Statement of Support for Erik Loomis

I and my fellow bloggers at Crooked Timber have written this statement below in support of Erik Loomis, who is being targeted by a vicious right-wing campaign of intimidation. Please go to the Crooked Timber site and voice your support for the statement. Also, and perhaps more important, please send an email of support for Loomis to the following top three administrators where he teaches:

Dean Winnie Brownell:
Provost Donald DeHays:
President David Dooley:


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Erik Loomis is no stranger to this blog. A gifted young scholar of US labor and environmental history, Loomis is also a blogger at Lawyers, Guns and Money. Many of us have tussled and tangled with him, most recently over whether leftists should vote for Obama. We have often disagreed with Loomis, not always pleasantly or politely, and he has certainly given as good as he has got.

But now we must stand by Loomis’s side and speak up and out on his behalf, for he has become the target of a witch hunt, and as an untenured professor at the University of Rhode Island, he is vulnerable. Loomis needs our solidarity and support, and we must give it to him.

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.

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.”

Other conservative voices have joined in. The Daily Caller says Loomis “unleashed a flurry of profanity-ridden tweets demanding death for National Rifle Association executive Wayne LaPierre.” Townhall put Loomis’s tweets in the context of NRA members and leaders getting death threats. And just this morning, Michelle Malkin wrote at National Review Online:

What’s most disturbing is that the incitements are coming from purportedly respectable, prominent, and influential public figures.Consider the rhetoric of University of Rhode Island professor Erik Loomis….

Unfortunately, Loomis is not alone….

So, it’s come to this: Advocating beheadings, beatings, and the mass murder of peaceful Americans to pay for the sins of a soulless madman. But because the advocates of violence fashion themselves champions of nonviolence and because they inhabit the hallowed worlds of Hollywood, academia, and the Democratic party, it’s acceptable?

Blood-lusting hate speech must not get a pass just because it comes out of the mouths of the protected anti-gun class.

This campaign has now brought Loomis into the crosshairs of the state and his employer.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:
Provost Donald DeHays:
President David Dooley:

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.

Chris Bertram, University of Bristol

Michael Bérubé, The Pennsylvania State University

Henry Farrell, George Washington University

Kieran Healy, Duke University

Jon Mandle, SUNY Albany

John Quiggin, University of Queensland

Corey Robin, Brooklyn College

Brian Weatherson, University of Michigan


  1. Elizabeth Donahue December 19, 2012 at 5:24 pm | #

    Please add my name:

    Elizabeth Donahue Hardknocks University


  2. Brahmski December 19, 2012 at 6:36 pm | #

    Remarkable! Corey Robin and FIRE on the same page. Please by all means associate my name with such a worthy cause!

    Gabriel Brahm, Northern Michigan University

  3. Mitchell Freedman December 19, 2012 at 11:07 pm | #

    I support Eric Loomis. Wholeheartedly.

  4. Douglas D. Edwards December 20, 2012 at 1:30 am | #

    Signed at Crooked Timber. Loomis today, you or me tomorrow. This is vile.

  5. Blinkenlights der Gutenberg December 20, 2012 at 2:07 am | #

    While it ought to go without saying, I will add that, *even if* the statement is interpreted literally, it does not constitute a threat.

    If I said, in 2005, “I want to see Saddam Hussein hanged,” that would be correctly interpreted as an opinion, a statement of desire. It could not reasonably be interpreted as a threat to hang Hussein.

    Of course, Erik Loomis did not mean even that. But I just want to point out that even the most literal interpretation here does not constitute a threat.

    To find the threat, one must not only deliberately misunderstand the actual meaning, but also deliberately misunderstand the literal interpretation.

  6. Brian December 20, 2012 at 3:04 am | #

    Even the most benign interpretation of this still warrants intense criticism. Wayne LaPierre had nothing to do with the shooting. The sentiment behind this execrable Loomis’ statement is this: that anyone who advocates for the protection of a constitutional right bears the guilt of any abuse of that right. Imagine if he had said, after the Rwandan genocide, “I want to see the ACLU president’s head on a stick.”

    THIS is the reason Loomis’ head belongs on a stick.

    • Cleisthenes December 20, 2012 at 4:19 am | #

      “THIS is the reason Loomis’ head belongs on a stick.”

      Quick, can someone call 911 and start an internet hate campaign, Brian LITERALLY means that Loomis should be decapitated and his severed head displayed for all to see.

      Vile and despicable and typical hate sputing from the internet right.

      • Glenn December 20, 2012 at 4:18 pm | #

        I’m sure the FBI will be right on Brian for his intemperate terrorist-like comments.

    • jonnybutter December 20, 2012 at 7:09 am | #

      Hey Brian, is this parody?

  7. C.G. Haberl December 20, 2012 at 11:49 am | #

    Please include me as well. This is not the first time that such elements have brought an organized campaign of harassment and intimidation against an academic, and it won’t be the last.

    Charles G. Haberl, Associate Professor, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

  8. Christine Thomas December 20, 2012 at 1:37 pm | #

    Thank you and thanks to my colleague from Harvard for alerting me to this situation. As someone just beginning her career as a professional academic I am horrified again to see how quickly institutions of higher learning will sacrifice one of their own faculty to the concerns of more politically and economically powerful interests. Speaking to a colleague overseas about the murders on Friday I said that our country is hemorrhaging shame and grief in all the usual talking points. As someone whose brother was killed at a young age by a man who was never prosecuted, may I submit my humble opinion that this base politicking is an obscenity in the face of this kind of loss. Places of learning should be safe for those who learn and those who teach.

