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Davis, California

Friday, February 23, 2024

Anti-fascist researcher Mark Bray speaks at UC Davis


Dartmouth professor, author supports those who fight against white supremacy, fascism

Mark Bray, a Dartmouth history lecturer and author of the national bestseller “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist’s Handbook,” came to UC Davis on Nov. 16. Bray spoke in Voorhies Hall about anti-fascist movements throughout history and answered questions related to his book.

As well as researching anti-fascist history, Bray sometimes defends it. He has been on NBC’s Meet the Press, and conservative sites Breitbart and Campus Reform have criticized Bray’s support of anti-fascist groups and actions.

“I think it’s important for people of all walks of life […] to take a clear stand against white supremacy,” Bray said. “I don’t hide my political perspectives.”

While being a researcher and, often, supporter of antifa, Bray himself has no personal experience with anti-fascist movements outside of journalism and academia.

“I don’t have personal experience doing this,” Bray said. “I think of my book as a kind of menu of resistance, and encourage people to eat what they want.”

Bray explained the difficulty of defining fascism, but did offer his own general description.

“Fascism is a source of danger, but is also a symptom of underlying social problems,” Bray said. “Anti-fascism becomes a common sense response to a threat. It’s a self defense against the far right. It’s also a strategy of tactics of direct action. Fascism is not easy to define — historians can’t agree on a definition. We can think of it as a map of overlapping traits that grew out of the political context of post-WWI Europe, a return to a gendered, racial fantasy.”

The event began with English professor Joshua Clover introducing Bray and telling the audience that no filming or recording was permitted. This sparked an audience reaction from some of those already filming, who began to disrupt the event.

Bray stopped his presentation in the midst of this interruption. One of the individuals causing a disruption was removed when he refused to turn off his recording. Bray addressed the interruption after the man had been escorted out of the room.

“My guess is you don’t have innocent intentions in your recording,” Bray said. “If you go to places and they tell you not to record, you respect that.”

Jose Lopez, a Davis community member who came to protest Bray’s message, was part of the right-wing group of men who interrupted Bray’s talk.

“We are in a public building, and it is a public school — these guys have a right to film if they wanted [to],” Lopez said.

Later, Bray mentioned that he “[doesn’t] mind recording,” and that recording was not permitted at the request of the UC Davis event hosts.

During his powerpoint presentation, Bray delineated the history of anti-fascist movements, emphasizing those in 20th-century Europe.

“Some historians have argued seeing the KKK as an original proto-fascist organization,” Bray said. “Likewise, we can look at some of the anti-Semitic leagues during the Dreyfus Affair. Fascism often follows in the heels of a revolutionary upsurge.”

According to Bray, an informal or disorganized rejection of white supremacy can be traced back to aggressive colonialism.

“Opposition to white-supremacy has existed since 1492, since the first slave ships, and is no way unique to the 21st century,” Bray said. “[We can] understand fascism as one facet of the global phenomenon of colonization and death brought home back to Europe.”

Bray focused largely on the lack of political unity of the left in 1920s and 1940s Europe in opposing fascist authoritarians like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

“The rank and file of socialist party was very alarmed by the growth of Nazism, whereas leadership was reluctant to encourage anything outside of the realm of civil discourse,” Bray said. “The leadership thought it was uncivil to mark three downward arrows over the nazi swastika. Until it was really too late, the left in Germany was more interested in fighting amongst itself rather than opposing the Nazis.”

Bray criticized any leftist division causing lack of protest, and said that if “anti-fascists during that era had tried to cater to the perspective of larger London society, Jewish citizens would have been sending letters to [the] government” rather than fighting back against the Holocaust’s doorstep. In his talk, Bray used that sense of political urgency as justification for many modern day anti-fascist techniques in America such as protesting and direct action. He talked about how “countries like Germany, Italy and France responded to a regrowth of fascism and Nazism [by] simply making it illegal,” not by installing actual safeguards against new fascism.

According to Bray, post-WWII racial anxieties in Europe began to shift following Nazism in the 1950s and 1960s.

“The threat from the far right in Britain shifted from targeting Jewish people to immigrants from Africa, