When Academics Receive Threats of Violence and Death

“This week several of my colleagues in my department and faculty have received anonymous death threats and antisemitic hostility because they politely protested a student group’s invitation to Jordan Peterson.”

The above is an excerpt from a post by Eric Schliesser (Amsterdam) at his blog, Digressions & Impressions. He describes the actions of his colleagues that precipitated the threats, the reactions to them, and the silencing effects such threats have, and he refers to earlier remarks of his on handling the risks of public philosophy. He emphasizes how important it is prepare for one’s public interventions with “some worst-case advance planning.”

Schliesser’s colleagues are just the latest academics to have been on the receiving end of violent threats. Tommy Curry (Texas A&M), Kate Manne (Cornell), Jason Stanley (Yale), and George Yancy (Emory) are some of the philosophers who’ve been recently targeted with such threats. And philosophers and other academics continue to be added to a “Professor Watchlist” that seems set up to focus scrutiny on, and try to intimidate, scholars who express certain non-conservative ideas.

As Carrie Jenkins notes in a section of her website providing advice for would-be public philosophers,

Online hate and abuse are disproportionately directed at women, POC, LGBTQ people and other groups who experience discrimination, but anyone can be targeted. There are psychological, emotional, legal, financial, and other risks involved in public-facing work. They are often unpredictable. Hate and abuse do not only occur online, even if they begin there. If you become a public figure your personal safety may be put at risk through e.g. doxxing, stalking, and dangerous physical mail. Academics are typically easy to target as our work addresses and phone numbers are posted freely online by our universities and our physical office spaces are often accessible to anyone.

How can academics protect themselves? Some steps are outlined in this earlier post, and there are some helpful links in this comment, but note that any threats should be reported to the relevant law enforcement agencies, and not just your university.

If you need to get lawyers involved, keep in mind that your university’s lawyers work for the university, not for you, and it is not necessarily the case that the strategies and outcomes that would best serve your university’s interests are the ones that would best serve yours. In short: get your own lawyer.

The American Philosophical Association (APA), encourages and supports public philosophy and calls on its members to speak out against attacks on philosophers. However, it is not clear what the APA can offer to those receiving death threats or threats of violence, except, perhaps, using its visibility to draw media attention (and perhaps greater law enforcement attention) to specific cases. (If someone at the APA would like to comment on this, feel free.)

(Relatedly, Scholars at Risk is an organization that “protects scholars suffering grave threats to their lives, liberty and well-being by arranging temporary research and teaching positions at institutions in our network as well as by providing advisory and referral services.” As their priority is helping those scholars who are “facing the most immediate and severe threats, including threats of violence, torture, wrongful imprisonment or prosecution,” I suspect that those receiving death threats or threats of violence from private individuals are not likely to qualify for their assistance.)

For my part, I’m willing to publicize threats and coordinate efforts to help those being targeted (for example, funds for legal assistance or temporary relocation, etc.).

Those with further advice or familiarity with helpful resources on this subject are encouraged to share what they know.

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