Middlebury College scholar barred from conference in free speech flap

Published: Dec. 9, 2019 at 7:10 AM EST
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A NATO expert and Middlebury College political science professor is at the center of a free speech flap. He was supposed to go to Denmark to speak at a conference about NATO. But instead, he's in Vermont dealing with a political firestorm. Our Cat Viglienzoni sat down with him to find out what happened.

"I should be in Copenhagen this minute, but I'm not," Stan Sloan said.

Instead, NATO expert and Middlebury College political science professor Stan Sloan is fielding a social media firestorm. It was sparked when he posted over the weekend on Twitter that he had been disinvited from speaking at a NATO anniversary conference in Denmark because he was critical of President Donald Trump. Sloan said the Atlantic Council of Denmark told him U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands-- an avid supporter of the president-- had insisted on it.

Stan Sloan: Then the next morning, the Atlantic Council of Denmark canceled this meeting altogether.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: Why did they cancel the whole thing?

Stan Sloan: Because they wanted to make a statement about freedom of speech.

Sloan says he's been doing this for 50 years and has always been willing to criticize an administration's policies, Republican or Democrat.

"This has never happened to me before where an embassy actually decided that because I had a different perspective on NATO and the president, that they would keep me off the program," Sloan said.

He insists his planned program wasn't political. He says he planned to make some critical comments about the president but in the context of talking about threats to NATO values. And he said recent incidents at NATO, like when world leaders were perceived to be making fun of the president, show Europeans don't see the U.S. as a strong leader right now.

"It has totally undermined the credibility of American leadership, political position in Europe has been devastated," Sloan said.

This flap hasn't been without some upswing. He's been getting attention from major media outlets. He says he's already gotten new offers to speak-- in Denmark and elsewhere-- after the new year, ones he probably wouldn't have gotten without this unexpected surge in publicity.

"There are some bright sides," Sloan said.

And he says he's already planning on incorporating lessons from this experience into his next course at Middlebury College on American power.

"I was always willing to be critical of whatever administration was in power if I thought it was appropriate," he said.

One tweet says: "I apologize to staffers at the embassy, many of whom I assume would like to hear my views and might even agree with them. I feel sorry for them having to work for an ambassador representing a president that has so little respect for their dedication and important missions."

WCAX News reached out to the U.S. embassy in Copenhagen this afternoon for their response. We had not yet heard back when this story was published. But in a statement on Twitter Sunday, the embassy said it supports the freedom of speech. And said, "Mr. Stanley Sloan's proposed last-minute inclusion in the program by @AtlantDK did not follow the same deliberative process of joint decision-making and agreement that we followed when recruiting all other speakers."

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