Most human beings were disgusted by the murder of Aaron “Jay” Danielson, the member of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, in Portland. University of Rhode Island Professor Erik Loomis is not among them. Loomis defended the killing by Michael Reinoehl, an Antifa member who appears to have stalked Danielson before gunning him down. Loomis insisted that any problem in gunning down right-wing counterprotesters was tactical not moral.
I testified in the Senate about the erosion of free speech and rise of violence on our campuses and in our streets. Antifa and related groups have succeeded in advancing anti-free-speech agendas as students and faculty justify attacks on those with opposing views. Loomis has long espoused extremist views and violent language, including calling for NRA executive Wayne LaPierre’s “head on a stick.”
In his latest post, Loomis has been criticized for appearing to justify the murdering of those who hold opposing views. He adopts the rhetoric used by Antifa extremists in labeling those on the other side of protests as “fascists” and then justifies any means to resist them, including apparently murder. While Loomis does not call it murder, he dismisses the killing because it involved someone he classified as a “fascist.”
In his blog post titled “Why was Michael Reinoehl killed?,” Loomis is outraged not by Reinoehl killing Danielson but the fact that police killed Reinoehl. (Police say that Reinoehl pulled a gun when they were trying to arrest him). In a quote attributed to him, Loomis insisted that it was murder:
“Michael Reinoehl is the guy who killed the fascist in Portland last week. He admitted it and said he was scared the cops would kill him. Well, now the cops have killed him. I am extremely anti-conspiracy theory. But it’s not a conspiracy theory at this point in time to wonder if the cops simply murdered him. The police is [sic] shot through with fascists from stem to stern. They were openly working with the fascists in Portland, as they were in Kenosha which led to dead protestors.”
Loomis seems more concerned that he might be espousing a “conspiracy theory” than a justification for murder. In responding to a comment that “Erik, he shot and killed a guy,” Loomis responded “He killed a fascist. I see nothing wrong with it, at least from a moral perspective.” He then added that “tactically, that’s a different story. But you could say the same thing about John Brown.”
So it is merely a tactical not a moral question to stalk and murder someone with opposing views?
Loomis has repeatedly referenced John Brown. Brown of course was not just responsible for the raid on Harper’s Ferry but the Pottawatomie massacre that helped triggered the period called “Bleeding Kansas” and involved the hacking to death of five unarmed settlers viewed as pro-slavery.
The most Loomis conceded is that “the problem with violence is that it usually, though not always, is a bad idea. That I agree with.” Yet, he then added
“Yes, sometimes violence is necessary, say to avoid greater physical harm, i.e. self-defense, or to defeat a literal army of fascists who are trying to kill people. But, ideologically, I think the idea that violence is good if it’s against our political enemies is a core part of fascism, and so the ideological opposition to that idea should be its opposite – that violence as a general rule is bad, unless the specific context of that situation requires a violent response.”
The specific context in Portland is that Danielson went with a right-wing group to advocate for his own views, just as protesters from Black Lives Matter have been doing. He was stalked and murdered, which Loomis finds perfectly moral.
Loomis’ rhetoric and views are strikingly similar to those in the “bible” of the Antifa movement: Rutgers Professor Mark Bray’s Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook. As I stated in my Senate testimony, Antifa bears strong resemblance to groups that emerged during earlier periods of attacks on free speech. Simply replacing anti-communism with anti-fascism does not materially change the same anti-free speech purpose of these movements. The purpose of governmental or non-government threats are the same in seeking to not only silence opponents, but to deter others from joining them. The absolutism of their goals is used to justify any means to achieve them. Specifically, Antifa’s categorical rejection of opposing views as worthy of protection is strikingly similar to the view of anti-Communists during the Red Scare. Antifa followers refuse to recognize the views of opponents as legitimate or “a difference of opinion.” Their goal is not co-existence but, as stated in the Antifa Handbook, “to end their politics.” Bray and other academics are liberating students from the confines of what they deem the false “allegiance to liberal democracy.” Once freed of the values of free speech and democratic values, violence becomes merely politics by other means. It is the very mindset that was once used against communists and Marxists in the 1950s.
What is so striking is how Danielson is no longer treated as a human being with family or even individual worth. Loomis seems to revel in the notion that such lives are now inconsequential and can be taken for purely tactical reason. It is the liberating element of extremism. Once uncoupled from the confines of morality, Loomis and others can assume a license for violence, even murder, to advance their agenda.
For an academic to espouse such hateful and violent views is particularly distressing. There are likely many conservatives among the student body at Rhode Island who Loomis would also declare “fascists.” Their lives would be equally fungible and worthless under this view. It is often hard to advocate for the free speech rights of people like Loomis when he justifies not just the silencing but the actual killing of those with opposing views. However, Loomis is the price of free speech.
Notably, however, few of his colleagues have come forward to denounce his statements. Indeed, when the University President last criticized Loomis’ violence rhetoric, he was attacked by other faculty for siding with the critics of Loomis. We have seen universities denounce academics who have espoused opposing views, but this academic can reportedly defend murder without widespread and immediate condemnation from his colleagues. Indeed, academics have been sacked for declaring “All Lives Matter” but Loomis does not even generate immediate condemnation for saying that this life does not matter if actually terminated in the name of the greater good. This was clearly made in his personal not academic capacity. Yet, that does not mean that other academics cannot stand against such hateful, violent views.
Update: As noted by a couple of our commenters, Professor Loomis has responded:
Koch Brothers hack
thinks I support murder. Meanwhile, his preferred policies kill people around the world every day. But hey, I’m not bought and sold by capitalists. Wonder what it feels like to be a disgusting human being.
I am not sure where the reference to the Koch Brothers comes from since I have never had any connection to them (and criticized them in the past), but Loomis continues his signature style of hurling insults rather than addressing the underlying issues addressed in the blog.