Congressman's Office Threatens Professor For The Violence Inherent In The ... Fart Joke
A couple weeks ago, some very bad people did a very bad vandalism to a campaign sign for US Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska: They painted on Fortenberry's face big googly eyes, and changed his name to "Fartenberry." You SHOULD NOT laugh at it, because it is far worse than a juvenile joke: it is vandalism, and political violence, said Fartenberry in a tweet:
Political violence, including the vandalism we see right here in Lincoln, is a threat to good citizenry and free expression in our republic. It is not funny. It is never acceptable.
Probably worth noting that a photo of the violently vandalized sign was posted to Facebook on October 21 by the group "seeing Red Nebraska." The next day, of course, a bomb was left in George Soros's mailbox, and on Tues., Oct. 23, bombs addressed to prominent Democrats were found all over the place. So yes, Fartenberry was glomming on to national concerns over a bomb plot directed at Democrats to whine Poor me! because someone made fun of his name, the poor dear.
Most of us -- like me, Farty Smelley -- are able to let go of childhood insults by the time we grow up, but even being elected to Congress hasn't erased the sting for poor Jizz Fartenberry, STOP LAUGHING IT IS NOT FUNNY.
Of course, if that's all there was to Fartenberry's petulance, it would have been a no-day story, people would have mocked him on Twitter for being too touchy, and everyone would have moved on to laughing at Jacob Wohl and his conspiracy pal who held a presser with his fly open, as we actually did. But of course there was more idiocy to be milked from this, because apparently everyone who works for Jeff Fartenberry is an asshole, too.
You see, the Sunday the photo hit Facebook, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln political science professor, Ari Kohen, saw it, snort-laughed, and hit "like" on his phone, because *snerk, "fartenberry"!* Unfortunately, it turns out a Fartenberry campaign staffer in Lincoln saw that Kohen had "liked" the photo, so that staffer screengrabbed the offensive "like" and sent it to Fartenberry's DC office. Fartenberry's chief of staff, Dr. William "Reyn" Archer III, knew what had to be done, so he called the naughty professor and left a message demanding to speak to him.
And then, as the Lincoln Journal Star reports, Archer escalated, because "liking" heinous vandalism is SRS BSNS!
When Archer didn't hear back from Kohen immediately, he emailed the chair of the UNL political science department, copying the interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Chancellor Ronnie Green on the message.
"As Chairman of the Department of Political Science at the University of Nebraska, I would like to find a time to speak to you about the support one of your faculty has shown for political vandalism," Archer wrote to Kevin Smith, Kohen's department chair, on Oct. 24, according to an email provided to the Journal Star through a public-records request.
"The question is what the position of the department and university is regarding vandalism or worse violence, which we have seen in this political season," he continued, concluding with a request to speak by phone.
Kohen eventually called Archer back, on October 26 -- the day the bomb sender was arrested, by coincidence -- and the two talked for almost an hour, with Archer insisting Kohen had, by hitting "like," expressed public support for vandalism, and, indeed, all sorts of political violence, WHO KNOWS? -- and Kohen mostly being incredulous that a sitting member of Congress was policing anyone's clicks on a personal Facebook account. Kohen pointed out, as he did to the Journal Star, that when he saw the picture, he initially thought it was photoshopped; the Facebook post was later updated to indicate it was a real sign that had really been vandalized. Kohen told the paper,
"It wasn't clear at all what he wanted from me, if he wanted me to unlike it or retract it," Kohen said. "He told me they could put this out publicly that I liked vandalism, and essentially, that that would be bad for me."
Kohen said he took that as a threat, explaining he's witnessed other UNL faculty receive death threats for becoming embroiled in minor political disputes on campus that spread across conservative media circles.
Kohen recorded the call, and released an excerpt in which Archer suggests the campaign would be well within its free speech rights to go public with the professor's support for political violence in the form of vandalism. It's freaking Kafkaesque, and how Kohen manages to remain calm is frankly astonishing (he later said on Twitter that it helped he was recording the call, so he had the proverbial receipts):
Archer is anything but subtle, telling Kohen that clicking "like" was "a direct validation of vandalism" and that, as a university professor, Kohen has a "responsible to the community."
