Tomorrow morning, a 15,000 word investigative feature on the political warfare currently tearing apart Medieval Studies will appear on the internet. It is the result of months of work by Milo Yiannopoulos. Before anyone has read a word of it, threats of lawsuits are being thrown around in an attempt to halt publication of the story.
Reproduced below in full is an email sent to David Nirenberg, Executive Vice President and Dean of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, and Emilio Kourí, Chair of History at the same institution, by Eileen Joy, a former professor who appears prominently in Yiannopoulos’s reporting. The letter, provided to Milo by two sources in academia, makes for enthralling, if somewhat depressing, reading. It also gives an insight into the hysteria and panic that have gripped Medieval Studies in the past few years.
A link to Yiannopoulos’s story will be posted on his Facebook page at 8am ET Tuesday.
From: Eileen Joy
Subject: Potential Lawsuit: Rachel Fulton Brown
Date: July 26, 2018 at 3:32:49 PM CDT
To: David Nirenberg, Emilio Kourí
Dear Profs. Kouri and Nirenberg,
I would rather do anything than write this email right now. I have been sitting on a legal letter (which threatens a lawsuit against both Prof. Rachel Fulton Brown and the University of Chicago, for, among other things, libel, cyber-harassment, and reckless endangerment). I do not want to send this letter (which I also plan to publish publicly), but I will if I must. But I am emailing you because I am hoping we can avoid this situation. Can we please talk at some point soon, even by phone (my mobile number is [REDACTED])?Please also forgive this long-ish email — I truly do not want to launch a lawsuit, and would much prefer that the University of Chicago get some kind of handle on Prof. Brown’s online activities before someone actually gets hurt or a lawsuit is actually necessary. I tried approaching Prof. Brown about this directly, and she pretty much refused to address my concerns (more on which below). You are also free to share this email with Prof. Brown, of course, but I am addressing it to both of you for a reason.
Before I outline my specific concerns, I would also like to frame those concerns by saying that, for me, this is no longer about academic freedom nor about a supposed separation of Prof. Brown’s “personal” and “professional” activities online. This is about harassment (both cyber- and virtual), reckless endangerment, professional decency, and what might be called a serious lapse in historical method by a professor of history at the University of Chicago who has primarily targeted women of color (Dorothy Kim and Seeta Chaganti, University of California, Davis) and also women who are queer (me). This is about your own Code of Conduct for faculty and your roles as stewards of both the History department and the larger University. This is about the fact that you can’t assign to yourself the role of “public historian” and “political provocateur,” as Prof. Brown has done, and somehow, your affiliation with the University of Chicago is not relevant to, or somehow separate from, that. This is me writing to you and asking you to please assist me and others in the field of medieval studies to not have this menace and fear in our lives because one of your professors is behaving recklessly online while also claiming her work online is “public history.”
I myself have never been cyber-trolled and harassed by frighteningly misogynist and racist men from the dark corners of the alt-Right internet until two things happened in the past 2 years: I criticized Allen Frantzen (emeritus, Loyola University, Chicago) online in early 2016 for his anti-feminist writings (after which I received threats that I should be “raped to death”), and then, I guess the best way to put it would be: Rachel Fulton Brown put me in her sights. Please help me return my, and others’ lives, back to “normal,” however we might define that. I plead with you to please see the harm Prof. Brown is causing, and to also see how Prof. Brown disavows all responsibility for her followers’ behavior that she herself has *incited*. I myself don’t like and won’t tolerate bullies and am well-known for fighting back against them, which of course leads to more and more attacks. But I don’t like bullies. Does the University of Chicago not understand that they bear some responsibility in this bullying of colleagues within the field of medieval studies? Is this really okay with the administrators of the university and do you really believe her behavior has no direct relation to her professional profile nor to her home institution? This isn’t decent behavior and it certainly does not reflect good public scholarship. Everyone should be ashamed.
