‘Progressive’ Brooklyn Commons hosts anti-Semite

On the evening of Sept. 7, some 30 New York City activists gathered outside the premises of the Brooklyn Commons on Atlantic Ave. to protest the appearance there of the latest 9-11 conspiracy guru, Christopher Bollyn—who happens to be even more overtly anti-Semitic and tainted by neo-Nazi connections than most 9-11 conspiracy gurus. Many carried signs reading "Another Jewish anti-Zionist against anti-Semitism" and "No platform for bigotry." The door was guarded by a taciturn muscle-man who spent most of the two hours of the event menacingly punching the air with an exercise hand-grip, only stopping to open the door for approved attendees. Some protesters did manage to infiltrate the event, and were roughly ejected. There were a few brief scuffles outside as well; Brooklyn Commons management called the police, and one protester was arrested. Photos are online at Storify.

The page promoting the event on the Brooklyn Commons website, "Christopher Bollyn: 9-11 and Our Political Crisis," gives you an idea where Bollyn is coming from: "Bollyn's message is a rare voice exposing the neocons and their Zionist partners-in-crime who had the means, motive, and opportunity to pull off this game-changing event. Bollyn provides hard evidence that these same people (or their proxies) to this day continue to foment terrorism and war, domestically and abroad." Did you catch that "rare voice"? Cute, eh? As if this improbable jive hasn't been endlessly recycled by the 9-11 conspiracy industry for 15 years now.

But Bollyn's Jew-hatred isn't always couched in such coded language. His ugliness was first called out by JewSchool, and later by The Forward. But the most comprehensive account is provided by independent journalist Spencer Sunshine:

Bollyn worked for the Liberty Lobby from 2000 to 2006, which was run by Willis Carto, who for decades was one of the most important racists on the US Far Right. His media group included the Spotlight (now the American Free Press), a White nationalist newspaper (where Bollyn was a staffer), as well as the Barnes Review, the main periodical helping spread Holocaust Denial in the United States (where he was a contributing editor). Bollyn has also appeared on David Duke's radio show, and has praised the racist paramilitary patrol, the Minutemen Project

But without even clicking on anything, the front page of Bollyn's site is filled with lines like "9-11 is a massive Zionist Jewish crime," and that NPR is run by a "cabal of Zionist Jews." Bollyn's website and other writings include such antisemitic gems like:

  • "Great nations, like the United States, France, and Germany, once had anti-Masonic and anti-Semitic political parties that acted to challenge the pernicious influence of secret Masonic and Jewish organizations. Today we no longer have such political parties to counter these secret networks and find ourselves ruled by B’nai B’rith and Jewish Freemasons."
  • "The 'false flag' terrorism of 9–11 is a monstrous Jewish-Zionist crime of our time. The true culprits of this heinous crime are clearly being protected by a gang of like-minded Jew­ish Zion­ists in the highest positions of the U.S. government."
  • "It seems like being a Jew is a lot like being a wolf."
  • He openly cites the Protocols line that: "Not a single announcement will reach the public without our control."
  • "I suspect that Arlen Specter is a high-level agent of the B'nai B'rith, the secret organization of Jewish Freemasons which I consider to be the real Elders of Zion."

(Note: I won’t link to Far Right websites, but you can easily google up all this information.)

We have no such scruples. American Free Press is right here, and its wacky-sinister nature should be evident from the briefest glance. Many more such gems can found on Bollyn's own website. On other online fora, he has boasted of exposing "the fundamental Jewish method of corruption and political control." 

According to one attendee who spoke to this blogger on the way out, at the Brooklyn Commons event Bollyn talked about his thesis that the War on Terrorism is an ideological creation of the state of Israel imposed on the US by its lobby. The source ingenuously asked me, "If he says that only some Jews were behind 9-11, is that anti-Semitism?"

Despite its deceptive name, the Brooklyn Commons is not remotely a commons, but owned by one Melissa Ennen, who runs the cafe and lecture/performance space on the first floor, and also rents space to various lefty organizations on the upper floors. Alerted to the situation, most of these organizations put pressure on Ennen to cancel Bollyn's appearance. In fact, most or all of Bollyn's other appearances on his current attempt at a tour were cancelled due to such pressures—e.g., his planned gig at Busboys and Poets bookstore in Washington DC. But Ennen remained intransigent.

Ennen issued a letter defending her decision not to cancel the Bollyn gig on "free speech" grounds, and accusing the protesters of "censorship." (As if a venue that purports to be "progressive" has a responsibility to provide a platform to neo-Nazis.) Sickeningly, she writes: "I never intended for The Commons to be a safe space at all times."

