A talk by Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos at a school for boys has been cancelled after it got a call from the counter-extremism unit at the UK's Department for Education.
There was "the threat of demonstrations at the school by organised groups and members of the public," said Dr Matthew Baxter, the head teacher at Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys. The Tuesday (22 November) talk was also cancelled partly over "concerns for the security of the school site and the safety of our community."
The school in Canterbury issued a statement last week saying it invited Yiannopoulos, who claims he was expelled, to speak about "politics, the alt-right and the recent US election." The talk would go ahead they argued because the school "does not practice censorship."
Last week Yiannopoulos told Channel 4 host Cathy Newman that he delights "in offending people". He has called feminism "cancer" and has said the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality is "preoccupied with feelings first, facts later".
Writing for the right-wing website Brietbart, Yiannopoulos has become associated with the growing right-wing movement in the United States calling itself the "alt-right." One of the group's white supremacist figureheads, Richard Spencer, had his Twitter account suspended last week for violating the social media platform's terms of service.
"We want to expand white privilege and deepen it," Spencer told the BBC over the summer during the 2016 US election campaign, expressing his support for Republican candidate Donald Trump. "I do care about my people more than I care about other people," he said, pointing out he believes "an African American could never be part of my family in a sense that he's not part of this extended family that is a race."
Yiannopoulos told Newman that he wants to give the alt-right "a fair hearing" through Breitbart and described them as "a very young, vibrant, exciting new movement of Conservatives in America. They are populists, they're nationalists." The head of Breitbart, Steve Bannon, was named Trump's chief strategist the other week after he headed up the Republican's election campaign in its final months. The move has sparked protests.
Dr Baxter, who has taught religion and philosophy, underscored that all the opposition to the talk came from outside the school community. "Within 24 hours of advertising the event, more than 220 Langton sixth formers had, with parental consent, signed up for the event" he said, "and that objection to our hosting Mr Yiannopoulus came almost entirely from people with no direct connection to ... Langton."
Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys and Dr. Baxter issued a statement to IBTimesUK but did not respond to further requests for comment.
"It's not for us to ban a speaker," said a spokesperson for the Department for Education (DfE). "The decision to cancel the event was a matter for the school."
"When concerns are raised by members of the public following media coverage in advance of an event," they said, "the department would contact the school as a matter of routine to check they had considered any potential issues."
Under the The Prevent duty of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 certain authorities, like the DfE, are required to warn educators about speakers with "extremist ideas."
Yiannopoulos, who is gay, spoke out about the cancellation to the Kentish Gazette. "Who even knew the DoE had a counter-extremism unit? And that it wasn't set up to combat terrorism but rather to punish gays with the wrong opinions?" he asked. "Perhaps if I'd called my talk 'MUSLIMS ARE AWESOME!' the NUT and Department of Education would have been cool with me speaking."
NOTE: This story has been updated with comments from the Department for Education.