An experiment, she insisted. A little bait tossed into the wilds of the Internet, to see what species of hate it would attract.
“Maybe this was not my most eloquent attempt,” Fair told The Washington Post this week, after her Twitter account had been suspended, her villainy declared across the conservative media, and her school was fielding questions from reporters. “And I will certainly concede I was attempting to make people feel uncomfortable.”
But “this idea I’m somehow calling for actual violence is preposterous,” Fair said. “I set this up for Tucker Carlson. He proved my experiment.”
Tucker Carlson? Well, just wait.
Of course, Fair had no way to know that of all the countless tweeters, bloggers and pundits upset by her remark, that particular Fox News host would respond to it two days later by invoking one of the most loaded phrases in the alt-right lexicon — white genocide — and land himself in his own little furor.
“It escalated in a way I hadn’t anticipated,” Fair said. “But I knew exactly where it was going.”
Sunday — one day before white 'genocide’
There was a time before Fair was on Twitter. There were many years — most of her career, actually — when she was known on campus simply as a professor of security studies and known around the world as a sober, somewhat hawkish expert on international affairs.
Even today, Fair speaks on panels about the Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and she holds Q&As for the Council on Foreign Relations. She’s written for The Post about the impact of drones on civilians in Pakistan. Her bio page at Georgetown overflows with bibliography and academic distinctions that have nothing to do with her personal blog, which is called “Tenacious Hellpussy: A Nasty Woman Posting from the Frontlines of F---ery."
Here’s what happened, as she explains it.
“The idea you can effect change by using the normative language expected of someone with a PhD is false,” Fair said.
At least, not when you’re female.
Fair would appear on C-SPAN and get marriage proposals in her inbox, she said. She once wrote an op-ed on Pakistani policy and received in the mail a “seven-by-five array of clitoris cupcakes, all racially distinct.” Misogyny followed her around like a cloud. Anger and frustration built up inside her, exacerbated by what she said was years-long sex abuse as a child.
And one day she thought “Damn it, I’m done,” she said, and decided to let everyone hear what rage sounds like.
“The idea I am expected to respond to systematic rape culture using florid prose is preposterous,” she said. “It’s another way to discipline women’s bodies, by asking us to discipline our rage.”
And so “Tenacious Hellpussy” was born. Her Twitter mug shot became an image of Vladimir Putin riding a naked, half-pig Donald Trump. Between lectures on international affairs, Fair got the white nationalist Richard Spencer kicked out of his gym and traded accusations of defamation with airport police in Germany after they confiscated her deodorant.
She provoked confrontations, and wrote hundreds or thousands of words about each one, and a fair percentage of those words were obscene.
“I aim to create language that creates as much discomfort as I am forced to feel in this regime,” Fair said, turning back to last week’s Kavanaugh hearings. “I cannot tell you the rage and hurt it feels as all of those men on that Judiciary Committee kicked sexual assault survivors in the gut.”
As Fair’s “castrate the corpses” tweet pinged around the Internet, a reporter for the right-leaning outlet Campus Reform sent her a perfectly polite email.
“Good Afternoon Prof. Fair,” she wrote. “I am writing to request a comment for an article . . . please let me know.”
Fair did comment. Specifically, she responded via a furious 2,400-word blog post that addressed the Campus Reform reporter as “Aunt Lydia,” a fictional TV and book character who indoctrinates women to be raped. “Do you think complicit women and lousy men will be less likely to slut shame you because you are one of their paid-keyboards?” she wrote. “No, Aunt Lydia.”
It spread from random tweets to reactionary blogs, to major publications and finally to Fox News.
Which Fair insists was all according to hypothesis. All part of her experiment.
Monday — white 'genocide’
Fair has little interest in critiques of her efficacy. “Try replacing the f-bombs with arguments and I bet your effect will change from incitement of emotions to almost infinite potential for change in behavior and policy,” a colleague once suggested, she wrote on her blog.
She had tried that for decades, she responded. It never worked. “I evaluate the efficacy of my language by a different metric: does it make you feel uncomfortable for that is its intent,” she wrote. “My cynicism is learned from experience.”
Now she tallies up her hate emails by the thousands, breaking them down by category as if they were war medals — “deeply misogynistic, deeply anti-Semitic.”
Saturday’s tweet had earned her 800 emails and counting, she told The Post, coming every few seconds after Tucker Carlson said what he said.
The Fox News host, in some ways threading his own line between provocation and professionalism, launched into his Monday-night monologue by reviewing the weekend’s top liberal outrages. He mentioned a solemn column by Matthew Dowd, inspired by the ugly Kavanaugh hearings, about how “us white male Christians need to step back and give others room to lead.”
“He did not, notably, advocate for genocide,” Carlson quipped, just as Fair’s tweet flashed on the screen. “A Georgetown professor called Christine Fair recently did do that."
And with that, if Fair really had been conducting some social experiment and not simply venting on Twitter, she finally reached her conclusion.
The myth of “white genocide” has for years been growing in international racist circles, the idea that the apocryphal white “race” (sometimes white “culture”) was being destroyed, whether by race mixing or global conspiracy.
In recent episodes, Carlson had been flogging the issue of land seizures in South Africa — a known proxy issue for those who believe in “white genocide.” Fair’s tweet got him to invoke the term itself.
Tuesday, the day after ‘white genocide’
Come Tuesday morning, Fair’s castration tweet was fading from the news cycle. Twitter had a new trending villain, and it was Tucker Carlson.
“This is Orwellian,” Carlson wrote in a statement after the Southern Poverty Law Center flagged him on its “Hatewatch” list. “A Georgetown professor publicly calls for killing people based on their race, and then suggests ‘we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine.’ I criticize this and wind up on a ‘hate watch’ list?”
Fair, rightly or wrongly, says her rhetoric is designed to cause discomfort, not effect anything as naive as positive change in the world. Discomfort accomplished.
She has her own repercussions to deal with. The professor woke up Tuesday morning to find her Twitter account suspended for the first time. It was reactivated in the afternoon, and a Twitter spokesman said the suspension had been a mistake. Then it was taken offline again, and the spokesman didn’t respond to further questions.
“They’ll either un-suspend me or they won’t,” Fair said. “Twitter’s a superhighway for the most noxious of individuals. It’s not the worst thing if I’m not on Twitter again.”
As for her academic career, Fair said she keeps her politics out of her lectures and warns her students not to follow her on social media unless they want to experience that side of her life. Georgetown University has stood by the professor’s right to “private speech” after previous outbursts and released essentially the same statement to Fox News when it asked about Fair’s Saturday tweet.
On Tuesday, Georgetown President John J. DeGioia wrote in a statement: “We can and do strongly condemn the use of violent imagery, profanity, and insensitive labeling of individuals based on gender, ethnicity or political affiliation in any form of discourse. . . . If comments made by faculty members are determined to substantially affect their teaching, research or University service, we will address them.”
“I’m a hard target,” Fair said. “If I get fired, I will become a veterinary tech, a community organizer.”
So far, she said, the only campus administrators she had heard from about her tweet worked in security — some concern over all the hate mail.
“My dean knows how to reach me,” she said. “This morning I’ve been prepping for classes. I’ve not checked my email because most of it is rubbish. "
On this particular Tuesday afternoon, most of it was hate mail. She didn’t sound upset by this. Comfort’s an acquired thing.