (before his appearance was canceled just a day before the convention opened) to alt-right icon Milo Yiannopoulos.

As long as conservatives are applauding a president like Trump, though, it’s hard to see how libertarians will be able to fit within the Republican Party, or a gathering like CPAC. Maybe, as Korton suggests, it’s possible to find common ground on certain issues—regulatory reform, for instance—while calling out the Trump administration for expanding the scope and power of the federal government in other areas.

Still, it’s difficult to understand how a room full of people committed to advancing, in theory at least, the benefits of small government policies could stand and applaud a president with such authoritarian tendencies. Can the conservative movement be taken seriously of they are taking Trump seriously?

“It became necessary to take him seriously,” Korton says. “But not necessarily as a conservative.”

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At Independent Spirit Awards, Casey Affleck Vindicates Reason TV, Karl Marx With Victory Speech

What was it that Marx once said about history? Something about it repeating itself, “the first [time] as tragedy, then as farce.” When it comes to this season of Hollywood award shows, the stars are skipping right ahead to farce. Here’s Casey Affleck at the weekend’s pre-Oscar Independent Spirit Awards, accepting the best lead actor prize and predictably attacking President Donald Trump as only a celebrity can:

Around the 2:00 minute mark, Affleck notes that the “policies of this administration are abhorrent and they won’t last,” sentiments I don’t disagree with. “I know this sounds preachy and boring,” he continues, “and I’m preaching to the choir, but I’m just lending my little voice to chorus here…”

If that sounds familiar even hours before tonight’s Oscars, it’ because Reason TV’s Austin Bragg, Meredith Bragg, and Andrew Heaton practically prophesied the exact sentiments the day before Affleck took to the stage. Watch “Best Political Speech by an Entertainment Celebrity: Who Will Win?”:

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Peter Suderman On This Year’s Best Picture Nominees in The New York Times

The 2017 Academy Awards air tonight: La La Land, which picked up 14 nominations, is expected to win the big prize, although there’s always a chance that one of the other Best Picture nominees could pull off an upset. It’s not likely, but it’s certainly possible, especially given the broad strength of the field. The nine films up for Best Picture represent the best crop of nominees in years, and Moonlight, Arrival, and Hell or High Water, in particular, are truly excellent films. You can’t go wrong watching any of this year’s Best Picture movies.

One thing that stands out about this year’s crop, though, is the lack of sweeping epics: Sure, Arrival is a movie about a global alien invasion, but compared to most films in the category, it’s modestly budgeted (the production budget was under $50 million) and relatively small in scope. The movie mostly about a pair of scientists trying to work out an alien language. The same goes for Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, a war film with an even smaller budget that is focused on a single act of battlefield heroism.

So is the era of the Oscar epic over? In today’s New York Times, I look at how the Academy Awards has moved away from epics that attempt to capture the national character in a single sweeping film. Instead, this year’s Best Picture nominees offer a variety of individual stories that, taken together, reflect the nation’s identity — or, really, identities — as well as any single film. Indeed, I think the narrower and more personal focus, on specific individuals and cultural identities, is part of what makes this year’s crop so excellent:

From the piece:

For years, the Academy Awards reliably recognized movies that attempted to capture the sweep of the American idea — in earnest films like “Forrest Gump” and “Saving Private Ryan” as well as more scorching efforts like “There Will Be Blood” — that seemed to want to define the country, and its people, all at once.

If you wanted a shot at a best-picture Oscar in that era, an ambitious statement film that tried to tell Americans who they really are was a good bet.

But in this decade, the Oscars have turned inward, eschewing ambitious epics and grand statements about the national character in favor of anxious self-reflection, bestowing the Academy’s highest honors on films like “The Artist” and “Argo” that flattered Hollywood’s self-image. True, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, a handful of movies tried to channel the country’s mood (“The Wolf of Wall Street” and “American Hustle”) or critique its historic self-conception (“12 Years a Slave”). But by and large, Hollywood went from examining the national character to examining its own.

This year’s crop has some of that. A top contender, “La La Land,” a technically proficient love letter to old Hollywood musicals, is set in Los Angeles, of course.

Yet the nine films nominated for the Academy’s highest honor manage to present a vision not of the American identity, but of the variety of American identities — a collage of very different American lives that, taken together, provide as strong a sense of the American idea as any single movie ever has.

Read the whole thing here.

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Milo’s Strange Conservative Bedfellows: New at Reason

CPAC cancelled its invite to Milo to speak at its annual conference this week after tapes surfaced in which Milo claimed that “sex between 13-year-olds and older menMilo can be ‘life affirming.'” But Berkley College Republicans so far at least are still vowing to invite him back (along with right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones) to deliver his previous speech that got aborted when far-left radicals declared war on the campus.

But what these invitations say about Republicans is not that they are some brave anti-PC warriors scoring one for free speech, notes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia—but that they hate their liberal enemies more than they love their alleged principles. And that’s a sure-fire ticket to moral bankruptcy.

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Conservatives Made Their Bed With Milo, Now They Have to Lie In It

Milo Yiannopoulos finally went too far.

Less than three days after this lightning rod Breitbart News editor made a triumphant appearance on Bill Maher, he was dumped by the Conservative Political Action MiloConference and Simon & Schuster. Then he was forced out to resign from Breitbart. And this was all because a tape surfaced in which Yiannapoulos seemed to condone pedophilia. This was awful stuff, but it was hardly the first —and hardly the worst thing that Yiannopoulous has ever done.

That it took these pedophilia comments for conservatives to finally turn on Yiannopoulos speaks volumes about how low their movement has fallen. Yiannopoulos was a hate-peddling provocateur long before this. By inviting him to speak at universities around the country, many college Republicans apparently thought they were taking a brave stance against the forces of political correctness, and scoring one for free speech. In fact, they were discrediting their own movement by allying themselves with a vicious troll — demonstrating that they hate their enemies more than they love their alleged principles.

