by David Prochaska
TARIQ KHAN INCIDENT
Last November 16, on the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s election, Tariq Khan, a 39-year-old Ph.D. student in history, was just finishing speaking at a rally when hecklers, including Joel Valdez, called out, “No one’s scared of you, 50-year-old man! Don’t you have kids to look after?,” according to multiple sources.
Khan knew who they were. Jose Valdez, Andrew Minik, and Blair Nelson are all members of the UIUC chapter of Turning Point USA (TPUSA), a far-right campus group favoring “limited government” and “free speech.” Funded by secretive, deep-pocketed right-wing donors, including Bruce Rauner, Betsy DeVos, Foster Friess, and Richard Uilhein, in practice TPUSA aligns itself deceptively closely with Alex Jones’ Infowars, “Proud Boy” Gavin McInnes, the Traditionalist Workers Party, and other alt-right, including neo-Nazi, individuals and groups.
How TPUSA went after Tariq Khan sheds light on how they operate, and how the response of institutions—in this case UIUC—fall short.
Khan confronted his hecklers verbally; they say also physically. They filmed him. Tariq grabbed Valdez’s previously-cracked phone and tossed it on the ground. TPUSA called the University of Illinois Police Department (UIPD), and uploaded an edited version of their video to their affiliated site, Campus Reform, where it went viral.
Khan was cited for “criminal damage to property,” but later all charges were dropped; he was not required to pay anything for Valdez’s phone.
That was not the end of it, however. The UI Office of Student Conflict Resolution (OSCR) decided that Tariq had “chest bumped” Valdez, put him on “Conduct Probation,” and issued a no contact order between him and Valdez, Minik and Nelson.
Tariq provided OSCR with a thick binder of background information detailing TPUSA, alt-right groups they were involved with, and incidents targeting him, his family, and fellow activists. It documented a pattern of what his wife and fellow activist, Kristina Khan, and others term “alt-right alt-lite” intimidation and harassment. OSCR’s response? Khan says they told him,“context doesn’t matter.”
For Tariq, context is everything. Not an isolated incident, this case concerned a three-year-long pattern of threats and attacks.
For TPUSA, everything went according to a scripted plan. They had egged on Tariq Khan and gotten OSCR to discipline him. Their claims of “instructor assaults conservative students and steals student’s phone” ricocheted around the right-wing echo chamber. And the UI continued its pattern of inaction faced with the “alt-right alt-lite.”
JAY ROSENSTEIN INCIDENT
Besides TPUSA’s sister website, Campus Reform, it runs Professor Watchlist, which “document[s] college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda.”
Jay Rosenstein was named to Professor Watchlist when he was arrested January 22 for allegedly filming in a State Farm Center (SFC) restroom during a basketball game. Although UIPD officers were not present at the time, their police report states, “[SFC] Security reported a subject was recording another person, without consent in the men’s restroom.”
However, Jay says, “I believe I was wrongfully detained because of my efforts to investigate whether employees of the SFC are taking an active role in facilitating the appearance of the unapproved Chief Illiniwek.”
Never one to miss a “crime” story, News-Gazette reporter Mary Shenk just hours later uploaded Rosenstein’s mugshot alongside her story based on former Chief Illiniwek Ivan Dozier’s Facebook post.
The following morning, Rosenstein was released, because state’s attorney Julia Rietz dropped all charges, saying, “The criminal justice system is not the place to gain an advantage for one side or the other on a public debate.” Clearly, she decided there was no prurient interest on Jay’s part.
But Chancellor Robert Jones and the UI administration put Rosenstein on “paid administrative leave” the same afternoon he was released, saying, “If the allegations against Prof. Rosenstein are accurate,” they would be “an unacceptable violation of personal privacy under any circumstances.” This echoed what can be termed the News-Gazette’s “potty story.”
In emails, comment threads, and on Twitter and Facebook, Jay was accused of being a pervert and pedophile.
Rosenstein worked “to turn the narrative around.” He was most upset with what he contended was the News-Gazette’s blatantly biased, unprofessional journalism. “As a journalist, what is most important is accuracy and fairness … Fairness means giving me the chance to respond.”
He was just as upset that Jones had sided with Dozier, rather than taking into account his highly distinguished 17-year teaching record.
Simply put, Rosenstein is one of the most distinguished faculty members at Illinois. His many films, including In Whose Honor? (1997) on the Chief Illiniwek controversy, have won numerous awards, including a Peabody.
Ivan Dozier (B.S. 2013, M.S. 2016), Chief Illiniwek portrayer 2010-2015, was arrested March 1, 2013 by UIPD for “aggravated battery.” According to the police report, “Subject battered female in lot C16.”
After several days, Rosenstein succeeded in turning the News-Gazette’s “potty” narrative around, while Jones and his administration were increasingly criticized from several directions.
A former UI staff member with contacts in the upper administration reports that some questioned the decision to put Rosenstein on paid administrative leave, saying, “What’s the aim in doing this? What’s the end game here?”
After a month of back-and-forth jockeying, Rosenstein was reinstated February 23 without discipline or penalty.
When I spoke to Jay in February, I asked what he made of the whole affair. “Bullshit. And you can quote me on that.”
By focusing narrowly on the “potty” incident, what was left unresolved was the Chief Illiniwek issue that constituted the larger context of why Jay was doing what he was doing.
In this regard, UI continued its pattern of inaction concerning the racist mascot.
INCIDENTS IN CONTEXT
The cases of Tariq Khan and Jay Rosenstein raise a whole host of interconnected issues that cannot be discussed here due to space limitations, but which include the following.
TPUSA and the Honor the Chief Society combined forces for the February 26 basketball game to “Paint the Hall Chief.” It was a perfect metaphor for how the network of right-wing groups combine, interact, and overlap with each other, both locally and nationally. The alt-right alt-lite comprises a range of right-wing groups from Republicans and conservatives to far-right, alt-right, and neo-fascist.
Many, such as TPUSA, seemingly follow a script. 1. Stake out and stalk. 2. Engage by harassment and threats. 3. Without authorization, film encounters. 4. Selectively edit video and upload to the Internet. 5. Watch it ricochet around the right-wing echo chamber, then wait for the interview invitations. 6. Rinse and repeat.
Following are the characteristics of groups such as TPUSA. They are cult-like. They use stealth, which masks routine, massive lying.
They succeed when what looks like one thing to an objective observer is the exact opposite, like their dishonest claims about “free speech.”
Such groups use social media to their advantage: trolling, doing it for the lulz, provoking outrage.
They game unsuspecting institutions (UIUC, OSCR) and individuals (Chancellor Jones).
The News-Gazette is complicit. So, too, is UIUC.
Risk-averse UIUC claims that it cannot do more, but it can. According to a retired high administration official, trained as a lawyer, there is much that UIUC, and UIPD, can do. Evidence of plans to chalk the Quad with hate messages constitutes, for example, “probable cause” for an investigation.
Unresponsive institutions engender vigorous pushback, up to and including militant protest.
Mobilizing support locally and nationally is key. Both Tariq Khan and Jay Rosenstein accomplished this.
Another tactic is to organize collective response and community self-defense. A February 6 community gathering jump-started this process.
One key site of contestation is “free speech.”
The still larger issue concerns community, what it means both locally and nationally.
On the plus side, more people are learning more about these groups, and are pushing back.
In conclusion, the alt-right alt-lite has come to town, but it finds a ready response and welcoming support. It takes root in fertile soil prepared by a deep culture of far-right extremism dating back over one hundred years, from sundown towns and the Ku Klux Klan to the original 1940s America First movement.
March 10, 2018
First in a series.