CAN Statement on TPUSA Harassment of Faculty at UNL

CAN Statement on TPUSA Harassment of Faculty at UNL

The Campus Antifascist Network, an international organization of activist-scholars with over four hundred members and eleven active chapters inside the US, condemns the ways the University of Nebraska, Lincoln administration has handled the August 25th Turning Point USA incident on its campus and the manners in which conservative politicians have used the mainstream press to defame an outstanding scholar.

Turning Point USA is a billionaire-funded national astro-turf organization that specializes in portraying faculty in a false light and disseminating reports across alt-right media in order to pressure administrators and others to investigate and intimidate those TPUSA deems left-leaning faculty. TPUSA is the origin of the notorious, McCarthyite “Professor Watchlist,” which has been roundly condemned by the AAUP.

On August 25, 2017, TPUSA edited a video of a protest against a TPUSA table at the UNL campus with the defamatory claim that University of Nebraska Associate Professor Amanda Gailey “rallied a crowd to harass a conservative student,” when in fact, as the university investigation bore out, the video was filmed before Gailey was even on campus.  When she did arrive at the scene she stood quietly in a separate area with a sign and did not interact with the student until she intervened to make sure the student did not feel threatened. Gailey never chanted, insulted the student, or directed comments to the crowd.  Quite the opposite, she acted with compassion and decency toward someone with whose political views she disagreed.

The false narrative created by TPUSA was used by the Nebraska Republican Party, who submitted an open records request to go through Gailey’s email for communications about Donald Trump and Ben Sasse. University of Nebraska regent Hal Daub and several state senators seized the false narrative for political purposes, including attempting to discredit Gailey at the legislature, where she is a prominent gun control activist. As all of this was happening, the University of Nebraska asked Gailey not to speak to the media and did not publicly rectify the spread of misinformation even when their own investigation, including multiple unsolicited witness statements and security footage of the area disproved the TPUSA narrative. Even University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds tweeted a public statement that did not reflect the findings of the fact-finding efforts.

Universities must handle these incidents with more fairness, accuracy, and transparency than the University of Nebraska did.  They must resist the urge to side prematurely with a narrative pushed by one side and one side alone, especially when that side is powerful and well-connected.  Administrators are, after all, bound by a code of ethics that demands they should wait until the all facts are in.  They should be especially skeptical of any video or narrative account that has not been properly vetted by an impartial party.  Careers, and lives are at stake. This is no time to be motivated by political expediency.

The university ended up removing one protester, a graduate student, Courtney Lawton, from her teaching duties under the pretense of “security concerns” over hate mail even though the worst of the hate swarm had passed, which seems to have been a way of avoiding the due process and legal complications of a disciplinary action but amounted to a heckler’s veto, announcing to the alt-right world that an angry mob can remove controversial instructors from class. In fact, Lawton, an award-winning teacher, is the only person involved in the incident who had her free speech or academic freedom curtailed. This has had a chilling effect on teachers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, as other instructors are worried about how TPUSA might coordinate similar attacks to have them removed from teaching.

We ask the University to issue a public statement setting the record straight, clarifying what happened on August 25, including the role of TPUSA, alt-right media, Regent Hal Daub, and state senators Erdman and Halloran in spreading politically motivated, defamatory misinformation in this case. As the United States sees more and more of these attacks, university administrations must fulfill their obligation to protect academic freedom by firmly and clearly responding to mob attacks orchestrated by alt-right media.

We encourage people who want to join the fight against the influence of the alt.right and fascist groups on campus to join the Campus Antifascist Network by writing to

[email protected]

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