Fresno State released a new statement on Monday regarding a professor’s comments that “Trump must hang” – vowing to cooperate in any potential federal investigation.
Lars Maischak, a history professor, made national headlines after he tweeted that “to save American democracy, Trump must hang. The sooner and the higher, the better.”
On Saturday, those tweets, originally posted in February, became the subject of an article by Breitbart.com – a far-right news website. Brietbart said Maischak’s tweets “explain why universities across the country are now viewed with disdain by average, salt-of-the-earth Americans.”
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, wishing him “fired, deported or killed.”
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Fresno State said Monday that while it’s committed to the right to free speech, Maischak’s statements warrant further review and consideration.
“The review of these and any other statements will be conducted in the context of rights of free expression, but also for potential direct threats of violence that may violate the law,” Fresno State President Joseph Castro said. “The university is taking this matter seriously and handling it in accordance with applicable law and policy, as well as our traditions of academic freedom and the requirements of the faculty collective bargaining unit agreement.”
Castro also said the university “will fully cooperate with any investigations conducted by federal officials."
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 his tweet in question was only meant to mean 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 can be considered a felony, and such threats are investigated by the U.S. Secret Service.
“My understanding is he’s going to get a call from the Secret Service,” said David Snyder, the executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a San Rafael-based nonprofit that offers legal advice regarding free speech. “But these cases can be hard and very fact-specific – the words really do matter. Political speech has the highest level of protections. So statements about the president, period, are going to be much more protected than statements about some random student.”
Snyder, an attorney, says he does not think Maischak’s tweet constitutes a real threat.
“I don’t read that tweet as making a specific threat toward Trump. He’s not saying he’s going to shoot or hang Trump or that people should commit violence against Trump,” Snyder said. “It’s couched in the form that American democracy is at threat, so to me, that’s not a specific threat of violence.”
But a change.org petition is calling for Maischak to be fired, pointing to other tweets, including one that depicts a picture of a bullet and says one “administered straight to the cranium” is the cure for racism.
“While Maischak is certainly entitled to his opinion, he should not be in a position of power and authority over impressionable young minds while inciting violence against the president and those who support him,” says the petition, led by Joe Newby, who runs a conservative blog called the Conservative Firing Line.