Fear Cuts Deeper Than Swords: Bergen Community College Freaks Out Over "Game of Thrones" T-Shirt

Tragedy is inevitable. Our reaction to tragedy is not. We cannot govern every risk, but we must govern our reactions to risks. Here's the question we must ask ourselves: when awful things happen in the world, will we abandon reason and accept any measure urged by officials — petty and great — who invoke those awful things as justifications for action? Or will we think critically and demand that our leaders do so as well? Will we subject cries of "crime" and "drugs" and "terrorism" and "school shootings" to scrutiny? Will we be convinced to turn on each other in an irrational frenzy of suspicion, "for the children?"

If we don't maintain our critical thinking, we wind up with a nation run more and more like Bergen Community College in New Jersey, where we may be questioned and sent for reeducation for posting a picture of our daughter in a popular t-shirt on Google+.

Naturally the FIRE has the story, sourced from Inside Higher Education.

Francis Schmidt is a popular professor of design and animation at Bergen. Schmidt posted to Google+ a cute picture of his young daughter wearing a Game of Thrones t-shirt in a yoga pose next to a cat. The t-shirt was this one, bearing the phrase "I will take what is mine with fire and blood," a quote from Daenerys Targaryen, a fictional character in a series of fantasy novels (which has sold tens of millions of copies) turned into a hot TV series on HBO (with close to 15 million viewers per episode.) Googling the phrase will instantly provide a context to anyone unfamiliar with the series.

So: a professor posts a cute picture of his kid in a t-shirt with a saying from a much-talked-about tv show. In the America we'd like to believe in, nothing happens. But in the America we've allowed to creep up on us, this happens:

But one contact — a dean — who was notified automatically via Google that the picture had been posted apparently took it as a threat. In an email, Jim Miller, the college’s executive director for human resources, told Schmidt to meet with him and two other administrators immediately in light of the “threatening email.”

Although it was winter break, Schmidt said he met with the administrators, including a security official, in one of their offices and was questioned repeatedly about the picture’s meaning and the popularity of “Game of Thrones.”

Schmidt said Miller asked him to use Google to verify the phrase, which he did, showing approximately 4 million hits. The professor said he asked why the photo had set off such a reaction, and that the security official said that “fire” could be a kind of proxy for “AK-47s.”

Despite Schmidt’s explanation, he was notified via email later in the week that he was being placed on leave without pay, effectively immediately, and that he would have to be cleared by a psychiatrist before he returned to campus. Schmidt said he was diagnosed with depression in 2007 but was easily cleared for this review, although even the brief time away from campus set back his students, especially those on independent study.

So. That happened.

Pressed for an explanation of this lunacy, Bergen Community College Kaye Walter retreated into the first refuge of a modern authoritarianism, "think of the children":

Walter said she did not believe that the college had acted unfairly, especially considering that there were three school shootings nationwide in January, prior to Schmidt’s post. The suspects in all three shootings were minors targeting their local schools (although three additional shootings at colleges or universities happened later in the month).

This — this — is the core demand of the modern Fear State. Tell us what to fear, leaders, for the night is dark and full of terrors. Tell us what we have to do. Tell us what to think, and how to assess risks. Tell us "if you see something, say something" so we may feel duty-bound to vent our fears and insecurities about our fellow citizens rather than exercising judgment or compassion or proportion. Assure us that you must exercise your growing powers for our own safety, to ward off the terrible things we worry about.

Is Bergen some sort of unlikely citadel of irrationality? At first glance it may seem so. After all no well person would interpret the t-shirt as a threat and report it. That takes irrationality or dysfunction. No minimally competent or intelligent or honest school administrator would pursue such a report upon receiving it; rather, anyone exercising anything like rational discretion would Google the thing and immediately identify it as a mundane artifact of popular culture. No honest or near-normal intellect would say, as Jim Miller did, that the "fire" in the slogan might refer to an AK-47, a profoundly idiotic statement that resembles arguing that "May the Force Be With You" is a threat of force. Nobody with self-respect or minimal ability would claim that this professor's treatment was somehow justified by school shootings.

But Bergen isn't an anomaly. It's not a collection of dullards and subnormals — though Jim Miller and Kaye Walker could lead to think that it is. Bergen is the emerging norm. Bergen represents what we, the people, have been convinced to accept. Bergen is unremarkable in a world where we've accepted "if you see something, say something" as an excuse to emote like toddlers, and where we're lectured that we should be thankful that our neighbors are so eager to inform on us. Bergen is mundane in a world where we put kids in jail to be brutalized over obvious bad jokes on social media. Bergen exists in a world where officials use concepts like "cyberbullying" to police and retaliate against satire and criticism. Bergen exists in a world where we have allowed fears — fear of terrorism, fear of drugs, fear of crime, fear for our children — to become so powerful that merely invoking them is a key that unlocks any right. Bergen exists in a country where our leaders realize how powerful those fears are, and therefore relentlessly stretch them further and further, so we get things like the already-Orwellian Department of Homeland Security policing DVD piracy.