Republican students have a right to invite whomever they want to say whatever they want (short of a targeted call for violence) unmolested and without censorship. So if University of California, Berkeley, where Yiannopoulous’ appearance triggered riots by armed leftist hoodlums, stick to their vow to have him back (along with right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones) then so be it. Berkley is a public university and is required not just by the First Amendment but its own mission to be a broad purveyor of ideas to create a “safe space” for Yiannopoulos. And CPAC is a private gathering that can put whomever it wants on its roster — and also remove those same people.

But if Republicans have a right to invite Yiannaopoulos, others have the right to judge them for the company they keep. And Yiannopoulos is very, very bad company.

For starters, he writes – or wrote — for Breitbart, a go-to site for the alt-right movement, a loose conglomeration of long-standing nativist outfits such as VDare and FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform), and white supremacists. They all hate the left’s political correctness and multiculturalism not because it offends America’s commitment to individual rights and universalistic notions of justice, but because it comes in the way of their ethno-nationalistic project — which the site aids by peddling a constant stream of the vilest xenophobia (as I wrote here).

But Yiannopoulos is a devilishly cunning man who is not easily categorized. He has devised an elaborate straddle, serving the alt-right while hiding behind his complex identity as a gay, Catholic, partly Jewish immigrant to make fun of the left’s growing regime of intolerance.

To be sure, this regime needs attacking. It has become impossible to challenge leftist orthodoxy on race, gender, sexuality, and other issues without being dubbed a racist, sexist, and bigot. The left has made discussion of too many issues taboo and vastly narrowed the terms of discussion on those that are allowed. But if “nothing goes” in the leftist moral universe, “anything goes” in Milo’s and his fellow alt-right trolls’. And that, too, is a big problem.

Yiannopoulos wants to replace the left’s protective authoritarianism with the alt-right’s nihilistic anarchism. If the left wants to empower the state to mollycoddle minorities, Yiannopoulos and his social media warriors want free rein to viciously bait and bully minorities — and mock them if they refuse to grin and bear it. It is a profoundly degraded and dehumanized spectacle. It’s political sado-masochism.

Now, in Yiannopoulos’ appearances on campuses and elsewhere, there is often nothing particularly objectionable about him. To the contrary, he is funny, charming, knowledgeable, edgy, entertaining, and sometimes even insightful. Even his profanity-laden attacks aren’t out of line compared to what you hear from contemporary stand-up comics.

If that was all there was to Milo, you could simply shake your head at his over-the-top taunts, laugh a little, and move on. But it isn’t.

Yiannopoulos agrees with the alt-right that certain pop cultural products remain firmly the purview of white men and yield not another inch to diversity or feminizing. The first big battle on this front was the GamerGate blowup two years ago, when video-game-playing (mostly white) men unleashed a torrent of invective and abuse against female game developers who they felt were hell-bent on feminizing their products. Yiannopoulos tweeted and wrote constantly in support of the gamers, joining them in their attacks and depicting them as the real victims — a political jujitsu that he has now perfected to an art.

Yiannopoulos was later banned from Twitter over his attacks last summer on Leslie Jones, a black woman starring in the new Ghostbusters. Yiannopoulos instigated and mobilized his massive alt-right Twitter brigade — already worked up about the movie’s all-female cast — against Jones. They called her an “ape” and other terrible things. Then they created a fake Twitter account in her name and sent a series of tweets with anti-Semitic, homophobic slurs. When a distraught and bewildered Jones protested, Yiannopoulos simply berated her for playing the victim.

Yiannopoulos and his fellow alt-righters don’t just abuse leftists and their symbols. They also go after fellow right-wingers who disagree with them, especially on Trump. Milo’s former Breitbart colleague, Ben Shapiro, who quit when the site became, as he put it, “Trump’s Pravda,” recounts that when his child was born, Yiannopoulos tweeted a picture of a black baby to taunt him for being a “cuckservative.” (This is alt-right slang for a cuckolded conservative who enjoys watching his wife have sex with a black man, a metaphor for having been seduced by the left’s multiethnic vision.) Now, Shapiro is no slouch himself when it comes to fighting the PC culture. He has written books like Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth. But because he is anti-Trump and Jewish, alt-righters flood him with anti-Semitic tweets replete with references to gas chambers.

Yiannopoulos dismisses all of this with a flick of his thick artificial-blonde shock, glibly insisting that speech is not violence and most of his followers don’t actually believe what they say. They are simply doing it for kicks and to shatter taboos. That’s debatable. But what’s not is that speech affects culture and culture affects politics. Otherwise, what would be the point of zealously defending free speech? Indeed, as Andrew Breitbart, the late founder of Breitbart, used to say, “politics is downstream from culture.” And a culture where threatening minorities and dissenters with imagery from the Holocaust is tolerated will, at minimum, expand the outside limits of the inhumanity that is politically possible.

So why are conservatives cozying up to such hideousness? The best explanation they offer is that inviting someone so beyond the pale will shatter the tight boundaries drawn by political correctness and open the space for a wider airing of ideas. But the problem is that by using a stink bomb like Yiannopoulos they’ll make their own ideas malodorous. Who will take conservative praise of civility, tradition, family values, manners, honor, moderation, and dignity seriously if a 31-year-old, out-of-control adolescent is their champion?

Milo Yiannopoulos is like the Joker in Batman. He has turned chaos and nihilism into a business model for notoriety and wealth. Conservatives won’t defeat their liberal enemies by making a deal with this devil. Rather, they will validate the liberal critique of the right as a front for bigotry and prejudice, discrediting everything they claim to defend and declaring their own moral bankruptcy.

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