Barnard Professor Triggers Free Speech Controversy After Writing About “Detonating” and Gassing White People

A book by a Barnard College English instructor named Ben Philippe has caused a firestorm due to his depiction of a fantasy of gassing white people.  The book passage has led some to demand review from the college for possible discipline or termination. As will come as no surprise to many on this blog, I believe such writing should be protected as a matter of free speech and academic freedom.  The incident does however raise another case highlighting the uncertain or conflicting treatment given such writings by universities. It is doubtful that even a fictional account discussing the gassing of minorities would have resulted in anything other than a rapid suspension and ultimate termination in many universities. That conflicting standard should also be a concern for free speech and academic freedom.Philippe writes in his book “Sure, I’ll be your Black Friend” about “detonating” white people as nearby air vents spew out noxious gas: “When this race war hits its crescendo, I’ll gather you all into a beautifully decorated room under the pretense of unity,. I’ll give a speech to civility and all the good times we share; I’ll smile as we raise glasses to your good, white health, while the detonator blinks under the table, knowing the exits are locked and the air vents filled with gas. ”So Philippe is describing the genocidal murder against white people. According to a couple conservative sites, he was interviewed about his book on the CBC show “q” by guest host Talia Schlanger who noted that, as a Jewish person whose “grandparents survived the Holocaust,” she was disturbed by the passage.  However, after Philippe said that “it was disturbing to write, too” and that he is not a violent person, Schlanger actually apologized to Philippe: “I wanted to say to you that I’m so sorry that your experience of the world made you feel that way.”There are those will have suggested that declaring a desire or fantasy to explode and gas white people cannot be tolerated in an academic who must be able to teach students of all races.  Moreover, such comments can be cited as creating a sense of a safe environment at Barnard. However, there is no indication that Philippe has engaged in such racist and violent speech in classes or on campuses. Such passages are expressing deep-seated anger from his own experience and perspectives in our society.  I find them disturbing and offensive but authors in fictional accounts have often used such shocking passages to challenge readers.

My concern is the biased or conflicting handling of such cases.  I have defended faculty who have made similarly disturbing comments denouncing police, calling for Republicans to sufferstrangling police officers, celebrating the death of conservatives, calling for the killing of Trump supporters, supporting the murder of conservative protesters and other outrageous statements. These comments were not protested as creating an “unsafe environment” and were largely ignored by universities. However, professors and students are routinely investigated, suspended, and sanctioned for countervailing views. There were also controversies at the University of California and Boston University, where there have been criticism of such a double standard, even in the face of criminal conduct. There was also such an incident at the University of London involving Bahar Mustafa as well as one involving a University of Pennsylvania professor. Some intolerant statements against students are deemed free speech while others are deemed hate speech or the basis for university action. There is a lack of consistency or uniformity in these actions which turn on the specific groups left aggrieved by out-of-school comments.  There is also a tolerance of faculty and students tearing down fliers and stopping the speech of conservatives.  Indeed, even faculty who assaulted pro-life advocates was supported by faculty and lionized for her activism.

As we have previously discussed (with an Oregon professor and a Rutgers professor), there remains an uncertain line in what language is protected for teachers in their private lives. A conservative North Carolina professor  faced calls for termination over controversial tweets and was pushed to retire. Dr. Mike Adams, a professor of sociology and criminology, had long been a lightning rod of controversy. In 2014, we discussed his prevailing in a lawsuit that alleged discrimination due to his conservative views.  He was then targeted again after an inflammatory tweet calling North Carolina a “slave state.”  That led to his being pressured to resign with a settlement. He then committed suicide

The efforts to fire professors who voice dissenting views on various issues including an effort to oust a leading economist from the University of Chicago as well as a leading linguistics professor at Harvard and a literature professor at Penn. Sites like Lawyers, Guns, and Money feature writers like Colorado Law Professor Paul Campus who call for the firing of those with opposing views (including myself).  Such campaigns have targeted teachers and students who contest the evidence of systemic racism in the use of lethal force by police or offer other opposing views in current debates over the pandemic, reparations, electoral fraud, or other issues.