Certainly the Miller-Walter mindset is not unique in American academia. We've seen a professor's historical allusion cynically repackaged as a threat. We've seen a community college invoke 9/11 and Virginia Tech and Columbine to ban protest signs. In pop-culture debacle much like this one, we've seen a college tear down a "Firefly" poster as a threat. We've seen satire and criticism punished as "actionable harassment" or ""intimidation."

As a nation, we all need to decide whether we will surrender our critical thinking in response to buzzwords like "terrorism" and "drugs" and "crime" and "school shootings." On a local level, we must decide whether we will put up with such idiocy from our educational institutions. So tell me, students and teachers and alumni of Bergen Community College. Are you going to put up with that? Because institutions that act like this are not helping young people to be productive and independent adults. They are teaching fear, ignorance, and subservience.

If you feel strongly about it, you could tell Bergen Community College on its Twitter Account or Facebook page.

Update: Bergen made a statement doubling down:

"The referenced incident refers to a private personnel matter at Bergen Community College. Since January 1, 2014, 34 incidents of school shootings have occurred in the United States. In following its safety and security procedures, the college investigates all situations where a member of its community – students, faculty, staff or local residents – expresses a safety or security concern."

There are at least two maddening components to this. First, they didn't just "investigate" — they suspended the professor and made him see a psychiatrist because he posted a picture of his daughter in a wildly popular t-shirt from pop culture. Second, the statement is an implicit admission that the college refuses to exercise critical thinking about the complaints it receives. There is no minimally rational connection between school shootings — or any type of violence — and a picture of someone's kid in a pop-culture t-shirt. The college is saying, in effect, "complain to us about your angers or fears, however utterly irrational, and we will act precipitously on them, because OMG 9/11 COLUMBINE TEH CHILDREN." Shameful. Ask yourself: what kind of education do you think your children will get from people who think like this?

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Craig Mazin says

    I was with you rah-rahing the entire way until you got to the DHS policing DVD piracy. That's actually a federal crime. You make not like which enforcement arm of the government is policing it, but it needs to be policed by *some* arm of the federal government… and I can assure you that to this point, the people who were supposed to be policing it have failed miserably.

    That one example sticks out as essentially different than the rest of your excellent list, which is a dispiriting iteration of frightened minds restricting speech or promoting a general state of fear. Bergen Community College… good god…

  2. says

    Ugh. I probably should stop wearing my "Meat is murder… tasty, tasty murder" T-shirt with a big T-bone on it…

    …people might think I'm threatening to become a cannibal!

  3. says

    Craig: there are a great many federal crimes. I submit that giving DHS the power to investigate is significant — it is an attempt to cloak the piracy issue under the "homeland security" rubric, thus encouraging us to accept measures we otherwise would not. I think the language they use in the linked post supports that.

    Not every federal crime is a "homeland security" issue.

  4. Langalf says


    I agree with Ken.

    While DVD privacy may indeed be a federal crime, what in hell is the DHS doing policing it? Since when is that a matter of national security?

  5. melK says

    Sorry, Craig, I just can't agree with you on the issue of "throw any federal agency at a crime".

    The CIA is inappropriate for investigating auto theft. The Customs and Border Patrol people are inappropriate for investigating bank fraud.

    And Homeland Security (as an organization) is inappropriate for investigating copyright infringement. Leave it to the FBI, will ya? It's in their mandate.

  6. Kurt says

    If I recall correctly, the DHS getting charge of investigating DVD piracy was because for a while they were pushing that the folks who push pirated DVDs on street corners in New York were deeply connected with terrorism funding. And of course when that turned out to be nonsense, they willingly gave up authority over the whole thi—sorry, I mean they did nothing.

  7. L says

    George Orwell (1984) was an optimist.

    I guess he was if he expected people to read his book before commenting about it on the internet.

    I don't think hyperbole helps here. It's okay to recognize that this very bad, very stupid situation is very bad and very stupid, without pretending that it is worse than 1984. It is not even close to being a fraction as bad as 1984. Come on.

    "If you want a picture of the future, imagine an administrator, peeing his pants over a picture of a t-shirt, forever."

  8. Mike says

    @ melK

    So if I'm selling bootleg copies of season 1 of Homeland, you don't think its appropriate for the Department of Homeland Security to arrest me?

  9. BullsLawDan says

    Wow, so they've updated by releasing a statement basically saying they will take draconian action on anything that anyone perceives as a threat, regardless of the veracity of the situation. Ridiculous. MAH TERRORISM!

  10. Mu says

    They have to double down; if they back off they're in trouble due to the complaint the victim had filed earlier, and the possibility of a retaliation lawsuit. They presumably have insurance paying for lawyers and are hoping for the victim to not bother to fight them.

  11. mcinsand says

    Does Mr. Schmidt have any possibility of recovering lost pay (and any associated legal costs) for wrongful dismissal? This was clearly not reasonable, and the board or whoever is responsible for the college should be very upset over the presence of an administrator so incompetent that he would take this as a threat.

