[Marxism] The Far Right’s ‘New Offensive Against Academia’

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jan 12 07:22:15 MST 2017


Chronicle of Higher Education
The Far Right’s ‘New Offensive Against Academia’
By Goldie Blumenstyk

“What’s really, really terrifying is that organized white-supremacist 
groups organized a campaign, and that campaign pressured the university 
into acting.”

George Ciccariello-­Maher, an associate professor of politics and global 
studies at Drexel University, says he was being satirical when on 
December 24 he posted on Twitter: "All I Want for Christmas is White 
Genocide."

A scholar of revolutionary movements and a self-described social 
activist, Mr. Ciccariello-Maher is no stranger to Twitter furors. But he 
says the internet maelstrom that quickly engulfed him, his friends and 
family, and his university reflects "a new offensive against academia" 
by far-right and neo-Nazi groups.

"White genocide" is a term invoked by hate groups and white supremacists 
against interracial marriage and racial-diversity efforts. Mr. 
Ciccariello-­Maher says many of those who reported on his tweet either 
deliberately or out of ignorance failed to explain that, or to indicate 
that his tweet was mocking the concept.

Drexel itself was among those that appeared to miss the context. In the 
first of two statements, the university actually condemned the 
professor’s comment as "utterly reprehensible" and "deeply disturbing." 
A few days later the university acknowledged Mr. Ciccariello-Maher’s 
rights to free speech but reiterated that his tweets did not represent 
Drexel’s values. Platforms like Twitter, the statement said, are 
"limited in their ability to communicate satire, irony, and context, 
especially when referencing a horror like genocide." Drexel’s response, 
the professor counters, "put wind in the sails of fascist groups."

Mr. Ciccariello-Maher spoke with The Chronicle about what had prompted 
his tweet and how academe must brace itself for the fight of its life.

Q: So, it’s Christmas Eve, you’re sitting with your family, getting 
ready for the holiday. What set you off?

A: My tweet was a response to the virulent, racist backlash against a 
tweet from State Farm Insurance that showed a black man proposing to a 
white woman. I study these things, it shouldn’t be a surprise to me, and 
yet I was taken aback by the incredible racist content in reaction to 
this image. Many of these responses, which were saying, "This marks the 
end of the white race, you’re contributing to the downfall of your 
people," were hashtagged "white genocide."

It’s an idea that circulates in far-right-wing racist circles. It was an 
attempt to mock this nonexistent thing, which for these right-wing 
sectors means multicultural policies, it means intermarriage. There are, 
famously, the billboards that say, "Diversity is white genocide." Any 
policy that is not rooted in affirmation of white superiority is 
understood to be a contribution to the downfall of the pure white race.
What were the responses like?

The initial response was what I expected. It was an immediate backlash 
from people who knew perfectly well what I was talking about. In other 
words, these right-wing sectors who, I could tell, I had touched a nerve 
with. This is their code word for everything that’s bad in the world, 
and so making a mockery of it led to that. Usually these sorts of 
backlashes are Twitter feuds, They don’t last very long. But by the next 
day, clearly, this had taken on a life of its own, and we really need to 
think hard about why that was, what kind of machinery was set into 
motion, what kind of sectors picked it up and pushed it out and made it 
into the phenomenon that it was.

This began with organizations like Breit­bart, websites like Infowars, 
these far-right white-supremacist news outlets, but also discussion 
groups like Reddit, where I found pages and pages of people not only 
complaining about my tweet but also organizing what became a campaign of 
harassment against me and my employer, and my family — posting 
addresses, posting email addresses, and encouraging people to see what 
they could do to get me fired.

Q: How personal did it get to you and your family?

A: It was almost entirely personal. This is part of what’s very 
revealing. Some people who have spent time online, for example, know 
there’s a word, called "cuck," which has become a catchall insult of the 
right, for what’s perceived to be the soft men of the left. Without 
going into it, in its explicitness, it reveals a very deep sexual and 
racial anxiety among these groups. I was called cuck. I was called "low 
testosterone." They speculated that I’m Jewish, that I looked and act 
like a Jew. Of course, these things begin from the personal because 
they’re rooted in a certain idea of what it means to be white.

Q: They didn’t come just at you, right?

A: A number of pictures were taken off family members’ public profile 
pictures on Facebook and put on these right-wing websites. Many family 
members were contacted via Facebook message with many threatening 
messages, through Twitter. Anyone who retweeted me or tweeted any kind 
of support was then subject to a barrage.

Q: Did you feel that your family was actually in danger?

A: Yes. But when you’re getting more than a hundred death threats, it’s 
difficult to know which, if any, of those are serious.

Q: Did you expect this magnitude of reaction?

