By Sam Catania
At 4 p.m. on Monday, neither the University nor the Hoover Institution had yet responded to Scott Atlas’ latest statement to spark national controversy — a tweet calling on followers to “rise up” against a new wave of COVID-19 restrictions in Michigan — leading some to wonder whether tendentious comments by the Hoover fellow would go unrebuked by Stanford again.
Atlas, who currently serves as an advisor on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, quickly garnered condemnation from many who said the tweet incited violence. The tweet came after “credible threats” — including a planned but thwarted assassination attempt — against the Michigan governor in October.
Later in the evening, Atlas retweeted his original tweet and indicated he did not intend to incite violence. “I NEVER was talking at all about violence,” he wrote. “People vote, people peacefully protest. NEVER would I endorse or incite violence.”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “rise up” as an idiom synonymous with “revolt” and meaning “to fight against a ruler or government.”
“It actually took my breath away, to tell you the truth,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Asked directly about the dictionary definition and for an additional response to criticism of the tweet, Atlas did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Daily.
On Monday around 4 p.m., it was unclear if the University planned to respond, drawing criticism from some. “Just another day on The Farm. I am appalled, but not surprised,” tweeted professor David Palumbo-Liu.
Monday afternoon, Stanford responded with a statement, distancing itself from Atlas but not condemning the remarks: “Dr. Atlas has expressed views that are inconsistent with the university’s approach in response to the pandemic. Dr. Atlas’s statements reflect his personal views, not those of the Hoover Institution or the university,” they wrote.
Asked if Stanford believed Atlas’ tweet yesterday pushed the boundaries of Provost Persis Drell’s recent message to faculty backing the Hoover Institution, the University declined to comment.
“Over the past decade, Hoover has become much more integrated into Stanford,” Drell told the Faculty Senate in October. “In a very real sense, and I think this is important to keep in mind, they are, in fact, us.”
Some saw the University’s Monday statement as inadequate.
“All this statement does is distance Stanford from Atlas,” Palumbo-Liu wrote in an email to The Daily. “It contains no moral outrage or any sense that he has done anything at all objectionable. It is pathetic.”
Palumbo-Liu — who counted the hours on Twitter until Stanford responded — further criticized the University’s response in an earlier email, saying “there is no way that Stanford can hold true to its professed values and not condemn Atlas’ statements in the most unequivocal way possible… Hoover is decidedly not us, nor we they.”
Chinese history professor Thomas Mullaney wrote in an email that “What Atlas wrote was unequivocally wrong, and yet Stanford’s official statement was insipid and spineless. Gmail’s AI auto-responder could have done a better job.”
Mullaney wrote that even given the statement, he still loved Stanford and he and others yearn for “True, heartfelt, blood-temperature leadership.” While acknowledging that the lives of leaders must be difficult right now, he questioned that “If the Stanford administration doesn’t stand up and condemn this — this absolute, obvious, clear-cut wrong — when will they stand up for us?”
President-elect Joe Biden recently announced his own coronavirus task force, which does not include Atlas. Stanford alums Atul Gawande ’87 and Loyce Pace ’99 were appointed to the 13-person board.
Contact Sam Catania at samcat ‘at’ stanford.edu.