Denison Government Teacher Who Used N-Word in Front of Students Returns to Class

Crystal Holt, the wife of state Rep. Steven Holt, returns to class today after a brief suspension and district investigation that found she had no malicious intent in using the word. But a look at her Twitter account, where she's promoted conspiracy theorists and racist right-wing talking points, tells a different story.

Crystal Holt, a Denison High School government teacher who was briefly suspended for using the N-word in a class discussion, and her husband, state Rep. Steven Holt. Images: @CHoltPlace/Twitter

A high school government teacher in the western Iowa town of Denison, which is represented in Congress by Steve King, is returning to teach today after she was briefly placed on administrative leave for repeatedly using the N-word in a recent class discussion that was recorded and posted online.

The teacher, Crystal Holt, is the wife of Republican state Rep. Steven Holt, who last year managed the passage of a bill aimed at preventing local municipalities from protecting undocumented immigrants from federal authorities by banning so-called sanctuary cities.

Crystal Holt defended her use of the N-word by claiming that she was using it to explain to a student what a “pejorative” was as part of a class discussion about a death penalty case. “I asked why they put ‘hate crimes’ on their board,” she told local radio station KDSN. “And one of the students said, ‘Because in the reading it said he used pejorative terms.’ And another student in that group said, ‘What does pejorative mean?’ And I said it means derogatory. And the student said, ‘What does derogatory mean?’ And I said it means terms that are not nice to race and continued trying to explain that. And I said he used the N-word and then I said he used the word.”

Holt’s actions led to a large student walkout, and she was placed on administrative leave. The district says it will establish an advisory committee to address cultural bias at the high school and require district staff to receive diversity training.

But although the district determined that Holt had no malicious intent in saying the word, and while Holt received an outpouring of support from others in the community as evidenced by the many comments on her Facebook page and her husband’s that cast her as the victim of a liberal PC mob, Holt’s public Twitter account tells a different story. It also calls into question her basic understanding of the topic she teaches.

The account, which wasn’t mentioned in local news coverage of her brief suspension, remains active today as she returns to the classroom. On it, she has repeatedly promoted Donald Trump and false narratives claiming that there is no evidence of wrongdoing that’s emerged from the impeachment hearings against him. She’s also shared tweets that falsely accuse Somali-American Rep. Ilhan Omar of seeking to turn the US into a Marxist “Somalia like state”; portray African Americans in Baltimore as thugs; endorse anti-immigration policies; and promote conspiracy theorists including Jack Posobiec (whose account handle in the image below is “Ukrainian Defense Minister”), a notorious alt-right Trump booster who promoted the baseless Pizzagate conspiracy theory alleging that high-ranking Democrats were operating a child sex ring.

The Twitter account of the Central Iowa chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which has been an active voice against racism in Iowa, flagged several of the tweets last week. “Iowa has a white supremacy problem,” it tweeted. “It is time we confronted it.”

Last summer, Holt also shared numerous tweets suggesting that Trump isn’t racist and downplaying racism more generally, including in videos of black people endorsing the argument. In doing so, she shared tweets from Paul Joseph Watson, a far-right conspiracy theorist who had recently been banned from Facebook and Instagram for promoting hate speech. Watson works for InfoWars, the conspiracy theory news network run by Alex Jones, who was recently sued by the families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting for falsely claiming that the massacre was staged. (As Snopes has noted, the tweet about Bernie Sanders involves “comments [that] were taken out of context to create a false equivalence between his 2015 statement and Trump’s 2019 attack on Rep. Elijah Cummings, who represents Baltimore.”)

Holt’s apparent disdain for Sanders extends beyond his comment about Baltimore. Earlier this month, she shared a tweet accusing the presidential candidate of being a self-hating Jew.

After her suspension was made public, Holt continued to retweet controversial figures including Franklin Graham, who just two days earlier had suggested that a “demonic power” was responsible for the impeachment proceedings against Trump.

Holt’s defenders include Clel Baudler, a retired state trooper and former Statehouse colleague of Holt’s husband Steven Holt, who commented in a Facebook post on his page that the teacher’s critics were “really stupid people.” (Baudler himself has made racially insensitive remarks, once recounting a story of traveling to California and lying to an “oriental ‘doctor'” who “only spoke broken English” about having hemorrhoids to purchase medical marijuana in an effort to expose how lax the system was.)

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.