Seth Abramson’s Metamodernism Preceded His Resistance
He has played ‘metamodernist’ games throughout his career.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated throughout.
If you’re a liberal or left-leaning person who uses the internet even in a casual way, you likely already know the name Seth Abramson, the professor and writer who’s emerged as one of the super-tweeters of the online #Resistance. More than half of his nearly half a million Twitter followers started following him in the last year. Abramson uses his social media presence cannily as a way to ensure his name remains in the news and in print, counting Mark Hamill and Jeff Merkley among his dedicated fans, and has been credulously quoted recently in outlets including The Wrap, the New York Daily News, The Washington Post, and Vanity Fair.
The popular twitter personality who’s often been referred to in mainstream publications as a conspiracy theorist has managed to expand his platform so rapidly in no small part by relentlessly and exhaustively tweeting about Donald Trump and Russia—promising liberals that our national nightmare will be over just as soon as Robert Mueller’s investigation wraps up.
What sets Abramson apart from the even more ridiculous liberal Russia-mongers that have proliferated under this administration—such as Eric Garland or Louise Mensch—is how he uses his professional credentials to bolster his otherwise over-the-top arguments.
Yet a review of his CV shows that he lists as “citations” articles in which he is not even quoted, including a story at Slate that refers to him in passing as one of the people behind “insane liberal conspiracy theories.” He cites a piece at The New Republic, “The New Paranoia,” that mocks a few of his tweets.
His C.V. also lists the same story, “Fans Want Alec Baldwin to Attend White House Correspondents’ Dinner as Trump,” six times, citing the story’s publication on four separate Canadian radio stations.
Abramson did not respond to requests for comment on the inclusion of the above in his exhausting, but evidently not exhaustive, 33-page C.V. that includes “selected” articles and media appearances.
In a HuffPost blog from 2015, Abramson pretended to be a scholar whose work Abramson later “translated” for the audience. That deception was then explained away in a line in a subsequent blog post—“not, by any definition, a hoax; it’s a well-researched article intentionally misattributed to a fictional author.” The impersonation had not, at press time, been noted in the original post.
Abramson, a former public defender, is this semester teaching 21st Century Journalism, Professional and Technical Writing, and a Creative Writing Workshop. The first word of his Twitter bio, however, is “attorney,” and he frequently refers to himself “as an attorney” while discussing his Trump-Russia theories (he rarely mentions that when he was a practicing attorney a decade ago, he didn’t practice this kind of federal law—he was a public defender) all while encouraging his Twitter followers “to contribute to my research and writing” through PayPal donations.
“I have done nothing wrong,” Abramson wrote in an email on Jan. 8. “I have not misrepresented myself or my credentials.”
Abramson wasn’t always known for his political views and theories. He mainly blogged about philosophy and poetry before he started writing about the 2016 Democratic primary and the general election.
As a HuffPost blogger in 2016, Abramson earned a reputation for telling his audience what they wanted to hear was really happening in the political sphere. His writing does drive no small amount of engagement, in part because he pushes irresistibly seductive arguments—like when he wrote, ahead of the 2016 Democratic convention, an article headlined “Bernie Sanders Is Currently Winning the Democratic Primary Race, and I’ll Prove It to You.” The popularity of his pieces on politics helped Abramson find a new audience after Trump’s surprise win: The frenzied Russian conspiracy movement blowing up online.
A cursory glance at Abramson’s social media feeds reveals his dogged dedication to pursuing the Russia story, which he regularly covers in threads that run hundreds of tweets long—a dedication that began just over a month after the 2016 election on his blog and moved almost exclusively over to social media after one final blog on the matter in February.
Social media is the cornerstone of Abramson’s media presence. His large Twitter following gives him a platform to spread his TRUMP RUSSIA COLLUSION PUTIN INDICTMENT COMING message. It’s so central to his brand that Abramson includes his Twitter verification on his CV, listed under “Fellowships and Honors.”
Abramson often uses his academic and legal credentials to back up his complex theories. However, despite the voluminous credentials, Abramson is less a legal professional than he is simply academically adjacent to the work. Abramson’s academic CV is a full 33 pages—and, until a few months ago, exhaustively documented whenever a single tweet was included in someone’s article, along with statistics on how many Facebook “likes” and “shares” each of the articles he wrote for various publications had received.
