American publisher gives in to Twitter mob, burns its own book
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.
On April 16th, small fiction publishing house Dzanc released their latest book, The Siege of Tel Aviv, a dystopian, absurdist satire written by Hesh Kestin, and praised by Stephen King as “scarier than anything Stephen King ever wrote.” Within twenty-fours, responding to complaints on Twitter, the publisher issued an irresolute statement requesting feedback from tweeters. By April 19th, the digital download was pulled, and by April 24th, Kestin discovered he had been unpublished (the literary equivalent of cancelled) from a Publisher’s Weekly article tweeted out from Dzanc’s Twitter account.
According to a press release written by the author on April 25th, the small, and admittedly vulnerable, publishing house had unpublished the novel almost immediately when 13 tweeters accused the novel of being Islamophobic. More specifically, tweeters accused the book of two things: using “Moslem” instead of “Muslim” and calling Iran an Arab country.
It must be noted that Kestin is not some fly-by-night author-wannabe making this stuff up as he goes along. Kestin’s Simon and Schuster biography informs us that he has been a foreign correspondent for twenty years, reporting from the Middle East on war, international security, terrorism, arms dealing, espionage, and global business. A father of five currently living in New York, he is also an eighteen-year veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, has worked for Forbes as their London-based European correspondent, and has authored articles in Newsday, the Jerusalem Post, and Playboy. He is also the published author of three previous novels. If Kestin is a virulent Islamophobe, he has done a good job of hiding it over a decades-long life of public life in the Middle East.
In his press release, Kestin acknowledged that he used the widely accepted alternative spelling of Moslem. But he defends against the claim that the book or its jacket refers to Iran as an Arab country. This is not even a mistake he would make, he explains. In Kestin’s own words, “the novel tells the bloody story of what might happen when Iran leads five Arab armies in its long-threatened conquest and destruction of Israel.” This plot summary might account for the claim from the tweeters that the book is Islamophobic, and be the real source of their discomfort with the novel, rather than the rather trivial items they actually pointed out. And Kestin appears to have sensed this.
He continues: “In a time of growing anti-Semitism and the increasing influence of Iran in Syria and other Arab countries, to say nothing of its effective control of terror organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, being afraid of militant Islam is hardly a neurosis.” Kestin follows up by emphasizing that while militant Islam is a genuine concern, it exists alongside his own personal experience as a foreign correspondent and neighbor to Muslims who has been welcomed into Muslim homes and has gladly welcomed Muslims into his.
Regardless, on April 18th, Steve Gillis, the retired publisher and co-founder of Dzanc Books, released a statement distancing the publishing house from Kestin, the same author whose 2006 book The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats brought their small publishing house the prestige of a gold medal Independent Publishers Award.
In the statement, Gillis says outright that the book employs an “over-the-top absurdist narrative” and “is not meant to be read as Islamophobic.” But that is where his defence of the novel ends. He begins defending himself pre-emptively against accusations of guilt-by-association. He implores his readers to recognize that he and his wife Mary have been fighting Trump’s immigration policies since he took office. He pleas with his readers to understand that he, personally, is not Islamophobic. He lists various non-Islamophobic things of note he has done. Steve has sponsored Muslims. Steve has purchased two houses which he brought Muslim families to America to live in. Steve has worked “tirelessly” and has “given a small fortune” to support the Muslim cause. Steve begs and implores. Steve has been good to Muslims, so very, very, good to them, and it has hurt him personally to see that Kestin’s book has been received as Islamophobic.
Next, Steve goes on to assert the virtue of his publishing house, Dzanc. Steve hopes for “reconciliation” with those who did not like the book and his publishing house. How blind I was, Steve writes, to read this over-the-top dystopian novel as a parody. I am so troubled now. Steve tells us he is distraught that after Dzanc’s thirteen years of publishing underrepresented authors, and all of their work in communities and schools, that readers would think that Dzanc would provide the public with anything but “worthy literature.” Steve tells his readers Dzanc will do anything to make it right. If they had published this book in error, then he would listen to complaints and pull it from the market.