The issue raised by Philippe is not whether he should be sanctioned but how these other professors have faced investigations, compelled retraining, or other measures for writings that simply disagree on public policy issues or express opposing political viewpoints — far short of discussing the gassing of white people.

University administrators often yield to protests and seek investigations and suspensions as a matter of course for targeted academics. However, when controversies arise on the left, they tend to quickly (and correctly) cite free speech and academic values. The sharp contrast in how controversial speech is handled in these cases raises serious concerns over free speech and academic freedom.


99 thoughts on “Barnard Professor Triggers Free Speech Controversy After Writing About “Detonating” and Gassing White People”

  1. I hope Professor Turley allows free speech.

    I am going to use the “N”-word.

    This clown is a complete Nutjob!

    As an inescapable corollary, the relevant staff of Barnard College is comprised of Nutjobs.

    1. Also…

      3 cheers for President Biden’s ‘moderate radicalism.’ CNN is propaganda —->

      “President Biden to showcase his moderate radicalism in his big congressional address | Analysis” ~@CNNPolitics

  2. The real question is: How much longer will it take White Americans, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Hispanic, Asian, European, etc etc etc. to take these people serious? These people mean exactly what they say and given the chance will do exactly what they say. You have seen months of rioting, looting, burning, attacks on police, scapegoating White America, CRT, racist is this racist that, politicians leaving the area they represent to stoke the fire and not face the consequences. What more do you need to hear and see to convince you they mean to do what they say?

  3. To give sobering pause and for the edification and enlightenment of the American people, Abraham Lincoln spoke on the same general subject as that of the esteemed beneficiary of generational welfare, affirmative action, etc., Assistant Professor Ben Phillipe.

    To wit,

    “If all earthly power were given me,” said Lincoln in a speech delivered in Peoria, Illinois, on October 16, 1854, “I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution [of slavery]. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, to their own native land.” “…he asked whether freed blacks should be made “politically and socially our equals?” “My own feelings will not admit of this,” he said, “and [even] if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not … We can not, then, make them equals.”

    Lincoln’s Fear of ‘Race War’

    A short time before his death on April 15, 1865, Lincoln met with General Benjamin F. Butler, who reported that the President spoke to him of “exporting” the Blacks.107

    “But what shall we do with the [blacks] after they are free?,” Lincoln said. “I can hardly believe that the South and North can live in peace, unless we can get rid of the [blacks]… I believe that it would be better to export them all to some fertile country with a good climate, which they could have to themselves.” Along with a request to Butler to look into the question of how best to use “our very large navy” to send “the blacks away,” the President laid bare his fears for the future:

    If these black soldiers of ours go back to the South, I am afraid that they will be but little better off with their masters than they were before, and yet they will be free men. I fear a race war, and it will be at least a guerilla war because we have taught these men how to fight … There are plenty of men in the North who will furnish the [blacks] with arms if there is any oppression of them by their late masters.

    To his dying day, it appears, Lincoln did not believe that harmony between White and Black was feasible, and viewed resettlement of the Blacks as the preferable alternative to race conflict. ” … Although Lincoln believed in the destruction of slavery,” concludes Black historian Charles Wesley (in an article in The Journal of [Black] History), “he desired the complete separation of the whites and blacks. Throughout his political career, Lincoln persisted in believing in the colonization of the [Black].”108

    Frederick Douglass, a gifted African American writer and activist who knew Lincoln, characterized him in a speech delivered in 1876:109

    In his interest, in his association, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man. He was preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of the white man. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the [black] people, to promote the welfare of the white people of this country.

    Allan Nevins, one of this century’s most prolific and acclaimed historians of US history, summed up Lincoln’s view of the complex issue of race, and his vision of America’s future:110

    His conception ran beyond the mere liberation of four million [black] folk; it implied a far-reaching alteration of American society, industry, and government. A gradual planned emancipation, a concomitant transportation of hundreds of thousands and perhaps even millions of people overseas, a careful governmental nursing of the new colonies, and a payment of unprecedented sums to the section thus deprived of its old labor supply — this scheme carried unprecedented implications.

