Hanlon Rejects Visiting Scholar’s Stance; Scholar Says Antifa Comments Were Misrepresented

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/23/2017 12:04:17 AM
Modified: 8/24/2017 5:35:41 PM

Hanover — Dartmouth College President Phil Hanlon this week issued a statement denouncing a visiting scholar’s recent public comments supporting violent tactics used by “antifa” activists against white nationalists.

Antifa, short for anti-fascist, is a movement that seeks to counter far-right activism, sometimes by attending its opponents’ rallies and intentionally provoking violence to get them shut down.

Mark Bray, a visiting scholar of history at Dartmouth, gave a handful of interviews in the week following deadly clashes in Charlottesville, Va., where he lent support to antifa activists’ attempts to suppress views they consider dangerous.

“Certainly, the perspective has become more prevalent — the notion of ‘no platform for fascism,’ that it’s essentially not to be debated, but opposed as illegitimate,” he told the Boston Globe last week.

Bray expanded on that notion on Sunday on NBC’s Meet The Press.

“I think that a lot of people recognize that, when pushed, self-defense is a legitimate response to white supremacy and neo-Nazi violence,” he told the host, Chuck Todd, according to an NBC transcript.

“And you know, we’ve tried ignoring neo-Nazis in the past. We’ve seen how that turned out in the ’20s and ’30s, and the lesson of history is you need to take it with the utmost seriousness before it’s too late. We’ve seen the millions of deaths that have come from not taking it seriously enough. And we can see that really the way that white supremacy grows, the way that neo-Nazism grows is by becoming legitimate, becoming established, becoming everyday family-friendly, wear khakis instead of hoods. And the way to stop that is what people did in Boston, what people did in Charlottesville. Pull the emergency brake and say ‘You can’t make this normal.’ ”

Hanlon on Monday disavowed Bray’s stance, saying the scholar’s comments “do not represent the views of Dartmouth.”

“As an institution, we condemn anything but civil discourse in the exchange of opinions and ideas,” Hanlon said. “Dartmouth embraces free speech and open inquiry in all matters, and all on our campus enjoy the freedom to speak, write, listen and debate in pursuit of better learning and understanding; however, the endorsement of violence in any form is contrary to Dartmouth values.”

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Bray said the college president had based his statement on a misrepresentation of his views by right-wing media.

“I am not calling for violent protest,” Bray said. “My position is that, after the horrors of slavery and the Holocaust, my research shows that self-defense against neo-Nazis is a historically and ethically justified position.”

“I also want to clarify that I am in favor of free speech and open discourse,” Bray said, adding that he was “organizing against the real enemies of free speech” — Klansmen and neo-Nazis.

A history lecturer at the Gender Research Institute at Dartmouth, Bray studies human rights, terrorism and political radicalism in modern Europe, according to a bio on the college website. He received his doctorate in modern European and women’s and gender history at Rutgers University in 2016.

Bray’s interviews also served to publicize his new book on the history of anti-fascist movements, Antifa: the Anti-Fascist Handbook. He said he has received death threats after speaking publicly.

“This is especially alarming as a Jew,” Bray said, “especially given that several of them were anti-Semitic and included references to gas chambers.”

Bray’s public comments on antifa tactics this month did not immediately draw condemnation from Dartmouth administrators.

On Aug. 17, several days after the Charlottesville rallies, the college communications office featured Bray’s Globe interview on its website, Dartmouth News, next to a story about Cornel West.

West, a Harvard scholar and activist, attended the rallies and returned to Dartmouth, where he is teaching this summer, to tell students about them.

West also said antifa participants had protected him and clergy members during a confrontation with far-right demonstrators. The intervention “saved our lives,” he said in an interview with the independent news program Democracy Now!

During Sunday’s Meet the Press broadcast, Bray debated with Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who argued that violence against far-right groups only leads to more violence.

The television appearance generated more media coverage of Bray’s comments, with Hanlon’s statement arriving the next day.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com.

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