Aug 2, 2022 • 11M

Chapter 5, Part 5: Princeton

In a strange twist on "cancel culture," Martin Shkreli started getting invited to speak at universities...mostly because he was canceled. The appearances didn't always go smoothly.

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My experiences uncovering the story of, and falling in love with, Martin Shkreli.
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Princeton University’s Blair Hall.
Princeton University’s Blair Hall.

In a strange twist after Martin Shkreli became infamous, first for his drug pricing tactics as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, then for his arrest on securities fraud charges and then his social media posts, students started inviting him to give talks at college campuses. 

Although he had been branded “the most hated man in America,” or maybe because of that, students who were interested in business, science or right-wing politics often were intrigued by his story and his radioactive public persona. They wanted to meet him. And he agreed to give a few of those talks for free.

It didn’t always go smoothly.

In January 2017, he attempted a joint appearance at the University of California-Davis with openly gay, alt-right firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos. But the event ended up canceled because of rowdy protests that both the campus police and their hosts, the College Republicans, believed were on the verge of turning violent. Martin briefly attempted to talk to the protestors outside the venue, but he was escorted — or possibly shoved — back in, though not before someone reportedly threw dog poop at him. (He claimed that all that landed on him was a fist full of leaves.)

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Martin had mixed feelings about then-Breitbart editor Yiannopoulos, who’d been sympathetic toward him when much of the rest of the media turned decidedly unfriendly. While both men agreed about what they termed freedom of speech — especially the freedom to shock and offend so-called “social justice warriors” with few consequences — Martin did not ascribe to Yiannopoulous’s maybe-ironic-maybe-sincere promotion of neo-Naziism, white supremacy, and other forms of bigotry. 

In a livestream video in 2016 that was unfortunately deleted by YouTube, but which I watched in its entirety, Martin delivered a lengthy sermon to his followers condemning Yiannopoulos for instigating a hateful and racist Twitter dogpile against Black comedian Leslie Jones (prompted by the release of the all-woman “Ghostbusters” reboot, which she starred in). That attack led to Yiannopoulos getting kicked off Twitter. (It didn’t stop Martin from going to UC-Davis with him, however.)

In February 2017, at Harvard, where Martin had been invited by the Financial Analysts Club, protestors gathered outside the building where he was supposed to speak. And the event was delayed by someone pulling the fire alarm. “Let’s talk about how we’re going to make money off of the less fortunate,” one audience member, who was filming the speech, said to himself by way of critique. 

And on April 28, 2017, Martin Shkreli was at Princeton. It was his second attempt…

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