    And what about Mr. Miller? Will the college healthcare plan cover a visit to the proctologist to have his head pulled out of his donkey? No, I don't mean to imply that he is into bestiality I was merely trying to … nevermind. Anyway, to use a phrase I saw Ken use some time ago, I hope his Google gets better soon.

  12. Craig Mazin says

    To be clear, I'm not suggesting that the DHS is the appropriate arm of the government to police the theft and illegal distribution of intellectual property.

    I'm simply saying that "the wrong arm of the government is heavy-handedly policing a federal crime" doesn't fit, rhetorically, in a list of "liberty-squashing dipwads repressing constitutionally protected speech."

  13. Kurt says

    @Mu – I was going to type a long-winded post but I deleted it. I replace it instead with this post, in its entirety:


  14. NI says

    Part of the problem is that he meekly went to see the psychiatrist, instead of getting a lawyer and then getting an injunction.

  15. NI says

    By the way, even assuming the shirt was a threat — which assumption requires far more credulity than I can muster — the professor wasn't the person wearing it. How does he get accused of a threat for something someone else was wearing?

  16. Jessie says

    So, 34 shootings since January 1. But this took place in January during winter break, so I wonder how many of those shootings had occurred by that point? Using things that happened after the incident to justify the incident doesn't make sense.

  17. Joel says

    I wonder if that stated policy could be turned into a "weapon". Find a statement made by whatever employee of Bergen CC you have a grudge against (might I suggest Jim Miller or Kaye Walker for starters), claim that it could be interpreted as a threat of school violence, say you feel threatened and voila, they're gone. It's like "The Wacky Molestation Adventure" in South Park.

  18. CJColucci says

    Something doesn't compute about this story. Calling Schmidt in to explain the situation may seem a bit overwrought to most of us, but probably no more than that if it had stopped there. But after they called him in, they suspended him without pay and said he needed to be cleared by a shrink before he could return to work. While I am well-acquainted with the foibles of academic administrators, whom I often represent, I have to think there is more to this than we now know. How did he act in the interview? What did he say? What kind of history does Schmidt have, either psychiatric or behavioral? Has there been some issue between him and the college where he did not think he was getting what he thought was his?
    Maybe these administrators were and are paranoid bed-wetters, but I think we need to know a bit more simply because what we know now is just crazy. Crazy is possible, of course, but it can't be the default position.

  19. Joel says

    @NI: Clearly he was training his daughter as an insurgent to carry out violence on his behalf. No one at a community college is gonna frisk a child for weapons. They're not the TSA.

  20. Kurt says

    @Mu – I apologize – I just read the linked story and saw that he filed a grievance. I think that's critical for the story, actually, because it shifts it from garden-variety zero-tolerance stupidity to garden-variety New Jersey intrigue. They're just normal bad people in charge there, not exceptionally subnormal bad people, if this is just a grudge. And yes, in this case I do agree with "victim" as the qualifier (I thought you were referring to the person who filed the t-shirt complaint).

  21. Charissa says

    Who wants to help me start a fund to get this installed in the prof's office when the college is bludgeoned into reinstating him?

  22. Kevin says

    For those of you who didn't click through to the linked articles and see the actual picture in question, here's the link.

    I encourage everyone to take a look at it, as it gives the story that much more oomph. Also, it's just an adorable picture. I cannot begin to comprehend the workings of a mind which could look at it and think "threat".

    Imagine the sequence of events which would have had to occurred for this to have been a threat. A guy decides he's so angry about something that he's going to shoot up his school. So he gets a T-shirt custom printed with a (vaguely) threatening phrase on it. After waiting the several days it takes for that to happen (still angry, but not angry enough to have shot up the school at any point while he was waiting for the shirt to get printed), he then gets his daughter to put it on and do a yoga pose, next to a cat. Because the kind of people who do school shootings are *totally* the kind of people who are socially well-adjusted enough to even have kids in the first place, right?

  23. VernonWalter says

    I was with you rah-rahing the entire way until you got to the DHS policing DVD piracy. That's actually a federal crime. You make not like which enforcement arm of the government is policing it, but it needs to be policed by *some* arm of the federal government…

    Actually, piracy is only a federal crime with respect to organized interstate commerce – think La Cosa Nostra running an operation by the shipping container full of hard goods. The act of piracy is actually a civil crime. Basically, unless the MPAA/RIAA/ASCAP legally-enabled monopolistic entities want to pay the US government to cover the costs of enforcement then we can discuss whether that is an apporpriate use of coercive power. For now, espousing "piracy is a crime of theft of property" is a poor phrasing unless you're talking about wholesale piracy of physical products. Important distinctions, and you may need to further your understanding on the topic.

  24. says

    I looked at Kevin's link to the photo, and it is KITTY FORM! The college administrators could get a zillion years in prison if they were seen to condone it!

    I loved your modified 1984 quote.

  25. I was Anonymous says

    "Terrorism", and "Think of the Children" are the two root passwords to the US Constitution.

  26. albert says

    Indeed it is unfortunate that Schmidt didn't hire a lawyer immediately, but there is a lack of data here (well covered by @CJColucci). I've become so sensitive to these issues (thanks Popehat!) that I always think: "get an attorney". A good attorney can only help you.

