BUDAPEST—Earlier this week, former Breitbart writer and professional provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos told The Daily Beast he “can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.”
Yiannopoulos, who is British, had been responding to questions about his membership in the flailing United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). And in the aftermath of the shotgun attack at the Annapolis Capital Gazette, which left five people dead, Yiannopoulos immediately struck a defensive stance. He was just joking, he wrote on Facebook. His call for “vigilante death squads,” sent to the Observer as well as The Daily Beast was “a troll,” a “standard response,” and “a way of saying F—k off.” There is no evidence that the alleged shooter in Annapolis had any knowledge of them.
But here in Budapest, an alleged link between Yiannopoulos and violence against journalists is now a familiar story, albeit one unreported in English-language media. After he made a speech here last month, two court cases were filed alleging that an activist-journalist who tried to cover the event was thrown out violently.
Video footage shows Atilla Vajnai, editor of the left-wing news site A Mi Idonk, Hungarian for “Our Time,” being forcefully expelled from the Yiannopoulos event before it even began.
Vajnai told The Daily Beast in an interview that he promptly registered to attend the May 25 event, organized by the Public Foundation for the Research of Central and European History and Society (PFRCEHS), a publicly funded institute.
The editor hoped to cover what Yiannopoulos, who has a history of fraternizing with the white nationalist alt-right, would say in Hungary, a country with an anti-immigrant, illiberal government that often is criticized by other members of the European Union and rights groups.
Yiannopoulos originally was invited to speak at a government-funded event in January. His name was removed from the list of speakers after it caused international controversies.
Then, the right-wing nationalist Fidesz party won an absolute parliamentary majority in April elections with 47 percent of the vote. Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose anti-immigrant policies have made him a hero to sections of the white nationalist alt-right, retained his office and in that triumphant atmosphere Yiannopoulos’ new event was made public.
Vajnai said that five days after asking for a media pass, he was informed that the event was fully booked. Still, he went to Yiannopoulos’ speech and “tried to enter.”
It didn’t go well. Vajnai claimed that after asking to speak to the chief of communications, “four or five muscle-brained men approached me,” adding with conscious irony, “I realized they weren’t from the communications team.”
Vajnai said they weren’t the brightest men with whom he’d held a conversation: “Their Hungarian was worse than my English. They only used about 20 or 30 words and told me to ‘go out.’”
Their orders went unheeded, and it seems they weren’t pleased with Vajnai’s refusal.
“They pushed me down the escalator,” Vajnai explained matter-of-factly.
A video, taken by a cameraman at the scene who asked that his name not be used, shows Vajnai speaking with security guards, who then grab the camera, causing it to cut.
When the video returns, Vajnai is sprawled out on the escalator with security guards flanking him as the moving staircase descends. The cameraman can be heard shouting at security guards to release him as they push him towards the exit.
The fall allegedly caused bodily injury. During the interview with The Daily Beast, Vajnai lifted his shirt to show a large, faded but still visible bruise on his lower back.
Vajnai immediately contacted police, and said that after he contacted them a few days later for information about the investigation they told him that two criminal cases had been sent to the courts: one for bodily injury and another for harm to his dignity due to the public nature of the event.
The Daily Beast contacted the Budapest police for comment, who directed the request to the Central District Court of Pest. (Budapest was historically two cities, united in 1873, and many offices of local government maintain the distinction.)
The court did not reply to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment regarding the cases.
When asked about the events surrounding Vajnai’s expulsion (prior to the Capital Gazette incident), Yiannopoulos eschewed his newly minted “standard response,” saying in an email, “I am a global celebrity and free speech icon. My event in Budapest was oversubscribed by 200% within hours of going online. Hardly surprising a few people got turned away.”
For Vajnai, who feels being “turned away” doesn’t quite describe his experience at the event, the altercation also raised questions about why the PFRCEHS would hire Valton Security for the event given the previous complaints about violence.
But Valton Security has a good reputation, at least with the Hungarian government.
Anita Komuves of Atlatszo, a Hungarian journalism watchdog organization, told The Daily Beast that Valton Security has been the “favorite” security firm of Fidesz since the party first won elections in 2010.
Komuves said the firm has provided security at a number of state events, as well as political events for Fidesz.
According to Hungary’s public tender database, Valton Security has won 49 tenders to provide security, surveillance and other services for national holiday celebrations, state museums and stadiums and other tasks since Fidesz came to power. Prior to that, from 2006 to 2009, the company was awarded four public contracts.
Valton Security did not reply to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on the altercation at the Yiannopoulos event, or the court cases regarding harm to Vajnai’s body and dignity.
Yiannopoulos didn’t appear to be concerned about Vajnai, his cameraman, or any possible damage to his standing as a “free speech icon.”
“You can imagine how I feel about the ‘damage to dignity’ of a few left-wing bloggers,” he concluded in his emailed response.
Reflecting on the shooting in Annapolis, Vajnai said he hadn’t heard any evidence of the Capital Gazette shooter being influenced by Yiannopoulos’ comments, but still called him a “crazy person” for saying them.
Vajnai expressed solidarity with the journalists affected by the horrendous shooting, saying they should be respected. The media, even “left-wing bloggers,” is the “most effective weapon against dictatorship,” he concluded.