BY MARIAH QUINN
An article from Breitbart yesterday offers us a timely look at how targeted harassment happens and how it is perpetuated.
The misrepresentations start in the headline. The piece, “American Association of University Professors Defends Prof Who Called for the Death of Congressman Scalise,” focused on the work the AAUP is doing to highlight the problem of targeted harassment this week, specifically the case of Professor Johnny Williams of Trinity College. The article itself continues a tired, long-running narrative from the right-wing blogosphere that has consistently mischaracterized tweets made by Williams last summer. And this is no harmless story—that narrative led to death threats against Williams and his family and an unjust suspension from his position at Trinity College.
As Williams explained to CNN, he did not at any point call for the death of Scalise or any person. “I was only quoting an article by a guy that had it entitled, ‘Let Them F’ing Die.’ … He wasn’t talking about all white people. He was saying, ‘What if racial bigots who don’t care anything about us and let us die—what if we ignore them and let them die?’ That was his particular concern. I thought it was an interesting argument,” said Williams.
As we and his AAUP chapter argued at the time, Williams’s statement was protected by academic freedom, a sentiment subsequently confirmed by President of Trinity College Joanne Berger-Sweeney when Williams was reinstated after a formal review that found no wrongdoing.
However, from the moment they picked up the story, the right-wing echo chamber of blogs distorted the facts and Williams’s words, culminating in a listing on the Professor Watchlist site that reads, “Dr. Johnny Williams is a Professor of Sociology at Trinity College. After Republican Congressman Steve Scalise was shot by a Bernie Sanders supporter, Williams said the first responders should have let the Congressmen die for being white. He said white people should ‘fucking die’ and called them ‘inhuman assholes.’”
To reiterate, Williams said neither of those things. But more than six months later, the Breitbart article makes clear that the echo chamber is alive and well.
Interested in fighting fiction with facts and fighting for academic freedom? Join the AAUP today.
Mariah Quinn is the AAUP’s digital organizer.
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