Let me now explain the immediate cause of my email —
1. Prof. Brown has been taking screenshots of items on my Facebook wall and reposting them on her FB wall (and on her blog), with (ironically and sadly, since she is an historian) no context whatsoever (in the case of FB) or with extracted content that has been so twisted out of its original framing/context that everything becomes badly distorted, and then she invites her “salon” “followers” to pile on, which they always do. My writings online are public so I actually don’t object to anyone focusing on my words and public writings; it’s the way that Prof. Brown does it that takes my breath away, because she is technically my colleague in the field of medieval studies and her behavior is decidedly unacademic, violates the norms and values of public historical scholarship, and is downright mean-spirited. Some of her followers are fellow medievalists but the majority are not, and some of these non-academic followers are literally terrifying to me and others within medieval studies. For the most part, I have tried mightily to ignore Prof. Brown, but when she reposted one of my posts, dated June 27th, from my FB wall (in which I was ranting about the problems with the programming for the 2019 Kalamazoo Congress on Medieval Studies, and to which I appended an image of the well-known anime character Aggrestsuko, a “feminist” red panda who works in a corporate office and is always angry: this is also a popular Netflix show), one of her followers “Barry Jacobs” insinuated that the anime character was actually a meme for pedophilia. It is also important to note her that when Prof. Brown re-posted my post and the accompanying image, that her only leading comment was “Breaking News.” The intent was clear to her followers, who were clearly invited to start ridiculing me with no guidance from Prof. Brown whatsoever (that’s a fine way for a UChicago historian to conduct herself, I must say). I was sitting in the Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry University when my phone lit up with messages from friends in the US (all academics) telling me that Prof. Brown’s “friends” were insinuating by association that I was a pedophile on her FB wall. Turns out: that was true. I immediately went to her FB wall (also set to public) and asked her firmly and clearly to please remove those comments, and she refused, and told me to take it up directly with her friend “Barry Jacobs” (which may or may not be his real name), who initially raised the insinuation. I re-insisted and she and her followers doubled down (including Greg Wilson, who wrote, “Why are you dog-whistling Pedo bear Eileen A. Fradenburg Joy?”), amplifying their insinuations that I knew too much about pedophilia (for context on why this is a highly dangerous tactic of the darker corners of the alt-Right internet, please see this: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/josephbernstein/lane-davis-ralph-retort-seattle4truth-alt-right). I let Prof. Brown know that if she did not remove these comments, I would begin work on a lawsuit. Both “Barry Jacobs” and Greg Wilson even appeared in the comments section of an article at Inside Higher Ed about the recent controversies relative to the International Congress on Medieval Studies and repeated the insinuations there. Every time I tried to intervene and ask that these smears be corrected (for, by example, Prof. Brown simply deleting these ridiculous insinuations, and maybe even saying to her followers, “play nice, everyone, prof. Joy is not a pedophile or connected to it in any way), she adamantly refused and then “Barry Jacobs” started accusing me all over the place (Facebook, Twitter, Inside Higher Ed, and god knows where else) of triggering his trauma as a child victim of sexual assault, and threatening to sue me for harassment. In one instance, he claimed to be a “woman,” in another instance he claimed to be transgender. Prof. Brown maintains that he is a friend from high school who is Native American and wheelchair-bound, and when I tried to reason with her that this person is mis-representing his identity in various places online, she refused to acknowledge that. This has caused me no little distress in the past few weeks, and I hold Rachel Fulton Brown and the University of Chicago directly responsible for the potential damage to my reputation and to my career.
2. I am technically in a somewhat precarious position right now and thus my anxiety over these insinuations, as ridiculous as they will appear to many who know me. I thought about just walking away from all of this and letting it all die down, as these matters often do. I resigned my tenured professorship at Southern Illinois University in 2013 in order to run punctum books full-time (https://punctumbooks.com). I have published quite a few of UChicago’s faculty, including Lauren Berlant (I am also the founding editor of postmedieval, where I have also published UChicago researchers). Since 2014, I and my press have been situated adjacent to the University of California, Santa Barbara (we also have an editorial office in The Hague), where I have been negotiating with the university to consider taking on the press as an institutional concern. In April of this year, I accomplished a handshake deal with UCSB Library, and in September, we sign a legal contract and the press’s operations move into the Library. My entire career has been building to this moment and I have also been without institutional employment and security since August of 2013. Prof. Brown’s actions are a potential threat not only to my mental well-being, but because all of these comments are public and online, my reputation and my future plans are threatened. And yes, I know that most people won’t believe this stuff, and that I am well-regarded in medieval studies as well as in scholarly publishing, but that isn’t the point. I hold Rachel Fulton Brown and the University of Chicago responsible for endangering my mental well-being and for the reckless manner in which Prof. Brown endangers my and other colleague’s safety because of the unfortunate company she keeps online — persons who are not academic colleagues, and who put on and take off multiple, mendacious identities, and have no little connection to political forces in our country that seek to belittle, demean, and even hurt others who are different from them and who do not buy into an ethno-supremacist view of the past.