  9. Glenn December 20, 2012 at 1:54 pm | #

    The State does not think but tries to suppress thought. Consider the comedic absurdity and ultimate irrelevance of an institution that believes in suppression of thought as a function of education. The rhetorical “head on a stick” is a particularly absurd threat to take seriously; the vicious US wars of aggression have convincingly demonstrated the fecklessness of pikes versus guns to anyone non-delusional.

    A true attempt at making the NRA cry for tougher guns laws would be revolutionary calls for an armed attacks, sans primitive weapons (e.g., sticks and pikes), on NRA headquarters in order that they may, so to speak, obtain a taste of their own poison. I know of no such meaningful attacks contemplated, such attacks being beyond the pale of reformist thought. The thought of academics leading or even inspiring such meaningful revolutionary tactics is laughable considering the low regard with which the general population holds academic thought. I find the concept of the academic in this country as a dangerous revolutionary to be too humorous for words.

    The call for the punishment of Erik Loomis sends a more explicit signification of the fear and desperation of the would-be-punishers than his mild rhetorical statement, albeit one that has been disproportionately amplified by the fear of those whose ears are pricked to attention by any affront, however slight, that the punishment of Erik Loomis purports to be a response to.

    The real fear to be considered is that of an armed, desperate, and unthinking individual who perceives all options, other than a spectacular suicide, to be foreclosed to him, in a culture that perceives a call for help as weakness, and aggression as strength, without considering aggression to be a frequently used disguise for weakness in a society dismissive of weakness and glorifying violence: such weakness as you demonstrate in your aggressive and disproportionate attack on Erik Loomis.

  10. Seth Edenbaum December 20, 2012 at 1:55 pm | #

    The history of Crooked Timber on free speech and academic freedom:

    Harry Brighouse:
    “I think there is a very strong case that hateful epithets can be distinguished and treated differently from propostional content, and do not merit protection under “the right to speak what one sees as the truth”.

    Chris Bertram:
    “The right frame, in my view, is to think of the state as “we, the people” and to ask what conditions need to be in place for the people, and for each citizen, to play their role in effective self-government. Once you look at things like that then various speech restrictions naturally suggest themselves.”

    Brighouse: “I would say, in fact, that the first amendment tradition has a terribly distorting effect on American public discussions of free speech.”

    Henry Farrell:
    “I’ve suggested that academic freedom is a good thing on pragmatic grounds, but also made clear that it fundamentally depends on public willingness to delegate some degree of self-governance to the academy. If the public decides that academic freedom isn’t working out in terms of the goods it provides, then too bad for academic freedom.”

    “…a traditional defense of academic freedom, which goes something like this: Academic freedom predates free speech. Although Prussia gave constitutional protection to Lehrfreiheit in 1850 (“science and its teaching shall be free”), academic freedom generally does not enjoy legal protection outside of contractual guarantees; rather, it rests on the authority and ability of a community of competent scholars to police their own discourse and on the willingness of universities to affirm this authority and ability.”

    Rauchway is bothered that academics may think it “uncongenial to assert [the traditional defense of academic freedom] in this anti-elitist day and age.”

    use google

  11. Maurice Wade December 20, 2012 at 2:40 pm | #

    If it helps even a smidgen, please add my support. Maurice L. Wade, Professor of Philosophy at trinity College, Hartford, CT 06119

  12. jure December 20, 2012 at 7:32 pm | #

    I am dissapointed to find out that you are not honest like i’ve tought prof. Robin.

    Economist David Henderson also has a nice piece about freedom of speech.

    I hope you will be able to reserve your remarks such as ”right-wing attachers” or assault. Plain fact is, Loomis is not an angel as you presented him. And you just didn’t present the facts because you also feel strongly about the shooting. I guess we all need a dose of giant Thomas Sowell to cool our hot heads with plain facts about guns:

    And you prof. Robin, have new material to write about the difference beetwen the leftist mind and the conservative mind. The reaction by the left is disgraceful. Especially the anchorman guy named Piers Morgan.Cheers from Europe

  13. Mohammed Junaid Noori December 20, 2012 at 7:36 pm | #

    Yes, you have the right to free speech but you also have the responsibility to ensure you are not physically threatening anyone. Excusing your language by claiming it was a metaphor is shameful.

    He should resign.

    • David Kaib December 22, 2012 at 12:22 pm | #

      It’s not a threat, which makes your post deeply dishonest, which is in fact shameful.

  14. jure December 21, 2012 at 2:29 am | #

    And yes probably it is true that Loomis never wanted to literally see Lapierre’s head on a stick in a medieval Ottoman turkish style or in Vlad Tepeš barbaric way. But I think we all understand that he is very comfortable with idea if someone shoots Lapierre or ”accidentally” beats him up.

    • Chris December 21, 2012 at 7:00 pm | #

      Indeed, Loomis, and any others you deem to be sufficiently threatening, should surely lose their livelihoods, if only to keep others in line.

      • jonnybutter December 21, 2012 at 8:41 pm | #

        Exactly what Chris said. What jure and Noori don’t understand is that this is pure intimidation, and has nothing to do with concern about speech. Obviously they like intimidation.

    • David Kaib December 22, 2012 at 12:24 pm | #

      Well certainly if you criticize someone, it’s possible that people will take that as license to attack those criticized, so we’d best all never criticize anyone.

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