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Monday, Jun 24, 2024

Callanan Pushing False Narratives

<span class="photocreditinline"><a href="">BENJY RENTON</a></span><br />Kevin Moss, right, speaks at last Tuesday’s panel discussion.
Kevin Moss, right, speaks at last Tuesday’s panel discussion.

From the moment I became aware of Ryszard Legutko’s statements, I have shared them with the organizers and the sponsors of his talk. The context of the first statement I saw was a new turn towards homophobia in Poland’s ruling PiS party, a backlash against the Warsaw mayor Trzaskowski, who offered to extend protections to LGBT people. Legutko echoed the official party line, but added “These activists and organizations are very brutal. They have Bolshevik methods. If someone imagines these people as lost, abused by human prejudices ... of course not! These are the people who rule. They have behind them the most powerful means that exist.” 

This is a common paranoid fantasy among the anti-gender and anti-LGBT activists I research. Gays are all-powerful. There is no need to protect them. They in fact oppress others. Legutko cites no evidence for his claim. Prof. Callanan thanked me for my “perspective,” but has never engaged with the actual quotations I pointed to or rebutted them.

When student organizers publicized quotations from Legutko’s book, as well as some from this more recent talk on Polish TV, Prof. Callanan did respond: in a letter to Political Science (PSCI) students defending Legutko, he says of these quotations, “Some are doctored and others accurate, some in context and others not.” Like Legutko, he cites no evidence for these claims. My colleagues and I have checked the quotations, and in some cases provided translations from Polish. They are accurate.

Prof. Callanan goes on to write, “For my part, I find in these quotations the words of a man who has been sharply critical of the methods of activists in the European Union, and who holds the same position on same-sex marriage once held by President Obama, President Clinton, and Secretary Clinton.” I am acutely aware of Obama and Clinton’s evolving positions on marriage equality. Never, however, did they argue that LGBT people were not discriminated against, but instead rule over others. In fact both supported extension of rights, more like mayor Trzaskowski than Legutko. Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Protection Act into law, something Legutko would vigorously oppose.

My first inkling of Legutko’s position came about as a result of a post by Polish feminist and scholar, Agnieszka Graff. She and the team of European scholars with whom I collaborated on Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe recognized Legutko’s rhetoric as typical of the anti-gender discourse of the far right. It is not just Catholic or just conservative, but part of a global attack on women’s rights, LGBT rights, and more. I spoke about this at last week’s panel on Populism, Homophobia, and Illiberal Democracy, a panel Prof. Callanan did not attend.

As student parodists have demonstrated in their annotated version (on go/beyondthegreen), Callanan’s letter itself contains much more false information than the quotations posted by student organizers, which were accurate. Yet student organizers have been harassed, first by some PSCI students who received his letter, and now by right wing trolls outside Middlebury. The students and I appealed to the PSCI department to correct the record early last week. I challenged Prof. Callanan last Thursday to provide evidence for his claims. Again he has failed to engage with the facts. Apparently he cares more about giving Legutko cover and protecting his own false narratives than about the pursuit of truth or about the welfare of our students.