Historian Mark Bray was thrust onto the international academia stage this past August when images from the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia encapsulated the tinderbox tension south of the border.
A historian of human rights, terrorism and political radicalism in modern Europe, Bray is the author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook that was released in early 2017. Bray’s scholarly work makes him a coveted guest on American political talk shows and a valued source for media attempting to explain a movement that few understand.
Historian and movement scholar Mark Bray will present Selkirk College’s Spring 2018 Mir Centre for Peace Lecture Series event on March 22 at Nelson’s Civic Theatre. Bray is the author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook and will discuss the history of the movement and how that translates into what has taken place in the United States and Europe over the last few months.
“Most historians want what we write to matter,” says Bray, who is an associated visiting scholar at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. “The study of the past should influence how we live the present. So in that sense, it’s gratifying to see this level of interest in the work about the relevance of the history to current politics. On the other hand, a lot of the interest happened because someone died. If Heather Heyer hadn’t been murdered in Charlottesville, then Charlottesville as a moment would not have risen to the level of public conversation that it did.”
Creating Better Understanding of Confronting Hate
On March 22, Bray will be Selkirk College’s featured Mir Centre for Peace Lecture Series speaker when he arrives to the West Kootenay for a discussion at Nelson’s Civic Theatre. Bray’s talk will focus on the history of anti-fascism in Europe and North America over the past century, particularly as it pertains to recent citizen organization against the far-right movement of neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
“What has been interesting in the coverage of Antifa in the U.S. is there is this assumption that anyone who shows up to counter protest the far-right in Boston or Berkeley or wherever is part of what is incorrectly described as a group or organization,” explains Bray. “Most of the people that show up are involved in Black Lives Matter or immigrant rights movements or labour unions or environmentalists or they are just concerned people who are opposed to racism.”
Historian Mark Bray has become an important academic in the field of Antifa after tensions boiled over this past summer in the United States. This interview is from C-SPAN from August, 2017.
Bray’s book traces the history of Antifa dating back to the early 20th Century and offers a road map for putting the movement’s principles into practice. Much of what the average observer has seen in media coverage over the last few months in regards to Antifa has been the opposite of peace, but Bray asserts that the movement is misunderstood.
“It brings up a lot of interesting questions,” he says. “What does a peaceful world look like? Does a peaceful world include police and prisons and militaries? Do you have to be an absolutist pacifist who condemns physical force under any context in order to qualify as a peaceful person? If there is a threat of a violent white supremacist movement or a neo-Nazi movement that is intimidating people, then is self-defence contrary to the notions of peace? These are the very questions at the heart of it. The misnomer is that Antifa is all about confrontation, but 97 per cent of what they do focuses on education, on finding out the identities of white supremacists or neo-Nazi leaders to try and pressure communities to reject their hateful perspectives and prevent them from promoting their politics.”
Discussion Important for All Communities
Bray has presented his work in Toronto and Montreal, but the stop in Nelson will be his first visit to a rural Canadian community. Bray understands the material he will be discussing may seem like a world away from the tumult that played out in various cities across the United States for much of 2017, but the overall focus of his research and insight will resonate with everyone.
“At the most basic level, it’s what I refer to as ‘every day anti-fascism.’ In terms of thinking about how to respond when neighbours or co-workers or family members say or do racist or homophobic things, how to cultivate spaces where these kinds of social justice values are common sense and everyday?” he says.
The far-right and Antifa has existed long before American President Donald Trump came to office, but Bray contends that the current administration has provided the flashpoint for what has taken place in the United States in recent months. Though the topic is dark and disturbing, Bray feels there is some cause for hope. Respectful dialogue will be key in stemming future confrontation and chaos.
“It is entirely possible that as Trump’s popularity declines, the currency that the language of the alt-right originally had to portray itself as a new alternative to traditional fascist or white supremacist politics will erode,” says Bray. “It may be that the far-right kind of dissipates and therefore people who would have otherwise put their time into organizing against the far-right will shift towards organizing against pipeline construction or against the deportation of immigrants. That’s my hope.”
Bray’s lecture, The History and Politics of Anti-Fascism, will take place on Thursday, March 22 at 7 p.m. at the Civic Theatre in Nelson. Tickets are available at the door ($17 general public and $15 student/senior) or by calling 250.365.1261.