American Renaissance

The Reichstag Gambit, March 19, 2004

The twentieth century’s vilest totalitarian regimes perfected several techniques for the control of civilian populations. Among these techniques is the commission of a horrible crime together with the attribution of responsibility for the crime to political enemies.

Perhaps the most famous example of this technique is the incident involving the burning of the Reichstag in late February 1933. Hitler and the Nazis immediately accused the Communists of setting the fire. A great deal of evidence collected and analyzed by Walther Hoferand and others, however, points in the direction of the Nazis themselves. (See, e.g., “The World at War: The Reichstag Fire,” by Soren Swigart.)

A less well known but at least equally consequential example is the incident involving the 1934 assassination of Stalin rival Sergei Kirov in Leningrad by one of Stalin’s goons. Stalin used the assassination that he himself had engineered to foment hysteria among the populace of the Soviet Union and to provide the pretext for the murder of millions of his countrymen. Lev Navrozov memorably recounts the contemporary effects of Stalin’s public relations campaign regarding the assassination in his memoir The Education of Lev Navrozov, and Robert Conquest methodically traces the evidence implicating Stalin in Stalin and the Kirov Murder.

Campus leftists have lately taken over this technique of political control and used it for their own malign purposes. Employing the Reichstag gambit, campus leftists have staged “hate crimes” to impose a climate of conformity empowering the diversity police and their friends among the governing powers. The Claremont Colleges of southern California provide the most recent if not the most outrageous illustration of this phenomenon.

Facing what the Los Angeles Times termed a “crisis” of hate crimes at the Claremont Colleges, Claremont McKenna College President Paula Gann closed the CMC while the other four undergraduate campuses followed suit on March 10 after a visiting professor’s car was spray-painted with ethnic slurs and had its windshield smashed and tires slashed the night before. Police termed the incident a “hate crime.” The professor, Kerri Dunn, a white woman who says she may be converting from Catholicism to Judaism, spoke on March 9 night before at a forum at CMC on racial intolerance.

Closing the CMC campus on the apparent theory that haste is of the essence, President Gann e-mailed Claremont alumni on March 10 to explain her actions:

Last evening, after the most recent community forum at CMC’s Athenaeum, an absolutely shocking and unconscionable act was perpetrated against a CMC faculty member who has spoken out on these issues. In particular, the faculty member’s car was vandalized on campus. The windows were broken, the tires were slashed, and the body of the vehicle was spray painted with various racial and homophobic epithets.
The Claremont Police responded and classified this incident as a hate crime. The Claremont Police will pursue a serious investigation of this crime, and if any alleged perpetrators are arrested, they will pursue the ultimate penalties under law. I have also asked every single member of this community and of the Claremont Colleges to help us solve this crime and to cooperate with the police investigation. I announced to our students Tuesday evening that CMC will offer a $10,000 reward to anyone who comes forward with information leading to the solving of this crime.
A hate crime such as this one is the greatest imaginable affront to everything that we stand for at CMC. Our community and our ability to have discourse have been directly and violently attacked by conduct and speech in an unconscionable act that was specifically targeted against a faculty member. We cannot possibly carry on as a teaching and learning community if persons physically threaten property and person in a way that leaves no doubt that it was in response to speech. We remain committed to maintaining a college community that has zero tolerance for these types of incidents.
Students and others responded spontaneously and forcefully last evening. They justifiably want Wednesday to be a day to gather to respond to this event and earlier events at The Claremont Colleges. The students have organized numerous events throughout the day on Wednesday, including a sit-in on the North Quandrangle, and a 5-College rally on the CMC campus at 8:00 PM Wednesday night.
In light of these events, I have also directed that CMC cancel classes today, and the other Claremont Colleges have also cancelled classes. One never lightly cancels classes, for to do so in some way suggests that we can be bullied by the perpetrators of such a heinous crime. Yet, we need every single person in this community to come together, to follow his or her conscience, and to start a process of regaining control of our community. In this way, we can hope to tell the perpetrators that they will in the end be defeated and repudiated.

On March 13 the Los Angeles Times recounted these events in “Vandalism unites linked but distinct colleges in the battle against hatred.” Below is the photo of Professor Dunn in high dudgeon addressing the students on March 9 that accompanied the Times story.

