‘In New Territory’

John Eastman, legal architect of “Stop the Steal,” and Claremont Institute pull out of political science meeting after their panels were moved online. The group threatens legal action, but many political scientists say Eastman has no place among them.

September 30, 2021
 
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John Eastman speaks at the pro-Trump rally on Jan. 6, next to Rudy Giuliani.

The Claremont Institute, including senior fellow and 2020 election conspiracy theorist John Eastman, withdrew from the American Political Science Association’s hybrid meeting happening this week in Seattle and online. That’s after APSA suddenly converted all of Claremont’s in-person panels to virtual panels.

Prior to Claremont’s withdrawal, APSA faced pressure to sever ties with the institute and kick out Eastman, a legal adviser to former president Trump’s “stop the steal” campaign and a speaker at the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack. Eastman had been slated to speak on two APSA panels organized by Claremont, a think tank that is not formally affiliated with any of the Claremont Colleges.

Dan Gibson, APSA’s spokesperson, said Wednesday that his group “did not cancel the Claremont panels.” Rather, APSA “moved all Claremont's panels to a virtual format due to safety concerns with the meeting. Claremont then told us they wanted to cancel the panels instead of meeting virtually.”

Gibson, who was in APSA governing council meetings all day Wednesday, did not immediately clarify what he meant by safety concerns. He said that “Claremont members remain welcome to attend in-person or virtually,” and all attendees “must provide proof of having been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.”

Claremont said in an emailed statement that APSA “unilaterally and without explanation cancelled all of Claremont Institute’s (and only the Institute’s) in-person panels and moved them to virtual, which prevented our panelists from attending other in-person panels. They also cancelled our in-person reception, nonsensically ‘allowing’ that to be conducted virtually as well.”

The institute said that APSA’s move had “nothing to do with the COVID vaccine mandate, but rather appears to be APSA leadership’s gutless response to calls for it to cancel Claremont’s panels because some APSA members do not agree with the views of some of our panelists.”

Claremont said it is “exploring all legal options in response to this unprofessional and rather egregious conduct by the APSA.”

Eastman, who retired earlier this year, amid pressure, from his professorship in law at Chapman University, did not respond to a request for comment.

In January, following a first, botched attempt at condemning the events of Jan. 6, APSA said in a statement that “No tolerance should be given to the insurrectionists and the hatred and lies that motivate them.” Scholars who opposed Eastman’s presence at the APSA meeting cited this statement, arguing that the organization needed to back up its rhetoric with action, where necessary.

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Dave Karpf, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, wrote an open letter to APSA’s governing council to this effect last week. It has since been signed by more than 270 political scientists.

“Eastman has violated our discipline’s professional ethics by participating in the dangerous attempt to overturn the institution of electoral democracy in the U.S.,” Karpf wrote. “Your statement of strong condemnation on January 11th must apply to the Claremont Institute if it is to apply to anyone at all. Therefore we hereby request that you, in accordance with APSA’s bylaws, strip John Eastman of APSA membership.”

Karpf also requested that the council rescind Claremont’s status as an APSA-related group, which affords it special privileges and the ability to organize its own panels.

“It is well within your power to do so,” he wrote to APSA. “The Claremont Institute currently deploys its status as an APSA Related Group as a fundraising vehicle -- offering donors the opportunity to purchase a panel slot for a $5,000 donation. Claremont’s status as a Related Group provides a material benefit to an institution that is expressly at odds with the goals and values of [APSA] and its membership.”

Karpf added that the institute “has the right to publish ill-reasoned diatribes that call for the end of electoral democracy in the U.S. But [APSA] has the responsibility to sever all ties” with it.

Jeffrey Isaac, James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University at Bloomington, echoed some of Karpf’s thoughts in his own post for the Duck of Minerva international politics blog. Purposely distinguishing the values of academic freedom and professional integrity, Isaac asked, “Is 21st century American fascism beyond the pale” of APSA?

Isaac’s ultimate answer is yes. Quoting APSA’s own statement about the insurrection, Isaac wrote that it is “surely within the power and authority of APSA leadership to censure Eastman and the Claremont Institute, by making a very public statement that they are among ‘those who have continuously endorsed and disseminated falsehoods and misinformation, and who have worked to overturn the results of a free and fair Presidential Election,’ and they thus deserve to be condemned.”

Beyond APSA’s January statement, Isaac argued that APSA made three other statements extolling democratic citizenship in 2020, including a statement about the presidential election results.

Political science research “highlights the importance of an orderly transition between the current president and the president-elect for national security and the integrity of our democratic process,” that election statement said. “We strongly and unequivocally support such an orderly transition, for the good of the country and the world.”

Isaac wrote that the “dangers to democracy” that prompted APSA to make a series of unusual statements in 2020 and early 2021 haven’t gone away, and that APSA “now ought to take the obvious next step, at this moment of real ongoing crisis, and strongly distance itself from all of those who teach and publish about politics and the law and use their professional credentials to promote far-right, anti-democratic action to the point of literal insurrection.”

Eastman did “more than offer a controversial ‘republican’ reading of the law to Trump” and others leading up to Jan. 6, Isaac also said. Eastman “conspired with them to overthrow an election by offering a twisted argument that was beyond the pale of serious legal scholarship.”

Karpf, who is not attending APSA this year for reasons unrelated to Claremont or Eastman, said Wednesday that he hadn’t heard directly from APSA but that he was “glad to see” Eastman’s panels were no longer occurring. He also said he thought Claremont-affiliated scholars should be free to submit their papers to other APSA sections for future conferences, but that Claremont should no longer be able to plan its own panels for what amounts to a “conference within a conference.”

Asked about how APSA has responded to the situation, Karpf said the organization is “acting very appropriately,” given the circumstances, including the threats of legal action by Claremont. So far, he said, “I think they did the one thing they knew they could do, which was move the panels online.”

Karpf added, “You know, we’re kind of in new territory here, both for APSA and American democracy.”

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