But the overarching reason Dzanc unpublished the novel seems to be contained in these two lines of the statement:
That the material presents itself as problematic in this regard troubles me deeply. I hoped readers would understand the intent of the novel. If an error has been committed, it is not in our intent, but in the failure to consider how readers might perceive the novel.
Reading this press release reminded me of an episode of The Twilight Zone called “It’s a Good Life.” In the episode, the residents of Peaksville, Ohio, are reduced to sycophancy by a six year-old Anthony Fremont who holds power over anything that displeases him: television broadcasts, music, and people. On top of that, Anthony simply hates un-good thoughts of any kind, and displeasing Anthony has horrible consequences. If Anthony doesn’t like you, he can make you disappear. Just like 13 tweeters just made Kestin’s novel disappear.
Gillis’ grovelling in his press release is exactly analogous to the grown-ups in that episode walking on eggshells around little Anthony Fremont. He is terrified of the swift judgment of the tweeters, just like the grown-ups are terrified of Anthony. This fear causes a chain reaction. Complaints from as few as thirteen tweeters, none of whom are likely to have read all, if any, of the book in one day, were able to convince at least one fellow author at Dzanc to also demand the book be pulled, and to threaten to retract their upcoming work from the publishing house. Reviewers have also fallen prey to the monsters of Peaksville, some vowing to never again review any of Kestin’s work. It is clear that, like in The Twilight Zone, Hesh Kestin is being put out into the cornfield.
You can dislike Kestin’s book (assuming you have read it, of course), and you can disagree with its politics, or its point of view, or its value system, or anything you like. You can say it fails at absurdism or satire. You can say it is a bad book. But it is not the duty of a work of art to teach morals or to be agreed with. Artworks are products of culture, of individual voices, and they ought to be engaged with, openly, charitably, critically. And, it is certainly not our duty to get them disappeared to prevent other people from making up their own minds.
Kestin has been given back his publishing rights. As for any physical copies of the book, Dzanc will ensure they are pulped. I hope that a large publisher, like Penguin-Random House or Simon and Schuster, one who has nothing to fear from the opinions of 13 tweeters, will republish this book so we can all see for ourselves.
#MeToo had rules. At least we thought so. Culturally, societally, politically, we all tried to learn them, to internalize them, to understand just what types of incidents could get a person ejected from their life, tossed out of their social group, ostracized from friends, unemployable, unpersoned. The rules seemed almost clear—until suddenly those who seem to be in charge of them don’t even follow their own logic anymore.
Katie Hill had an affair with a junior staffer, another woman, who feels that she was victimized. By the rules of #MeToo, that would dictate that Hill loses it all, right? Only somehow, it’s being spun the other way, by the same publications that brought us diatribes against Al Franken. Hill, it turns out, can also claim victim status at the hands of her ex, who was the one who released the information about the affair. In her resignation speech, Hill echoed Franken’s sentiments, that it seems absurd that she should be resigning when a guy like Trump is in the White House.
To recap: the wronged party is not the spouse, not the junior staffer, but the powerful person at the center of it. While it is true that Hill was the victim of revenge porn, and that is not acceptable, the same principle did not apply to Anthony Weiner or Joe Barton. It does not immunize her from her own wrongdoing.
“The squad” of freshmen congresswomen supported her during her recent tribulation. Nancy Pelosi, and other senior members of Congress, apparently wished that “Hill had been more careful in transmitting her private photos.”
Hill was given far more leeway in terms of the vocal and press lashing that other members of Congress who have found themselves exposed for sexual misconduct have faced. It turns out that she is being supported, not harassed and harangued. A staffer for Rep Sylvia Garcia (D-TX 29th), said, “A lot of the show of support was done intimately and privately with Hill, out of respect for her. … People didn’t want to be adding to the noise. We didn’t want to make press out of the pain and suffering she’s been through. She had private images published without her consent that have caused incredible pain.” Weiner did too, but no one had any sympathy for him at all.