You've gotta be careful about the optics of yourself, and particularly as you live in the community of UNL [...] And we also know that people who are Republicans are offended by professors, you know, professors have been called out for denigrating individual students for saying things or supporting certain political persuasions, not that you did that.
Nice academic job you have there. Sure would be a shame if something happened to it. And just like that, we have gone from a really stupid claim that googly eyes and a fart joke are terrorism to a fairly explicit threat to activate the Internet Flying Monkey Brigade against Kohen.
We like the part where Archer denies scrutinizing everyone who "liked" the picture, because hey, the complaint came from a member of the community and Archer is simply following up. That would be a member of the Fartenberry campaign community, of course. And also the point where Archer casually mentions Kohen was "trained" at Duke -- hey buddy, we've looked into your background. And also too the part where Archer has a hissy fit over Kohen pronouncing "Reyn" like rain, instead of the proper way, which is like Ren.
Archer "reassured" Kohen that sure, he has First Amendment rights, but as a public employee, he'd better make damn sure he only uses them in a way that won't get him in trouble:
Frankly, we have a First Amendment opportunity to basically put you out in there front of everybody and even put this clearly as "Why is a professor liking vandalism?" We can do that publicly. Would you like that? [talking over Kohen] That's our First Amendment right too.
See? Archer is simply very concerned about what it would look like if a professor at a public university became widely known as an advocate of political violence. On the very day a guy was arrested for political violence, purely coincidentally.
We can't help wishing Kohen would have casually referred, throughout the call, to "the Fartenberry sign." It's an accurate description. Instead, he invited Fortenberry to come address his class, which is far nicer.
Despite Archer's subsequent agonizing to the Journal Star about how very sad this was for civility in discourse (and to HuffPo about how the recording left out a whole lot of cordial stuff), he knows damned well what he was threatening. Fox News, Breitbart, and various websites that encourage students to call out their "Marxist" teachers have gotten very good at activating the rightwing outrage machine. And then the death threats and demands to fire the professors start coming. The Center for investigative Reporting, in a bit of excellent timing, published an excellent and scary report yesterday on the harassment ecosystem that has many college professors and even high school teachers who criticize white supremacy or inequality or police violence living in fear (as they should, because AMERICA). It's chilling, and sadly lacking in fart jokes at all.
Kohen, noting death threats against colleagues after rightwing social media attacks, has filed a complaint with the House Ethics committee.
"To have people in this position who are ready and willing to abuse their authority like this, to bully people and push people around and threaten to call down retribution over something that maybe hurt somebody's feelings," he said, "we're all poorer if that's what's happening in this country."
Kohen also told HuffPo, "If there wasn't this whole attempt to intimidate and threaten, if there wasn't a shooting at a synagogue the day after they called me, I wouldn't have thought anything about it."
Archer, of course, insists that wasn't a threat, no no no; he was simply having a nice conversation about free speech, real friendly-like, and the sad state of political discourse in this country, my, my my:
"If you leave this idea that vandalism doesn't matter and you condone that, you create the problem of escalating these problems that need to be downgraded," he said.
Archer added Kohen has a right to free speech and expression, but questioned whether or not the professor should be engaging in conduct that appears to support vandalism.
"When you are a teacher of political science, you have a higher requirement," Archer said. "You can't hide as a person who is a professor."
See? No threats. Where would you get such a silly idea? Fartenberry also issued a statement about what a sorry pass this great nation has come to when a political science professor is openly supporting violence and the media keeps snickering at his name:
"It is — at a minimum — disrespectful of civil discourse and free speech. When a university professor of political science gives his assent to such vandalism, it sends a seriously wrong message," Fortenberry said.
He added that the media has "a serious investigative reporting responsibility to dig deeper on who is causing this type of divisiveness in our city."
You people just better watch yourselves, is all he's saying. You can be found and have some free speech done at YOU, too.
Be damn careful about liking fart jokes, you. Maybe YOUR name sounds like poopoo or caca, hmmmm?
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.