Pro-Antifa Professor Out in Iowa

Kirkwood Community College announces that a professor sympathetic to Antifa and critical of evangelical Christians won't be teaching this year, due to safety concerns.

August 26, 2019
 
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The Kirkwood Community College adjunct instructor of English who expressed antifascist views online will not be teaching this semester.

The Iowa college announced Friday that the instructor, Jeff Klinzman, resigned after “we made the decision this morning to identify an instructor who will take over” his one scheduled course.

Klinzman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. His case made headlines last week after local news station KCRG reported that he’d posted to the Iowa Antifa Facebook page and affirmed that he was part of Antifa. In response to a July tweet by President Trump calling Antifa members "gutless Radical Left Wack Jobs who go around hitting (only non-fighters) people over the heads with baseball bats," Klinzman wrote on Facebook, for example, “Yeah, I know who I'd clock with a bat.”

KCRG reported that the Secret Service is aware of Klinzman's post but that it did not say whether it is investigating him as a threat to Trump. Since the initial news report, many have called for Kirkwood to fire Klinzman.

Klinzman also reportedly posted comments against evangelical Christians and what he called their "homophobic bigotry." Citing the war poetry of Ilya Ehrenburg encouraging Soviet troops to kill German invaders, Klinzman also wrote in that post, "It's not pretty, and I'm not proud, but seeing what Evangelical Christians are doing to this country and its people fills me with rage, and a desire to exact revenge."

The professor's Facebook page is now private, but Kirkwood says his controversial statements date back to 2012.

Kirkwood president Lori Sundberg said that news of Klinzman’s “opinions has drawn considerable attention from many inside and outside of the Kirkwood community just as we embark on a new school year.” With campus safety in mind, she said, the college spoke with Klinzman and “accepted his resignation.”

In “today’s climate,” Sundberg said, “some may use this decision to support broader arguments about free speech on college campuses. That’s why I want to be very clear with you the reasoning behind this decision.” The national attention is potentially “disruptive to our mission,” she said, and “our decision to remove Mr. Klinzman from the classroom has nothing to do with the substance of his views or his right to express them.”

Kirkwood “fully supports Mr. Klinzman’s right to articulate his views in whatever forum he chooses. This action does not in any way prevent him from continuing to engage in the expression of free speech.” Even if that's true, adjunct professors in general enjoy far less academic freedom than their tenured colleagues.

As students arrive on campus this week, Sundberg said, a new “security team” will be present. Kirkwood expects that the Klinzman matter “may be the subject of discussion on campus and here in town” and is “hopeful that the discussion happens civilly, safely and in a way that is not disruptive to the Kirkwood community.”

In a “free society and especially in higher education,” Sundberg said, “a lively, robust and free exchange of ideas is essential, after all.”

Beyond Kirkwood

In 2017, federal authorities investigated Lars Maischak, a lecturer in history at California State University, Fresno, for tweeting that in order to “save American democracy, Trump must hang.” He also tweeted about honoring “the Trump assassin.” Maischak was removed from teaching and took a leave of absence. He was eventually cleared by investigators and returned to Fresno State, teaching online only. He is back in the classroom this semester, according to the university.

Maischak has said that he was not literally calling for Trump to be hanged. In a Fresno Bee op-ed last year, he said that if one believes the "fascist propaganda outlets, universities are places where Marxists, liberals and feminists poison the minds of the young with their un-American ideas. This notion is as resistant to facts that contradict it as any other tenet of the Republican subculture in the age of Trump.”

To “identify, condemn and ultimately remove professors with critical opinions -- especially if they voice them in public -- is the express purpose of well-financed, right-wing organizations like Turning Point USA, the people who assemble the Professor Watchlist,” Maischak said. They “supply the public with the stories of dangerous, deranged and demagogical professors that confirm every worst fear.” (Professor Watchlist defends its work as an aggregating only credibly sourced items about professors “advancing a radical agenda.”)

Antifa activism emerged in response to ethnonationalism and racism a century ago in Europe. Many current activists, who have been referred to as the "alt-left," don’t rule out violence to counteract fascism and racism. At the University of California, Berkeley, in 2017, for instance, protesters lit fires and threw rocks at police ahead of a planned appearance by then-Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos. Those protesters were largely unaffiliated with Berkeley, however. And many others support Antifa without committing violent acts.

Academe’s antifascist movement, embodied thus far by groups such as the Campus Antifascist Network, is mostly about expressing solidarity for and helping protect supporters’ most vulnerable colleagues, students and peers against white nationalists. Colleges and universities play increasingly prominent roles in recruiting for racist groups such as Identity Evropa. Campuses are also sometimes symbolic to white nationalists, including those who marched on the University of Virginia and greater Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

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