    I'm fairly certain, had Schmidt brought a lawyer to the 'meeting', that would have ended the whole affair, and perhaps put the Fear of the Lord in those douchebags "school administrators" as well. I can't see any sane person doubling down in a situation like this. That said, this appears to be an extreme case of CYA-itis, which even common sense can't cure.

    Sad as it is, this incident is merely one of many symptoms of a dangerously dysfunctional society. A society that glorifies violence(movies, TV, video games), practices violence(wars, trigger-happy cops), preaches competition by any means, worships the dollar(ironic; dollars have no value) and promotes consumerism as happiness. That 'we' continue to support such a system is even more ironic, considering the vast power we, as consumers, wield over the corporacrats. This is the only way to change the system: a lessatorium on consuming.

    Anyone have a link to a really good paper on this? I'm lazy, and

    I gotta go…

  27. Ben E. says

    Reading this, and the alarming far too many similar events, I have a suspicion that broad fear is not in fact what is at work here… rather, I think there is a far more cynical formula at work:

    (Concern Trolling as a tool to advance ones personal, political, religious or philosophical agenda) x (The fear of any person with socially derived power to appear inadequately concerned about perceived threats to the safety of the populace, the children, etc)

    This seems to be the more credible explanation to me, as the explanation of "fear nation" implies that we have suffered such severe national PTSD that a functional minority of our population have become like bunny rabbits ready to identify every leaf twitching in the breeze as a credible threat… and we just don't see that played out in scenarios where that kind of fear would FAIL to advance someones agenda. Case in this point, said administrators, who (purport to) believe that this t-shirt wearing child represented a credible threat continue to present themselves as potential targets (IE, they go in to work) at an institution where there are no doubt dozens if not hundreds of similarly constituted if not identical threats each week.

  28. Sloan says

    @CJColucci Its entirely possible that he was forced to visit the therapist for using such phrases as "Are you fucking high?" and "Why on earth are you wasting everyone's time on this nonsense?" during his interrogation.

  29. says

    "If you want a picture of the future, imagine an administrator, peeing his pants over a picture of a t-shirt, forever."

    Awesome, and accurate.

    I'm simply saying that "the wrong arm of the government is heavy-handedly policing a federal crime" doesn't fit, rhetorically, in a list of "liberty-squashing dipwads repressing constitutionally protected speech."

    The posse comitatus act comes to mind here, for me. Now, the DHS is not the military, but there is precedent in American law for recognizing that certain branches of the government do certain things. DHS is a weird, quasi-military thing that should not be. I'm instinctively, perhaps irrationally, uncomfortable charging them with the enforcement of mundane felonies.

    Regarding Bergen, I mean, it is New Jersey, which is close enough to being the Land of Always Winter. Not as cold, perhaps, but as undesirable in its way. Perhaps Miller and Walker are in league with the Great Other, whose true name is never spoken.

  30. STW says

    I think a lot of this is conditioned by various zero tolerance rules. That is administrators have set up a system where they never have to take personal responsibility for a decision. So, one kook over reacts and no one dares tell him how stupid he is. The system mandates type I errors in order to prevent any type II errors. Of course no one actually admits that an error is involved or even that they have any choice in the matter.

  31. CJK Fossman says


    Copyright infringement is not theft.

    Stop parroting the RIAA/MPAA/US DOJ line of BS.

  32. Gene says

    Albert, what the hell are you talking about?

    "Society" does not glorify violence. The most you can say is that SOME moviemakers, writers, videogame creators, and others glorify it.

    "Society" does not preach competition by any means, whatever that means. Most people consider healthy competition to be a good thing. The same people consider taking competition to pathological levels to be a bad thing.

    "Society" does not worship the dollar. Most people (you included) like money a hell of a lot, and they like it for what it can do for them and their loved ones. The same people have many other priorities in life that have nothing to do with money.

    I, and everyone I know, and probably you for that matter, absolutely love living in a world with a vast number of consumer choices, many of which have done immense good in ending the grinding poverty of literally billions of people.

    Geez, grow up.

  33. Brian says

    Well Bergen County… When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you invoke the Streisand Effect.

  34. Mike says

    We shouldn't judge the admins until we have all the facts. Maybe the guy was also passing out wedding invitations.

  35. anne mouse says

    Ken said, "a cute picture of his young daughter wearing a Game of Thrones t-shirt in a yoga pose next to a cat"

    In fairness, the photo is dark and rather creepy. I wouldn't call it "cute" by a long shot. The cat is not very noticeable, and barely identifiable. The first impression is of a child lying on a linoleum floor in an unnatural position, nearly covered by a cloth bearing a bloodthirsty message.

    I can completely understand how a hasty glance at this photo could put someone in mind of slain children.

    On the other hand, it takes only seconds to notice that the child is actually in a "bridge" position and the cloth is a several-sizes-too-large T-shirt that (s)he is wearing. Those few seconds would certainly be a better use of a dean's time than calling the photographer in for questioning.

