Milo Yiannopoulos has hit back at Glasgow University students after they launched a campaign against his nomination to be rector.
The far-right commentator, who rose to notoriety for his inflammatory, anti-immigrant views, is one of 12 names put forward for the prestigious position. He has personally accepted an invitation to take part in the election process but is still considering whether he will be attending a hustings in the Scottish city next week.
Students have voiced their opposition to the nomination of the former Breitbart editor, who has been dubbed a spokesperson for the so-called alt-right movement, and a petition demanding for him to be removed has amassed 3,400 signatures.
But Mr Yiannopoulos, who was one of Twitter’s most notorious trolls until he was permanently banned from the site after claims he helped lead the racist and sexist abuse of Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones, has condemned the letter as “pointless virtue signalling”. The term virtue signalling refers to the act of expressing opinions with the sole intention of demonstrating your moral correctness on the issue.
The controversial columnist, who is a vocal Donald Trump supporter, suggested his “close-minded” detractors were simply trying to silence him because they do not agree with him.
“My sellout college tour of the United States showed me that free thinkers need help more than ever on campus, and I’m convinced the situation is the same in the United Kingdom,” he told the Huffington Post.
“Safe space culture weakens the minds and emotional fortitude of the young. The entire point of higher education is learning, growing and confronting challenging ideas,” he added. “If a student is not equipped for debate and discussion, they may want to apply to a nearby Tesco. School isn’t for them.”
But Hollie Hallam, the Glasgow University student who launched the petition against him, told The Independent Mr Yiannopoulos’ opinions were tantamount to “hate speech” rather than free speech.
Addressing his latest statement, Ms Hallam said: “It's more of the same provocative garbage that skirts the actual reasons as to why students and the wider community don't want him here.”
“He clearly has an excess of time since having to resign from Breitbart, so it's possible that he could attend hustings,” she added.
In the wake of his controversial remarks about paedophilia, Mr Yiannopoulos has resigned from Breitbart News. The far-right publication, which is the most widely-read Conservative site in the US, was previously fronted by President Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon. Since the comments, Mr Yiannopoulos has also had a lucrative book deal with a prestigious publisher pulled and his appearance at Conservative Political Action conference dropped.
The Kent-born journalist, who has previously described Islam as a cancer and suggested transgender people are mentally ill, has hinted that he might attend the hustings next week, saying it is only one plane ride from Miami.
On Sunday, Mr Yiannopoulos claimed one visit to Glasgow would secure him the election, saying: “Currently investigating whether a trip to Glasgow is feasible. One trip from me and I'd be sure to win the election”.
Ms Hallam said a protest had been organised against Mr Yiannopoulos' nomination for the hustings next Thursday.
Nevertheless, not everyone is against the decision to shortlist him. A Facebook page titled “Milo for Rector – University of Glasgow” has garnered just over 3,000 likes. The page says: “Free speech matters, and electing Milo symbolises the end of the intolerant, authoritarian silence-everyone-who-disagrees-with-me attitude of these people. It is dangerous to our University, to our society, and frankly to our lives.”
Mr Yiannopoulos’ previous stops at universities in the US have often attracted heated protests. Last month, Berkeley University were forced to call off a talk by him after demonstrators threw smoke bombs, started fires and smashed windows. The furore prompted Mr Trump to threaten to cut the university’s federal funding.
What’s more, an event featuring Mr Yiannopoulos, who recently used a talk to publicly name and mock a transgender student, was also called off after protests erupted in January.
Students at Glasgow University will vote on whether they want Mr Yiannopoulos to be their rector on 20 March. Although the role of rector is a largely ceremonial one, the person in the position is supposed to chair the university’s court and be the voice of students among the higher tiers of the university. Candidates require the support of 10 students to get on the ballot paper.
The current rector is exiled NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Other candidates nominated this year include human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, former Liberal Democrat MP Vince Cable, PissPigGranddad, an American internet celebrity fighting with the People’s Defence Unit in Syria, and Lady Hazel Cosgrove, the first woman to be appointed a Senator of the College of Justice. Some of Mr Yiannopoulos' rival candidates have voiced their concerns about him.
Mr Ameer Ibrahim, the President of Glasgow University Students’ Representative Council, told The Independent: “We would advise that all of our students make an informed decision regarding who they will vote for in the upcoming elections.
"We highly value our student community, one which is diverse, and challenge views and ideas on a daily basis. Some important points to recognise when deciding who to vote for in this upcoming election are – who will be a strong voice at the highest level within the University, which candidate reflects the values of our University, which candidate will be approachable to all students at the University, which candidate will value our whole student community, and which candidate is best placed to represent the views of students.”