The thing is, and yeah, we hate to be those people, but we can so easily imagine the reverse scenario. Here it is: a dashing young first-term congressman has an affair with a staffer years younger. He takes drugs, advertises his sexual availability on dating apps, and drags his wife into a threesome with the junior staffer. When the marriage breaks up—perhaps as a result of this kind of rampant infidelity, after all, they weren’t openly poly or ethically non-monogamous—the wife releases the dirt on the congressman to the world. She wants people to know just what kind of guy this is, how he is a liar and a cheater, a womanizer, and abuser, unfit to be in Congress. What then? Why she’s a hero, of course, and he’s a villainous letch.
Haven’t we heard this story before? Why is it so different now? Is Hill really a victim of her own sexual dalliances? Are we to believe that a woman who is strong enough to run and win a congressional campaign is so easy to bully? Perhaps we’re looking at it all wrong, readers, perhaps we don’t truly understand the nature of abuse or something, but what we do understand, what is perfectly clear, is that we’re supposed to believe all women, even when she is the abuser. We’re supposed to imagine that there is some substantive difference in how the rules are to be applied to men and women in the same deleterious circumstances.
Now, we’re the first to admit that the rules are stupid. That this game of pointing fingers and shaming people is nonsensical and barbaric is not something we doubt. But if there are going to be rules that we are all expected to play by, ought they not be, well, adhered to?
If #MeToo is meant to be the new standard that we all must bow down to, and it’s a given that men and women are equal, then we must apply the rules fairly, and everyone who has a complicated sexual relationship that leads to grievances must be punished. Or, maybe, just maybe, we could do away with this nonsense and start to see the human beings for what they are: flawed, complicated, and capable of cruelty and kindness.
#MeToo may have been an effective corrective in some situations, but it should never have risen to the level of an era. As it stands now, we are living through a “cultural context where common vengeance writes the law,” and the hypocrisy is destroying us. If the rules don’t apply the same way for everyone, perhaps the rules are the problem.
An antifa activist with a history of violence and threatening behaviour across the Pacific Northwest has been arrested on a felony hate crime charge in Seattle for alleged anti-Semitic attacks.
Jamal Oscar Williams, 44, is accused by state prosecutors in Washington state of hate crimes and criminal harassment against Schmuel Levitin, a rabbi, and Ephriam Block. According to court documents, Williams “maliciously and intentionally” followed, threatened to kill and assaulted the men in multiple attacks in October because of their perceived religion.
Levitin and Block were operating a permitted religious booth for the Sukkot Jewish holiday in downtown Seattle on October 11 when Williams allegedly approached them and shouted: “Jews, Jews, Jews … give me your money!” He then said he had a gun and was going to kill them. Both Levitin and Block have beards and payots, or sideburns, and were wearing yarmulkes. Levitin is a rabbi at the Chabad of Downtown Seattle.
Three days later, Williams returned and made similar threats and demands for money. On October 15, the next day, Williams allegedly followed the men into the lobby of their apartment building. After making more demands for money, he allegedly hurled candy from the concierge’s desk at the men. Police later found and arrested Williams in a nearby-area. He was unarmed at the time.
Jamal Williams is known in the Pacific Northwest for his involvement in various antifa protests and his outspoken views on black nationalism. In August 2018, he was arrested in Seattle during a counter-protest against right-wing group Patriot Prayer. Last November, he threatened this journalist with death outside Seattle City Hall at a counter-demonstration against a conservative group.
More recently, Williams was in Portland, Oregon on August 17 where he was recorded accosting people aggressively during an antifa protest-turned-riot against the Proud Boys. He was also part of a group of people who surrounded and threatened to hurt a reporter with the Washington Examiner.
“He threatened me multiple times,” Julio Rosas said. “It spoke volumes when Portland Police pulled me away and said I was provoking Williams and others, when it was Williams who was acting in a very aggressive manner.”
Williams was later arrested by Portland Police for disorderly conduct. He did not show up to his court hearing in September and there is a bench warrant for his arrest.
In addition to Williams’ radical political activism with antifa, he has a long history of criminal and harassing behaviour. In Washington state, he was convicted in 2015 for felony harassment and domestic violence. He has multiple other convictions for assault and domestic violence going back years. He also has a long violent criminal record in Alaska, where he used to live.
