This morning, Professor David Palumbo-Liu published a response to an article published by the Review earlier this week. We appreciate him taking time to answer our questions and write to us, and wholeheartedly agree with his defense of free speech. However, Palumbo-Liu’s response fails to address the substance of our points, repeatedly makes illogical claims, and unfairly slanders us as representatives of the “alt-right.”
As eager participants in university political debates, we would love to have read a serious reply to our piece: for example, an argument for why and when violent protests are sometimes justified in extreme political circumstances (if anyone wants to write such an article for us, send an outline over!). Instead, the response consisted of unsound arguments that relied on picky semantics rather than addressing the substance of our assertions.
First, Palumbo-Liu claims that we make the egregious error of failing to distinguish between the term “antifa” and its variant “antifascist,” used in the name of his organization the Campus Antifascist Network. Given that perhaps the most prominent scholar of the antifa movement, Mark Bray, has titled his book Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, I hope that we may be forgiven for equivocating the two terms. Claiming that they have separate meanings in today’s political culture is Bill Clinton-level linguistic obfuscation reminiscent of his infamous statement, “depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” We imagine that Professor Palumbo-Liu would be at least slightly concerned if a fellow professor founded the “Campus Alternative Right Network,” regardless of whether said professor attempted to distinguish it from the “alt-right.”
Especially if the two phrases’ meanings are somehow subtly distinct and Palumbo-Liu’s organization does not use the violent tactics generally identified with the “antifa” movement, we cannot understand why he would pick an almost indistinguishable term to describe his organization when, to most students and the public at large, the two are essentially identical.
Palumbo-Liu goes on to claim that calling him an “antifa leader” is absurd because the antifa movement has no centralized authority, and is generally “anti-authoritarian” and “anti-hierarchical.” While this decentralization does distinguish antifa from many other protest movements, a lack of central authority and a general disdain for hierarchy of course do not preclude a movement’s having leaders. To pick on our claim as an “elementary, self-imposed error” is ridiculous: of course it is fair to claim that someone who founds a “Campus Antifascist Network” is at least something of a leader within the movement.
Let’s remember the facts here. A professor founds a campus group with a name almost identical to a national movement that has been classified by the government as a domestic terrorist organization and identified by most Americans as a group of club-wielding thugs. He defends himself by claiming that his organization has a slightly different name. He fails to roundly condemn the domestic terrorism antifa members have perpetrated against peaceful citizens. And yet, he is angry at us for pointing out that his actions could be misconstrued as reflecting a preference for violent protest over the peaceful dissent and debate that Stanford stands for.
It is unfortunate that Professor Palumbo-Liu has faced doxxing as a result of our article or others published about him. No one, least of all their family, should face online harassment for expressing their views. We also have received hate mail and threats during our time at the Review. However, we simply cannot control who reads our content and where our pieces are quoted. And we cannot set a standard of refusing to publish a piece if it could conceivably result in online harassment. Given today’s noxious political climate and the Internet’s Wild West ethos, worrying that some angry keyboard warrior could take action against a piece would require us to publish almost nothing!
A note on fascism, too. In our original piece, we took issue with Professor Palumbo-Liu’s expansive definition of fascism, which seemed to us a muddle of epithets and vague ideas that could be used to justify forceful opposition to a broad range of world views. In response, Professor Palumbo-Liu quoted George Orwell and suggested that difficulty in identifying fascism does not preclude one from resisting it. Let us be very clear: the Review stands opposed to fascism, opposed to any ideology that systematically demeans the dignity of the individual or cedes personal freedom to authoritarian evil. We believe, though, that one must speak with clarity and certainty about the enemy one faces. When groups like antifa paint large swathes of conservatives with the same brush, indiscriminately accusing them of fascism or Nazism, they delegitimize their very movement. They tell every reasonable person that a term like “fascist” or “Nazi” no longer carries the weight that it once did, that it simply means “someone with whom you disagree.” We think this is a profound shame: a genuine recrudescence of fascism on college campuses is something that we should be united in opposing. When groups like antifa use wishy-washy definitions to condemn anybody right of the political center, that becomes all the more difficult.
Finally, Professor Palumbo-Liu smears us as representatives of the alt-right. To anyone who knows us, this is a ludicrous slander. At least half of our staff are self-described liberals or centrists and some are even registered Democrats. The Review has repeatedly declined to host or praise figures like Milo Yiannopoulos; we stand for contrarian but substantive discourse. When Robert Spencer visited Stanford, we published multiple articles that explored arguments on both sides of the debate. Given that Professor Palumbo-Liu rightly condemns “speaking of people as objects and within set categories that render them inhuman and perpetually less worthy,” one wishes he would extend the same courtesy to members of the Review.
By the Editorial Board of The Stanford Review