    To put this into effect would immensely increase the power of the national government and widen its abilities. If even partially practicable, it would mean a long step toward rendering the American people homogeneous in color and race, a rapid stimulation of immigration to replace the workers exported, a greater world position for the republic, and a pervasive change in popular outlook and ideas. The attempt would do more to convert the unorganized country into an organized nation than anything yet planned. Impossible, and undesirable even if possible? — probably; but Lincoln continued to hold to his vision.

    For most Americans today, Lincoln’s plan to “solve” America’s vexing racial problem by resettling the Blacks in a foreign country probably seems bizarre and utterly impractical, if not outrageous and cruel. At the same time, though, and particularly when considered in the context of the terrible Civil War that cost so many lives, it is worth pondering just why and how such a far-fetched plan was ever able to win the support of a leader of the stature and wisdom of Abraham Lincoln.

    – Robert Morgan

    Lincoln’s Support for Resettlement

    Lincoln’s ideological mentor was Henry Clay, the eminent American scholar, diplomat, and statesman. Because of his skill in the US Senate and House of Representatives, Clay won national acclaim as the “Great Compromiser” and the “Great Pacificator.” A slave owner who had humane regard for Blacks, he was prominent in the campaign to resettle free Blacks outside of the United States, and served as president of the American Colonization Society. Lincoln joined Clay’s embryonic Whig party during the 1830s. In an address given in 1858, Lincoln described Clay as “my beau ideal of a statesman, the man for whom I fought all of my humble life.”14

    The depth of Lincoln’s devotion to Clay and his ideals was expressed in a moving eulogy delivered in July 1852 in Springfield, Illinois. After praising Clay’s lifelong devotion to the cause of Black resettlement, Lincoln quoted approvingly from a speech given by Clay in 1827: “There is a moral fitness in the idea of returning to Africa her children,” adding that if Africa offered no refuge, Blacks could be sent to another tropical land. Lincoln concluded:15

    If as the friends of colonization hope, the present and coming generations of our countrymen shall by any means succeed in freeing our land from the dangerous presence of slavery, and, at the same time, in restoring a captive people to their long-lost fatherland, with bright prospects for the future, and this too, so gradually, that neither races nor individuals shall have suffered by the change, it will indeed be a glorious consummation.

    In January 1855, Lincoln addressed a meeting of the Illinois branch of the Colonization Society. The surviving outline of his speech suggests that it consisted largely of a well-informed and sympathetic account of the history of the resettlement campaign.16

    In supporting “colonization” of the Blacks, a plan that might be regarded as a “final solution” to the nation’s race question, Lincoln was upholding the views of some of America’s most respected figures.

    – Robert Morgan

    1. Abraham Lincoln would like to say a few words.

      Abe, go ahead, Abe.


      I told you so.

      Thank you.

    2. Lincoln was on the right track, but bound by a European immigrant point of view. The south should’ve been deeded to the freed slaves and the relocation been rather that of treasonous whites put to work as share croppers on Indian reservation land.


      1. Elvis Bug at 2:46. We know that black people have enslaved other black people and American Indians have enslaved Indians from other tribes. Evil has no preferences for what hearts of men it enters whether their skin color is black, white or red. Your isolation of only the white man as evil is no different from the white man in the 1800s saying a man is evil because he is black. I am sure that a white man of those days could expound on the evilness of the black man. The racism you present is born on exactly the same logic.

    3. George George George. Lincoln had the power to do what ever he wanted. He had enacted the suspension of habeas corpus. With all his control he did not carry out any action to remove the black man from our Nation. His lamentation was his wish that slavery had never happened because it caused so much upheaval in the land. He knew that even though the war was over the animosity in the south would continue. He also knew that the days of racial prejudice would not be over at the wars end. His musings could be interpreted as protection of black people in light of the eminent blame that would be put on blacks for the loss of the war by the South. He knew that their hell had just begun.

      1. The quotations are the facts.

        The quotations are the truth.

        I have no idea what you prevaricated.

        I have no concern for whatever incoherence you excreted.

        Everything “Crazy Abe” and his successors did was unconstitutional and remains legally illegitimate to this day.

