This letter was submitted by Professor Matthew Hoffman, Professor of Judaic Studies and History at F&M. This letter is a response to the recent speaker, Jeffrey Lord, an alumnus who visited F&M on Monday, November 20th, brought in by the College Republicans to speak to students. Professor Hoffman shares his thoughts and concerns about Lord’s talk.
To the Editor:
After attending the talk by Jeffrey Lord on Monday, November 20, I feel duty-bound as a historian to counter the patent falsehoods, historical inaccuracies, and partial truths that were presented as historical fact by Mr. Lord. His talk, especially the Q&A segment, was a disservice to all students present, no matter their political orientation. As part of the heated back and forth with the audience, Mr. Lord offered baseless, duplicitous, conspiracy memes as historical truth, many of them coming from the recent book by conservative firebrand and propagandist, Dinesh D’Souza, The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left. As with D’Souza, Mr. Lord’s talking points constitute a complete rejection of decades of historical scholarship and serve simply as ideological propaganda against the putative evils of “the left.” Mr. Lord repeated a number of fallacious assertions, easily disprovable by even the most basic historical research, alleging that socialism and progressivism are forms of fascism and Nazism. His argument that the Nazis were a left-wing socialist movement misconstrues basic facts about the Nazi ideology and movement in order to offer yet another version of partisan spin masquerading as historical fact. Mr. Lord also used partial historical truths to assert that the KKK is essentially a progressive democratic movement. He stressed accurately the pro-slavery and pro-segregationist nature of the Democratic party of the 19th and early 20th centuries and the fact that the KKK was mostly aligned with the Democratic party to imply erroneously that the KKK and the democratic left remain interchangeable to this day. In so doing, he ignored the exodus of especially southern Democrats to the Republican party over the course of the 20th century, particularly the realignment of the parties in the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, to assert that racism and white supremacy are the core features of the left. As a matter of fact, prominent KKK members and white supremacist leaders, most notably David Duke, are actually vocal Trump supporters, not left-wing Democrats. If I or any of my colleagues received a student paper in one of our history classes with a similar thesis, it would receive an “F.” Mr. Lord, mostly parroting D’Souza and an earlier book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Change, by the right-wing journalist, Jonah Goldberg, used semantic tricks, cherry-picked quotes, de-contextualized historical half-truths, and omission of any contradicting evidence to spin a fanciful, revisionist narrative in which left is right, up is down and night is day. No matter what one’s political positions are, they can’t be furthered by such a willful disregard for empirical historical reality. As an academic committed to educating young people in a way that privileges an honest search for truth using rigorous scholarly methods, listening to Mr. Lord made me feel like a doctor sitting in a surgery gallery watching a charlatan perform an organ transplant with a monkey wrench; it was educational malpractice of the highest order. I invite those students who mistook Mr. Lord’s version of the past for reality to sign up for a History class at the College to learn more about the complexities of history and why scrupulous scholarship is crucial to understanding the past and how it can be manipulated.
Associate Professor, Judaic Studies & History