    Any concern for children would have started with the one in the photo. You'd look to be sure whether his/her bones were actually broken, as they might seem at first. That would keep you looking at the photo for the few seconds needed to convince yourself that this is just another unfortunate result of using a compact digital camera in a dark room and a thoughtless choice of wardrobe (plus a careless approach to social media), not an image calculated to instill fear. The photo "incident" was clearly a pretext as part of the ongoing faculty feud at this school.

    On a separate note, well played, Mike. I just read that scene in Book Three the other day.

  36. Luke says

    I have a serious safety concern regarding the Bergen community. The ignorance & stupidity expressed in the statements by Jim Miller & Larry Hlavenka could cause permanent lasting harm to those around them and any who are exposed to them. Given this grave threat, both should be put on administrative leave pending psychological evaluations and critical thinking tests before being allowed to come into contact with any other human being.

    That's all it takes to get someone suspended right? Someone who feels threatened or expresses a safety concern?

  37. Fensty says

    IMO what we have here is the administration 'hiding' behind things like Zero Tolerance, "Think of the Children" and "because terrorism, duh!" to throw down and intimidate the faculty & their union.

    I see three key items in the linked nj.com article make that pretty clear:

    "The faculty at Bergen Community College is in open conflict with the administration."

    "Schmidt believes he was targeted after filing a grievance against the college after being passed up for a sabbatical."

    And then, obviously, the phrase on the shirt, ""I will take what is mine in fire and blood."

    Was Professor Schmidt a vocal leader in the 'conflict' of the faculty/union vs. the administration? I think that's a key item I'd like to know. Either way he's become a very useful 'example' to others.

    This is less about ignorant stupidity/inability to separate fantasy from reality and more about finding a way to silence an inconvenient voice/make an example to other inconvenient voices. They can hide behind an imaginary threat to get his sabbatical with fire and blood with the "we had to think of the children" defense.

    That wasn't spelled out in the article nor Ken's commentary (I read it quickly, maybe there was an obvious subtext I didn't catch, I'm supposed to be working at the moment, y'know…) but I think that's pretty obvious what's going on here and what the administration is going to claim going forward.

  38. jorgeborges says

    About 15 years ago I used to watch a stupid TV show about a guy who got tomorrow's newspaper today, so basically he knew what was going to happen in the future 24 hours in advance. Every episode was about him stopping someone from getting into some sort of accident that the newspaper reported, which I always thought showed a stunning lack of imagination. If you knew what was going to happen before if happened, wouldn't there be a million other things you could do besides stopping accidents from happening? Think of the philosophical and theological implications for example.
    Anyway, I've been thinking lately that this TV show represents what American society has become – the justification for a "social contract" and the driving force behind government itself seems to be nothing more than preventing people from dying in "preventable" ways. Think of terrorism and school-shooting hysteria, increasingly intrusive safety regulations, calls for "hate-speech" bans, moral crusades against GMOs, anything "for the children" and bullshit like this, all of it is a fear of the unknown boiled down to its most mundane form (fear of death) and then put into action by a bureaucracy with a stunning lack of imagination.

  39. JWH says

    What ever happened to proportionality? At most, the befuddled, pop-culture-ignorant dean ought to email his colleague to ask, "Hey, what's up with that shirt?" Then the professor replies, "It's from 'Game of Thrones,' you befuddled, culture-ignorant dean." And that's the end of that, until the dean fires professor for calling him befuddled.

  40. AlphaCentauri says

    Their college newspaper sports section must be very boring, with the sportswriters prohibited from using any violent metaphors to describe winning a game.

    And does anyone else thinks the creepiest part is that the administrator was following the professor on Google+ when he didn't know him well enough to figure out why there was a blurry picture of the professor's daughter in an email from Google?

  41. says

    Either Bergen has no metalhead students, or Mr. Miller never leaves his office to interact with the student body – imagine how terrifying it would be for him to encounter a 19 year-old jock wearing a Metallica or Slayer t-shirt!

  42. akahige says

    Anyone notice the strange irony of the Jim Miller Bergen CC HR doofus / James Miller who posted the Firefly poster at the University of Wisconsin-Stout story Ken back-linked to connection…?

  43. Craig Mazin says

    I apologize for using the word "theft" in a colloquial manner to describe copyright infringement, which can be and has been prosecuted as a federal crime when done so willfully and for profit.

    I don't know what a "civil crime" is… I know what a civil offense is, and I know what a tort is, and I know I'm not talking about either of those or RIAA/MPAA civil cases, and I know that federal copyright law absolutely contains criminal provisions, and I know that the NET act includes provisions for criminal prosecution, and I know the ACTA agreement to which the U.S. is signatory *requires* criminal penalties, and I know that individuals acting alone and apart from organized crime have been convicted and served time in federal prison for illegally uploading and distributing movies.

    But I'll hit the books anyway, @VernonWalter.

  44. wolfefan says

    I posted a polite note on their FB page mentioning that both FIRE and Popehat had picked up the story. It was deleted within a short time. Some student intern is earning their money managing that timeline.

