Fresno State President Joseph Castro said Wednesday that he and his staff will continue to cooperate with federal investigators in their probe of a German-born history professor who ignited a firestorm when he said on Twitter that President Donald Trump must hang to save democracy.
In a conference call with reporters, Castro said has been in frequent contact with the FBI, Secret Service and Homeland Security since last Saturday when professor Lars Maischak made national headlines after a report surfaced that he had tweeted “to save American democracy, Trump must hang. The sooner and the higher, the better.”
On Wednesday, Maischak apologized for his actions in a written statement given to The Bee. In addition, Maischak said that he has deleted his Twitter account and is “prepared to take full responsibility for my statements.”
Castro said he appreciated Maischak’s apology, calling it “a first good step” in calming the critics who want him fired, deported or killed. The president said he is not ready to judge Maischak because the university is in the initial stages of its investigation. But Castro also pointed out that he and Fresno State value a person’s right to free speech and a professor’s right to academic freedom. “We want a free exchange of differing views,” Castro said.
That being said, Castro told reporters that the university’s main goal is to ensure the safety of students and to that they receive a quality education.
“We will continue to educate our future leaders,” Castro said. “But I want folks to know that we will do the right thing.”
The uproar began when Maischak’s tweets, originally posted in February, became the subject of an article by Breitbart.com – a far-right news website. Breitbart said Maischak’s tweets “explain why universities across the country are now viewed with disdain by average, salt-of-the-earth Americans.”
Castro said he returned to Fresno from the East Coast on Friday and learned about Maischak’s tweets on Saturday. He said the university then contacted federal authorities, saying his main concern “is the safety of our students and the campus community. We’re taking this situation seriously and cooperating with appropriate authorities.”
Maischak, 47, could not be reached to comment Wednesday. In an interview Saturday evening, Maischak said he does not condone violence and has no intention of becoming violent, and pointed to Breitbart’s own history of scathing commentary. He said he has received about 500 emails and more than 5,000 tweets after the Breitbart article that called for him to be “fired, deported or killed.”
In an email to The Bee on Monday, Maischak accused Castro of “allowing himself to be instrumentalized for a right-wing smear campaign,” and said he was not given an opportunity to explain his views to the university prior to its official public statement.
Maischak says the tweet in question was only meant to indicate Trump is a threat to democracy. “To read this as an invitation to, or expression of intent for, murder or assassination is far-fetched.”
Threatening the president of the United States can be considered a felony, however.
Castro said Maischak has been teaching at Fresno State since the fall of 2006. He noted that Maischak is a lecturer, not a tenured professor.
His university bio says he has a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University and teaches such courses as Colonial Americas; American History to 1877; Topics in Intellectual History – Marx and Hegel for Historians; and England & Empire.
Castro said Maischak is teaching four courses this semester.
Other than a letter to the editor to The Bee in 2008 – in which he denounced a local politician’s idea about using prisoner as laborers – Maischak has stayed out of the limelight. Superior Court records say his only run-in with the law was a speeding ticket in 2014. He paid a fine of $355 and completed traffic school.
In the conference call, Castro said he could not talk about confidential personnel matters regarding Maischak, but he confirmed that he was born in Germany and is legally residing here. Though Maischak’s critics are fierce, Castro said, he was not aware of any specific threat against Maischak. But he did receive a note from Maischak on Tuesday. “We are working with him on his set of concerns,” Castro said without elaborating.
Castro also declined to say whether there has been any severe backlash from alumni or boosters, other than to say he has read multiple opinions about the controversy. He said none of Maischak’s students have been critical of the professor for his tweet. But Castro also pointed out that the controversy broke out while students are on spring break.
In his statement to The Bee, Maischak said Wednesday:
“I apologize for the tone and content of my statements made on Twitter.
“I ask forgiveness of those who felt threatened or offended by them.
“It was never my intent to harm anyone, nor to encourage others to harm anyone.
“My statements each represent the end point of a dark train of thought triggered by my despair over the actions of the present U.S. government. That is what I meant by calling them ‘dark predictions.’
“It felt cathartic at the time to write them down.
“With 28 followers on Twitter at the time, I never expected them to be read by anyone but a close circle of acquaintances who would know to place them in their context.
“To treat Twitter as of no more consequence than a journal was a poor decision.
“I have deleted my Twitter account, to preclude the possibility that anyone reading my statements in the future would take them as encouragement to act violently or unlawfully.
“In this spirit, I am prepared to take full responsibility for my statements.”
Castro said he appreciated Maischak’s words. He also said Fresno State will continue to work with law enforcement and handle the issue in accordance with applicable law, policy and the requirements of the faculty collective bargaining unit agreement. He also promised to “listen to all voices” in order to get “a full sense of the picture” before making a decision about Maischak.