Shortly after the Newtown shootings, University of Rhode Island history professor Erik Loomis took to Twitter with this little jibe at the National Rifle Association's head honcho: "I was heartbroken in the first 20 mass murders. Now I want Wayne LaPierre's head on a stick."
The tweet was relatively tame by Internet standards. But a metaphor-challenged right was all in a bother. One blogger headlined his well-proportioned post "Professor calls for assassination of NRA CEO."
"In my world," Loomis replied in a post of his own, "calling for someone's head on a stick is a metaphor to hold them responsible for their actions. I think the last time 'head on a stick' actually meant murder was sometime around 1450."
But the on-line thrashing continued. Loomis got a visit from the state police. URI's president, David Dooley, even issued a statement declaring that the school "does not condone acts or threats of violence." (After taking some heat from free speech advocates, he later affirmed that Loomis's remarks, "however intemperate and inflammatory . . . are protected by the First Amendment.")
A month after the hullabaloo, Loomis has quietly returned to the web — Rhode Island's leading terrorist on the loose again. The Phoenix greeted him with a few questions, which he kindly answered via email.
I'VE BEEN SHOPPING AROUND FOR A GOOD PIKE, BUT HAVE BEEN UNABLE TO FIND ONE. WHERE DO YOU GET YOURS? Turns out a good pike is hard to find today. As someone who grew up in the Pacific Northwest forests and writes about their history, I feel like I should just cut down some trees and make my own pikes. A friend photoshopped Wayne LaPierre's head on a northern pike. Which would have the advantage of being tasty. At least the body.
I'M SURE THIS WAS A STRESSFUL EXPERIENCE. BUT IS THERE ANY PART OF YOU THAT MISSES BEING IN THE CROSSHAIRS OF CONSERVATIVE SITES LIKE THEDAILY CALLER? (SORRY FOR THE VIOLENT METAPHOR.) Being in the crosshairs of angry extremists is no fun for anyone. Not for me, my family, or my colleagues. These are some pretty mean people who want to intimidate professors from speaking out about issues they care about. So, no I don't miss it. On the other hand, there's something positive about having websites that push homophobia, racism, sexism, and class war against the poor seeing me as Public Enemy #1. It's important to stand up to them when they direct their Two Minute Hate at you. Like any bullies, the only way to stop them is to stand up to them.
LAPIERRE-ON-A-STICK SOUNDS LIKE A DELICIOUS, VAGUELY FRENCH FROZEN TREAT. HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT WAYS TO MARKET THIS MEME BEFORE WE ALL FORGET ABOUT IT? I always wanted to be a grifter so I wish I could make some money off of this. Glenn Reynolds, who writes the conservative website Instapundit and who helped lead the attack against me, has capitalized on his fame by pushing various Amazon products every day to his readers. Why can't I do something like that? My friends wanted to make "Free Loomis" T-shirts, but that doesn't seem very marketable. I agree that various popsicle-like deserts might work, but LaPierre's head on them might scare children, especially if he was holding an appropriate AK-47. Unfortunately, I am a terrible capitalist. But I am open to ideas!