American right-wing group targets academics with Professor Watchlist | Education in the United States

Kellie Carter Jackson, an associate professor of African studies at Wellesley College, had never received hate mail before.

Then, in June 2020, she wrote an article on the George Floyd protests, addressing the role of riots in social change, and noting, “Freedom through violence is a privilege that only whites have. “

That article, published in Atlantic, and Carter Jackson’s appearance on the magazine’s podcast, were enough to place her on the Professor Watchlist, an online list of academics organized by the right-wing group Turning Point USA (TPUSA ), a strong supporter of Donald Trump. and his allies in the Republican Party.

Whether it was through the roster, which garnered new attention this week after it was expanded and won a sleek new website, or the article, or the podcast, or a combination of the three, Carter Jackson quickly received from many obscene messages.

“There is a file I keep called ‘hate mail’ in my emails and I have received a lot of them: ‘I hope you die’ messages, just crazy and horrible things,” Carter Jackson, author from the book Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence, says.

She also received postcards at her campus office in Wellesley, Massachusetts. One wore an image that appeared to be inspired by Dante’s Hell, Carter Jackson said. Writing on the other side was something less artistic.

“It was like, ‘Crazy bitch, I hope you die’, yada yada yada,” she said.

The list was first launched in 2016, as an online catalog of nearly 200 college professors who, according to Turning Point USA, were promoting “leftist propaganda in the classroom. “. This month, several academics noticed that the website had a facelift, with Oleg Urminsky, a professor at the University of Chicago, account 182 scholars who had been newly added to the list.

The website allows users to search for professors or universities, and features in-depth biographies of academics Turning Point believes have radical views. According to its website, the Professor Watchlist is “a carefully aggregated list”.

“We only post profiles on incidents that have been reported and published through a credible source,” the website says, although those sources include the right-wing Daily Caller website and Campus Reform, a funded news website. by a conservative group.

Turning Point USA, founded by Charlie Kirk, a talk show host and conservative activist who has become a major source of Covid-19 disinformation and electoral fraud plots, did not answer a number of questions on the list monitoring.

The group was one of the main promoters of the January 6 rally in Washington DC which turned into a violent insurgency, offering free bus rides and accommodation, while Kirk himself said he organized more than 80 buses “full of patriots in DC to fight for this. President”.

This backdrop gives a threatening air.

“Sometimes I think a lot of these extremists all bark and don’t bite, but at the same time January 6 was very real, and I’m hyper aware that there are people out there who aren’t above it. ‘Use of violence, of use of violence, in ways that are terrifying,’ said Carter Jackson.

“I don’t let him influence everything I do because I can’t just function in a state of paranoia. But at the same time, I am very aware of it. “

On Twitter, some noted that the Turning Point list appeared to disproportionately name academics of color compared to white professors. “Only 7.3% of Harvard professors are black; yet 5 of the 7 professors on Harvard’s “Professors Watch List” are black, ”Stephen Latham wrote.

Hakeem Jefferson, assistant professor of political science at Stanford University, who discovered he had been named to the watchlist in early September, said the watchlist was “a shameful attempt to harass professors to silence , especially teachers of color and those belonging to other historically marginalized groups ”.

Jefferson’s biography on the professor’s watchlist is unusually long. Among Jefferson’s “radical” ideas, according to the list, is his claim that “white Americans and conservatives” led the storming of the United States Capitol “because of their inability to accept the results of the United States. elections ”.

“The Turning Point USA Faculty Watch List is an outfit intended to intimidate professors who express beliefs that frustrate the status quo and threaten the maintenance of existing power structures in the United States,” Jefferson said in a report. -mail.

“This tactic just won’t work on me – not even a little bit. I will not remain silent in the face of attacks on American democracy that mock the ideals of this country, nor will I stop speaking honestly and clearly about what is at the root of so much that plagues us. : the commitment of many white Americans to white supremacy in all its baseless glory.

“Yes, it was this commitment to white supremacy that led many to storm the United States Capitol on January 6, and it is this commitment to white supremacy that forms the basis of the attacks on them. fundamental characteristics of democracy, including the right to vote. It’s also a commitment to white supremacy that inspires those who run the TPUSA faculty watchlist to target academics like me who believe the truth is always worth telling.

Carter Jackson is equally defiant. She received many more messages of support than hate and said she “will never stop doing the job.”

“You go back to the 20’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, there have always been people who try to slander academics, journalists or activists – people who try to speak the truth to power,” she said. declared.

“Something about it makes me feel even more empowered. Often times with academics you write something, whether it’s a book or an article, and it falls into that void that no one pays attention to.

She added: “It lets me know that people are paying attention, and I think it attracts more people to my job than they would have looked at otherwise.”

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