Whither Milo? Or the Fall and Fall of Revilo P. Oliver

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Milo Yiannopoulos has been thrown from the clown car that is the Alt-Right. Often called a “provocateur” (I prefer “professional douchecanoe”), Milo has had a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. He’d carved out a nice little living for himself peddling racism, sexism, tran/homo phobia,  and various other hates on the lecture circuit.That was fine with the Alt-Right. No problems there. But once he seemed to endorse pedophilia, that was a bridge too far for them. Simon & Schuster cancelled his book contract (but it appears he keeps the non-refundable $250,000 advance). He was going to be the keynote speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference  (CPAC), but now that’s off. And, facing a mass walkoff of Breitbart’s writers, Milo has been forced resign from his gig there. In the space of about 36 hours, he lost it all.

There are lots of questions we could ask about this whole thing.  Given all the horrible things Milo has said  why does the Right finally draw the line here? What happened to the Right’s defense of free speech?  Given his obviously damaged personality should we empathize with him? What will happen to his followers? Should I send him a care package? Good questions all. The one I’m interested in is: Has Milo reached minute 16? That is to say, have we seen the last of of him or is he going to land on his feet, find new associates, and carry on being the douchecanoe he has always been? To get an idea of the possible trajectory for Milo, I thought we could explore the career of Revilo P. Oliver (1908-1994), a major intellectual figure of the extreme right in the post-World War II United States. Like Milo Oliver was ejected from his rightwing associations and writing venues. Yet Oliver persevered, after a fashion.

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Revilo Oliver (he claimed he was the fifth generation of first-born Oliver males to sport the first name, a palindrome of the last name), was a professor of Classics at the University of Illinois. When William F. Buckley, Jr. founded National Review in 1955 he meant it to be a new voice of respectable conservatism. Paul Gottfreid, who invented the term “Alt-Right” claims that Oliver was best man at Buckley’s wedding, but I haven’t actually confirmed that with any source I’d trust.¹ However, Oliver often appeared in its pages, most often reviewing books or  publishing other short pieces. So he began his political career firmly in the respectable right.

In 1958, Buckley was dismayed to find that a number of his writers were also on the governing board of the John Birch Society (JBS). The JBS was formed by candy manufacturer, Robert Welch who was deeply concerned by the International Communist Conspiracy. Most of the founding Council of the JBS, as listed in The Blue Book  (the manifesto that launched the Society), were businessmen. There were eighteen businessmen, one of which was Fred Koch, father of the infamous Koch brothers who are still deeply involved in conservative politics. Oliver was the lone academic on the Council.

As D.J. Mulloy, author of the best history we have of the JBS, shows, it is not clear that Buckley’s wariness of the JBS was because he feared the competition or if he had genuine concerns about the over-the-top conspiratorial rhetoric of the JBS. What we do know is that by 1962, Buckley made clear that the the JBS was hurting the conservative cause more than helping it because of their outrageous claims about the International Communist Conspiracy.

Buckley’s excommunication of the JBS made little impact on Oliver. By then he had switched from National Review to  the JBS’s official house organ, American Opinion. It was there that he published his essay on the JFK assassination, “Marksmanship in Dallas” that asserted that Oswald was an agent of the Soviets. Oliver actually gave testimony to the Warren Commission on his theory, although the final report they issued on the assassination did not agree with him. All of this was in 1964.

Two years later, in 1966, Oliver was out of the JBS, just as he was off of the National Review roster earlier. What exactly happened is unclear: on the one hand Oliver wrote that he had been “deceived” by Welch and the JBS was not as it had appeared to be. On the other hand, Oliver’s departure quickly followed an antisemitic speech he had given and, although the JBS certainly believed in the International Communist Conspiracy, it did not believe in the JEWISH International Communist Conspiracy.  As Mulloy noted, most figures in the Amrerican antisemitic right “passed through” the JBS; that is to say, they joined but then either left voluntarily or were forced out.

After the JBS, Oliver joined forces with William Peirce. Peirce had left the JBS the same year Oliver had to join forces with George Lincoln Rockwell, the leader of the American Nazi Party. After Rockwell’s murder in 1967, Peirce transformed “Youth for Wallace,” a group of young people who had worked on the George Wallace 1968 campaign for President. Wallace carried five Deep South states in 1968 and, under Pierce’s leadership, Youth for Wallace was transformed into the National Youth Alliance and eventually to the National Alliance. Oliver was fully a part of these efforts, making a recruiting film for the group. Pierce is best remembered today for providing the inspiration for Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City in 1998, which killed 168 people. As for Oliver, he spent the rest of his days writing for a neo-Nazi publication called Liberty Bell, turning out hundreds of morose articles about the Jewish control of our world.  He committed suicide in 1994, but a lot of his writings are lovingly preserved online by his followers.

What does the story of Revilo Pendelton Oliver do to answer our question, “whither Milo”? Can Milo find a group to take him in as happened for Oliver in his descent further and further down the hierarchy of respectability? After I’ve written all this, I think I have to answer: “probably not” (hey, not everything I write is a home run, ok?)  There are several reasons for my answer.

First, all indications are that Milo doesn’t seek anything but attention. He may or may not believe in the things he says. I don’t really care. What seems clear, however, is that he wants more than anything is for people to affirm his importance.  If he would have spoken out for leftist causes, that would not have been possible. He lacks the intellect to give any new insights into the LGBT experience from that point of view. Ah, but by making an alliance with the Alt-Right, he suddenly becomes a novelty and crowds gather to applaud or condemn him (he seemed ok with either). In the end Milo seemed all foam and no beer.  Oliver, on the other hand, firmly believed in what he was saying and was willing to walk away from more prestigious forums in order to put forth what he saw as the truth about the International Jewish Conspiracy. I mean, say what you want about the tenants of National Socialism, dude.  At least its an ethos. In Oliver’s heart there was a twisted, hateful ideology that drove him further and further out of the spotlight. In Milo’s heart, in my opinion, is nothing but a desperate need for attention.

Second, the structure of the Right has change quite a bit since the 1960s. The lines between “respectable” and “marginal” right are not as clear as they once were. Milo wrote for Breitbart, pretty near the bottom of respectability, but Steve Bannon, Breitbart’s leader is one of the most powerful men in government. CPAC, which is sure it doesn’t want Milo, has no idea where to draw the line between the “real” Right and the Alt-Right. The Alt-Right is really a bunch of leftists!! Richard Spencer? He’s Alt-Right and not welcome here!  Steve Bannon, who claimed to make Breitbart into the “voice of the Alt-Right? He’s not Alt-Right at all! Which means, Milo has nowhere to go since the Right doesn’t really know where anything is.

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There is one other option. What if Milo says he’s really, really sorry! What if he promises to be a good boy from now on?  Maybe after some time has passed, he can resume his lecture tour again? I don’t see this happening: the Right has always loved to falsely equate homosexuality and pedophilia and I doubt they can resist the opportunity to hold Milo up as proof of the concept. So, if we are lucky, Milo will soon be gone from the national stage. Here’s hoping.

¹ Why don’t I trust Gottfried?  Well, besides the obvious reasons, he footnotes this claim in his piece with two citations.  One citation is to Oliver’s autobiography  which does not mention Buckley’s wedding. The second citation is to this Alt-Right post which also does not mention Buckley’s wedding. If I find a good source on the claim, I’ll let you know. Don’t hold your breath.

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4 thoughts on “Whither Milo? Or the Fall and Fall of Revilo P. Oliver

  1. Pingback: Sebastian Gorka and the Tale of the Subversive Hungarians | Fardels Bear

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