The FBI and the Claremont police promptly investigated the smashing of Professor Dunn’s automobile and concluded that Professor Dunn was herself the perpetrator of the “hate crimes” in issue. In “Claremont hate crime called hoax,” today’s Los Angeles Times reports:

A week after a reported campus hate crime drew national attention, sparked protests and shut down the prestigious Claremont Colleges, police on Wednesday called the incident a hoax staged by a professor who slashed tires, shattered windows and spray-painted racist graffiti on her own car.
Claremont McKenna College psychology professor Kerri Dunn, who had told police that her car was vandalized as she spoke at a March 9 forum on racism, was identified by two eyewitnesses as the person who damaged the auto, authorities said Wednesday.
She was not arrested, but Claremont Police Lt. Stan Van Horn said the case would be sent to the Los Angeles County district attorney for review and that the likely charge would be filing a false police report, a misdemeanor. The FBI said she might face more serious felony charges of lying to federal investigators.
Campus leaders last week had condemned the vandalism as a hate crime, shut down the Claremont consortium of colleges for a day of anti-hate rallies and called in FBI investigators. The police contention that Dunn staged the incident triggered a wave of anger against her Wednesday and fears that students would become cynical about racism.

And President Gann has again e-mailed alumni to update them on developments:

While this information certainly comes as a shock and surprise to our community, Claremont McKenna College remains committed to its mission as an undergraduate residential college in which academic freedom and free speech are wholeheartedly supported, and in which all individuals feel welcome to study and teach here, and free to express their viewpoints, thoughts, and ideas.

All in all, a graphic illustration of the “verdict first, trial later” atmosphere that pervades the intellectual life of elite college campuses today. While it is difficult to assess the situation from a distance, we somehow doubt that all students at the Claremont Colleges feel free to express their viewpoints, thoughts, and ideas, particularly if they partake of any cynicism about the morality tales that constitute their daily mental diet.

Below is the photo of Professor Dunn that accompanies today’s Times story. Let us give Professor Dunn the last word. The Times quotes Professor Dunn: “This is like a very big deal if they think I’m a suspect.” (Hat tip: reader Andrews “Chip” Allen.)

UPDATE: Claremont alum and University of Dallas professor of politics R.J. Pestritto has written President Gann:

Thank you for your update. As an alum of CMC, I was pleased to hear that you will be scrutinizing the employment contract of the professor who perpetrated this hoax on the Claremont community. I hope that that will be your second-to-last action as president of CMC. Your final action should, of course, be to turn in your resignation, if the Board has not already seen fit to relieve you of your duties.
In your rush to stuff your politically correct agenda down the throats of the Claremont community, you have now made CMC a laughingstock.
The statement you have released is an outrage, and is woefully inadequate. You make clear that you will hold the offending professor accountable (as should, of course, be done). But you take no responsibility yourself for your rush to judgment and your rush to take advantage of the situation. You owe an unambiguous apology to the entire Claremont community. You owe the Claremont community your resignation.

The Claremont Institute’s Ken Masugi has also posted an eloquent comment on The Remedy, where Professor Pestritto’s message appears in the post above Masugi’s. Masugi writes: “It stank from the beginning…”

Ben Boychuk of the Claremont Institute and the Infinite Monkeys blog has in addition posted a highly informative comment. Click here for the link to Boychuk’s comment.

Boychuk concludes: “Understand…that there really is a war of ideas being waged in the United States and around the world today. The self-styled forces of ‘progress’ believe that justice is on their side. And they’ll lie and cheat to make damned certain of it.”

UPDATE by Deacon: Our friends at No Left Turns provide the following postscript to this story: “Lee Ross, a social psychologist on the faculty at Stanford University, said that if Dunn is proven to have committed the vandalism, the professor may still have raised people’s awareness about racism. ‘One ironic thing is that doing this may actually have accomplished some of her goals, if her goal was to make people feel that racism was present and that there was danger of white backlash, Ross said.” Looking at it less ironically, I would say that if Dunn’s goal was to dupe people she might have actually accomplished that goal, except that she didn’t.

This article originally appeared on and is reproduced here by permission.