In an unusual pairing, the American Civil Liberties Union will defend firebrand and far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos after advertisements promoting his new book were taken down by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA).
"The ACLU, ACLU of D.C., and ACLU of Virginia are teaming up to represent a diverse group of plaintiffs whose ads were all branded as too hot for transit," the ACLU wrote in a recent blog post explaining the decision. The group of plaintiffs includes "Carafem, a health care network that specializes in getting women access to birth control and medication abortion; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); and Milo Worldwide LLC — the corporate entity of provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos," the ACLU explained.
The organization acknowledged that while "these plaintiffs have nothing in common politically," the right to speak and to express oneself freely "rise and fall together — whether left, right, pro-choice, anti-choice, vegan, carnivore, or none of the above." The organization added that it "did not take this decision lightly."
Advertisements from the ACLU, Carafem and PETA were all removed because the WMATA's advertising policies "forbid, among many other things, advertisements 'intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions' or 'intended to influence public policy,'" the ACLU wrote.
After Yiannopoulos' advertisements were originally accepted and displayed they were removed after riders began to complain about Yiannopoulos being allowed to advertise his book. The ACLU argued that "by rejecting these ads and accepting ads from gambling casinos, military contractors, and internet sex apps, WMATA showed just how subjective its ban is."
"Even more frightening," the ACLU added, "WMATA’s policy is an attempt to silence anyone who tries to make you think. Any one of these advertisements, had it passed WMATA’s censor, would have been the subject of someone’s outraged call to WMATA."
However, one staff attorney from the ACLU who defended Chelsea Manning disagreed with his organization's decision to defend "that horrible person" Yiannopoulos.
"The ACLU has a long history of representing despicable people in the service of protecting valuable First Amendment principles and in some cases I support decisions that have been made and in other cases I do not," Chase Strangio wrote in a statement posted to Twitter. "Here I do not."
Users on Twitter had some mixed reactions to the news.