Publisher's note: The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal is a nonprofit institute dedicated to improving higher education in North Carolina and the nation. Located in Raleigh, North Carolina, it has been an independent 501(c)(3) organization since 2003. It was known as the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy until early January 2017.
The author of this post is Jay Schalin.
"“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
— Edmund Burke
The continued employment of an unhinged, violent anarchist as a lecturer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says a whole lot about the university system's standards when deciding who should influence the next generation. That is, such standards are non-existent-at best.
, who this fall will be teaching ASIA 150, a large-lecture introductory course, is a member of an organization known as the Redneck Revolt
that promotes violence as a political means. Dixon has twice been arrested at local events: Once in Durham for bringing a gun to a protest and once in Chapel Hill for assaulting a conservative reporter. Dixon bragged on Facebook
about confronting James Fields with an AR-15 rifle, moments before Fields drove his car into a crowd of protesters at the Charlottesville, Virginia protests (and in doing so, perhaps pushing Fields' emotions past the point of reason). During Fields' trial, though, Dixon changed
his story, claiming it was not Fields's car he approached with his weapon, but another one.
And, especially important for his employment at UNC, there is email evidence that he uses his teaching position as a means to promote his particular brand of political activism-a clear violation of academic norms.
Taking each of these claims and the likely objections in order, Dixon is a member, or rather, a leader of the Silver Valley Redneck Revolt chapter in central North Carolina. Redneck Revolt has roughly 30 chapters around the country. It is aligned with another radical organization known as the John Brown Gun Club; some groups seem to use both names interchangeably.
One member of the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club
in Washington recently made national headlines for being killed while attacking an occupied government building, the Tacoma Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center, with a rifle and Molotov cocktails.
One may be tempted to argue that the Tacoma event had nothing to do with Dixon's North Carolina chapter, or that it was merely the action of a single disturbed individual. Yet, neither one of those things is true.
For one, the Washington John Brown chapter embraced the actions of Willem van Spronsen, the attempted terrorist; the group's Facebook page
lauds him for "his kindness, gentleness, and warm heart."
He is even praised for his attempted attack on the detention center:
- Will cared deeply about making the world a better place and he felt injustice towards others as personal as a wound. He took direct action to protect traditionally marginalized and threatened communities. The rounding up of our neighbors into for-profit detention centers was not a semantics debate for Will, it was an abomination.
Additionally, although Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club left the Redneck Revolt network earlier this year, the split was amicable, and the founding principles of the Redneck Revolt
are in line with those of the Puget Sound club and van Spronsen. They include:
- We are an aboveground militant formation.
- We stand against the nation-state and the forces which protect the bosses and the rich.
- We believe in the right of militant resistance.
- We are not pacifists. Redneck Revolt believes in using any and all means at our disposal to gain our freedom and true liberty.
- We believe in the need for revolution.
Redneck Revolt believes that there will have to be a complete restructuring of society to provide for the survival and liberty of all people: "We will fight for the end of predatory exploitation of our communities, and the creation of a world where no one is without food, shelter, water, or any other means of survival."
Exactly what "freedom"
do Redneck Revolt members lack? And what do they mean by "true liberty?"
In context, given the group's purpose and activities, and focusing on the phrases "we are not pacifists"
and "by any means at our disposal"
(they are a heavily armed militia group), it would appear they wish for the freedom to assault those with opposing views and use terror to gain power.
And if they are against the nation-state, it would appear they would use whatever means at their disposal to bring it down. Also, a "complete restructuring of society"
most likely indicates that they wish to create a fully collectivist society, likely through the redistribution of wealth by force.
Using the name of the 19th-century abolitionist John Brown as a source of inspiration, along with an emphasis on militancy, is also troubling. Brown attempted to stoke a civil war between the states by raiding a U.S. military installation, killing several soldiers in the attempt (and he may have successfully escalated tensions, by causing the Southern slave states to adopt a harder line instead of one of peaceful compromise and reconciliation).
If Brown is the model for an organization, and its members have conducted violent actions against the government without condemnation by the general membership, and they have deliberately instigated violence at protests, what possibly can be deduced other than that the organization rejects civil discourse and the rule of law?
Defenders of Dixon may point out that his criminal charges have been dropped for both North Carolina incidents. However, those decisions may be more reflective of the personal inclinations of members of the Orange and Durham Counties judiciaries rather than of his innocence. After all, Dixon was caught on camera holding a rifle and addressing the crowd in Durham, in defiance of a law
on the books that criminalizes bringing a gun to "any parade, funeral procession, picket line, or demonstration."
He was obviously guilty, despite the dismissal of his charges. Additionally, the Chapel Hill charge was not proven false because of the facts but was instead thrown out for a technicality on the charging document by a liberal judge in a notoriously left-wing jurisdiction.
Also, the central question is not whether Dixon has been convicted of a crime, but of his "fitness"
to teach. Even the American Association of University Professors has long agreed that there is a level of fitness beyond which somebody should not be teaching at a university. If Dixon, with his membership in a violent anarchist militia that supports Willem van Spronsen and his predilection for instigating actual violence does not reach that limit, who does?