  45. Chris says

    there are a great many federal crimes. I submit that giving DHS the power to investigate is significant"

    Except that authority over DVD and other I.P. smuggling wasn't "given to DHS" it was part of the US Customs Service's mission long before DHS even existed.

    Periodically people get all worked up because "DHS is spending it's time on X" where "X" something that has nothing to do with Homeland Security. Almost inevitably, "X" turns out to be a core mission of one of the many agencies that got rolled into DHS. Why does DHS rescue stranded borders? Because that's part of the Coast Guard's job. Why does DHS investigate counterfeiting? Because that's what the Secret Service was established to do. This is an inevitable consequence of rolling together a bunch of different agencies because they had some sort of homeland security mission when those agencies also had many other jobs that have nothing directly to do with homeland security.

    It's gotten to the point that whenever someone mentions "DHS" or "Department of Homeland Security" rather than naming one of it's component agencies, I suspect that what follows is probably ill informed.

  46. Matthew Cline says


    If I recall correctly, the DHS getting charge of investigating DVD piracy was because for a while they were pushing that the folks who push pirated DVDs on street corners in New York were deeply connected with terrorism funding. And of course when that turned out to be nonsense, they willingly gave up authority over the whole thi—sorry, I mean they did nothing.

    Well, hey, terrorists can conceivable use any crime to make money, so the DHS should be in charge of investigating all federal crimes. And terrorists can also make money doing legal things, so lets put the DHS in charge of everything!

  47. sd says

    "Schmidt said Miller asked him to use Google to verify the phrase" My heart goes out to this professor. Can you imagine how horrifying it must have been for him in that moment? To realize that his professional life was hanging on the wisdom and judgment of a person who doesn't know how to Google things for himself?

  48. MCB says

    I definitely think DHS needs to take over enforcement of under-enforced federal criminal statutes. These statutes are federal crimes. They are thus all very serious and no tax payer expense should be spared enforcing them. For example, I don't think the FBI has succeeded in prosecuting a SINGLE case under 18 USC 711 (shit, and that one is easy to remember, just think "slurpy"). Nor has the DEA.

    How could it be that our careful, narrow, and limited federal criminal statutes are just going unenforced? How do we know terrorists aren't violating 18 USC 711 RIGHT NOW. Think of the children.

    I think the TSA should probably go through the DVDs, hard drives, and personal effects (including a cavity search) of all passengers not only to protect our exceptionally narrow and well considered copyright laws but other criminal statutes like 711. It's the only way we can be safe.

  49. Stephen H says

    @L, keep track of who "our" (the West's? The US'? The club of right-thinking, English-speaking people?) current friends and enemies are. Who were they last week? Who will they be next week?

    Just as scarily, how much of the "free press" actually looks more closely at reality than merely repeating the statements that have been handed to them? Example: Ukraine. I have absolutely no idea what is really happening there. All I do know is that "we" say "x" and "they" say "y". Was there a free and fair poll offered to the citizens of Crimea? "We" say no, "they" say yes. Actual detailed, objective reporting seems almost impossible to find while reporters rely on declamations from on high.

    So even on that part of Mr Orwell's dystopian forecasts it certainly seems that the world is much less free than it imagines, while governments are very keen to point to those scary monsters to justify increasing control over every aspect of the average person's life.

    I encountered another example last night, when I went to a club last night to celebrate my mother's 70th birthday and they insisted on scanning my driver's licence. "We only keep it for 24 hours", allegedly. "Don't make a fuss, Stephen". The subtext being that we know our freedoms are being whittled away, and most of us don't care. Or feel that caring would be impolite.

    Orwell was more right than he knew.

  50. Dale says

    "I know that federal copyright law absolutely contains criminal provisions, and I know that the NET act includes provisions for criminal prosecution, and I know the ACTA agreement to which the U.S. is signatory *requires* criminal penalties, and I know that individuals acting alone and apart from organized crime have been convicted and served time in federal prison for illegally uploading and distributing movies."

    All true as a result of our politicians being bought and paid for by the big media conglomerates.

  51. Kevin G says

    I can understand the policy "every report will be investigated" because even though that opens a door to crackpots and paranoics it also increases the chance that someone with a genuine concern will speak out.

    However if an institution does implement such a policy then they have a complementary obligation to perform a swift, intelligent, critical investigation of reports before any action is taken.

    Here is the rub. It seems that organisations are adopting such "zero tolerance" policies in order to make life easier for officials because they think they can just "apply the policy" instead of actually analysing the facts. However I believe that if an organisation wants to implement such a policy then it places an even greater onus on officials to analyse the situation and make a reasoned judgement. If your officials are not competent to perform such an investigation (as appears to have been the case here) then you have no business implementing such a policy.

    TLDR: The investigation was perhaps justifiable because policy was to investigate all complaints but the prof should never have gotten a suspension.

  52. Edward says

    I noticed the Bergen Community College website is advertising a Tupac celebration, which is funny, because if a professor posted Tupac lyrics, he would apparently be suspended.

