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Milo Yiannopoulos’ crusade fizzles in California, so he heads to Australia

Conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos speaks to a crowd at Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. (Christina House/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

On Oct. 31, the campus of California State, Fullerton was swept up in a familiar cycle.

There were protests, pepper spray and arrests on campus.

Inside the Titan Student Union, around 800 paying ticket-holders listened to extreme-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos as he held court from behind a lectern.

As he hit his usual talking points about political correctness, identity politics and the latest wave of sexual harassment stories, a coffin with “Hollywood” spelled out inside stood beside him.

Fullerton was supposed to be just one stop in what Yiannopoulos billed as a major national tour in which he would bring hard-right attitude to liberal campuses and other venues.


But the tour has largely fizzled. Of the at least eight planned events nationally in October and November, Fullerton was the only one on a college campus that ended up happening.

A spokeswoman for the writer’s company disputed these numbers but declined to offer more details about where else he may have spoken.

Still, there are many reasons for the deflation of Miloland.

The British transplant has become too politically toxic to some, and he recently lost a major financial backer — who also happened to be a prominent Trump supporter and financial backer of Yiannopoulos’ former employer Breitbart.

Some venues backed out because of security concerns, worried about violence that might resemble what followed a planned event in Berkeley earlier this year. For example, San Diego State officials said a previously scheduled church service ended just an hour before Yiannopoulos was to speak. That did not give police enough time to use bomb-sniffing dogs to secure the 200,000-square-foot Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union, they said.

But the way Yiannopoulos structures how he’s paid for events has also emerged as a challenge.

Experts in the field of booking speakers say Yiannopoulos’ speaking demands are unusual in that he doesn’t ask for upfront fees, but instead requires a cut of ticket sales — something akin to what celebrities including musicians and comedians will sometimes demand.

In a texted response, Yiannopoulos said: “We are only rewarded if we fill the hall. It’s a model only stars can survive on….We don’t intend to offer further comment to hostile media.”

In contrast to Yiannopoulos’ speaking contracts, Ann Coulter asks for a $35,000 upfront fee plus first-class travel and expenses. Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asks $40,500 plus a first-class ticket. And former press secretary Sean Spicer asks for $50,000 plus first-class travel and expenses for two. (These figures come from responses to speaker fee inquiries obtained by the Los Angeles Times. None of the agents of the aforementioned speakers responded to a request for comment.)

David Lavin, president of an agency that books speakers, said that Yiannopoulos’ arrangement is perfectly above-board but uncommon for political speakers.

“It reminds me of how an emerging band gets paid for playing a local event. It’s unique. The bar gets the local alcohol sales and the band gets the door,” he said.

Steven Barclay, who represents authors such as David Sedaris and Jonathan Franzen, said the fact that Yiannopoulos doesn’t ask for upfront speaking fees is risky because if people don’t buy tickets the speaking engagement will be a financial bust.

Cal State Fullerton was a rare example of a university where the booking of Yiannopoulos went off without a hitch.

Amanda McGuire, president of the university’s College Republicans, said her organization first reached out to Yiannopoulos’ team in the spring. At first, his team asked that the auditorium hold at least 1,000 people and that it would take the first $20,000, while the College Republicans could keep the rest, she said.

The organization responded that no venue was big enough on campus to allow them to make that much money on ticket sales. The writer’s team then wanted 80 percent of net profits from the event, and McGuire’s team was able to negotiate that down to 70 percent of net profits from ticket sales, she said.

“For Milo, that’s what he needs to make sure that he gets all his expenses covered,” she said. “It’s already hard enough to get him on campus.”

It cost the College Republicans $10,000 to book and secure the venue — meaning that Yiannopoulos’ estimated cut of the profits from the sold-out show would have been around $12,600, according to a Times analysis.

Merchandise and VIP Ticket packages were also sold — potentially driving up revenues.

William Becker, an attorney who is president of Freedom X, an organization tasked with protecting the viewpoints of conservatives, helped McGuire with the event. Becker had also similarly assisted College Republicans at Cal State Bakersfield.

But unlike Fullerton, Bakersfield proved a bust for Yiannopoulos.

In order to use the Icardo Center — the largest campus venue — a speaker can either sell tickets to just students (who can purchase additional tickets for guests) or make the event free and open to the public.

“Your client’s request to sell tickets for an event open to the general public is not permitted by University policy,” Bakersfield’s General Counsel Chelsea Epps wrote in a long letter to Becker in September explaining the school’s policy.

Since Yiannopoulos wanted to sell tickets and demanded that the event be open to the public and not just students, this made accommodating the firebrand impossible.

“Had the (College Republicans) restricted it to students they wouldn’t have been able to come up with enough revenue,” said Becker. “There is no doubt that Milo’s contract terms made it difficult.”

Members of the school’s College Republicans chapter didn’t respond to requests for comment, but Becker said there was “no rationale” behind this policy and that it seemed to be selectively used to prevent a controversial speaker with outspoken views — which many view as racist — from coming to campus.

A spokesman for the school said the policy was meant to “reflect the belief that university facilities should primarily be used for academic or student-centered purposes and not commercial purposes, which is consistent with the mission of a public university.”

Yiannopoulos declined to comment on how his team arranged the talks.

“You don’t need to speculate about my motives or business model. You can just report the facts,” Yiannopoulos said in a text a few days before his speech at Cal State Fullerton.

Alexander Macris — the CEO of Yiannopoulos’ company Milo Inc. — said: “Rather than bleeding underfunded conservative student groups dry with massive speaking fees … we have decided to charge for tickets instead and strike a revenue sharing deal with the groups who host us.”

These booking struggles are now the least of Yiannopoulos’ problems.

A BuzzFeed article in October examined Yiannopoulos’ relationship with white supremacists while he worked as a writer for the conservative web site Breitbart.

In November, his largest financial benefactor — Republican mega-donor Robert Mercer, who helped propel President Donald Trump to victory — denounced him and cut ties with Milo Inc., and sold his stake in Breitbart.

“In my opinion, actions of and statements by Mr. Yiannopoulos have caused pain and divisiveness undermining the open and productive discourse that I had hoped to facilitate,” Mercer said in a statement.

“I was mistaken to have supported him.”

There has been one bright spot for the personality — who also recently got married. Yiannopoulos has found a more receptive audience in Australia, where he’s scheduled to host several shows early this month.

Still, this leg of his tour won’t come without controversy because the 33-year-old has been invited to hold an event at the country’s parliament.

This has prompted an uproar, with one local politician calling for it to be canceled, tweeting: “We should not be granting a forum to someone who makes a living by peddling racist, sexist and abusive views.”

For his part, Yiannopoulos Instagrammed a photo of himself on a plane this week with the caption: “FIRST STOP: SYDNEY”


© 2017 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.