        Example: On the date of the unconstitutional issuance of the unconstitutional emancipation proclamation, the Naturalization Act of 1802 was in full force and effect requiring citizens to be “…free white person(s)…” and, by extension, requiring that black persons in this country illegally be immediately deported.

        Thanks so much.

        1. George, was Lincoln responsible for an act passed in 1802? Did Lincoln deport any black people after the Civil war?. One can think about and talk about climbing Mount Everest but until you actually do it what you think and talk about don’t mean jack. You can think about robbing a bank but until you do you are not a bank robber and no one can say you are a bank robber. If we all were condemned by the thoughts we have you and I might both be behind bars. Talk is made a crime only by the inquisitors.

  4. I admire and agree with your position on free speech. I have always said that I would fight for your right to say what what you feel, even if I didn’t agree with it. The problem is the Left feels if we don’t agree with them and don’t toe the line we don’t deserve to survive. They will do everything to destroy us. As you have guessed, I am a conservative. I don’t know what has happened to our country in the last 40 or so years. Congress is useless (both Left and Right). The press is no longer impartial. The schools (at all levels) seem to be teaching next generation that it’s okay for the government take care you and you are not responsible for anything. It’s always someone else’s fault. I just turned 70 and I hope they don’t destroy this nation before I leave this earth. Sorry, I’ve gotten cynical in my old age.

    1. “The problem is the Left feels if we don’t agree with them and don’t toe the line we don’t deserve to survive. They will do everything to destroy us.”

      This is nonsense. I’m on the left, and I don’t feel that way, have never attempted to destroy anyone, don’t want people destroyed (with the possible exception of people like Hitler, though even there I’d choose life in jail without the possibility of parole rather than a death sentence).

      1. It’s not nonsense, Anonymous the Stupid. You don’t understand what Brandon is talking about because you have turned over any intellect you might have had to the left..

      2. “This is nonsense. I’m on the left, and I don’t feel that way . . .”

        Joe: “Conservatives are against gun control.”

        Sally: “That’s nonsense. I’m a conservative and I don’t feel that way.”

        I think Sally has a difficult time understanding “as a group” or “as a movement.” Either that or she’s a megalomaniac who regards herself as the voice of the movement.

    2. You are not old. I am 85 and feel exactly as you do. But even at 85 I am going to live long enough to see the destruction of this nation by the Left. It is too entrenched to reverse. The slope has become steeper. The slide has become faster. The pit is closer.

  5. “A book by a Barnard College English instructor named Ben Philippe has caused a firestorm due to his depiction of a fantasy of gassing white people.” Then his moniker shall be Dr Mengele.

    Professor Turley takes a consistent First Amendment position on the matter of academics fantasizing about murdering white people, or otherwise engaging in egregious racism. While I agree with him that no one should be arrested for Free Speech, as a business owner, the public speech of an employee affects the reputation, profits, and criminal and civil liability of the employer.

    If Dr Mengele Philippe were to commit mass murder one day in his classroom, killing all his white students, then lawyers would rightfully assert that there were red flags that he was unable and had violent thoughts towards white people.

    Parents don’t save their money for 18 years to send their children to professors who want to see them murdered. If parents grew a spine, they would evaluate the extremist views, hiring practices, racism against whites and Asians, and harassment of conservatives, and take that under consideration when choosing a university for their child. That degree you paid for won’t mean much to you if your child returns suicidal because he’s white, or hating himself and all whites, or hating you because you’re middle class and white so obviously you’re racist oppressors. They may return ignorant and uneducated enough to be against the freedom of capitalism and for the slavery of socialism.

    Many universities have abandoned their mission to teach students how to think, and instead turn out brainwashed students who don’t know how to question propaganda.

    People, vote with your wallets or your complaints are meaningless.

  6. Context matters to the extent one is trying to understand the meaning. It’s a book, fiction or nonfiction, doesn’t matter. Like Rules for Radicals, it’s only words until someone or some group actually puts it into action.

