Journalist critical of Iranian regime deplatformed here after bomb threats

October 19, 2022 • 10:15 am

Correction: In the previous version of this post, I stated that the National Iranian American Council was affiliated with the Iranian government. That was incorrect: it is an independent lobbying organization advocating for the interests of Iranian-Americans. I have made this correction below.


Well, we had an attempted deplatforming of a speaker here this week. But first, a bit of background.

The University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics (IoP)is a nonpartisan organization that hosts a diversity of speakers from all parts of the political spectrum (see a partial list below). It exists to promote political engagement of young people; as Wikipedia notes:

The Institute of Politics is an extracurricular, nonpartisan institute at the University of Chicago designed to inspire students to pursue careers in politics and public service. The Institute accomplishes its goals through four major avenues: a civic engagement program, where students take part in community service projects and gain leadership skills, a fellows program that hosts a group of political and policy professionals to lead seminars for an academic quarter, a speaker series featuring public events with a diverse array of political figures, and a career development program featuring hundreds of internships in government, politics and policy. It was formally established in 2013 with David Axelrod, who was President Barack Obama’s chief campaign advisor, as its director.

Since its inception, the IOP has hosted prominent speakers including Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, Al Gore, Rick Santorum, John McCain, Newt Gingrich, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, Amy Klobuchar, John Brennan, Frank Bruni, Edward Snowden (via videochat), Jon Stewart, Arthur Brooks, Bill Browder, Gina Raimondo, and Chance the Rapper; hosted fellows such as Beth Myers, Michael Steele, Roger Simon, Husain Haqqani, Matthew Dowd, Howard Wolfson, Mark Udall, Tom Harkin, Michael Morell, Jeff Roe, Reihan Salam, and Bakari Sellers. It has arranged over 250 student internships to institutions like the U.S. Capitol, the Brookings Institution, and the White House, and placed over 300 students in civic engagement projects.

And students have protested IoP speakers before, like former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Some IoP speakers have even been shut down by both student and non-student disruption, including Cook County attorney Anita Alvarez, criticized for “state violence against brown and Black people” (their capitalization) and deplatformed by, among others, Black Lives Matter protestors.  Some speakers, like Natalie Jaresko, executive director of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, were subject to attempted student disruption, but protestors were kicked out by the cops. Note that all these protests came from the Left, like most recent disruptions and deplatformings in American colleges.

Finally, an op-ed at the Chicago Maroon, our student newspaper, has called for disbanding the IoP as a whole, dubbing it “an institution that encourages and enables new drones to enter a career in politics and spend a lifetime getting paid to manufacture the illusion of progress and problem-solving—the Institute of Politics.” That’s just bizarre. Are we not to have politics at all?

Yesterday another speaker was disrupted—and her panel canceled as a live event— as someone phoned in bomb threats to the IoP’s building before the discussion was to take place. As the Maroon reported:

The University of Chicago Institute of Politics (IOP) told student staff not to enter the building Tuesday afternoon after the institute received a bomb threat this morning over a panelist for an event on protests in Iran. The panelist, Negar Mortazavi, has been accused of having connections to the Iranian government despite criticizing it in the media. Multiple sources at the IOP familiar with the situation informed The Maroon that the closure was due to safety concerns.

The bomb threat was received via email, according to a source that communicated with The Maroon.

Another source told The Maroon that law enforcement had searched the IOP’s house on South Woodlawn Avenue with bomb-sniffing dogs. The source also said that people had been coming into the Institute throughout the day falsely claiming to know IOP staffers.

The IOP had been receiving calls critical of Mortazavi since last week in regard to “Taking it to the Streets: the Power of Iranian Women Now,” an event scheduled for this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. that was shifted from in person to virtual Tuesday morning in consultation with the University. Another IOP event scheduled for today, a seminar with IOP fellow Laura Dove, moved to a building across the street.

The panel was called “Taking it to the Streets: The Power of Iranian Women Now”.

I myself received two emails from a correspondent who refused to give his/her name, asking me to help shut down the event because of Mortazavi’s supposed complicity with the government of Iran. She is a member of the National Iranian American Council, a group (not affiliated with the Iranian government) that lobbies in America for the country. Mortazavi recently published a piece in The New Republic critical of the regime’s treatment of women, and her TNR video below buttresses that criticism of the regime. The Maroon adds “Mortazavi, who has been critical of the Iranian government’s crackdown on protests, responded to the controversy surrounding her on Twitter and labeled the attacks on her as ‘smears.’”  I have no idea why anyone would phone in a bomb threat against her unless they were supporting the insupportable present actions of the Iranian government.

