A former postdoc allegedly threatened the philosophy department (multiple updates)

A former postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) made “broad threats…against the Department of Philosophy and its members” via email yesterday, according to a post in the department.

Former postdoc Matthew Harris reportedly exhibited “very erratic behavior” last spring, including sending “threatening communications”. In late March, Gavin Lawrence, then chair of UCLA’s philosophy department, wrote to students saying, among other things:

Professor Harris is now on leave from UCLA while investigations are carried out. In addition, his post doc should end at the end of June. He has been instructed to have nothing more to do either with your class as a whole, or to be in contact, by e-mail or otherwise, with any of you individually, or in fact with any student of the UCLA. He no longer has access to the CCLE [UCLA’s course management system], nor his university email account. He has therefore been removed from UCLA’s sphere of contact with you.

Harris was reportedly involuntarily committed to a mental institution at the time, but was released.

Yesterday, Harris posted a video on his YouTube channel called “UCLA PHILOSOPHY (MASS SHOOTING)”. In the video, Harris appears in the center of the screen while a variety of images appear in several squares around him. the audio consists of words processed and edited in a jerky manner. Altogether, it’s an eerie and disorienting visual accompanied by a harsh soundtrack. It is alleged that he emailed philosophers at UCLA links to this video as well as an ‘800-page manifesto’ he authored with ‘specific threats to certain members of the department’ .

A screenshot of part of yesterday’s post warning service members of the threat has been shared on social media. He recommends that instructors hold their class meetings remotely. The author of the message is unclear:

The UCLA Police Department acknowledged the threat in a tweetas did UCLA Vice Chancellor Michael Beck in an Instagram post.

Harris received his doctorate from Duke University in 2019. It was alleged that while there he engaged in inappropriate actions with or toward students, and that some professors in Duke’s philosophy department were aware of problems with his behavior. ; it was alleged that some professors at Duke had recommended that he not be left alone with students.

Harris’ current whereabouts are unknown. [See Update 2]

(I understand that readers may be curious to learn more details or the sources of some of this information, but, due to the nature of this story, I have kept some parts of this article vague and intentionally did not not named the sources.)

I will add updates to this post as more news becomes available. If you have any information regarding this story, please email me at [email protected] (Comments on this post are currently closed.)

UPDATE 1 (01/02/22): The “manifesto” sent by Harris is 803 pages and is entitled “DEATH Sentences”. I looked at it for a bit, skipping and reading a few pages here and there. It contains threats, racism and racial slurs, anti-Semitism, misogyny, explicit sexual references and fantasies, accusations, boasting, complaints about various aspects of our culture, including philosophy and particular philosophers, references to himself as a “prophet”, etc. . Here are some examples :

  • “Shoot all the Asians. Also shoot all the kikes.
  • “Matt Harris needs his hoes to be virgins. Most of his wives better be virgins when he dates them…Matt Harris will settle for a few that aren’t, but he’ll be disappointed and will probably make some bdsm shit for them to make up for betraying him with other men.He will kill his ex boyfriends.
  • “Finish off the injuns, we don’t need them.”
  • “Your own family must die if it gets in the way of your independence.”
  • “All unworthy men should be made into women and treated as a class apart who are only allowed to have sex with themselves.”
  • “Kill everything and every unworthy body. Man woman and child. Kill any unworthy man, unworthy woman and unworthy child. On sight without hesitation, murder and repeat. The Matt Harris knows that killing them is a divine requirement.
  • “Give me attractive secretaries whose job it is to set up my projects and help me in my freelance life and give me blowjobs.”
  • “I am the only true prophet and the way to heaven.”

The word “kill” appears 7,191 times in the document.

UPDATE 2 (02/01/22): According to a Tweeter from UCLA’s Office of Emergency Management, “Out-of-state law enforcement has confirmed that the individual who threatened UCLA is under observation and not in California. Classes will remain at distance today.

(As of 1:00 p.m. EST: Rumors are circulating that Harris is in Boulder, Colorado and that police are trying to “contact” him. No official report or posts Boulder Police have identified Harris as the person of interest at this time. [See Update 4, below.])

UPDATE 3 (02/01/22): I have received requests to release the full manifesto and requests to remove the samples provided in Update 1 above. I think it was important to provide some examples of actual text from the manifesto to give readers an idea of ​​why those who received it would care, without having to rely solely on my characterizations. So the examples will remain, at least for now. But I’m not convinced there’s a good reason to publish all the text, and there seem to be good reasons not to. Along with those who have been threatened or frightened by his actions and words, Harris is someone who apparently needs help. Publishing the entire manifesto would only further harm him, and perhaps others, without bringing much substantial benefit to readers.

Additionally, I have heard criticism that this story was not appropriate for Daily Us. I do not agree. I cover a range of events that affect philosophy departments: budgets, sexual harassment, legislation, protests, fires, to name a few. In this case, a former teacher in a philosophy department allegedly sent threatening messages to members of the department and was revealed to have a history of problematic interactions with students, and may have been observed in the past as problematic by institutional superiors who (for unknown reasons) do not appear to have responded effectively to the situation or informed others involved. It seems worthwhile to me. This story involves issues related to safety, harassment, racism, misogyny, mental health, and inter-institutional transparency in philosophy and higher education, all of which are important topics relevant to what DN covers. . These are clearly sensitive issues, and concern for Harris’ well-being led me to refuse to post about some of his behaviors 10 months ago. But now his actions and the reactions to them are public and institutionally significant, which further contributes to their timeliness.

Lastly, this post is not a specific call to action, and comments on the post are closed to avoid inciting a mob mentality regarding what to think or do about Harris.

UPDATE 4 (02/01/22): According to reports and other sources, Matthew Harris is currently in police custody in Boulder, Colorado.

UPDATE 5 (04/02/22): On Thursday, Harris “was held without bail” and “charged with transmitting threats in interstate commerce,” according to the Associated Press in a story with details of his arrest. Harris did not enter a plea.

UPDATE 6 (2/24/22): According to Courthouse News Service:

Matthew Harris, 31, faces two counts of threatening in interstate commerce, each carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted. Harris also faces one count each of making a false statement to a gun dealer and falsely possessing ammunition, both of which carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if found guilty.

Harris pleaded not guilty to the federal charges in a Denver courthouse yesterday.