Mark Tapson is the Shillman Fellow on Popular Culture for the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Many conservatives were shocked to learn last week that Townhall columnist, pro-life advocate, free speech warrior, and conservative professor Mike S. Adams was found dead at his home in North Carolina.
The author of such politically-incorrect titles as Welcome to the Ivory Tower of Babel: Confessions of a Conservative Professor (2004), Feminists Say the Darnedest Things: A Politically Incorrect Professor Confronts “Womyn” on Campus (2008), and Letters to a Young Progressive: How to Avoid Wasting Your Life Protesting Things You Don’t Understand (2013), Adams toiled in the front lines of the culture war, fighting for the unborn and against the progressive suppression of free speech. His death is a terrible loss for those causes, for the many Christian and conservative students he mentored on a hostile campus, and for patriots all over the country.
Friends and supporters, myself included, could not help but suspect foul play, because the police report on Mike’s death referred to a “gsw” or “gun shot wound.” We considered Mike a fearless warrior, and he had just opted for early retirement after winning a half-million dollar settlement from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington (which a jury found had discriminated against him for his Christian conservative beliefs), so suicide seemed unthinkable. It’s painful to think that a brother-in-arms wrestled with and lost an internal struggle of which we were unaware, but a New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office investigation ultimately concluded that he did indeed take his own life.
Former National Review writer David French, who had been a close friend of Mike and represented him in his seven-year lawsuit against UNC, posted a very personal eulogy at The Dispatch in which he lamented not only his friend’s passing but also that the mainstream media’s coverage of it was “deeply, gravely unjust.” He noted that such outlets as USA Today, CNN, and Buzzfeed had, in their headlines, defined Mike’s life “by the worst possible characterization of his worst tweets.” BuzzFeed’s was the most repulsive: “A Professor Who Was Known for His Racist, Misogynistic Tweets Was Found Dead in His Home.” And of course, social media teemed with vile, leftist celebration for Adams’ passing.
“It’s the most graceless way possible to describe a man who faced an avalanche of unjust hatred in his life,” French wrote, “who had to fight for years to vindicate his most basic constitutional rights, and who helped mentor thousands of young conservative Christian students who often feel isolated and alone on secular and progressive campuses.”
I did not know Mike personally until this month when I interviewed him for FrontPage Mag. That was barely 10 days before concerned neighbors called 911 to alert police that he had not been seen and his car had not left his driveway for a few days. My communication with him was brief; he was grateful for the opportunity to answer some questions about an academic career that was coming to a close, one that had been marked not only by multiple teaching and service awards but by “controversy,” meaning that his irreverence for the left’s sacred cows, and his very presence on campus as a conservative professor (that rarest of oxymorons), triggered the haters. They responded predictably: by smearing Mike with all the usual labels and targeting him for cancellation from his job.
I urge you to read my interview with him. It is short but hits some key highlights in his life, including his political and religious conversions from progressive atheism. Ironically, in retrospect, my final question to him was essentially, “What’s next for you?” in the wake of leaving UNCW. His answer betrayed no hint of pain or surrender, only a patriotic determination to intensify his efforts in fighting the Good Fight:
I will definitely not be retiring. I will continue to travel the country and speak in defense of the unborn. I will also be writing more than I have been. Above all, I will be focused on what can be done to save this great country – and committing myself to witnessing to the lost souls who inhabit it.
“There is something very demonic going on in this country,” he continued. “Our present struggles have nothing to do with pandemics or with race. They are much deeper spiritual battles. I intend to be right in the middle of those battles fighting for truth until the Lord calls me home. There will be no time for real retirement. The times are just too important and there is much too much at stake to remain hidden on the sidelines.”
This is the rousing speech of a fighter filled with divine fire, not someone who would take his own life only a few days later. But the neighbor who had called 911 the day Mike was found reported that he’d been “erratic” lately – not dangerously so, but as if he were “under a lot of stress.” At the risk of incorrectly diagnosing Mike, I can tell you from personal experience that depression, if he suffered from that, is a stealthy deceiver and betrayer. On any given morning one can feel empowered to take on the whole world, but by nightfall, without warning, depression’s dark, heavy blanket can envelop you, weigh you down with lies, and drain you of the will to live. Stress also, as we all know, can be a killer in many ways.
Some fighters hurl themselves into the fray not because they revel in it, but because they feel a righteous duty to rise up in defense of their values, their way of life, and their children’s future even though conflict may run against the grain of their nature. To hear David French tell it, Mike may have been that sort of fighter:
Many of us labor under a dreadful misconception about the men and women who enter the public arena—especially those who fight online. “They’re tough,” we say. “If they can’t handle the heat, they should walk away from the keyboard,” we think. Then, when they truly make us mad, we say, “It’s time to hold the monster accountable.”
It never occurs to many of us—or maybe it occurs, but folks don’t care—that many people online are operating from a place of pain. The public bravado conceals a private vulnerability.
French believed that this vulnerability may ultimately have undone him: “In reality, we are not created to endure an avalanche of hate. Few people have the thick skin they might believe they possess.” When the two of them had gone to war in the courtroom with UNCW, French felt that his client was “the very definition of the ‘happy warrior.’ He seemed to relish the challenge. He seemed to thrive in the face of negative attacks.” But in time he realized that Mike was “a man in pain.” Nonetheless, their legal victory galvanized Mike, who
worked to pass legislation that protected free speech and due process on campus. He set aside remarkable amounts of time for young students—inspiring them to hold on to their faith in the face of adversity. He spent summer after summer as a teacher at Summit Ministries, mentoring Christian kids. He also kept writing. He also kept tweeting. And, yes, he kept being provocative.
Last week the Lord did finally call Mike S. Adams home, as he put it in our interview. Requiescat in pace. Mike’s work is done, but he left fellow patriots and freedom-lovers a legacy we must not betray through indifference or surrender. He was right that in these tumultuous times we are engaged in a spiritual battle against dark, chaotic forces that have been unleashed in our nation, and that “there is much too much at stake to remain hidden on the sidelines.” Despite his personal pain, Mike went above and beyond the call of duty to push back against those dark forces. We owe it to him, to ourselves, and to our country to do no less.