Crooked Timber has a statement on Erik Loomis. Before the statement, there is the background.
This past Friday, in the wake of the tremendous grief and outrage millions of people felt over the Newtown mass shooting, Loomis tweeted the following:
I was heartbroken in the first 20 mass murders. Now I want Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick.
Wayne LaPierre is the head of the National Rifle Association.
It seems obvious to us that when Loomis called for LaPierre’s head on a stick, he had in mind something like this from the Urban Dictionary:
A metaphor describing retaliation or punishment for another’s wrongdoing, or public outrage against an individual or group for the same reason.After the BP Oil Spill; many Americans would like to see Tony Hayward’s head on a stick, myself included.
Well, I’ve become more leery of even metaphorical violent rhetoric over the past year and a half…but still that is pretty clearly a metaphor.
Ever since putting someone’s head on a stick ceased to be a routine form of public punishment—indeed, the last instance of it we can think of is fictional (Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, though it references an actual event from the French Revolution)—calling for someone’s head has been a fairly conventional way to express one’s outrage or criticism. Two months ago, for example, right-wing blogger Glenn Reynolds voiced his anger over the State Department’s lax provision of security in Benghazi by demanding, “Can we see some heads roll?”
Yet that very same Glenn Reynolds is now accusing Loomis of using “eliminationist rhetoric.”
And Loomis is being leaned on, rather heavily. Right-wing pundits have been shouting, and it’s worked.
Loomis has already been questioned by the Rhode Island State Police, who told him that someone had informed the FBI that Loomis had threatened LaPierre’s life. Loomis also has been hauled into a meeting with his dean. And now the president of the University of Rhode Island, where Loomis teaches, has issued the following statement:
The University of Rhode Island does not condone acts or threats of violence. These remarks do not reflect the views of the institution and Erik Loomis does not speak on behalf of the University. The University is committed to fostering a safe, inclusive and equitable culture that aspires to promote positive change.
We do not expect any better of the orchestrators of this campaign—this is what they have done for many years, and doubtless will be doing for years to come. We do expect better of university administrators. Rather than standing behind a member of their faculty, the administration has sought to distance the university from Loomis.
Even to suggest that Loomis’s tweet constitutes a “threat of violence” is an offense against the English language. We are dismayed that the university president completely fails to acknowledge the importance of academic freedom and of scholars’ freedom independently to express views (even intemperate ones) on topics of public importance. This statement—unless it is swiftly corrected— should give alarm to scholars at the University of Rhode Island, to scholars who might one day consider associating themselves with this institution, and to academic and professional associations that value academic freedom.
However, this is not merely a question of academic freedom. It also speaks to a broader set of rights to speak freely without the fear of being fired for controversial views that many of us have been flagging for years. Everyone should be clear what is going on. As a blogger at Atrios has pointed out, what the witch hunters want is for Loomis to be fired. Indeed, the calls have already begun (see comment thread here). Though Loomis has a union, his lack of tenure makes him vulnerable.
We insist that the University of Rhode Island take a strong stand for the values of academic freedom and freedom of speech, that it not be intimidated by an artificially whipped-up media frenzy, that it affirm that the protections of the First Amendment require our collective enforcement, and that all employers—particularly, in this kind of case, university employers—have a special obligation to see that freedom of speech become a reality of everyday life.
We urge all of you to contact the following three administrators at the University of Rhode Island:
Dean Winnie Brownell: email@example.com
Provost Donald DeHays: firstname.lastname@example.org
President David Dooley: email@example.com
Be polite, be civil, be firm.
We also call upon all academic and other bloggers to stand in support of Loomis. We invite others who wish to associate themselves with this statement to say so in the comments section to this post, and to republish this statement elsewhere.
Loomis talks about metaphors and violence at Lawyers Guns and Money.
But let’s also be clear–these people KNOW I am not calling for LaPierre’s assassination. They use language far surpassing anything I would ever say all the time. Here is Glenn Reynolds, so outraged by my intemperate language, asking “can we see some heads roll” over the Benghazi attacks. Does Reynolds literally want to see the head of Susan Rice decapitated from her body? Of course not. It’s a metaphor. I wouldn’t have even looked twice at that line because I know exactly what he means, even if I disagree with him. Not to mention that Reynolds has quite literally called for the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. But I am today’s subject of the right-wing Two Minute Hate. Tomorrow it will be some other poor sap. This is all a game to these extremists, seeking to turn the tragedy of Newtown to focus on the real victims here–American white conservative gun owners. The fact that my intemperate language helped give them a lever to try and turn that narrative is unfortunate and I apologize for it. But of course they would have found any number of other people or situations where they would have done the same thing.
And look, if I used violent metaphors, that’s a bad thing. I will admit that at certain moments such language might become part of my vocabulary. But then I’m a product of the same violent culture that makes real discussion about guns virtually impossible in this country. Scholars such as Richard Slotkin and Richard Maxwell Brown have spent whole careers exploring the theme of violence in American history. Others have noted the massive violent underpinnings of the United States ranging from antebellum mobs to lynchings to violence in the popular media. I probably shouldn’t use that language and certainly will be a lot more conscious going forward of not using it again, particularly since it doesn’t help in the battle against actual violence. Violence is a huge societal problem that influences all of us in various ways. Some may use violent metaphors to express their frustrations. Others join organizations that support assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons being in the hands of anyone without any sort of background check or regulation. I’ll leave it to you to decide who is the bigger problem.
Quite so. As I mentioned, I’ve become more leery of even metaphorical violent rhetoric lately. But I don’t think the Malkins and Reynoldses should be able to get Erik Loomis fired.