IOP Staff Sent Home Following Bomb Threat

The IOP had been receiving calls and threats regarding its invitation of Negar Mortazavi since last week.


Institute of Politics

The Institute of Politics building on South Woodlawn Avenue

By Nikhil Jaiswal and Emma Janssen

Content warning: This story mentions threats of violence. 

The University of Chicago Institute of Politics (IOP) told student staff not to enter the building Tuesday afternoon after the institute received a bomb threat this morning over a panelist for an event on protests in Iran. The panelist, Negar Mortazavi, has been accused of having connections to the Iranian government despite criticizing it in the media. Multiple sources at the IOP familiar with the situation informed The Maroon that the closure was due to safety concerns.

The bomb threat was received via email, according to a source that communicated with The Maroon.

Another source told The Maroon that law enforcement had searched the IOP’s house on South Woodlawn Avenue with bomb-sniffing dogs. The source also said that people had been coming into the Institute throughout the day falsely claiming to know IOP staffers.

The IOP had been receiving calls critical of Mortazavi since last week in regard to “Taking it to the Streets: the Power of Iranian Women Now,” an event scheduled for this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. that was shifted from in person to virtual Tuesday morning in consultation with the University. Another IOP event scheduled for today, a seminar with IOP fellow Laura Dove, moved to a building across the street.

The Maroon obtained an email sent to IOP interns on Monday, October 17, that confirmed that the IOP had been receiving calls since this past weekend. House interns were instructed to take down the information of those that called and were specifically told not to give out their personal information or information regarding the whereabouts of an IOP employee whose contact information was included in the announcement of the event.

The Maroon also obtained an internal IOP spreadsheet used to track calls related to the event and discovered that, as of this afternoon, the IOP had received more than 100 calls about the event.

The event, which focused on recent widespread protests in Iran, has spurred controversy because of the allegation that Mortazavi is connected to the Iranian government via her involvement with the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC), a nongovernmental organization based in Washington, D.C., which she joined as the Director of Persian & New Media in early 2014. NIAC states that it does not receive funding from either the Iranian or the U.S. governments. 

Mortazavi, who has been critical of the Iranian government’s crackdown on protests, responded to the controversy surrounding her on Twitter and labeled the attacks on her as “smears.” 

In 2020, U.S. Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Mike Braun (R-IN) alleged that the NIAC and its sister organization, NIAC Action, were in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. In response, dozens of prominent organizations and individuals signed a letter in support of the NIAC.

In response to The Maroon’s request for comment on the bomb threat, IOP Director of Communications Koran Addo said, “Our event ‘Taking it to the Streets: The Power of Iranian Women Now’ elicited strong online reactions from people who objected to one of our guests. In consultation with the University, the IOP decided to close normal building operations today out of an abundance of caution.”

In response to the criticism surrounding her inclusion in the IOP’s event, Mortazavi sent The Maroon the following statement. “These accused ties with the regime are absolutely false and quite dangerous. I have lived in exile from the regime since 2009 because of my work, and endured harassment and pressure on myself and my family. I have worked with prominent American and European media outlets over the years and have a long track record of professional and nuanced work on Iran and US-Iran affairs.”

Anu Vashist, Peter Maheras, and Michael McClure contributed reporting.

The headline and sub-headline for this article was updated on 10/19/22 to better reflect that the threat sent to the IOP was not connected to the protestors outside of the IOP who were critics of Negar Mortazavi.

This article was updated on 10/19/22 to include a comment from Negar Mortazavi.