Regardless, I was asked to help deplatform her; my anonymous correspondent (who used an untraceable Protonmail email address) wrote this:

Such a person who whitewashed the regime’s crimes should not be on campus speaking about the current situation. She should not take the spot from qualified Iran experts who have highlighted the Iran regime’s human rights infractions for years.
Of course there is no way I was going to help deplatform anybody, and so I responded this way.
Sorry, but although I am a huge opponent of the Iranian regime, I am, like my University, a big supporter of free speech. I don’t believe in prohibiting people from speaking, but opposing them by favoring counterspeech, and I’m constantly criticizing the Iranian government. The University of Chicago does not ban invited speakers or deplatform them, so there’s nothing I could do about this, even if I wanted to.

I have to say that it crossed my mind that my correspondent might have been involved in the bomb threat; why else would someone hide their identity this way? Who knows?

At any rate, the show did go on: they did hold the panel, but it was virtual:

The IOP had been receiving calls critical of Mortazavi since last week in regard to “Taking it to the Streets: the Power of Iranian Women Now,” an event scheduled for this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. that was shifted from in person to virtual Tuesday morning in consultation with the University. Another IOP event scheduled for today, a seminar with IOP fellow Laura Dove, moved to a building across the street

Here’s the video, which seems to show Mortazavi to be sufficiently critical of Iran that she would be punished or detained were she to return to Iran:


26 thoughts on “Journalist critical of Iranian regime deplatformed here after bomb threats

  1. Issuing bomb threats may become a common tactic in the attempt to deplatform speakers, leaving the only alternative to be virtual meetings. Anyone with a degree of technical savvy could make the threat by sending anonymous emails. We may be seeing the demise of in-person meetings. I don’t think any responsible organization would risk an in-person meeting even if the odds of the bomb threat being legitimate are extremely low.

      1. You need to be aware of what is actually in an email. You might naively think you can just create a throw away gmail account or something, but unless you take careful steps, your outbound emails are traceable, at least to the originating IP address.

        For example, the email that Jerry got will have a set of headers in it that trace the email back – in principle – to the machine where it was composed. If the person used proton mail’s outbound SMTP server or their web interface, the trail will probably stop at Protonmail’s outbound SMTP server and after that you would be reliant on cooperation from the company to find the real name of the user. Since proton mail is deliberately based in Switzerland to take advantage of their data protection laws, that’s unlikely to be forthcoming without Swiss law enforcement getting involved.

        However, if they added proton mail to their thick email client and were using their default SMTP server, it would be possible to trace back to the individual computer on which the email was composed. I think this is unlikely though.

  2. Another crack in the foundation of civil society. Well, of course it’s always been there, but the question is, is it widening.

  3. Well, since the person sending the bomb threat was either confident that the email couldn’t be traced or was stupid (and will be caught shortly), it’s not unreasonable to think that he or she might be a ProtonMail user, too.

    1. I don’t know anything about ProtonMail, I’m not one to lurk in the shadowy depths of the internet, so how true is it that it is untraceable? I imagine it’s damn difficult not to leave breadcrumbs for savvy investigators to follow, but perhaps I am wrong.

    2. I have not heard of Protonmail, but I’ve learned its based in Switzerland. It apparently can be traced by police by subpoenaing the company.

  4. It’s difficult to fight against these tactics, as the organizers have no choice but to exercise caution. The fact that critics are resorting to these types of tactics simply proves their moral bankruptcy. If their cause had any validity, it wouldn’t take the threat of blowing up a building and its occupants to get attention. A speech offering a counterargument would suffice—if it had any real merit.

  5. How seriously are bomb threats taken by the law enforcement agencies? Surely the FBI should be tracking down these would-be terrorists?

  6. … an op-ed at the Chicago Maroon, our student newspaper, has called for disbanding the IoP as a whole, dubbing it “an institution that encourages and enables new drones to enter a career in politics and spend a lifetime getting paid to manufacture the illusion of progress and problem-solving—the Institute of Politics.”

    At the risk of sounding all Yakov Smirnoff: You can ignore politics; doesn’t mean politics is gonna ignore you. So long as there are policy decisions to be made about the allocation of a polity’s resources and about the rights, privileges, and immunities to be afforded that polity’s people, there will be politics. Which is to say, there will always be politics.

    As always, I’ll cast my lot with the side favoring unrestricted free speech.