3. I have compiled a dossier on “Barry Jacobs,” with the assistance of graduate students at UChicago, in which it is clear that he (or “she”) pretends to be different people, in many different places on the internet, in order to (in his/her words) “argue with liberals.” I wish I could roll my eyes, except that, given the current political climate in our country right now, having someone like this menacing you in public forums is a nightmare. I consider men like “Barry Jacobs” and Greg Wilson of no little threat at this point in time and they should have never entered into my life, except for Prof. Brown inviting them to ridicule me. This is no longer about academic freedom nor about someone’s FB page supposedly being a separate domain from the classroom or one’s research profile. The University of Chicago, in my opinion, needs to attend to all of this before someone actually gets hurt. We have white men all over this country (and in Canada: think of what’s been happening in Toronto lately) who are going out and murdering people just because they feel “white men” aren’t getting what they need and want (sexually, politically, culturally, etc.). I know quite a bit about this, because it’s a core area of my current research (the connections between Anglo-Saxon studies and the neomedievalist, tribalist, ethno-separatist alt-Right). I am still extremely active as a scholar and invited speaker and this is what I am working on now, in addition to my duties as the director of an academic press: the resurgence of hate crimes in this country, especially on college campuses, and the ways in which some sectors of medieval studies are complicit in the structural racism and other -isms of our field (medieval studies), and how all of this is a powder keg. I have lots of evidence to show that “Barry Jacobs” is both a liar and also frightening. He continues to pop up everywhere he can (most recently, on my Twitter wall) to harass and accuse me. He is actually telling anyone who will listen to him that *I* somehow triggered his trauma as a sexual assault victim (which is a lie), and he has also threatened publicly to sue me for sexual harassment. Prof. Brown, meanwhile, is telling everyone online that Barry is her old high school friend and that whatever he is saying is true. It is not and I have proof. I hold Rachel Fulton Brown and the University of Chicago responsible for bringing this menace into my life and, for lack of a better way of phrasing it, allowing Prof. Brown to craft a highly visible example of “public intellectual” whose ethics and methods are questionable at best, and harmful to specific persons (psychically and bodily).
4. Milo Yiannopoulos (I assume, at Prof. Brown’s urging) is now working on a 9,000-word essay on, in his words, social justice warriors trying to “take over” medieval studies. I, and many other medievalists, have been contacted and asked if we would be willing to comment. Most of us (maybe all, actually) are essentially declining to comment, but I wanted to at least see how those questions were going to framed, so I asked to see them in writing. I attach them here as a Word document for your review. Essentially, what reading these questions tell me is that Yiannopoulos is doing investigative research into me as a scholar, as a leader within the BABEL Working Group, and as the Director of punctum books, including digging around into the financial aspects and tax records of the press as well as the working group, which of course is beyond intimidating and, once again, threatening my mental well-being and reputation. To be honest, there is no “smoking gun” as far as BABEL’s or punctum’s finances are concerned and if he were to write disparagingly about the press, it would likely be the best publicity we ever received, for fundraising purposes. But again, that is not the point. What did I do to deserve this sort of scrutiny from a so-called “journalist” whose ethics as a reporter have already been exposed as deeply flawed (see: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/josephbernstein/heres-how-breitbart-and-milo-smuggled-white-nationalism), and from whom I can expect no “fair” coverage of myself as either a scholar, as one of the leaders of a learned society (BABEL), or as the director of a press? I hold Rachel Fulton Brown and the University of Chicago directly responsible for all of the menace this poses directly to my press (and my associates who work with me), on whose behalf I have labored in the trenches for close to 8 years, and whose reputation, as far as I am concerned, is beyond reproach. I have no faith that Yiannopoulos plans to provide an objective picture of the recent controversies in medieval studies, but will use this piece to help Prof. Brown to bludgeon and demean and smear her “enemies,” who are also her fellow medievalists (she seems to believe she is “at war”). I uphold Prof. Brown’s right to conduct her professional research as she sees fit and to represent her own views of the past guided by archival research, but this is no longer what might be called a professional, public “debate”; rather, it’s insanity and deeply dehumanizing.
How did we get here? I think some very long-simmering tensions within the field of medieval studies relative to issues of structural racism, anti-feminism, homophobia (etc.), coupled with the election of Donald Trump (and the license that has seemed to give to more and more angry white men to get angrier and angrier, online and in the streets, with guns), has brought us to where we are now. And your colleague, Prof. Rachel Fulton Brown, has taken advantage of this “mayhem” to wreak havoc in our field and to threaten and intimidate specific persons. We can have disagreements. We can have debates. We can have freedom of speech. But that’s not what any of this is any more. This is just madness, plan and simple, and it does not befit the profession of the public university. And by anyone’s standards, on the Right or the Left, Prof. Brown’s “work” as a public historian is appalling for its lack of knowledge, rigor, and fairness.
With the highest hopes that you are men of eminent goodwill, and with the hope, also, that we can work on this together to defuse the threat Prof. Brown poses to so many of us within the field (who are women, who are black, who are brown, who are Asian, who are queer, etc.) and that we can avoid lawsuits, if at all possible, is why I am writing this email (and I welcome Prof. Brown to also consider how she herself can de-escalate what is happening now). If you think this is a tempest in a teapot and can be ignored until it “goes away,” let me assure you that this is no teapot. For me, nothing less then the values and principles of the historiographical profession are at stake, and Prof. Brown’s public historical work taints that profession, menaces persons who are supposed to be her colleagues, and renders an obscene picture of a UChicago professor “at work” in the wider world. We need a better world than this.
Sincerely and with highest regards, Eileen
Eileen A. Fradenburg Joy
Chadwick Moore is a journalist, political commentator, and editor-in-chief of DANGEROUS, currently working on his first book. He tweets at @Chadwick_Moore.