Consider that, if his Facebook boast that he intimidated James Fields with a firearm is true, he should be considered morally, if not legally, complicit in Fields' further violence. For Dixon's gun-wielding would have naturally intensified a sense of impending violence to a person who was already distressed. Is one who is proud of such a thing "fit"
for a university classroom? Rather, his bragging in this case suggests a disturbed individual who believes that the ends justify the means, even when people die. For the Charlottesville incident has served the political left well: For two years, it has used Fields' vehicular assault as an example to broadly condemn the entire political right.
Next, the following excerpt from an email Dixon sent on November 14, 2018 shows that he openly regards his faculty position as a means to encourage political activism:
- From Dwayne Dixon (dedixon) - firstname.lastname@example.org
- Good morning: We will start class at 2pm at Silent Sam where a protest is being held against the use of undercover police infiltrating among student groups.
- The protest starts at 1:30 so if you can go earlier, then join!
Dixon's classroom politicizing is a crucial factor. If he refrained from doing so, he could have at least made a claim for academic freedom. But by encouraging his students to join him in protest, he eliminates any pretension that he is conducting an impartial search for truth, the ideal upon which academic freedom is based. One illustrative case is that of Arthur Butz, a professor of electrical engineering at Northwestern University, who publicly denies the Jewish Holocaust. Butz is allowed to continue teaching because he does not discuss his political beliefs in the classroom-a reasonable solution to the conflict between a teacher's First Amendment rights and the right of the university to control knowledge taught under its auspices. (Numerous court decisions have affirmed that right).
Northwestern President Henry Bienen made perhaps the definitive statement
on the topic, in describing his reasoning about Butz' continued employment:
- Like all faculty members, he is entitled to express his personal views, including on his personal web pages, as long as he does not represent such opinions as the views of the University. Butz has made clear that his opinions are his own and at no time has he discussed those views in class or made them part of his class curriculum. Therefore, we cannot take action based on the content of what Butz says regarding the Holocaust-however odious it may be-without undermining the vital principle of intellectual freedom that all academic institutions serve to protect.
But if Butz qualifies for academic freedom because he keeps his personal political beliefs out of the classroom, as Bienen suggests, then the converse is also true: If one uses the classroom to expound on his or her political beliefs, then the academic freedom ordinarily granted for extramural (out of classroom) comments is not in force. Dixon clearly runs afoul of this constraint on academic free speech.
Furthermore, there is another huge difference between the academic freedom statuses of Butz and Dixon. Butz merely expresses a false or troubling belief about a historical fact, and he does not act upon it other than in writing. But Dixon not only incites violent opposition against the government in the present tense, he acts upon his beliefs in unlawful ways, including menacing people with firearms. If he had confined his activities to his inflammatory speech only, that speech would likely qualify for First Amendment protection. But because his actions-waving a gun around at protests-very much imply a real and imminent threat, he has no such defense.
So who among the state university system's leaders feel Dixon should be influencing young minds? Who knows when his irrational self-righteous indignation will spin out of control-as it did for Willem van Spronsen-or his inflammatory rhetoric mixed with combat training will encourage somebody else to act out violently?
Do they actually believe they are serving the public good by providing Dixon with, not just a livelihood, but a soapbox from which to forward his radical agenda?
Private colleges may hire whomever they want, but why should the people of North Carolina be forced to subsidize and provide platforms for those who would do them harm? Surely there are teachers of Asian Studies who do not promote violent anarchy-and act upon their beliefs.
Employing Dixon is analogous to hiring a member of the Ku Klux Klan. How would that work at UNC? A Klan member on the faculty, once discovered, would be gone in a heartbeat; trustees, administrators, and political office-holders would all be terrified about any potential backlash. Dixon's behavior has no academic freedom protection, nor, as a lecturer, does he even have the protections afforded tenure. His dismissal should be an easy matter.
So why does he get a pass when other equivalent actors would be given the bum's rush? After all, teaching at a public university is not a right; it is a privilege contingent upon one's qualifications and good character. And one of the first duties of an educator should be to prevent violent madmen from using the university system as a means of support and gaining converts.
But academia has long been a sanctuary for political radicals on the left. For instance, UNC-Chapel Hill kept Howard Machtinger
, an unrepentant indicted member of the Weather Underground, on the payroll for many years in a variety of administrative positions. Machtinger affirmed the violent intentions of the Weathermen in an interview, calling policemen "fair game."
This practice of providing terroristic radicals on the political left with sinecures and launching pads for their political aims must end; doing so is not the same thing as maintaining the campus as a place of open inquiry, with academic freedom given to those with dissenting opinions. As Russell Kirk wrote, "we are not compelled to extend freedom to those who would subvert freedom."
And we are most definitely not compelled to give them jobs in the state-supported university system.
Of course, any official with the moral courage to question Dixon's presence on the UNC campus will draw extensive fire in the public arena. Yes, the loudest voices in the faculty will take great offense, for any number of reasons; yes, many throughout academia or the media will accuse the responsible official of overstepping his or her authority or of violating Dixon's academic freedom. But such naysayers will be wrong.
Real leadership means doing what's right in the face of opposition. It is not just getting tickets to the big game, rubberstamping everything put in front of you, and avoiding the hard decisions. And it is not just collecting a big salary for appeasing the most aggressive campus factions. Dixon's continued presence indeed raises the very serious question of whether UNC has any standards for faculty members. If not, why should we, the state's taxpayers, continue to fund UNC schools? If so, then somebody needs to do the job he or she was appointed to do and enforce them.
Jay Schalin is director of policy analysis at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.