Cryptic ‘Murder’ Letter Sent To Professor Teaching ‘The Problem Of Whiteness’

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An Arizona State University professor whose class on the “problem of whiteness” sparked backlash from conservatives and a total freakout from white supremacist groups received hundreds of hate emails and letters this winter, according to a police report obtained by TPM.

But one cryptic letter apparently stuck out to the police. It was filled with Bible verses and it described the recipient as a sinner. It contained vague references to “murder.” The letter was hand-addressed to the professor and listed nothing more than the town of Switzer, W.V. and a zip code as its return address.

The Tempe, Ariz. Police Department began investigating harassment against ASU assistant professor Lee Bebout on Jan. 29, according to the report. Bebout reported that on that morning someone had anonymously distributed fliers in his neighborhood showing a photo of him with the label “anti-white.”

Bebout informed police that he had also received hundreds of “angry emails and letters from people expressing their distaste for the title/content of his class,” according to the report.

The professor told police that the hate mail started pouring in after a news story about his class, titled “Race Theory & the Problem of Whiteness,” ran on Jan. 22, according to the report. Lauren Clark, a student at ASU and correspondent for the conservative student news website Campus Reform, had appeared Jan. 23 on the Fox News show “Fox and Friends” to complain that Bebout’s class inappropriately suggested that white people were to blame for society’s ills.

Two days later, Bebout received a mysterious letter addressed by hand to “Lee S. Bebout or current resident,” according to the police report.

Here’s how the letter appeared in the report:

The letter, titled “What matters most to you???”, admonished the recipient to “Confess to Jesus that you’re a sinner.”

“Hatred is defined as murder in 1 John 3:15,” the letter read. “God gave you a conscience so you would know that such things are wrong.”

The police report determined the letter did not have a clear message, although it described the letter’s content as “directed at someone, who the author believed had done something wrong.”

The letter’s provenance is unclear, but the mysterious sender wouldn’t be the first or only person to imply that Bebout — or his course — was being hateful.

The National Youth Front, a white supremacist group that has led the charge against the “problem of whiteness” class, has characterized the course as a “hate class.” Tempe police researched the group because its name was printed across the bottom of fliers that were handed out in the city.

“Professor Bebout said he did not feel threatened in any way by the pamphlets but felt Harassed [sic] by them as they portrayed him as ‘Anti-White’ directly printed over his photograph,” the report read.

Bebout told investigators he would aid them in prosecuting whoever distributed the fliers, but no one in the neighborhood could identify any suspects, according to the report.

The report characterized the National Youth Front as a “racially motivated group targeted towards young white males and promoting the white race.” A detective monitored the group’s blog and social media feeds for about a week in February for information about who may have distributed the fliers but found no leads, according to the report.

The group’s chairman, New Jersey resident Angelo John Gage, previously told TPM that his group did “absolutely not” threaten Bebout.

Gage did not respond Thursday to a request for comment from TPM.

The case languished until police were notified on March 4 that a fingerprint had been obtained from a baggie containing the fliers collected in Bebout’s neighborhood, according to the report. After that fingerprint turned up no further leads, Bebout’s case was rendered inactive pending further new information.

Bill Mullen, a professor of English and American Studies at Purdue University who first met Bebout when the ASU assistant professor was working on his dissertation, told TPM in a phone interview that he reached out to the professor when the “problem of whiteness” class first rose to national attention.

“He’s under an extraordinary amount of — stress isn’t even the right word,” Mullen told TPM. “It’s not often you go to work and you have your life threatened, or you go home from work and you feel that you, your partner and your child may be in physical danger.”

The police report stated that Bebout told police he’d received no specific threat of violence. The investigator wrote in the report that the professor told him he did not feel like he was in imminent danger and said “most people have been really supportive.”

Mullen told TPM that he also felt ASU’s administration had left Bebout “out to dry” amid the uproar over his course.

“I haven’t seen the administration come to his defense in the way that I would expect any university to do when an employee and his family are facing death threats,” he told TPM.

To date, the only public statement ASU has made about the “problem of whiteness” class came in response to the Fox News segment that aired in January.

“The class is designed to empower students to confront the difficult and often thorny issues that surround us today and reach thoughtful conclusions rather than display gut reactions,” the statement read. “A university is an academic environment where we discuss and debate a wide array of viewpoints.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at catherine@talkingpointsmemo.com.
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