Virginia’s Hampden-Sydney College announced Thursday night that it had come to contract terms with retired Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin “to teach in the College’s Military Leadership and National Security minor” for another year. Renegotiations of existing contracts don’t always earn posts on the Facebook pages of colleges and universities, but this announcement was freighted with events that preceded it.
In March, Boykin attended an event in Orlando, Florida, called “The Awakening” and spoke about transgender people using bathrooms. “But I will tell you what,” he said, “the first man that walks in my daughter’s bathroom, he ain’t going to have to worry about surgery.”
On May 17 Boykin announced on his Facebook page that “I have been terminated from teaching at Hampden-Sydney College after nine years there,” and that “My statement was meant to be humor and not a call for violence, which everyone in my audience understood as humor.” Still, he allowed, “I gave the LGBT community just what they needed to pressure the college leadership to terminate me.”
If the “LGBT community” indeed went after Boykin, its campaign was remarkably incompetent. Asked about the existence of such an effort, Hampden-Sydney spokesperson Tommy Shomo says, “There was a letter from Hampden-Sydney constituents expressing concerns over some of Gen. Boykin’s public remarks, recent and past, and questioning his association with the College.” Shomo says the letter was received in April, after the college had already decided, in March, not to renew.
Boykin’s speech in Florida wasn’t the first time his bons mots have gone bad. In what the Southern Poverty Law Center described as “an awkward attempt at humor,” Boykin said in 2014 that Jews are the “cause of all the problems in the world.” During the same speech, Boykin asserted that President Obama had sent “subliminal messages” to Muslims in a speech in Cairo: “I understand you and I support you,” as Boykin characterized it.
Nor have Boykin’s less intentionally humorous remarks evaded controversy. In 2004 a Defense Department probe found he had “violated three internal regulations while delivering controversial speeches that linked the war on terrorism to what he depicted as an enduring battle against Satan,” R. Jeffrey Smith and Josh White reported for the Washington Post. In 2012 he withdrew from a planned speech at the United States Military Academy after a veterans’ group objected to remarks he’d made about Islam–he has said it is “evil” and that “we should not view Islam as a religion that is to be protected under the First Amendment,” among many other taunts. In 2011 Boykin said the world was threatened by “a group of very nefarious people who very much want to create a global government”–a conspiracy theory with a long history.
Given Boykin’s views, it’s fair to ask what Hampden-Sydney was getting out of the general in the first place. He taught there under the auspices of the Wilson Center for Leadership, Shomo says. L. Rucker Snead III, the Wilson Center’s director of external relations, tells Washingtonian Boykin taught two courses: “An Overview of U.S. National Intelligence” and “Leadership and Ethics.” Boykin, Snead says, “is uniquely qualified to teach both of these courses based on his 36 years of experience serving in the U.S. Army in a number of capacities culminating as the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.”
Hampden-Sydney tried vainly to assert the primacy of fact after Boykin said he’d been canned for his joke. In a Facebook post on May 18, saying “it is inaccurate to suggest that General Boykin was fired“–he “was a part-time adjunct faculty member serving as the Wheat Professor, employed on a year-to-year basis,” and his professorship “was created to be a rotating position.”
But between the May 18 post and Thursday’s announcement, Boykin became a cause célèbre in right wing news, inspiring headlines like “College Caves, Fires Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin For Condemning PC Gender Ideology” and “College boots ex-Delta Force hero after complaint from LGBT activists.” US Senator Ted Cruz’ statement condemning Boykin’s departure from the college was punctuated by a large green “Contribute” button.
After Hampden-Sydney reactivated the contract, Boykin, an enthusiastic user of hashtags, wrote on Facebook: “The radical Left and LGBT activists completely underestimate the impact of #freedom-loving #Americans banding together to protect our First Amendment freedoms.”