If you haven’t already read Laurie Penny’s brilliant and unnerving account of her surreal evening as Milo Yiannopoulos’ guest at the Gays for Trump shindig he held in Cleveland earlier this week, stop whatever you’re doing and read it now. Then come back and discuss.
If you need more persuasion: It’s a sharp and scary analysis of “how trolls took the wheel of the clown car of modern politics,” as Penny puts it, and it’s full of weird details about the event and Penny’s strange non-relationship with Milo, whom she describes as “a charming devil and one of the worst people I know” and someone she simply can’t convince she’s not actually friends with.
Perhaps the oddest part of Penny’s piece, though, is her description of her encounter with a fellow we all know too well: Roosh Valizadeh, whom she describes all too accurately as a “headline-hunting nano-celebrity in the world of ritualised internet misogyny.”
“He asks me what I’m doing here,” Penny writes. “I ask him the same question.”
It’s a good question, given that Roosh is a raging homophobe who bans gays from commenting on his sites.
The interaction that follows is the most surreal episode in a deeply surreal evening. Roosh is tall and well-built and actually rather good-looking for, you know, a monster. I have opportunity to observe this because he puts himself right up in my personal space, blocking my view of the room with his T-shirt, and proceeds, messily and at length, to tell me what my problem is.
Number one: my haircut, and he’s telling me this as a man, makes my face look round. This is absolutely true. Number two: I seek to destroy the nuclear family, and disturb traditional relationships between men and women. This is also true, although I remind him that the nuclear family as it is currently conceived is actually a fairly recent social format. He insists that it’s thousands of years old, and asks me if I truly believe that it’s right for gay men to be able to adopt children. I tell him that I do. He appears as flummoxed by this as I do by his presence at what is supposed to be a party to celebrate Gay republicans. He’s here for the same reason I am: Milo invited him.
For what it’s worth, I think Penny overstates Milo’s “weaponised insincerity.” He’s certainly a cynical enough opportunist, who jumped aboard GamerGate and then on the alt-right car of the Trump Train not because he gave a shit about any of the alleged issues involved but in order to promote himself. But he’s hardly the boy with the “fewest f*cks to give.” He actually gives a lot of f*cks, at least about himself. Like most narcissists, he’s acutely sensitive to slights and lashes out at anyone who pierces his vanity — much like his adopted “daddy” Trump.
But if you want to know how we got to this weird place we’re in now, Penny’s piece offers some invaluable insights.