A Drexel professor whose tweets about white supremacy sparked an uproar on social media says his words were misinterpreted satire.
He then wrote on Sunday: "To clarify: when the whites were massacred during the Haitian revolution, that was a good thing indeed."
Not long thereafter, Ciccariello-Maher's tweets were picked up by the Daily Caller, Breitbart and other conservative news sites. His tweets are not public, or at least weren't as of Monday morning. It is public, though, that he has over 10,000 followers and has tweeted over 16,000 times.
Ciccariello-Maher teaches in Drexel's Department of History and Politics. His bio on Drexel's website says he is "an expert and frequent media commentator on social movements, particularly in Latin America" who also "teaches, researches and writes about race, racism, prisons and policing in the U.S. and internationally, including how race is associated with suspicion and guilt."
His name has appeared a few times in the Inquirer and Daily News, most recently in a story last year on how Philadelphia police handled protests in the city.
Reached on Monday by The Inquirer, Ciccariello-Maher offered a reaction to the reaction.
"On Christmas Eve, I sent a satirical tweet about an imaginary concept, 'white genocide,'" he said in an e-mail. 'For those who haven't bothered to do their research, 'white genocide' is an idea invented by white supremacists and used to denounce everything from interracial relationships to multicultural policies (and most recently, against a tweet by State Farm Insurance). It is a figment of the racist imagination, it should be mocked, and I'm glad to have mocked it."
Many readers and social media followers didn't get the humor, though - and his employer didn't either.
On Sunday night, Drexel issued an official statement saying: "While the University recognizes the right of its faculty to freely express their thoughts and opinions in public debate, Professor Ciccariello-Maher's comments are utterly reprehensible, deeply disturbing, and do not in any way reflect the values of the University."
The university also said it "contacted Ciccariello-Maher today to arrange a meeting to discuss this matter in detail."
Ciccariello-Maher said Drexel's statemenet lacked "understanding either the content or the context of the tweets," and that "while Drexel has been nothing but supportive in the past, this statement is worrying."
"What is most unfortunate is that this statement amounts to caving to the truly reprehensible movements and organizations that I was critiquing," he said. "On the university level, moreover, this statement - despite a tepid defense of free speech -sends a chilling message and sets a frightening precedent. It exposes untenured and temporary faculty not only to internal disciplinary scrutiny, but equally importantly, it encourages harassment as an effective means to impact university policies."
He added that he has been the subject of "a coordinated smear campaign [that] was orchestrated to send mass tweets and emails to myself, my employer, and my colleagues," and that he has "received hundreds of death threats."
"This satirical tweet became fodder for online white supremacists to systematically harass me and my employer, Drexel University," Ciccariello-Maher said. "As my students will attest, my classroom is a free-for-all of ideas, in which anyone is welcome to their opinions, but expected to defend those opinions with argument. I teach regularly on the history of genocidal practices like colonialism and slavery -genocides carried out by the very same kind of violent racists who are smearing me today."
Ciccariello-Maher also won his share of support on social media. One strong defense came from American University of Beirut professor Steven Saliata, who is no stranger to Twitter controversies himself:
.@DrexelUniv should firmly support George Ciccariello-Maher's speech rights instead of humoring an online mob that misunderstands his tweet.
— Steven Salaita (@stevesalaita) December 26, 2016