  53. Rick says

    A real education involves open mindedness and overt questioning in order to fully appreciate the knowledge being proffered. This is the business of education; this is the life of education. In the current state, these principles have all but been abandoned at higher levels in order to make knowledge into an easily distributed commodity. This allows maximum distribution at optimal cost. Anything not of the "program" must either be presented in "special" curriculum addendums or quashed outright. What we have now; the education business.

  54. That Anonymous Coward says

    @Kevin G – The zero brain engaged policies also let them have their behinds covered. If they deviate at all, someone might expect special treatment and they might have to do their job… and if they make the wrong exception and something bad happens ZOMG THE PONIES!!!!

    Once you have power, you fear nothing more than losing it.

    TSA robs passengers, feels up kids, abuses peoples rights… and no reforms are coming because… "X is soft on terrorism" is deployed against anyone who deviates from the ZOMG TERRORISTS party line. So what if they wasted billions, covered up waste by lying to investigators, built secret playpens in facilities… ZOMG TERRORISTS.

    What good is having power if you can't abuse it, throw in a catch phrase and you're covered.

    Think of the children!!!

  55. joshuaism says

    Why does stuff like this make me want to fly into a violent rage? You think that's a threat? I'll show you a threat! Why you cryin'? I'll give you something to cry about!

  56. Uppercase Matt says

    Any time any professor at Bergen raises his/her voice in class, students ought to write a formal "expression of a safety concern" (particularly now that we've been taught that words ARE violence). They should copy the local paper. Let's really have every "expression of a safety concern" be investigated.

  57. Robbo says

    "I was with you rah-rahing the entire way until you got to the DHS policing DVD piracy. "

    Me too. You are an enabler by using their misappropriated word for copyright infringement. Piracy is robbery and worse at sea, traditionally one of the worst crimes on the books. Copyright infringement is, well, infringing someones copyright, a relatively new offence, and a fairly arbitrary one, given the various different lengths of copyright over the short years the legislation has been in place.

  58. Ryan says


    Run for the hills, you used the word "FIRE" in your post. They are probably coming for you next.

  59. albert says

    So, you don't think we live in a dangerously dysfunctional society?

    Wake up, gene!

  60. Quiet Lurcker says

    And that's the end of that, until the dean fires professor for calling him befuddled.

    But I thought institutions of higher learning were places where truth was sought out and expressed?

  61. JTG says

    My apologies for this small thread hijack: Today's XKCD has a comic regarding free speech, that, while perhaps not terribly relevant to this thread, is quite relevant to this blog.

    For those who aren't familiar, XKCD is a web comic that covers many different things both geeky and technical. While there, don't forget to check out the mouse-over text as well.

    We now return you to your regularly scheduled thread discussion.

  62. Wyn H says

    My daughter has a "Feeling Stabby" T-shirt. There's a reason I won't let her wear it to school.

  63. Neil Schipper says

    In the America we'd like to believe in, nothing happens.

    In an America whose restoration were being contemplated with any seriousness, the good professor's superior, peers, and some of his more adept students would approach him and, with gravity but without self-righteousness, issue a rebuke.

  64. says


    If you want to be extremely technical it's not an update when it happened before this post and it's linked several times already in this post.

  65. Brian says

    It's wrong for Mr. White to take this incident as an indictment of society in general; our fear-ridden security state or whatever. The obvious point to make here is that those individuals who go into educational administration are quite literally effing morons. These are the dregs of society, without the skills or IQ to do anything else, so they go into "education" and punish toddlers who make pop-tarts that look like guns, or professors who quote Game of Thrones.

    As yourself this: Who do you trust more on any mater that would require some minimal amount intra-cranial activity: A pizza delivery guy, or a guy with a PhD. in Education?

  66. Earle Williams says

    Oh, great, Ken's getting all technical on us.

    We should support Ken in this area of personal growth, reaching far beyond the confines of the traditions of his people.

  67. David Lang says

    if the word "fire" should be taken to mean "AK47" then I wonder about their fire alarms, all the signs that say "in case of fire…" etc.

    someone could have a field day with this.

  68. David Lang says


    seriously, the Pizza guy over the guy with a PhD in Education

    There are going to be exceptions to this. but if I had to choose with no other information, give me the Pizza delivery guy every time.

  69. NickM says

    "As yourself this: Who do you trust more on any mater that would require some minimal amount intra-cranial activity: A pizza delivery guy, or a guy with a PhD. in Education?"

    Are you sure they're not the same person?

    And for those talking tshirts, how about this one?

  70. Cat G. says

    @NickM – I would suggest not letting kids wear that shirt to school. In an environment where biting a pop-tart the wrong way could get you a suspension, having an actual screen printed gun (IN RED!!!) could go poorly.

    Also, in case you're wondering – fuck those guys. They were looking for a reason, and twisted logic and the English language to get it.

  71. That Anonymous Coward says

    When the magic tiger repelling rock isn't enough to keep people in awe of you, then you invent the lion it keeps away. Keep expanding what your protecting against to keep your job & try for a bigger budget.

