On occasion, my short career in journalism has taken me to some truly fucked up places. But the worst thing I’ve seen is not the rotting corpses who have lost limbs to hungry dogs in Iraq. The worst thing I’ve ever seen is a crowd of people in an auditorium laugh like jackals at the kind of shit they couldn’t whisper in public. The kind of things they’ll tell you—no photos, of course—is an affirmation of free speech. They cackle and they hoot and they make a big scene in the safety of the quiet, dark room where the hint of “fuck off Nazi, fuck off” can only just be heard outside. When Milo comes out to the Terminator 2 theme music, leather jacketed, wearing ray-bans, with pyrotechnics and applause, you feel like laughing too. How the hell did we get here? Where the hell is “here?” I guess I wanted to find out, so I asked some attendees what brought them.
Matthew and Naomi
VICE: What about Milo interests you?
Matthew: He stands for free speech and the role of the trickster he’s playing in society today.
Is trickster the right way to put it?
Yeah of course.
Do you believe everything he says? Or do you reckon he’s just here to stir things up a little bit?
Oh, he 100 percent says stuff to stir things up a little bit. I mean, he obviously has that side of him where he’s obviously going to play the entertainer to cause people to come, but essentially that’s to cause people to speak and get the message out.
Naomi: I think he fulfils the role of trickster and court jester, very well. I think it’s an important role in society with what’s happening at the moment, which is basically the beginnings of communism in Australia, and the surpassing of free speech. So it doesn’t mean everyone here agrees with everything he says, but free speech is important to get to the truth.
What don’t you agree with that he says?
Matthew: Obviously I don’t think all Muslims should be kicked out of Australia, but I understand as a gay person he doesn’t have a very favourable position on Muslims.
Naomi: Yeah, it would be a whole book of things I don’t agree with. What he says about fat people is one of them because it’s a very inflammatory remark, it’s a very blanket-y statement. But I’m also open minded enough to appreciate the comments he makes and still have a laugh.
You think any of that might apply to other groups that he talks about?
Naomi: Yeah, of course.
And so, do you think that there is an inherent problem saying things just to be inflammatory? What do you think the point is?
I think that question is insinuating that people can’t think for themselves though. People are smart, they have a brain to reason, and I think he’s part of that, helping people to reason and think for themselves. If you’re just going to be listening to someone, people, who have the same opinion as you, start thinking for yourself, that’s the whole point of free speech.
What’s brought you here tonight to see Milo?
I want to hear the other side. We’ve always heard the narrative of the left.
We’ve got Rupert Murdoch running half or more of the papers in the country, columnists like Andrew Bolt, and Mark Latham. Do you think we’re getting enough right wing opimions?
I would say to that, the people who you just mentioned, although they are in Australia, they don’t have a big following.
What do you think about Milo’s recent comments about Muslims being expelled from Australia?
Look, I agree with it, on the level that when you come to Australia, you need to be prepared to take in Australian values and things like that. Assimilate, more or less. If they’re going to come in and want to change things, especially with like Sharia and stuff, that’s something that I have to take notice of more-so as a gay man. I know there are definitely radicals within Islam that would want to see me dead. You could say the same things about hardcore Christians, I know that. But the thing is, I’ve grown up here my whole life, I’ve never had a problem with Christians.
Do you think most people in this room would accept you as a gay man?
I don’t care. It doesn’t bother me. And that’s just the thing, at my age and as a gay man, you have to get to a certain stage where you just don’t care.
What about the young gay men and women in the country?
Well I would say to them you have to get a backbone. You can’t be constantly worrying about what other people think. Say 90 percent here didn’t like me—it didn’t stop me coming did it? It doesn’t bother me. I’m exercising my right and freedom to come here as well, as they are. I know for a fact that I probably wouldn’t agree with a lot of people here, particularly on the gay side of issues, but that’s fine.
So, Deb, you were telling me you want to be want to be Milo’s mum? Why?
Because I’d be very proud to have a son who believed in that and spoke his mind on what he believed in. Absolutely. I brought my own son up exactly like that.
What about his reputation for divisiveness?
I think it’s a fucking tragedy these police have to be here, just for speaking out about what you believe in and causing riots and stuff and getting violent just because you don’t like opinions and that’s an absolute disgrace.
Do you think the things that Milo says are intentionally divisive, and that might be the problem?
To some people. Some things he does, yeah. Years ago all we had was to worry about was what church you attended… [and] who you voted for. Now you got to worry about everything you damn well say. Everything.
Do you think he’s intentionally insulting to other groups? Do you think that can really be the basis of a free speech movement?
It’s a bit of shock value, bit of people skins so thin these days, it’s just, yeah, nah, he says some things that I think that are…
What are some of the things he says that you don’t agree with?
Oh look. I dunno. I’m not going say that, on or off the record. He doesn’t offend me very much.
But he offends you a little bit, or shocks you a little bit?
Nah, he makes me laugh.
Zack, 19, Vivian 18
So you’re both big fans of Milo?
Vivian: I don’t agree with him on everything. But I think he puts views in an entertaining manner.
This is a question I keep asking. Everyone tonight has said “I don’t agree with him on everything.” What is it that you don’t agree with him on exactly?
Vivian: What I mean is I don’t present my views exactly the same way he does. But fundamentally my views align with him for the most part. And when I say I don’t agree with him on everything, I mean I’m not going to be as flamboyant about it as he is.
Zack: I definitely think it’s important about how he presents it, how outrageous, how flamboyant it is, because it catches attention. What it does is catches the youth’s attention who otherwise wouldn’t be into politics and just get force fed the leftist propaganda that is what is out in the world today.
Do you think we’re being force-fed leftist propaganda? I look at who owns the newspapers, who owns the TV stations. Really?
Zack: To an extent. At work we have a lot of newspapers. We have Herald Sun, The Age and I forget the other one. But out of those three, the majority are leftist newspapers. Leftist newspapers being Trump-hating newspapers, Labor supporting newspapers, etcetera. Y’know, they support a lot of leftist ideals and that’s just what I see in the majority of the news. Vivian: What people mean by that is, there are leftist views being presented from an unbiased perspective, they claim to be centrist and people follow it expecting it to be the “right opinion."
Zack: Everyone thinks it’s morally acceptable to believe in leftist principles, and I just disagree.