Williams is currently incarcerated on a $100,000 bond in King County, Washington for the hate crime charge.
'They treat my autistic son like a caged animal': student takes college to court over Title IX ruling
Marcus Knight—a student with autism and cerebral palsy—will come face to face with the Title IX officer who found him guilty of two Title IX sexual misconduct violations later this month as he takes his college to court in an attempt to clear his name.
Knight first came to my attention in 2018 after his attempts to make friends landed him in the school’s Title IX office, not just once but twice. According to the lawsuit, Marcus Knight asked one female student for a fist-bump, and another for a selfie.
While these may seem trivial, two female students at Saddleback College were so uncomfortable with Knight’s attempts to make friends that they reported him to the Title IX office, with one student claiming Knight made her “uncomfortable.”
But what’s caused two years of “absolute heartbreak,” according to Knight’s mother, is how the Title IX officer handled the accusations.
Considering Knight’s disability, both students decided not to follow-through with any charges. After one female thought Knight was stalking her and was uncomfortable with fist-bumps, the school reported:
“She understands this is part of his disability and [that Marcus Knight] only wants to make friends and that no harm is intended.” In due course, her complaint was resolved by mediation between Knight, his mother, and the school’s Title IX office.
Later, student Naomi Bueno Rojo reported Knight for “following her around campus,” “[invading her] personal space,” and that he tried to “put her hand on [his] thigh.” It’s unclear why Rojo felt the need to involve the Title IX office.
She reportedly felt “no fear” from Knight, and did not request disciplinary action.
Student Melissa Gold also took Knight to the Title IX office.
Gold claimed Marcus took more than 300 photos with her. According to Aurora Knight, his mother, Marcus has a tic that caused him to press the camera button multiple times with burst mode on.
Later, Gold left Saddleback College. When the Title IX officer reacher her for comment, Gold said “This is irrelevant to my life right now. I don’t care what happens officially at this point.”
Again, this was another instance of Marcus Knight, who has autism, cerebral palsy, and multiple learning disabilities, simply trying to have some sort of semblance of friendship among his peers at college by taking selfies and trying to talk to people.
At the time, 2018, Juan Avalos was the school’s Title IX counsellor. Though Avalos does not seem to have formal as a Title IX law training, Avalos nonetheless investigated and adjudicated Knight’s case.
Despite that no students formally testified against Knight, he was still found guilty.
The Post Millennial asked the college, Juan Avalos, and the California Community College system if Avalos had training in adjudicating Title IX matters. We also asked if he had any training to deal with students with disabilities. No response.
According to the lawsuit, Knight was never offered a fair hearing, an opportunity to respond to the evidence, and Knight did not have enough time to gather information to defend himself.
Further, the school’s “single-investigator model,” during which Avalos collected evidence, interviewed students and subsequently disciplined Knight is unlawful under California code, according to the lawsuit.
In fact, it’s unsure why Avalos was even appointed to deal with Title IX cases. According to his online resume, he has no relevant experience in dealing with victims of sexual assault, Title IX training certifications, or any training to deal with students with disabilities.
He is simply the Vice President of Student Services. That department encompasses everything from financial aid to diversity programs.
While it’s understandable that admins of small colleges may wear multiple hats, it goes without saying that each person should be trained for their role, especially when they have the power to suspend and expel.
Going forward, Marcus and Aurora Knight have been “left in the dark.” by Saddleback. Knight will eventually apply to transfer to a four-year school, but it’s unclear how and if his record of sexual misconduct will follow him.
For now, Knight can only visit campus when supervised. This semester, Knight takes four classes, and will need to pass about six more to complete his associates degree. Despite his limited language abilities, Knight loves music and sings in his local church and school choir. His goal is a BA in Musical Theater.
The student’s mother says she’s “confused and frustrated.”
“I asked for papers from Saddleback multiple times asking if anything is removed [from his record] and I haven’t heard anything back yet,” Aurora Knight told The Post Millennial by phone.
“Why won’t they just be honest? They are treating my son like a caged animal. But he is utterly harmless.”