Most of the Brooklyn Commons tenant organizations—including Jacobin, The Indypendent, the Marxist Education Project and Brooklyn Institute for Social Research—issued a joint letter, signed by their representatives, and stating pithily: "As organizations that work out of the Brooklyn Commons, we reject the antisemitic politics of Christopher Bollyn. We do not have any say in event booking and management at the Commons but agree that such politics should have no place in leftist spaces."

However, contrary to appearances, WBAI Radio, while appearing among the signatories, has not dissented from Bollyn's appearance. BAI board member Jim Dingeman told this blogger on Facebook that he signed the letter as an individual, not on behalf of the station. This raises some ambiguity about whether the others have signed as individuals or as representatives of their respective institutions.

One tenant organization, Families United for Racial & Economic Equality (FUREE), issued its own strongly worded statement, removing all ambiguity. The Baffler magazine, which has an upcoming release party scheduled at the Commons, issued a similar statement. FUREE and The Baffler are to be applauded for this.

Possibly in response to the controversy, the "organizations" page on the Commons' website appears to have been taken down.

WBAI's official silence on the matter is unsurprising. This blogger, who was a producer at WBAI for 20 years, was banned from the station in 2011 after objecting on the air to precisely such conspiranoid and anti-Semitic programming. It is perfectly predictable that Bollyn's rise to stardom on the conspiracy circuit was actually facilitated by WBAI. In March of this year, he was a featured guest on the conspiracy-obsessed program Guns & Butter, produced at KPFA in Berkeley—like WBAI a part of the "progressive" (sic) Pacifica network. Guns & Butter also airs on WBAI, bringing Bollyn's toxic crap to the New York airwaves.

We call upon WBAI and all other organizations associated with the Brooklyn Commons to make their position on this matter clear.

  1. Jezebel on anti-Semitism at Brooklyn Commons

    More details on Bollyn's gig at the Brooklyn Commons from Jezebel, which had a reporter there… It also notes dishonest damage-control measures taken by the Commons in response to the controversy… 

    Bollyn, who has appeared on David Duke’s radio show, calls the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, "a monstrous Jewish-Zionist crime," the architects of which are "protected by a gang of like-minded Jewish Zionists in the highest positions of the U.S. government." At one point, he touted his credentials as a contributor to the American Free Press, an anti-Semitic conspiracy rag, and, as progressive Jewish blogger Daniel Sieradski points out, the description of Wednesday’s event on the Commons’ website originally read, "9/11 and the War on Terror are dual deceptions imposed on our nation by the Israeli/Zionist and Neo-Conservative cabal that controls our government and media," before the more explicitly anti-Semitic language was removed.

    (Incidentally, the Anti-Defamation League notes that the American Free Pressfired Bollyn in 2006 for filing false stories, which is really saying something for a publication that recently ran the headline, "70,000 Whites Murdered in ‘Modern’ South Africa; Obama’s African Legacy.")

  2. Saving Brooklyn Commons self-censorship from Memory Hole

    Melissa Ennen appears to have deleted her statement on the Bollyn affair—the page on the Brooklyn Commons website is now blank. We used the Wayback Machine to preserve the text for posterity:

    September 7th, 2016 4:00 PM
    Letter from Melissa regarding Christopher Bollyn talk
    During the past week I have been bombarded by emails objecting to the upcoming talk by Christopher Bollyn at The Commons on the grounds that he is anti-Semitic. People are demanding that I cancel the event. Some are threatening dire consequences for The Commons. What has brought us to this?

    On July 14, I received an email from a man named Irving Lee asking to rent the Commons in September for a talk by Christopher Bollyn. Bollyn was described in the email as a 9/11 researcher who had been on a Pacifica/WBAI program called Guns & Butter hosted by Bonnie Faulkner. Irving Lee, the man who booked and paid for the rental, identified himself as follows: “We are not part of any organization. We're just a group who want to bring Bollyn, a cutting edge speaker to NYC for the 15th anniversary of 9/11.”

    I did not research the speaker before accepting the rental. I do not have the time, resources or inclination to censor the hundreds of groups who rent the space. Since launching in 2010, the list of renters has included local Tea Partiers, conservative promoters of charter schools, explicitly anti-union corporations, elected officials who voted for the Patriot Act and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although progressive organizations dominate the calendar because I subsidize many of them with free or very low-cost use of the space, the Commons is available for rental by other groups.

    This morning some of the people who rent co-working spaces at The Commons issued a statement denouncing the Bollyn event, declaring that “such [antisemitic] politics should have no place in leftist spaces.” I agree that all forms of racism should have no place in leftist spaces, but in my opinion, to get to the root of racist thinking, confrontation works better than censorship.

