“the fact that black people have not burned this country down is beyond me” - November 25, 2014
“i have no sympathy for the nypd officers who were murdered today” - December 20, 2014
“lmao, all i just really dont have sympathy for the cops who were shot. i hate this racist f***ing country” - December 21, 2014
- Brandeis junior Khadija Lynch’s tweets, as reported by fellow student Daniel Mael on Truth Revolt
Daniel Mael, a 22-year-old student journalist at Brandeis University, first reported on fellow student Khadija Lynch’s tweets in the aftermath of the death of NYPD Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. Lynch, a junior, had served as an undergraduate department representative in the university’s African and Afro-American Studies Department — until Mael’s reporting led the department to ask Lynch to step down.
That should have ended things, but it didn’t. The story earned national attention, and Mael was targeted for his reporting. Called a slanderer and stalker, petitioned against, and told he ought to transfer dorm rooms for his safety, he faced a backlash from a campus where, by his own admission, he now has to be “more careful when my name is read on the attendance sheet in class.” In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Mael discussed the story in his own words and gave a rare window into campus culture wars and the challenges students face when they exercise their First Amendment rights.
Examiner: How did you first come across Khadija Lynch’s tweets about the death of the two NYPD officers?
Mael: I was directed to her Twitter page by another member of the Brandeis community and made aware of the fact that she was an undergraduate representative of the African and Afro-American Department.
When I saw her tweet from that day, and previous tweets she had posted, I sent her a request for comment through Facebook. That was a Saturday night. I saw later that she’d seen my Facebook message but hadn’t responded. I went back to Twitter and saw that she had written a number of things about me on Twitter, claiming that I was “creeping” on her Twitter profile and that “these Zionists hate me” and that she “had to get her gun permit ASAP.”
Then she responded to me on Facebook, and among other things, accused me of slander. I asked her if she felt the police officers deserved to die and she refused to address that question. She claimed that the things she wrote on Twitter were her private thoughts. She called for an intifada in America and spelled America with three k’s, like the KKK.
Examiner: What was your first reaction when you saw the tweets?
Mael: I was shocked and saddened by the idea that there would be someone that had such morally repugnant views, and not only held them — she’s free to hold them — but the fact that someone would say such things so publicly so shortly after the police officers were murdered.
Especially the fact that she had her email address listed as a brandeis.edu email. This was someone who, in many senses, was a representative of the school. When you’re a member of the school community, you shouldn’t take that privilege lightly. We’re not a monolithic bloc, but when you make statements, either as a student or as a undergraduate student representative, it’s important to put an extra degree of thought into what you say. What she said was really disturbing on many different levels.
My hope, deep down, was that she didn’t mean what she said or that there was some deeper context. But when I asked her for the meaning and context, she then made calls for violence and didn’t provide any further context. I wrote the story, and it went viral. A number of prominent people shared it and it took off from there.
Examiner: What happened when the story started to gain momentum?
Mael: Well, as happens with so many articles, the comments under the story were vitriolic and inappropriate. Some comments on the article I published and some comments on other sites said some really grotesque things about her. I immediately condemned those statements and said it was outrageous, on my public Facebook page. I said that these comments are repugnant and vile, and this needs to stop. The comments weren’t reflective of my feelings at all.
Then two things happened. First, the Afro- and African-American Studies Department had Khadija Lynch resign her position as an undergraduate representative, and they named me in the press release as the person who first drew attention to the tweets. Before that release, it seemed a lot of people glanced at the article but didn’t read the byline and didn’t know it was me. Now, everyone in the Brandeis community knew it was me. I didn’t have a problem with it, per se, but the press release shifted more attention onto me.
Examiner: After the press release went out, what was the response on campus?
Mael: That’s when the social media campaign against me started. Over 15 campus organizations came out against me, and so did hundreds of Brandeis students and alumni. There were over 1,000 signatures on a change.org petition targeting me. I was accused of cyber-bullying and harassment, of stalking Khadja Lynch, of being a white supremacist. One student launched an “un-friend Daniel Mael on Facebook” campaign; another student accused me of supporting the death threats she received. Another student wrote to the administration and the chief of police asking me to be held accountable.
My family was on edge. My grandmother received a phone call, from someone who had called my house, too. It was bizarre, but in this day and age, given people’s behavior, you have to be extra cautious. I don’t understand why anyone would target me or my family at all. It doesn’t make sense, but I’ve had to take this seriously.
While all this has been going on, I’ve had a number of students reach out to me and thank me for pointing out the tweets and publishing what I published. They felt similarly, but they didn’t feel like they could speak up, which I think says something about, not just the culture at Brandeis, but at other campuses as well. Not a single campus organization has come publicly to my defense.
Examiner: Has the school had any kind of formal or informal response?
Mael: No, they haven’t taken action against me or, as far as I know, against Khadija Lynch. The university offered to change my dorm room. I decided not to do that. I don’t want to capitulate to those who try to change my behavior through threats of physical violence. I want to stand up for the principles of free speech. If I didn’t hold my ground, it would be a victory for those who oppose what I think is right and just.
Examiner: It’s been some time since the story was published. How has it changed your day-to-day life on campus?
Mael: I’m generally careful about where I am on campus. I’m not saying anything would happen, but you just have to be careful in a day and age in which people are calling for violence and are openly supporting the murder of police officers. There are now dozens of students who despise me, so that certainly affects my day-to-day contact and interaction and the way I’m received by the campus community. I guess, in general, I’m just more careful when my name is read on the attendance sheet in class, let’s say.
I have many kids who privately approach me and thank me and say I did the right thing. Professors, too. But there hasn’t been as much public support.
Examiner: Professors have privately thanked you for what you did?
Mael: I’ve had a number of professors reach out to me and say that I was in the right and that campus could benefit from more students acting as I did. No professor has publicly written that they support what I did.
I even had a few students who made fake email accounts to send me their thanks. I guess they didn't want to be publicly seen as supporting me? God forbid my email gets hacked and these people are outed. I guess they were worried about that exposure and created fake email accounts to communicate with me. But that says it all.
This is a lay-up issue; this isn’t a conservative versus progressive dispute. This is just what’s humane versus what’s inhumane. That’s actually what’s confusing for me. You’re not taking a hard-line stance here. You’re just saying that when students call for violence and say that they don’t care when two innocent people were murdered, that someone who brings that to light didn’t do anything wrong. That’s basic free speech and First Amendment rights, and it says something about the culture of journalism and free speech of college campus that this isn’t fairly obvious.
Examiner: What do you think you’ve learned from all this?
Mael: I think today there’s a lack of moral clarity on college campuses, and there’s a considerable level of group think. With that comes fear and intimidation. The fact that I’m an openly conservative person on campus makes me persona non grata, in that my views are seen as malignant. It makes sense that given the stances I hold that there’d be a hesitancy to support me, but it’s really sad that there’s this tunnel vision. Even if you don’t agree with me on almost anything I say, I think this would be a time when you’d cross the lines and put some degree of thought into your position and say maybe he’s right on this one. It may be tough for them to do that, but they owe that to the community and themselves.