Georgetown Law Professor Josh Chafetz is under fire this week after going to Twitter to defend “aggressive” protests at the homes of Supreme Court justices. Chafetz explained that such mob action should be permissible when “the mob is right.” For many who have watched the rise of threats and intolerance on our campuses, Chafetz’s comments capture the culture of many on the left. While many were taken aback by a professor seemingly supporting mob action, it is the same “by any means necessary” justification that has been used to justify everything from packing to sacking to leaking on the Court.
While I have opposed arresting the protesters on free speech grounds, I have been an outspoken critic of the doxing and targeting of justices at their homes.
Chafetz tweeted May 8 that “The ‘protest at the Supreme Court, not at the justices’ houses’ line would be more persuasive if the Court hadn’t this week erected fencing to prevent protesters from coming anywhere near it…And before the ‘oh so you support J6 lmao!’ trolls show up: the difference is *substantive*. When the mob is right, some (but not all!) more aggressive tactics are justified. When not, not.”
No line captures the academics supporting this age of rage better than “when the mob is right, some (but not all!) more aggressive tactics are justified. When not, not.” Presumably, Chafetz will tell us when aggressive protests are warranted and when they are not. It is the same license supporting the censorship of social media.
Rage can rationalize any means of response. Elie Mystal, who writes for Above the Law and is The Nation’s justice correspondent, for example, Mystal declared on MSNBC, without any contradiction from the host, that “You don’t communicate to [Trump supporters], you beat them. You do not negotiate with these people, you destroy them.”
Many have noted that Professor Ilya Shapiro remains suspended for a poorly worded tweet that he posted objecting to President Biden pledging to only consider Black female candidates for the next vacancy on the Court. However, Chafetz mocked the very thought that he could be punished for tweet supporting liberal mob action. He tweeted out:
“Folks can snitch tag @GeorgetownLaw all they want (I’m so sorry, public affairs folks!), they’re not going to fire me over a tweet you don’t like.”
(According to news reports, Chafetz limited access to his account after that tweet).
That is very likely correct under the very logic explained by Chafetz. Reckless and even violent rhetoric is tolerated when the targets are conservatives or Republicans in academia. A conservative, libertarian, or even moderate faculty member would make no such assumption today. The common view is that any controversy involving conservative or libertarian or contrarian viewpoints will result in calls for suspension and termination. With comparably few such faculty members teaching on most faculties, the chilling effect is glacial.
The concern over consistent and uniform treatment of speech is long-standing on campuses. In past postings, I have defended faculty who have made an array of disturbing comments about “detonating white people,” denouncing police, calling for Republicans to suffer, strangling police officers, celebrating the death of conservatives, calling for the killing of Trump supporters, supporting the murder of conservative protesters and other outrageous statements. I also supported the free speech rights of University of Rhode Island professor Erik Loomis, who defended the murder of a conservative protester and said that he saw “nothing wrong” with such acts of violence.
Even when faculty engage in hateful acts on campus, however, there is a notable difference in how universities respond depending on the viewpoint. At the University of California campus, professors actually rallied around a professor who physically assaulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display. We also previously discussed the case of Fresno State University Public Health Professor Dr. Gregory Thatcher who recruited students to destroy pro-life messages written on the sidewalks and wrongly told the pro-life students that they had no free speech rights in the matter.
In all of these controversies, my natural default is in favor of free speech despite the offensive content of the statements. I have the same inclination in this controversy. Chafetz should not be sanctioned for his tweet any more than Shapiro. There has been rising viewpoint intolerance at Georgetown, including retaliatory measures against not just faculty but student writers.
For an academic to support the targeting of jurists and their families at their homes should be shocking but it is not. It is manifestation of our national rage addiction. Academics are not immune. Indeed, they can be rationalize and capitalize on such rage. The means of the mob are justified when “the mob is right” … and many in academia and in politics are eager to embrace the “righteous anger” of the mob.