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Dartmouth Visiting Scholar Mark Bray Gives Talk on Antifa Movement

  • Mark Bray, a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College gives a talk at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., on Jan. 18, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • After asking a question, Lawrence Johnson, a Dartmouth alumnus, of Andover, Mass., listens during a talk given by Mark Bray at the college in Hanover, N.H., on Jan. 18, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/19/2018 12:18:37 AM
Modified: 1/19/2018 12:18:45 AM

Hanover — Mark Bray, a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College who surged to prominence last year for his research on anti-fascism and a public clash with the school’s president, outlined the history of resistance against fascism during a talk on campus on Thursday night.

Along with his expertise on the current-day movement known as antifa, Bray gained notoriety for a public row, in August, with Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon over Bray’s comments on some activists’ use of violence.

Bray addressed the controversy at the outset of the talk, which summarized the findings in his new book, Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.

“Thank you all,” he said to the crowd of more than 60 people in Dartmouth Hall, “all of you, for coming out and taking the time to actually hear what I have to say, and engage with my arguments, and agree or disagree, and make up your own mind based on what I’m actually saying. It’s really refreshing.”

The kerfuffle got started last August, after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., where masked antifa activists fought with neo-Nazis and alt-right advocates and an anti-racist protester was killed by a white supremacist’s speeding car.

“We’ve tried ignoring neo-Nazis in the past,” Bray said during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press. “We’ve seen how that turned out in the ’20s and ’30s. A lot of people are under attack, and sometimes they need to be able to defend themselves. It’s a privileged position to say you never have to defend yourself from these kinds of monsters.”

Hanlon condemned the remarks, which he said endorsed violence and were “contrary to Dartmouth values.” More than 100 faculty colleagues countered with a letter that said Hanlon had mischaracterized Bray and called on the college president to retract his statement.

A historian of human rights, terrorism and political radicalism in modern Europe, Bray earned a doctorate in history at Rutgers University in 2016.

To ground his research into contemporary antifa activists on Thursday night, Bray launched into an abridged history of antifascist movements in the western world.

The earliest rumblings of resistance to far-right nationalism and racism may have emerged in Reconstruction-era America, or perhaps amid an anti-Semitic furor in 1890s France, but the first “official” fascism arrived with Benito Mussolini, Bray said.

Italian antifascists of the 1920s included the Arditi del Popolo, roughly translated as “the people’s shocktroops” or “the people’s daring ones,” who resisted Mussolini at first but eventually lost momentum after losing support from the country’s socialists and communists.

The fraying of antifascism in Italy proved a common thread among the movements that failed to stop future dictators. Not much later in Germany, leftist movements fractured over ideological disagreements and failed to foresee the danger that Hitler and Mussolini posed.

When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, Bray said, the German Communist Party created “what was perhaps the worst slogan in the history of slogans: ‘First Hitler, then us’ ” — meaning that the Communists thought they could seize power after the right-wing strongman fizzled out.

Bray traced the development of antifascism through the post-war period, as it spread to the United States and Canada, adopting its own tactics and iconology in response to the hate groups that festered there.

He noted how music and subcultures like those of punks and skinheads often were the battlegrounds for fascists and antifascists, who went so far as to stage dueling rock tours in 1970s England — “Rock Against Racism” and the less well attended “Rock Against Communism.”

Although most of the talk centered on Bray’s research into current and past movements against fascism, he — and some audience members — also addressed how Bray, himself, thought about the contemporary debate about how best to confront hate.

While explaining the book’s methodology, Bray said his past experience with the protest movement Occupy Wall Street had helped him secure the participation of more than 60 current and former antifascists from several countries. Many of these people preferred to keep their identities private but spoke to Bray, he said, “in large part because I’m an activist myself.”

Lawrence Johnson, a 1975 Dartmouth alumnus from Andover, Mass., challenged Bray during the question-and-answer segment.

“Violence is violence,” he said, explaining that he found it “detestable” not only that a white supremacist killed a protester in Charlottesville, but also that a former Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer nonfatally shot U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, during a congressional baseball practice in June.

“I reject your background supposition that ‘Our violence is more acceptable than the others’ violence because they’re bad people,’ ” he said, paraphrasing antifa activists’ views. “People are people.”

“Is all violence equally morally equivalent?” Bray asked, before answering that he didn’t think anyone thought so. If some kinds of violence are more justifiable than others, he said, “then you do need to adjudicate which kinds of violence are justifiable in which kinds of circumstances. ... You have to figure out when, under what circumstances, it’s legitimate.”

Graziella Parati, a professor of Italian who helped organize the event, jumped in to point out that some antifascist violence was applauded in post-1945 Europe.

“People who fought with violence against fascism in World War II were heroes of the new democratic system in Italy,” she said, adding that fascist brutalities were thought of as “bad violence” and antifascist resistance as “that kind of violence that allowed for the construction of democracy in that country.”

In another part of the talk, Bray lamented that media portrayals of contemporary antifascism appear to focus mostly on violent tactics.

As an expert, Bray said, he often receives requests from journalists to interview antifa activists. Rarely do reporters express interest in speaking to people who engage in community organizing or who merely monitor and advocate against the far-right, rather than confront them face-to-face, he said.

Near the end of the evening, he harked back to the mistakes of 1920s-era opponents of fascism, who underestimated rising nationalist movements with disastrous consequences.

Today’s activists haven’t forgotten, he said.

“It’s bad,” Bray said of the current moment in America, “but it could get much worse.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at or 603-727-3242.

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