  7. IMO, the key is Dershowitz’s ‘shoe on the other foot’ rule.

    As a very young child that is what I was taught. My friend was talking about an incident in class where a racial joke was made about a black kid in class. My mother asked him how he would feel if he were that black child and heard it. He said it didn’t matter because the black child wasn’t in class that day to hear it. My mom replied that when thinking of making such a comment he should first pretend that he is the child being insulted and in class at the time of the insult. Then he should judge from that whether he should actually say such a thing.

    Decades later discussing our childhood he brought up that incident that he remembered all his life telling me that my mom was a wise woman. She was.

      1. Anonymous the Stupid, you say that out of gamesmanship, not intellect. The comment is downright Stupid unless you can provide an example.

        1. Is this response of yours what you consider to be representative of intellect? It represents Anonymous the Stupid.

    1. It seems like you, Meyer, I had a wonderful childhood which is tough because it’s hard to adjust to a miserable adulthood.

      1. Jeff, I am sorry that your wonderful childhood turned into a miserable adulthood. That makes me feel even more successful and lucky.

        My adulthood has been wonderful as well as my childhood. I was taught not to envy and to work hard while respecting all people deserving of respect no matter how ill brought up they might have been. I was also taught not to hate and to be honest without prejudice based on characteristics a person had no control over.

        Remember, you have control over your own destiny so all the problems you have in adulthood are under your control and can be ameliorated if you take control over your own life. Don’t let others control you. In this country, though some freedoms have been abridged, you still have more freedom than in most other places in the world.

    2. Seth – I wish more parents had raised their kids with that teaching. So much trouble could have been avoided. Your mother does sound like a wise, and kind, woman.

    1. Ben Philippe has caused a firestorm due to his depiction of a fantasy of gassing white people.

      From the lede sentence

      “depiction of a fantasy”

      How clear do you need it to be? All caps in the title?

  8. Does the wider tale essentially admonish that character’s stance? Does the wider tale reinforce divisiveness or present it as the wrong direction?

    If it is a celebration of death and divisiveness, then the author should perhaps consider why he is feeling so nihilistic and find a path back to the Light.

  9. Democrats have absolutely no intention of diversity.. they use people to gain power over them. And now with the commie2020 virus they will take what they want and no one will stop them. Mr Turley is a part of this extremophile force in the USA. Polluting the minds of the youth daily.

  10. Context is everything and that is missing here at this time. The quote is rough, but why was it written? If the Professor was trying evoke an emotion and then use that as a teaching tool, then it may be rough, but not outrageous. If he is trying to explain his internal emotional turmoil with dealing with frustrations, again, rough but not outrageous. Is he just trying to make money by being provoking, or some other reasons both good or nefarious not listed now?

    This is where free speech matters the most, if all he is doing is being evil, then he needs the protection the most. It would be easy to force him out because others were forced out and then it becomes an eye for an eye and everyone ends up blind.

    I would really like to know his history for background and context. Because a statement may sound morally wrong does not mean they were written with that intent. Sometimes the best lessons are the roughest ones to learn.

  11. Lots of loons out there, right and left.

    But many (most?) academics are hard left and many are loons.

    The issue is not just free speech, but the morphing of universities into Lefty indoctrination camps.

    1. Where did you go to college MonumentColorado? Somehow the “Lefty indoctrination” did not take on you. How were you indoctrinated with your Alt-Right views?

  12. He surely has the right to say those things. The problem is if someone acts out his fantasy.

  13. “Philippe writes in his book “Sure, I’ll be your Black Friend” about “detonating” white people as nearby air vents spew out noxious gas”

    His description seems to place him in the room as well. When he says “we raise glasses,” doesn’t “we” refer to Philippe and the white people in the room?

    1. Anonymous you may be correct. He could see himself as a Kamikaze pilot for his cause. In his mind he would be held up as a hero right next to Martin Luther King Jr.

  14. “I’ll gather you all into a beautifully decorated room under the pretense of unity,. I’ll give a speech to civility and all the good times we share; I’ll smile as we raise glasses to your good, white health, while the detonator blinks under the table, knowing the exits are locked and the air vents filled with gas.”

    Sounds like a “diversity” seminar.

    1. C’mon Sam. In the diversity meeting only their ability to feed, cloth, and house their family is being threatened. For now.

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