Dartmouth College lecturer Mark Bray has gone from a relatively unknown academic to a sought-after news commentator in the short time since white supremacists clashed with counterprotesters at the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.
Many of Bray’s colleagues have celebrated his foray into the national spotlight, where his scholarly work in political radicalism has landed him prime-time interviews on NBC and NPR.
But Dartmouth officials are unsettled. Bray has made no secret about his belief that violence is, in some circumstances, justified. In turn, the university has sought to distance itself from him.
During an appearance on “Meet the Press” last week, Bray argued that “when pushed, self-defense is a legitimate response to white supremacist and neo-Nazi violence.”
“We’ve tried ignoring neo-Nazis in the past. We’ve seen how that turned out in the ’20s and ’30s,” Bray told host Chuck Todd. “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.”
The conservative site Campus Reform, which purports to expose political correctness and “liberal bias,” seized on the interview, saying Bray had “endorsed antifa’s violent protest tactics.” The Daily Caller and Breitbart News ran similar articles soon after.
In response, Dartmouth President Philip J. Hanlon repudiated Bray in a statement, saying he was “supporting violent protest.”
“As an institution, we condemn anything but civil discourse in the exchange of ideas,” Hanlon said. “The endorsement of violence in any form is contrary to Dartmouth values.”
Now, Bray’s colleagues are coming to his defense. More than 100 faculty members at Dartmouth have signed a letter calling on the president to retract the statement, as the Chronicle of Higher Education reported Monday. They said Dartmouth officials issued the statement without consulting Bray first and allowed his critics in the media to distort his remarks. Bray subsequently received death threats, they said.
“Professor Bray was exposed to violent threats, without so much as a basic effort even to warn him that the College intended to endorse the mischaracterization of his position and the implied attack on his scholarly standing by making clear he had no institutional support,” the letter read.
Bray’s biography page says he is a historian of human rights, terrorism and political radicalism in Modern Europe. He received his PhD from Rutgers University last year and is currently a visiting scholar at the Gender Research Institute at Dartmouth. His new book, “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” traces the history of antifa to the 1920s and offers a road map for putting the movement’s principles into practice.
In their letter, Bray’s colleagues said that Dartmouth officials effectively threw him under the bus when they responded to Campus Reform’s piece. They argued that Bray had not called for violent protest but noted that normal channels such as public debate and electoral politics had not thwarted fascism historically. Nothing in his remarks violated Dartmouth’s free speech and academic freedom policies, they said.
“By submitting the statement to such a site,” the letter read, “the College has placed Professor Bray and his family in Hanover in real danger, as well as undermining his professional reputation.”
It continued: “We have watched with gratitude as our junior colleague Mark Bray, on the strength of his historical scholarship, has become the national expert on a subject that is suddenly, terribly urgent: the twentieth-century history of fascism and anti-fascism, in Europe and, more recently, the United States.”
“This is, of course, the kind of public recognition of Dartmouth scholarship that is celebrated in most situations,” the Dartmouth faculty members wrote. “Instead, in this case, Professor Bray has been disavowed by Dartmouth at the request of a right-wing organization, Campus Reform.”
The letter called on Dartmouth officials to retract the statement, publicly apologize to Bray and reconsider how they will react when a similar situation arises again.
A representative from Dartmouth didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment Monday night.
Bray told the Chronicle of Higher Education that he had indeed received death threats via email and on Twitter, and said he had not been contacted by Dartmouth’s president.
The letter showed, he said, “that there are a lot of faculty who support my academic freedom and are upset with the president issuing his statement, without, at the very least, checking in with me and my department to clarify my comments.”
Antifa’s numbers are almost impossible to determine because the movement is decentralized and leaderless, but its activities have surged since President Trump’s inauguration, when activists clad head-to-toe in black destroyed property in Washington and other cities. The general philosophy of the movement is that some right-wing extremists are so dangerous that it is acceptable to use violence to stop them.
In recent months, antifa members have become a fixture at political demonstrations across the country, where they’ve battled white supremacists and other right-wing protesters in streets and public squares.
On Sunday, antifa agitators wielding pepper spray and homemade shields stormed a small group of conservative demonstrators at an otherwise peaceful rally in Berkeley, Calif. Several people reported being attacked and 13 people were arrested, as The Washington Post reported.
In February, 150 antifa members smashed windows and set fires on campus at the University of California in Berkeley in protest of a speech by right-wing media personality Milo Yiannopoulos. Earlier in the summer, antifa members violently clashed with demonstrators attending a pro-Trump “free speech” rally in Portland.
And in Charlottesville, they fought with white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and formed human barriers to protect counterprotesters. As Slate reported, some clergy members at the rally said antifa members saved their lives from men waving swastika flags and giving Nazi salutes.
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