A: Absolutely not. Any of my past tweets could have been picked up in 
the same way, but this was the one that was. It was fed into a machine, 
and that machine put it in there, pressed it into the mainstream, and 
made it a national story. But it doesn’t become a national story without 
that machinery.

This became important to certain sectors — so important that they were 
going to make a stand over it. It has to do with the moment, a moment in 
which the far right would feel empowered — and they stated this — in 
which they feel encouraged by Trump’s election and they’ve said that 
this is their time to shine. This is them acting on that. The 
anti-Semitic website the Daily Stormer celebrated Drexel’s condemnation 
of me as a victory. It said, "This is what winning looks like." They 
clearly understand that this is the time to begin to push, to begin a 
new offensive against academia, and to really try to expand their 
influence by both attacking lefty profs on the one hand, and then 
pushing these campus tours by Richard Spencer, and Milo [Yiannopoulos], 
and others in an attempt to provoke conflict over questions of freedom 
of expression.

Q: When do you think this moment began?

A: The moment has been running throughout the electoral season because 
it’s not just Trump as an individual. It’s about what Trumpism, as a 
certain form of nativism, has provoked and unleashed and encouraged. 
Debates about whether Trump himself is fascistic or not are important. 
But the bigger question is what he’s unleashing and what he’s letting 
out of Pandora’s box without being able to close it, even if he wanted to.

The official university response, particularly the first one, has been 
much debated. Had you communicated with administrators offline before 
that came out?

I’d spoken with representatives of the university prior to that, but 
none of those conversations made it sound as though that’s the kind of 
statement I was going to see.

I want to draw attention to the material impact of that statement, which 
made no attempt to understand my tweet. But to come out and denounce it 
put wind into the sails of fascist groups. Because if my own institution 
is saying it’s "reprehensible," then it must be reprehensible.

This gets to the bigger question of what really is going on in the world 
that the university cannot divorce itself from — the rise of these 
right-wing sectors that are pushing on faculty and on universities. 
What’s really, really terrifying is that organized white-­supremacist 
groups organized a campaign, and that campaign pressured the university 
into acting. I think a lot of people got hustled.

Q: You did get strong support from faculty at your university and 
elsewhere, right?

A: Yeah. What’s good is the pushback that occurred in this case, 
hopefully, will be a lesson to many universities that we’re organized, 
that we’re capable, that even if an organized campaign comes against one 
of us, we’ll be able to and we will counter-­organize resistance to it 
and push back.

At the same time, you’re certainly aware of the gulf of understanding 
between people in academe and typical Americans who don’t belong to a 
hate group but still might not realize that "white genocide" is code for 
something else. Were you concerned that you might just be feeding into 
the narrative of the smug professor?

It’s possible for any tweet to be misunderstood. But equally important 
is this question of the voluntary misunderstanding. Many people, white 
people in particular, are primed to interpret that tweet in a certain 
way. Why? Because, when someone tweets something very inflammatory — 
"Kill all white people," for example — my first reaction is not to be 
angry because, first of all, it’s preposterous. It’s clearly not 
serious. But second of all, because I don’t, in any way, feel victimized 
by society. And yet part of what the dramatic shift in the narrative of 
the past few decades — very deftly charted by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s 
recent book, From Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation, for example — 
is the sense of white victimization as we shift toward the so-called 
colorblind society.

This "white victim" narrative has been very effectively deployed, and so 
to interpret my tweet in that way is in some ways to buy into the idea 
that white people have ever been historical victims in this country, 
which is not the case, which is preposterous, and which of course sets 
that apart from the other phenomena — for example, black genocide, 
indigenous genocide, ongoing historical realities that no one really 
wants to be talking about or be outraged about. And yet these are real 
things in the world that we live in as opposed to this mythical idea of 
white genocide.

Q: If you had it to do again, would you have tweeted differently?

A: I don’t think we can avoid the fights that are coming. The idea that 
we should be trying to avoid these debates and discussions and conflicts 
is not one that’s going to be very sustainable for universities.

Q: You’re not likely to be the last professor attacked by the so-called 
alt-right. What would you want others to know and do if this happens to 
them?

A: The most important thing is to realize that this is a legitimate 
fight, to realize that the temptation to retreat is a very strong 
temptation, especially when your life is threatened, but these fights 
are inevitable and the alt-right is not going anywhere. ­So on the one 
hand, we need to shut down these ideas, push back on them, but we also 
need to be more than academic in the sense that we need to be building 
movements that are going to be capable of weathering this storm, that 
are going to be using intellectual space to make these arguments, but 
also organizing in the streets.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Goldie Blumenstyk writes about the intersection of business and higher 
education. Check out www.goldieblumenstyk.com for information on her new 
book about the higher-education crisis; follow her on Twitter 
@GoldieStandard; or email her at goldie at chronicle.com.


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