      1. Like Douglas MacArthur’s old soldiers, second-rate entertainers never die; they just fade away to the venues of Branson. 🙂

    1. “Which is to say, there will always be politics”

      Indeed. There will always be infectious disease too. Both are extremely disagreeable, dangerous (sometimes in a existential sense), and we need to minimize their impacts on us indivdually and as a whole. Whether it’s a candidate for office or a new MDR strain of Vibrio, it’s the price we have to pay for living the way we do.

      1. “[E]xtremely disagreeable” and “dangerous”? Okay, but compared to what? Not war, which, as Clausewitz observed, is just “a continuation of politics by other means.”

  7. The morality police and its ageing theocracy (past use by date) of Iran will be very comforted by this news.
    The Maroon has out maneuvered itself.
    Their collective nose is right up the rear of those old men and all that bum hair. STINKY!

  8. When I was a student (of Middle East politics) at the Univ. of Melbourne now 30 years ago my professor and mentor arranged for the Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to come and talk to us. He brought an (armed!) bodyguard and gave a good speech. We disagreed with pretty much all of it. But we were glad to hear just how wrong the I.R. of Iran was/is — I’m glad there was no even talk of disinviting or cancelling him.

  9. Wouldn’t be easier for you to talk to an actual person and Iranian UChicago students who protested in front of the institute instead of talking to an anonymous person? If you were concerned about being factful and nuanced you would have considered that but you didn’t.

    1. You clearly didn’t read my post, so let me tell you the main points:

      1. The panel had every right to go on without disruption. We have a free speech policy at our university, you know? Frankly, I don’t care what the protestors had to say; I am not that interested in them and THAT IS NOT MY POINT.
      2. Somebody phoned in BOMB THREATS to cancel the discussion. That is reprehensible and a sign of how far people will go to disrupt speech.
      3. Where did I say that I was so concerned about being tactful and nuanced? All I was doing is showing how far people will go to disrupt free speech here.

      You are patronizing and Iransplaining, which I find offensive.

      1. There was no bomb threat. Please show me a source, other than the maroon and your own parroting of their article, that points to a bomb threat.

        Also, if you’re publishing things, and such a proponent of free speech, then you may want to hear both sides. Unless of course you have an agenda to push

        1. Here’s one source:

          And another:

          Now go away. I am not a reporter but an academic. I merely highlight what is reported and try to confirm the allegations. This, and the University of Chicago itself, notes harassment an threats.

          Can you prove that the reports of these sources is WRONG? I didn’t think so. You couldn’t, unless you were involved in this kerfuffle. Again, learn to read. I received elaborate emails asking me to help cancel the protest, there were protestors and do you think it was moved for no reason at all? My beef, if you read, is that there was a movement to cancel the protest. That culminated, apparently, in a bomb threat.

          I am VERY curious to know how you know there was NO bomb threat. Very curious. With a claim like that, you should be posting under your real name, but of course you’re too cowardly to do that–like the person who demanded that I help cancel the program.

          1. They think that it was a hoax because “Persian Twitter” says it is… which is where ALL of this anti-NIAC/progressive-Iranian defamation movement started. Once news of this threat reached Twitter, the far right Iranian diaspora immediately started spreading the idea that it was all a hoax. There’s a video of a girl supposedly speaking on the phone with somebody who works at the University. It’s all ridiculous. Nobody fact checks anymore. The Mahsa Amini protests have thrown the diaspora into a cannibalistic frenzy and it breaks my heart!

  10. I think it’s important to hear from all people as well, but it’s also important to call out disinformation when you hear it. The National Iranian American Council isn’t actually an “Iran lobby”. They are a progressive American grassroots organization based in the US. Some right-wing Iranians in the diaspora wrongfully label NIAC as a lobby for the Iranian regime, either because they heard it from someone else or because NIAC supported the JCPOA. Supporting the JCPOA does not equate to lobbying for the regime. I understand that Iranian Americans are in pain, but we should not destroy each other with defamation and false accusations. NIAC has no contact with the Iranian government, but does lobby the US government for humanitarian rights it might be able to help with, such as internet freedom in Iran, Iranian American bank account closures, asking the UN to keep a close eye on Iran’s government for humanitarian abuses, asking the US government add targeted sanctions on the Iranian regime, and so much more. The power of disinformation on social media is that it can be turned into a weapon. Please amend your statement calling NIAC an Iran lobby.

      1. I’m sorry, you’re absolutely right. This whole situation has really gotten to me, I shouldn’t have been rude. Thank you for amending

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