Editorial: The wrong reaction at Dartmouth

Published: 8/31/2017 12:30:00 AM

Dartmouth College lecturer Mark Bray, author of the book Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, has become a popular source for journalists in the wake of the deadly Charlottesville, Va., clashes between white nationalists and those who oppose them.

That has not made Dartmouth President Philip Hanlon happy.

After Bray appeared on Meet the Press on Aug. 20 and said things such as, “When pushed, self defense is a legitimate response to white supremacist and neo-Nazi violence,” conservative websites that subscribe to President Donald Trump’s “all sides” narrative on Charlottesville jumped all over it. Campus Reform, for example, published a story by Sandor Farkas under the headline “Dartmouth scholar endorses Antifa violence.” That’s a simplistic interpretation of what Bray said, although that probably doesn’t matter one bit to Farkas.

When Campus Reform reached out to Hanlon for a response to the story, it received this statement from the Dartmouth president: “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. Dartmouth embraces free speech and open inquiry in all matters, and all on our campus enjoy the freedom to speak, write, listen and debate in pursuit of better learning and understanding; however, the endorsement of violence in any form is contrary to Dartmouth values.”

There’s a lot we agree with in Hanlon’s statement. We, too, embrace “free speech and open inquiry in all matters.” We, too, support the notion of allowing people the “freedom to speak, write, listen and debate in pursuit of better learning and understanding.” In fact, that is the very purpose of our Forum section. The problem is that Hanlon apparently allowed Campus Reform, Breitbart and the Daily Caller to interpret Bray’s words and do his thinking for him. So much for the pursuit of understanding.

As we mentioned in a previous editorial written after Charlottesville, we agree with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s position that nonviolence is the best way to confront hate groups. Bray disagrees, and he does so based on his historical knowledge of fascism and anti-fascism. But in no way does he come across as somebody who is trying to incite violence.

On Meet the Press, Bray said: “We’ve tried ignoring neo-Nazis in the past. 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 defend themselves. It is a privileged position to be able to say that you never have to defend yourself from these kinds of monsters.”

We’re not sure what Hanlon found offensive to “Dartmouth values” in Bray’s remarks, and neither are the more than 100 Dartmouth faculty members who sent a letter to Hanlon asking him to remove his statement from the school’s website and apologize to Bray for exposing him to death threats.

“There is nothing that Professor Bray has said that is in violation of Dartmouth’s stated free speech and academic freedom policies,” they wrote. “We urge you to consider the lasting damage to Dartmouth’s reputation that follows from such actions as well as the personal danger in which Professor Bray now finds himself.”

Hanlon is the president of Dartmouth College, and he is entitled to handle that office as he sees fit. But in a time when the president of the United States and his allies and supporters are using lies and threats to discredit and silence journalists and academics, his statement unfairly admonishing Bray for offering his perspective in his area of expertise should be deeply troubling for the Dartmouth community.

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