Why has this professor been targeted?

June 21, 2017

Brandon Daniels reports from Syracuse, New York, on a smear campaign against university professor that has included frightening calls for violence.

SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY Professor Dana Cloud has become the target of a right-wing campaign of abuse and harassment after her participation in a counterprotest against a right-wing Islamophobic rally.

Cloud was bombarded with hate-mail, including threats to her physical safety, after she tweeted a call for larger numbers to join the June 10 counterprotest in Syracuse, New York, against the "Anti-Sharia law" rally organized by the anti-Muslim group ACT for America.

The Syracuse rally was attended by members of the Oath Keepers militia group, among others. In several cities, other demonstrations that same day attracted open white supremacists and neo-Nazis, as well as figures on the "alt-right."

Days after the protest and the tweet, right-wingers used their social media followers to direct people to attack Cloud. She has since been inundated with abuse, including threats that make specific reference to her home, family and pet.

This is a clear attempt at political intimidation. In response, we must stand in unity and solidarity with Cloud and all others who are harassed by right-wing pressure groups for speaking out against oppression.

Professor Dana Cloud
Professor Dana Cloud (Abigail.gilbert | Wikimedia Commons)

IN RESPONSE to ACT for America's call for "anti-Sharia" rallies--in reality, thinly veiled anti-Muslim demonstrations steeped in bigotry, local residents in upstate New York organized a counterdemonstration to stand in solidarity with their Arab and Muslim neighbors.

The rally and counterprotest occurred without any sort physical confrontation, but the crowd at the ACT for America was heavily outnumbered by those standing against Islamophobia.

Throughout the counterprotest, Cloud used social media to encourage other members of the Syracuse community to join in. When it became clear that ACT for America supporters were beginning to leave, Cloud tweeted, "We almost have the fascists in on the run. Syracuse people come down to the federal building to finish them off."

That message--to join a peaceful counterprotest that outnumbered the far right--has been used by some to mobilize an attack against Cloud with the absurd claim that she was calling for a physical assault. On June 14, the right-wing website CampusReform.org published an article citing Cloud's tweet and describing it as a "veiled call for violence."

Since the article was published, various websites and right-wing figures have publicized Cloud's twitter and personal information, including right-wing media pundit Ann Coulter.

Gavin McInnes, founder of the so–called "Proud Boys"--a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a "fight club ready for street violence"--published his own article arbitrarily linking Cloud's out-of-context tweet to the recent attack on Republican U.S. Representative Steve Scalise.

Others on the right have cynically exploited the June 14 attack on Scalise--which was immediately and unconditionally denounced by figures on the left, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders--to call accuse the left of using "extremist rhetoric" and promoting violence.

The deliberate campaign of intimidation is meant to silence academic freedom and smear left-wing professors. One article from Campus Reform, for example, cited tweets from five different professors from various institutions, deriding them for being critical of Scalise's support of the NRA and gun rights.

The fact that Cloud is a longtime left-wing activist and openly gay has made her a further target.

As a petition in her defense circulated by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) notes: "It is no accident that Dr. Cloud, as an outspoken lesbian socialist and peaceful social justice activist for decades, is being targeted. The emboldened right wing targets the oppressed with disgusting insults and threats directed at their identities."

THOUGH ATTACKS by the right on left-wing professors and academic freedom aren't new, they have escalated since Trump's election.

Drexel University Professor George Ciccariello-Maher was the subject of a similar campaign in December after he tweeted a joke about "white genocide." Meanwhile, earlier this month, Princeton University Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor was forced to cancel speaking engagements after Fox News ran a smear story about a commencement address she gave at Hampshire College, leading to racist and homophobic slurs and death threats.

The threats against Cloud fall into this same pattern of attack. As the petition for Cloud notes:

The hate mail and threats directed against Dr. Cloud are not isolated phenomena, but part of a campaign of intimidation and harassment against those standing in solidarity with Muslims and other oppressed groups...

These attacks are evidence of a disturbing rise in the confidence of right-wing extremists around the country. We call on others to stand in unity and solidarity with all those, like Dr. Cloud, who are being harassed and threatened by right-wing pressure groups for speaking out against Islamophobia and bigotry.

While those critical of Cloud say they are opposing her so-called "aggressive" rhetoric, these campaigns of terror rely on a connection between digital threats and the very real history of right-wing political violence in the U.S.

The dramatic escalation in hate crimes since Trump's election has only magnified the effect of these threats. Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, for example, were murdered for standing up to threats of racist violence last month in Portland, Oregon.

After the recent attack in London on Muslim congregants near a mosque, as well as the murder of Nabra Hassanen--a Muslim teen who was beaten to death with a baseball bat this week in Virginia--no one should take the threat of right-wing political violence lightly.

The threats Cloud received--including messages reading "You need to be executed" and "We on the right will find you and we will be coming after you"--only highlight the severity of the situation.

Such attacks are evidence of a disturbing rise in the confidence of right-wing extremists. We hope others will stand in unity and solidarity with all those, like Dr. Cloud, who are being harassed by the right for speaking out against Islamophobia and bigotry.

Organized groups of the right have identified university faculty and student activists as their targets. By waging campaigns that threaten their personal safety, the institutions they work for, and their employment, such forces hope to further restrict the dwindling levels of independence professors have at corporate-dominated institutions.

Anyone who cares about free speech, academic freedom and fighting bigotry should respond to the attack on Cloud and others with solidarity.

As the petition in her defense states, "We demand that Syracuse University and the broader academic community defend and protect her and all faculty in the exercise of their academic freedom, their right to extramural speech, and the exercise of their conscience in civic life."

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