“He had no issues prior to college, at all,” his mother said.
Marcus Knight is represented by Mark Hathaway, a Title IX lawyer who has helped over 100 students fight for justice. The hearing is set for November 18, 2019.
“We believe that Saddleback College failed to comply with the law and their own policy in improperly disciplining Marcus Knight and no sanctions should ever have been imposed against him,” Hathaway told The Post Millennial.
Aurora—a single mother and immigrant from Italy—has created a GoFundMe to help cover her son’s legal expenses.
“My family has been robbed of two first years in college, my son’s dreams have crashed, his confidence is destroyed… Marcus has no idea who he can trust and who he must fear… he doesn’t know who is a friend or even how to make friends.”
“Marcus wants to face Juan Avalos in court. He wants the opportunity to state the facts and clear his name.”
The Post Millennial called Knight and asked what he thinks. He gave us three words: “I am innocent.”
This is an ongoing story. All parties named in the story were given multiple opportunities to provide comment but did not respond.
Toni Airaksinen is a Columnist at PJ Media, The Post Millennial, and a social media strategist for kosher restaurants in Brooklyn, NYC. She graduated from Barnard College in 2018. She has also been a contributor to USA TODAY College, Quillette Magazine, The Daily Caller and the NY Daily News. Follow her on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen.
Mikhaila Peterson and her father Dr. Jordan Peterson have a bestselling book on Amazon about the carnivore diet. The only problem, it’s not their book.
While Mikhaila has been vocal about her support for a thoroughly carnivorous diet, this book transcribes comments, interviews, and YouTube videos of the two Petersons and puts it together as a collection. It had no approval from either of the listed authors, no proceeds are heading their way, and fans have been fooled into buying the fake book with a horrendous, amateur photoshopped cover.
The guy who put the whole thing together is Johnny Rockermeier, a German YouTuber who has published one other book of Jordan Peterson transcriptions. His YouTube page is full of Peterson videos and interviews.
In fact, Rockermeier appears to be a fanboy. So why would he take it upon himself to attribute a book to Mikhaila and Jordan Peterson, hijacking and misappropriating their brand?
We reached out to Mikhaila who told us “[Rockermeier] did some German translations for my dad’s videos a number of years ago on YouTube. But he shouldn’t be publishing. We received an email and sent it to our lawyers and said, ‘No you can’t do that.’ That was two weeks ago. Our lawyers didn’t get on it fast enough. I don’t know why Amazon isn’t more on top of this kind of thing. It’s happened before.”
Disturbingly, a number of left-wing activist journalists and researchers have taken to Twitter to use the fake book as a line of attack against Mikhaila and her father. When put in their place by Mikhaila herself, they still haven’t corrected their false assertions.
Some of the activists include Nathan Bernard and Becca Lewis, a social justice researcher who falsely claimed that Peterson’s videos were part of an “alternative influence network” that led to the “alt-right” in a since-debunked study.
The Post Millennial was also able to connect with Rockermeier. When asked if he thought there might be a problem with publishing and selling a book without the authors’ consent, he told us, “well they could contact me so I guess they’re happy with it. In the book there’s nothing they didn’t say, and the pics are publicly available. [Mikhaila] even posted her mom in swimwear.” He then added a smiley face with a tongue sticking out.
When asked about the claim on Amazon that, “for every paperback sold, Mikhaila and her father Dr. Jordan Peterson will receive $1.00 directly,” Rockermeier said, “I will send their royalties when her Thinkspot is up. She’s off Patreon now. But honestly, they don’t need any more money.”
Mikhaila Peterson went on to tell us that she plans to look for a way to get the fraudulent books removed. “Normally it doesn’t bother me, yesterday I thought it was kind of funny. The cover is so cheesy that it’s kind of funny. But I’ve gotten emails about what a terrible person I am and what a terrible person my dad is. No matter how resilient you are, it’s tough reading a whole bunch of messages like that. People forget that anyone who has a platform is also a person.”
As of writing Amazon is still selling the fraudulent books. Amazon did not immediately respond to request for comment.