Professor says GOP lawmaker’s office called him over ‘liking’ vandalized campaign sign

Professor says GOP lawmaker’s office called him over ‘liking’ vandalized campaign sign
© Greg Nash

An associate professor the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said he received a threatening phone call from the office of Rep. Jeff FortenberryJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FortenberryMcMorris Rodgers floats vacating Speaker's chair over Democrat's in-person vote after COVID diagnosis Jane Goodall joins lawmakers in calling for rethinking conservation and national interests OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten key air pollution standards | Despite risks to polar bears, Trump pushes ahead with oil exploration in Arctic | Biden to champion climate action in 2021 MORE (R-Neb.) after he "liked" a Facebook post depicting one of the congressman's campaign signs altered by his critics.

Ari Kohen, an associate professor of political science, says the congressman's chief of staff, Dr. William Archer III, called his office and emailed the chair of the school's political science department decrying Kohen's supposed support for vandalism, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.


The post in question apparently showed Fortenberry's name covered in part with a piece of tape to appear as a crude joke involving flatulence.

Kohen told the Journal Star that he originally believed the post to merely be a Photoshopped image when he pressed the "like" button on his phone.

“I know this is not high comedy,” he told the newspaper. “It was Sunday, I was bored and got a laugh out of it. I clicked like because I found it amusing.”

Fortenberry's chief of staff, he says, threatened to publicly spread that Kohen approved of "vandalism" and seemed to suggest that Kohen's career would be in jeopardy. Archer also emailed Kohen's superiors at the university's political science department as well as UNL's chancellor.

“The question is what the position of the department and university is regarding vandalism or worse violence, which we have seen in this political season,” Archer wrote in an email obtained by the newspaper.

“It wasn’t clear at all what he wanted from me, if he wanted me to unlike it or retract it,” Kohen told the Journal Star of Fortenberry's aide. “He told me they could put this out publicly that I liked vandalism, and essentially, that that would be bad for me.”

Kohen says he took the call as a threat, and informed the House Ethics Committee about the incident.

"To have people in this position who are ready and willing to abuse their authority like this, to bully people and push people around and threaten to call down retribution over something that maybe hurt somebody's feelings," Kohen told the Journal Star, "we're all poorer if that's what's happening in this country."

A request for comment from The Hill addressed to Archer was not immediately returned Thursday night. Fortenberry's district is rated as safely Republican by election analysis blog FiveThirtyEight ahead of next week's election, with one poll of the district showing Fortenberry with a double-digit lead over his Democratic challenger.