Professor Warns America Is 'at War' With Alt-Right and White Nationalists, 'Academia Is a Crucial Front in That War'

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A participant of an Alt-Right organized free speech event holds a sign that says "No Antifa, No KKK, No Racist USA" on the Boston Common on November 18, 2017 in Boston. Getty Images

A liberal professor who has received death threats over his Twitter messages championing gun control and criticizing the U.S. military has left his job over the controversy and is warning his supporters that America is at war with the right and white supremacists. 

"We are at war, and academia is a crucial front in that war. This is why the Right is targeting campuses with thinly veiled provocations disguised as free speech. My case and many others show just how cynical such appeals are, and how little the Right cares about academic freedom," wrote George Ciccariello-Maher, a former associate professor of politics and global studies at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Thursday in a Facebook post. He then announced he was taking a post with New York University in New York City. 

Ciccariello-Maher, a white man, first made national headlines after he wrote on Twitter in December 2016: "All I want for Christmas is white genocide." He then wrote: “To clarify: when the whites were massacred during the Haitian revolution, that was a good thing indeed.”

He said it was an ironic message, but Drexel released a statement that branded Ciccariello-Maher's remarks "disturbing" and "utterly reprehensible", Philly.com reported at the time. After conservative site Breitbart wrote about the tweet, nearly 10,000 people signed a Change.org petition defending Ciccariello-Maher's freedom of speech and urging to Drexel to "preserve academic freedom (and wit and intelligence and anti-racism) in this nasty new era of living in the United States of internet trolls." 

Ciccariello-Maher made national news again in April when he tweeted about an airplane passanger recoginizing a U.S. soldier for his service. "Some guy in first class gave up his seat for a uniformed soldier. People are thanking him. I'm trying not to vomit or yell about Mosul," he wrote, referring to a mass airstrike in March that killed more than 100 civilians.

Despite the ensuing uproar, he remained in good standing at Drexel until October, when Ciccariello-Maher was placed on leave for tweeting about gun control in the wake of a mass shooting in Las Vegas. "White people and men are told that they are entitled to everything. This is what happens when they don't get what they want," he wrote after the Las Vegas Strip attack carried out by a white man.

Ciccariello-Maher began receiving death threats from some of his many critics and blamed Drexel for not defending his freedom of speech. "By bowing to pressure from racist internet trolls, Drexel has sent the wrong signal: that you can control a university’s curriculum with anonymous threats of violence," he wrote in an essay in The Washington Post.

His full Facebook message on leaving Drexler reads: "After December 31st, 2017, I will no longer work at Drexel University. This is not a decision I take lightly; however, after nearly a year of harassment by right-wing, white supremacist media outlets and internet mobs, after death threats and threats of violence directed against me and my family, my situation has become unsustainable. Staying at Drexel in the eye of this storm has become detrimental to my own writing, speaking, and organizing. In 1956, Frantz Fanon resigned his psychiatric post at a French clinic in colonial Algeria with the observation that, 'there comes a moment when tenacity becomes morbid perseverance.' This rings true for me in the present moment: certain morbidity has set in, and the same racist social structures that Fanon confronted impose their reality on us with a fury that increases by the day. I look forward to deepening my research, my writing, and my political organizing in the service of those movements most capable of confronting the urgent tasks of the present. We are at war, and academia is a crucial front in that war. This is why the Right is targeting campuses with thinly veiled provocations disguised as free speech. My case and many others show just how cynical such appeals are, and how little the Right cares about academic freedom. They will continue to attack me and many others, but from these attacks new unities spring dialectically forth: an upsurge in new AAUP chapters and the establishment of the Campus Antifascist Network (CAN), among others. To faculty: tenure is a crucial buffer against those who would use money to dictate the content of higher education. But in a neoliberal academy, such protections are far from absolute. We are all a single outrage campaign away from having no rights at all, as my case and many others make clear. The difference between tenure-track faculty and the untenured adjunct majority—which has far more to do with luck than merit—is a difference in degree not in kind. Tenured faculty need to defend the rights of all faculty, at all levels, from attacks by the Right and white supremacists. Only then can we build campus solidarities that transcend such artificial boundaries among faculty—and beyond, to campus workers and students as well—solidarities that will be the last line of defense in what is today a losing battle for universities. We need to fight to defend our place in academia against assault from the racist Right, but we urgently need to realize that the struggle for academia is part of a far broader fight. In the past year, the forces of resurgent white supremacy have tasted blood and are howling for more. Given the pressure they will continue to apply, university communities must form a common front against the most reprehensible forces in society and refuse to bow to their pressure, intimidation, and threats. Only then will universities stand any chance of survival. To my students: you have earned my admiration and the admiration of many by standing up for your rights. I hope and believe that you have learned by putting into practice—by marching and by protesting—lessons in power that too often remain within the classroom. And I hope and believe that you will take these lessons to whatever is next—and something will be next. I look forward to continuing to support and work with you informally, whether in reading groups, in the streets, or both. In the face of aggression from the racist Right and impending global catastrophe, we must defend our universities, our students, and ourselves by defending the most vulnerable among us and by making our campuses unsafe spaces for white supremacists."

He announced his new job at NYU days later in a brief Facebook message that received more than 1,600 comments and likes. It read: "I'm glad to announce that, starting today, I will be a Visiting Scholar at NYU's Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics. Happy New Year!"