An investigation is underway after a Fresno State history professor used Twitter to express his disapproval of President Donald Trump by making what some are calling “violent” and “threatening” remarks.
Currently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Secret Service are looking into the intent of the tweets posted by Dr. Lars Maischak.
On Feb. 18, Maischak tweeted “to save American democracy, Trump must hang. The sooner and the higher, the better.”
A day later, Maischak tweeted, “Has anyone started soliciting money and design drafts for a monument honoring the Trump assassin yet?”
Tweets from Maischak continued through March with a March 8 post showing his opinion of American capitalism: “Don’t tell me to ‘obey the Law.’ ‘The law’ in this country is one part racism, one part class oppression, all capitalism.”
On April 8, the tweets were brought to the attention of Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro. The university president responded in a tweet stating, “He is a lecturer at Fresno State. Statements on his social media accounts are his alone and do not reflect the position of the university.”
However, Castro’s statement was not enough for those who were concerned about Maischak’s tweets. Many on Twitter expressed their concern over how Castro was handling the tweets, prompting the president to release a more elaborate statement.
On April 10, in an email to Fresno State students, faculty and staff, Castro released a second statement.
“Fresno State understands the deep concerns that have been shared as a result of personal comments made by Professor Lars Maischak, who is a lecturer in the History Department at Fresno State,” Castro said.
He continued, “In response to these concerns, we have conducted a preliminary review to ensure that it is clear that the statements made by him were as a private citizen, not as a representative of Fresno State. Professor Maischak’s personal views and commentary, with its inclusion of violent and threatening language, is obviously inconsistent with the core values of our University.”
Castro said the safety of students is his priority and that faculty have an obligation to establish and maintain ethical and professional conduct in and outside of the classroom.
By April 12, Maischak, in an email to The Collegian said, “I apologize for the tone and content of my statements made on Twitter.”
Maischak said his intention was never to harm or encourage harm to anyone and that his tweets were an “end-point” of his dark train of thought triggered by the actions of the sitting president’s administration.
“It felt cathartic at the time to write them down,” Maischak said.
With 28 followers on Maischak’s recently deleted Twitter account, he said he did not expect to reach anyone outside of his usual online acquaintances.
“To treat Twitter as of no more consequence than a journal was a poor decision,” Maischak said.
He said that to prevent others from possibly becoming inspired from his tweets, he found it important to delete his Twitter, “to preclude the possibility that anyone reading my statements in the future would take them as encouragement to act violently or unlawfully.”
Maischak concluded that he is willing to take full responsibility for his statements. Since the tweets, news outlets such as The Los Angeles Times, Breitbart, The Fresno Bee and The Washington Times have reported on the controversy.
That same day, Castro responded to Maischak’s apology saying: “I appreciate Dr. Maischak’s apology and willingness to take accountability for the statements made on his Twitter account … However, Fresno State has a responsibility to continue a review of the situation.”
On April 13, it was revealed that university Provost Lynnette Zelezny notified students who are currently enrolled in Maischak’s courses that class meetings will be canceled for Monday and Tuesday.
The provost said classes were canceled in an effort to “minimize disruption” and “ensure campus safety.”
Currently, Maischak teaches five sections of History 11, which is American History up to 1877. Some 213 students will miss one day of instruction as a result of the cancellations.
Raymond Rey, a senior history and Chicanx studies major who took his first upper division course from Maischak upon transferring to Fresno State, said, “…It was a new experience. A fantastic one – where I learned a lot.”
Rey described the classroom environment as engaging. “He sat among us, listened, took notes and interjected rarely. He offered a final word and conclusion to the day’s discussion before we were dismissed. His lectures were always engaging.”
Although it has been two years since Rey has taken a course from Maischak, he said he cannot recall a time in class where the lecturer made remarks relative to the controversial tweets.
Rey was included in Maischak’s 28 followers at the time of the tweet. “I thought nothing of it, completely harmless. Was he advocating violence? In my opinion, no. I stand with and by [Maischak’s] initial response – that it was taken out of context,” Rey said.
As a student, Rey said that the idea of the tweet being a true threat is “laughable.” “I don’t feel endangered in any way. But I do understand the policy that a potential threat needs to be taken seriously and investigated,” he said.
But, Rey is concerned that the university administration is being openly pressured by “conservative donors” of the university while masking their intentions with the reasoning of students’ safety.
Reflecting on a memory Rey has of Maischak, he said he is most fond of the time Maischak marched alongside the university’s Cross Cultural and Gender Center and student organizations MEChA, CLASSA and Black Students United one week after the U.S. presidential election.
“Dr. Maischak was one of a few from the [history] department who showed up and encouraged his students to do the same,” Rey said. “He marched alongside us and spoke to the crowd.”