While as late as Dec. 18, when this reporter asked about it, Abramson described himself in his Twitter bio as “Attorney. Professor @NofNH (journalism, law), his CV says he has taught some courses in Legal Advocacy and Legal Writing.
Abramson, who at no point used the phrases “professor of law” or "law professor" to identify himself, has since removed the word “law” from both his website and Twitter bios, where he now refers to himself as “Attorney. Professor @UofNH.”
Law professor is a specific and rigorously credentialed position that carries with it a certain level of prestige and credibility—so when a casual Twitter user came across someone they saw is a professor (law) claiming he knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that Trump will be impeached, that reader may feel more inclined to believe him.
Abramson was a practicing lawyer for at least six years, from 2001 to 2007. But as of 2007, he became an inactive member of the New Hampshire bar, making him unable to try cases or to represent someone in court without paying a small fee to the bar to resume his previous, practicing status.
Susan Lakeway, the member records coordinator for the New Hampshire Bar Association, confirmed in an email to The Daily Beast that Abramson is a member of the bar, but said that “in his current status he is not practicing or giving legal advice in any jurisdiction.”
When reached by The Daily Beast, Erika Mantz, a spokesperson for the University of New Hampshire, stated unequivocally: “Seth is a tenure track professor in Literary Arts and Studies where he teaches digital journalism, legal advocacy, and legal writing. He is not a professor of law.”
Abramson has since removed “law” from both his website and Twitter bios, and now leads them with the more precise “Attorney. Professor @UofNH.”
Before he began resisting, Abramson was playing his odd metamodernist games in corners of the literary and arts worlds.
Sometimes, those backfired—like when he wrote a poem in 2014 assembled from the sentences Santa Barbara woman-hating spree-murderer Elliot Rodger used in his final YouTube video, and publishing them on the HuffPost two days after the massacre.
“A remix of the last words of Elliot Rodger,” Abramson wrote in his introduction to the poem, “it uses every word Rodger spoke in his final YouTube video, and no more.”
Reaction was swift and harsh. Abramson’s previous publisher, Omnidawn, wrote that it was “dismayed, disheartened, distressed by Seth Abramson's Huffington Post piece” and later announced that it had previously cut ties with him.
Days later, the publisher received a cease-and-desist letter from Shia LaBeouf's attorney, claiming Abramson had been falsely promoting a book including work from the actor, taken from his Twitter feed. Abramson has said he intended to be “honoring” LaBeouf by including him, and withdrew LaBeouf’s selection as soon as he’d been told the actor no longer wished to be so honored. Abramson later published the-cease-and-desist letter itself in a collection of poetry.
Later that month, Abramson wrote a long piece for HuffPost (Parts 1 and 2) citing an Aart Naaktgeboren of the Catholic University of Utrecht, from the journal Eeuw: Cultuur in de Nederlanden in interdisciplinair perspectief.
This was a made-up, “metamodernist” journal, he disclosed and explained in the long middle of another of his tedious metamodernist essays on HuffPost. The piece in question, titled “The Metamodernist Manifesto: After Postmodernism (Part III)” unmasks Aart Naaktgeboren as none other than… Abramson himself! As Abramson puts it, “the essay entitled ‘The Metamodern Intervention,’ whose two parts are found here and here, is not, by any definition, a hoax; it’s a well-researched article intentionally misattributed to a fictional author.”
Abramson goes on to say that the essay is an experiment in truth and context to “complicate (and thereby interrogate) the importance we attach to speakers rather than content.” The original article, however, still claims the fictional author without any corrective note. It’s a murky view of accuracy and honesty that reveals Abramson believes that the ends justify whatever means it takes to deliver his message.
Faced with scrutiny, Abramson hit back.
“You are crossing some serious lines,” Abramson said in an email after I asked UNH for comment on his status as a professor of law. He recommended I talk to a third party before pursuing this story further and added that “everything you say and do now—publicly and via backchannel correspondence, with respect to me—is being compiled.”
That Abramson has kept playing his “metamodernist” games from his early academic career through his current role as a Trump-Russia shouldn’t surprise anyone.
As long as Trump is in the White House, people who play with words and stories for position and profit will hold sway over the dreams of those liberals willing to accept about any excuse for the Trump presidency and any claim that it’s about to end that doesn’t involve introspection and an honest accounting of the factors that put him there.