    During the past six years at The Commons, I have observed many incidents of racism, sexism, homophobia and gender-identity discrimination, not to mention the pervasive exercise of class privilege. We live in a sick society, and leftists are not immune. This is why I encourage groups to use the Commons as a safe space for workshops and other events where they can explore and/or escape the hate and pain engendered by our many divisions.

    But I never intended for The Commons to be a safe space at all times. Nor was it designed to be a cozy cocoon for intramural debate among leftists. From the beginning my goal has been to foster discussion among disparate groups across a wide political spectrum.

    In yesterday’s New York Times op-ed section, among a collection of letters devoted to Free Speech on Campus, is one from Paul Frantz in San Francisco: “As a Stanford University engineering student in the 1970s, I jumped at the chance to hear a presentation by the Nobel laureate William Shockley, whose contribution to the invention of the transistor changed the world. His presentation turned out to be hateful, white-supremacist pseudo-scholarship about the supposed intellectual inferiority of black people. I learned some of the most important lessons of my college career at that presentation. I learned that high I.Q. does not imply wisdom or character. I learned what can go wrong when everyone tells you how brilliant you are, and you believe them. And I learned that the smartest guy in the room can be wrong. To this day, I am grateful there were no protestors on hand to prevent a racist from teaching me those lessons.”

    The Brooklyn Commons
    388 Atlantic Ave.
    Brooklyn, NY 11217

  3. Brooklyn Commons imbroglio makes Current Affaris

    Current Affairs magazine makes note of the Christoper Bollyn affair. "Many were baffled by why the Brooklyn Commons would hold such an event. Why on earth would a progressive café provide a platform for a blatant racist? It was yet another confirmation of the (true, and depressing) fact that in certain parts of the radical left, it's not terribly uncommon to find anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists." And that segments of "the radical left itself" have been "unwilling to purge anti-Semitism from their ranks."

    Unfortunately, under the title "Let the Kooks Speak," it argues for allowing the Brooklyn Commons to be turned into a platform for neo-Nazism. This libertarian argument is missing the point.

    I have no intention of watching this, but just for the record, Bollyn's Brooklyn Commons presentation is preserved for posterity on YouTube. There's the link. So nobody can accuse us of censorship. But YouTube doesn't purport to be a "progressive" or "leftist" forum. Bollyn can go find his own soap-box.

  4. Daily Beast on Brooklyn Commons imbroglio

    The latest entry on the affair is from Daily Beast, which refreshingly notes the anti-Zionist politics of most of the protesters, and quotes one saying: "Free speech is the principle that the government should not ban people from talking. There is no obligation for anyone to provide a platform for bigotry, Holocaust denial, anti-Semitism etc. Even as a bad excuse it doesn’t register on the scale."

  5. Media links on Brooklyn Commons imbroglio

    Spencer Sunshine has put together a page with links to all the media coverage of the Nazi hate-fest at the Brooklyn Commons. He writes:

    [Melissa] Ennen’s new career as a host for antisemites drew denunciations from a state senator, two city councilers, many of the tenants in the building, Jewish groups, and local Palestine Solidarity groups (both Jewish and not). International coverage included Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, and the International Business Times. Even the orthodox Jewish press chimed in.Ennen has tripled down on the booking and, in the WBAI interview, said she would welcome David Duke to speak there.

    Of course WBAI, seemingly the only tenant at the Commons not to have repudiated the Bollyn appearance, would give a platform to Ennen's defense of her turning the "progressive" space into a forum for a neo-Nazi.

  6. New physical confrontation at Brooklyn Commons

    An activist posts on Facebook

    On Monday night, a group of progressive Jewish activists attended an open mic at The Brooklyn Commons with the intent of bringing their qualms to Melissa Ennen directly. There they were assaulted by Ennen's employees and supporters while "ZIONIST JEW!" was shouted at them as an epithet.

  7. Systemic Disorder on Brooklyn Commons imbroglio

    Systemic Disorder has a farily in-depth write-up of how the Mark Bollyn affair exposes the eclipse of an actual class analysis by ugly conspiracism. It doesn't quite answer its own question: "What do we do when a neo-Nazi speaks at a Left venue? "

  8. Call for boycott of Brooklyn Commons

    The Brooklyn for Peace website has issued a statement, with plenty of signatories, in defense of Melissa Ennen and her decision to open the Brooklyn Commons to a neo-Nazi. Some of the groups that came together for the protest in September, now under the name Common Decency, have issued a call for a boycott of the establishment.