Students have protested the decision to stop Breitbart columnist and former student Milo Yiannopoulos from talking at their sixth form and suggested that cancelling the talk has “vindicated him”.
The technology editor of news site Breitbart News, who was one of Twitter’s most notorious trolls before he was permanently banned from the site in July, was due to speak in front of a crowd of 220 at Simon Langton Grammar School for boys in Canterbury on Tuesday.
But the school said the event had been dropped because the Department for Education’s counter-extremism unit decided to intervene over safety concerns and the threat of demonstrations at the school carried out by organised groups and members of the public.
Yiannopoulos, who attended the school but says he was expelled, is an outspoken Donald Trump supporter and describes himself as “the most fabulous supervillain on the internet” on his Facebook page. He was permanently suspended from Twitter in July following claims he had aggravated and helped lead the Twitter abuse of actor Leslie Jones.
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Yiannopoulos has been dubbed a spokesperson for the alt-right movement - a political movement which has been accused of racism, anti-Semitism and misogyny and of sharing an ideology with far-right parties such as the French National Front.
But students are displeased about the decision to bar Yiannopoulos from talking at their school and have argued it is imperative for society to showcase unpopular opinions.
The sixth-formers, who had signed up for Yiananopoulos’ speech with the permission of their parents, said they did not need to be protected from “so-called indoctrination”. They also said they wanted to tackle his views head on with “cogent and incisive" questions.
“Our goal is not to support Milo, but to pursue the truth and interrogate rhetoric,” students wrote in an open letter. “If we do not, as a society, give the unpopular opinions a chance to be expressed, we are no better than the authoritarians that our liberal democratic society despises.”
“We recognise that the Department of Education have a duty of care, and that our school would have only taken this measure if the threat to our personal safety was credible. The students of our sixth form are further alarmed that external individuals and groups with no affiliation to the school have been able to stifle the intellectual process. It is not right that people outside of our community should dictate our activities.”
The letter was signed by 221 students at the school.
Yiannopoulos himself also expressed his anger at the news he had been stopped from talking at the school.
“My old high school has been bullied into cancelling my talk on Tuesday by the “counter-extremism unit” in the UK Department of Education…” he wrote on Facebook. “Perhaps if I’d called the speech “MUSLIMS ARE AWESOME!” they’d have left us alone. Disgusted.”
The Independent was not able to clarify how many of the crowd were expected to be students or teachers at the cancelled event.