On the American college campus, the constant advance of extremist ideas goes on. Sometimes, those ideas are put into direct action in the form of violence, such as when radicals attack speakers and physically prevent audiences from gathering to hear them. But the more insidious aspect of the advance takes the form of invitations to propagandists in the garb of scholars who defend and encourage violence while attempting to mask their deeply totalitarian motivations in a superficial and mendacious veneer of moral self-righteousness and academic respectability.
At the campus where I teach, this week we are seeing an example of this insidious creep toward the left’s open embrace of violence against those who advocate for conservative ideas. The Humanities Center at Bucknell University has invited Mark Bray to speak on September 10, 2019, the day before the 18th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. It is the inaugural event in a year-long series the Humanities Center has put together on the theme “Confronting Fascism.”
Bray is an advocate for and participant in Antifa, an amorphous group of communists and anarchists who engage in thuggish street violence, attacking property and individuals they label “fascists” or “white supremacists,” designations they use sufficiently liberally as to include just about anyone they feel like vilifying and attacking. In his book, “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” Bray carefully adheres to this crude and toxic system of definition, calling all those who support the current president of the United States “everyday fascists” and wrapping up with a concluding chapter with the astounding title “Whiteness is indefensible.”
Antifa has been devastatingly condemned at the highest levels from both sides of the American political spectrum. President Trump has called them a terrorist group. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had this to say about them after an Antifa riot in Berkeley, California: “Our democracy has no room for inciting violence or endangering the public, no matter the ideology of those who commit such acts. The violent actions of people calling themselves antifa in Berkeley this weekend deserve unequivocal condemnation, and the perpetrators should be arrested and prosecuted.”
Here’s how Bray’s outspoken advocacy for Antifa’s violence was denounced by the president of the school where Bray was briefly a visiting lecturer: “Recent statements made by Lecturer in History Mark Bray supporting violent protest do not represent the views of Dartmouth. As an institution, we condemn anything but civil discourse in the exchange of opinions and ideas.”
Not quite two months ago, in mid-July, the American public got a vivid example of the Antifa endgame in the act of domestic terrorist Willem Van Spronsen. Van Spronsen was a member of the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club and Occupy Vashon-Portage (Washington), an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement to which Bray has dedicated a celebratory book. Van Spronsen had also been involved in various Antifa actions in the Washington area around Tacoma.
On July 13, armed with a rifle, he orchestrated a terroristic attack on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Tacoma, using explosive devices. He blew up a vehicle in the facility’s parking lot and threw Molotov cocktails at the building in the effort to set it on fire. He was attempting to ignite a propane tank near the building, which would have caused a massive explosion, when he was fatally shot by police.
In a manifesto Van Spronsen composed before the attack, he wrote: “i am antifa…all power to the people!… the semi-automatic weapon i used was a cheap, home built unregistered ‘ghost’ ar15, had six magazines. i strongly encourage comrades and incoming comrades to arm themselves…ignore the laws of arming yourself if you have the luxury, i did.”
Mainstream media showed almost no interest in this clear terrorist act, but Antifa groups celebrated Van Spronsen after his death as a martyr and lauded his example of “direct action.” This was quite consistent with a good deal of what they were advocating prior to July 13.
One example: in June 2018, the Occupy Wall Street Twitter account posted a gory and graphic description of “what to do if you encounter an ICE agent”: “Grab the ICE agent from behind and push your knife into his chest with an upward thrust, breaking through his sternum. Reach into his chest and pull out his still beating heart. Hold his bloody heart out for all other agents to see.”
Critics of Antifa at Bucknell have not asked that Bray be prevented from speaking, as we support free expression. It would be enough if the organizers of the event could be counted on to provide full disclosure on the speaker they have invited, but they instead present Bray as some kind of morally serious person courageously challenging evil.
The truth is that Bray has in writing and numerous television appearances unapologetically said that he believes violence is a legitimate response to legal, civil expression by groups with whom he disagrees. He has been straightforward in his affirmation that the intention of such violence is to sufficiently threaten and intimidate those who would engage in or show any interest in hearing speech the criminals and communists in Antifa deem beyond the pale, to terrorize them into ceasing their expression of such ideas.
That worldview ought to trouble anyone who understands and embraces the most basic operating principles of a free and open society.