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Davis, California

Friday, April 19, 2024

Open letter to Gary May about campus violence

By JOSHUA CLOVER — jclover@ucdavis.edu

Dear Gary,

I was not at the event at UC Davis on Tuesday night, but neither were you; nor were the police (or so you claimed in your first statement’s position, later revised to the exact opposite). I am sure we both have access to the same accounts. One difference, however, is that I have scholarly knowledge of such events and groups across multiple publications, the most recent being an introduction to Antifa: the Antifascist Handbook. I know that, as the president of our great university, you support the scholarship of its employees, so I hope — given the appalling outcome of the decisions you made and the troubling content of your statement, and given your interest in transparency — that you will prove able to offer illuminating answers to these questions.

Your statement insistently equates, on the one side, Turning Point USA and the Proud Boys, and on the other side, protestors, as involved in a sort of joint altercation in which both sides are at fault. Specifically, it raises the specter of “antifa” as some sort of complement to the ethnonationalists who scheduled the event. In main, my questions are related to this framing and this way of grasping the import of what happened.

  1. You no doubt recognize that history did not begin afresh on the morning of Oct. 25. Thus, all evaluations of the event ask us to understand the context and history. Let me direct your attention to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) article, titled “Turning Point USA’s blooming romance with the alt-right,” as well as the SPLC’s identification of Proud Boys as a hate group. I might also suggest you review the trial statements of Jason Kessler, organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina and a member of the Proud Boys. You will note as well that SPLC does not recognize “antifa” or any related group, much less protestors of neofascism, as hate groups or as threats. Do you feel you had an adequate knowledge of the various parties involved in the event, so as to properly understand the dynamic and the risks?
  2. Do you understand that these two groupings did not arrive at campus through some mutual agreement, but that protestors felt ethically called to attend only after and because neofascists planned a rally that you approved in advance, under pretense of a “talk?” I might note, as you consider your answer, that, other than to oppose the threat of violent white nationalists, “antifa” have shown up in the United States a total of zero times.
  3. The events at UC Davis share a similar structure with the aforementioned “Unite the Right” rally, where neofascists, granted a permit by civic authorities to hold an event denying historic racism, threatened (and eventually both beat and killed) protestors as well as bystanders, some of whom defended themselves. In the aftermath and against evidence, Donald Trump offered a now-classic example of “both-sides-ism” and similar reference to “antifa” — despite the easily available facts that only one side arranged the event, espoused white supremacy and broader hatred, initiated the violence and did actual harm to humans. This is the same imbalance obtained at UC Davis on Tuesday, and yet your statement is redolent with both-sides-ism. Were you consciously appropriating Trump’s view, or is this simply the spontaneous ideology of apex administrators?
  4. According to the Washington Post, “Domestic terrorism incidents have soared to new highs in the United States, driven chiefly by white-supremacist, anti-Muslim and anti-government extremists on the far right.” All evidence from all quarters indicates that there is no comparison regarding the threat of violence from “both sides,” and indeed that there are not two sides when it comes to violence and killing; there is one, and it is the ethnonationalists. Do you feel that it is appropriate to provide support and comfort for that side by equating them with antiracist protestors and “antifa,” who, as of a 2020 study, have killed a grand total of zero people?
  5. Turning Point USA openly compiles a “Professor Watchlist” and uses it to orchestrate harassment and death threats against professors, per the Guardian. This includes faculty at UC Davis for whom you are responsible. As someone whose job is to protect and support professors, do you feel it is appropriate to defend such an organization’s right to be on a university campus? Could you please provide clear legal citation — beyond shouting “free speech!” — for why the University of California is obliged to host an organization that actively works to harass and threaten its employees?

I hope that you will be able to clarify these matters to the satisfaction of the people who were beaten and maced, and to the students, faculty, staff and community members you continue to put at risk via your historical ignorance and false equivalences.

 

Written by: Joshua Clover — jclover@ucdavis.edu

 

Joshua Clover is a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at UC Davis.

 

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