George Cicciarello-Maher, a brilliant political theorist at Drexel, has been the target of a right-wing harassment campaign led by the sorry likes of Mike Cernovich and Breitbart media. In a very short-sighted, weak response to this Twitter outrage campaign, Drexel issued a statement disavowing George, calling his statements on Twitter “reprehensible,” and suggesting some sort of discipline to come. I’d encourage everyone to push back against Drexel’s ill-advised response to a very loud, increasingly organized online mob. It’s hard to understand what Drexel think it’s accomplished here: if the university had simply ignored the Christmas Eve rantings of professional bigots on Twitter, it would all be forgotten by now. The story only still exists because Drexel issued a statement. This is either very poor media relations practice or something more ominous.
Feel free to copy the letter below, or change it. The addresses you need are:President John Anderson Fry (firstname.lastname@example.org), Provost M. Brian Blake (email@example.com), and Executive Director of Media Relations Niki Gianakaris (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I am writing in distress and disappointment over Drexel’s recent statement castigating Dr. Cicciarello-Maher for his tweets mocking the racist fantasy of “white genocide.” This term refers to a belief that policies promoting racial diversity, immigration, and religious tolerance–all values which Drexel purports to defend–amount to genocidal campaign against “white culture.” Cicciarello-Maher added later that the slave revolt in Haiti was a “very good thing indeed”–a claim about which there can be little serious argument, at least at a reputable institution of higher learning.
The controversy was quite deliberately fabricated by Mike Cernovich, a notorious conspiracy theorist with a widespread following on the racist right. As I have seen on Twitter, the voices clamoring for Dr. Cicciarello-Maher’s firing are almost uniformly vile–open anti-semites, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, and other political bottom-feeders. I wish I could understand what Drexel hoped to accomplish by appeasing a far-right campaign against one of its faculty. If the idea was to make the “controversy,” such as it was, go away, you have clearly not succeeded in this regard. Indeed, bending to an obscene mob only emboldens it–and encourages future campaigns of harassment against members of the Drexel community.
I am proud to count George as a colleague. I know that his research and pedagogy are first-rate, brave, insightful, and open-minded–adjectives I cannot apply to the mob calling for his firing, or even worse. Drexel is very lucky to count him on its faculty. For this reason, I hope that your meeting with Dr. Cicciarello-Maher will be a productive discussion on how to extend the values of academic freedom to free-wheeling precincts of social media where it needs protection.