  72. max says

    Ken, why did you link to The Fire instead of just linking to Inside Higher Education? While I am not a censor and would not propose banning the site, there really isn't any need to provide link bait to The AK-47 (no doubt a pro-killing-school-children site) despite their use of clever wordplay to hide their true nature.

  73. Sami says

    What the fuck, America. Why is this still working after more than a decade of nasty consequences and nothing beneficial?

    For fuck's sake, if these people are actually that concerned about school shootings maybe they should be starting a grassroots movement for gun reform, not finding new ways to be stupid.

    That dean needs to be identified and publically ridiculed as a moron and a wimp of the highest order. If he's scared by little girls in TV-show-related t-shirts, he must have to change his pants every time he goes past a restaurant and sees someone using A KNIFE to cut their food.

    I'm calling it now: that dean is such a pussy he has to eat with a cardboard applicator.

  74. En Passant says

    Earle Williams wrote Apr 18, 2014 @8:09 pm:

    Oh, great, Ken's getting all technical on us.

    We should support Ken in this area of personal growth, reaching far beyond the confines of the traditions of his people.

    I, for one, welcome our new proofreading overloads.

  75. pjcamp says

    Whatever made you think academia is related to education? I work here and there's no education in sight.

  76. Trent says

    It's gotten to the point that whenever someone mentions "DHS" or "Department of Homeland Security" rather than naming one of it's component agencies, I suspect that what follows is probably ill informed.

    Thank you for saying what I wanted to say in a far more eloquent manner. As you note DHS is a monster department that rolls up dozens of different agencies and the ones complaining about DHS enforcing copyright (which has been Customs responsibility as you noted since the law was created) are bloody damn well uninformed as you noted.

    As to the main story. When this all surfaced there was a story I found on Google news (I think) that IIRC listed a few facts that have been missing from the main story reported everywhere. The first is that the professor targeted had recently filed a formal complaint about being denied a sabbatical and that the two people involved in this "think of the children" moment were in fact the subjects of that formal complaint. What I deduced from that is that this "incident" was retaliation and that they found the first thing they could to get back at him. When you are out to get someone back and grab the first thing that comes into view chances are it's going to be something bloody stupid. That it referenced the game of thrones is the only reason this got national play and has resulted in the embarrassment but because this was retaliation they have no choice but to keep doubling down because the only alternative is to admit it was retaliation for his complaint. I can't wait to see if he hires a lawyer and goes after them.

  77. Nowan says


    But the entertainment industry HAS paid for it. They paid for it by buying the laws to turn copyright infringement from a matter of civil law into a criminal one.

  78. John Finn says

    @ Warren Vita

    Oh man, your average Slayer shirt is kiddie gloves compared to the more extreme metal band's t-shirts available today – wearing the average Behemoth or Cannibal Corpse shirt would probably result in this administration calling for campus security.

  79. Kazzy says

    This makes me ashamed to say I'm from Bergen County (though I never attended the school in question). Also, FWIW, the school is generally referred to as BCC — not Bergen — by locals.

  80. Doctor X says

    Yes, but are you certain the child will not come back with dragons and destroy them all?!

  81. Dan Weber says

    Chris, thanks for trying. I've posted those facts before here but it seemed to get ignored.

    The Treasury Department used to be in charge of protecting the President. I'm sure some wahoos thought it was proof of the Illuminati's money or evidence of the UCC Redemption movement or the final piece in their legal defense that the Sixteenth Amendment never passed. But it was simply because Secret Service protected the President, and the Secret Service was under Treasury because they were in charge of fighting counterfeiting.

    IP enforcement is under Customs because, in the long-ago time, most infringement happened overseas and people attempted to ship in the violating goods, so it fell to Customs to enforce it. And Customers is part of ICE and ICE is part of DHS.

  82. ZarroTsu says

    "Think of the Children" is clearly an allegory for pedophilia.
    It makes perfect sense in the context of saving America.

  83. JT says

    I agree with the posters who pointed out this part from Inside Higher Ed:

    Schmidt believes he was targeted in part because he filed a grievance against the college a week before the post for being passed up for a sabbatical.

    I work in higher education at a state institution with a strong union and this kind of petty retaliation premised on a pretext happens all the time. Sounds like a dean was out to get a professor.

  84. katja says

    The only way I can imagine this image as a threat would be if it were sent to one person who he had a beef with in the context of a dispute. Apparently the professor had been turned down for a sabbatical. If he'd responded to that news with a picture of a kid in the t-shirt (I saw the image, the phrase does dominate the picture), I could understand how a twitchy recipient might misinterpret it.

    However, that's not the scenario here. It's just a cute picture of a kid that someone posted on Google+. I suspect the guy who complained is one of those people who doesn't understand how Google+ works and over-reacted. The administration should have quickly told the guy to calm down.

  85. Andrew says

    @Mike: although copyright is waaaay off the point of this article, I'll give you Homeland.

    Very well, piracy issues should be left to the FBI unless it's about the TV series Homeland. If there's a department dedicated to the protection of Homeland, then it must be the Department of Homeland Security. After all, they must be paid to watch and protect the series continuously, yes? Nothing else could explain how that show endured for so long ….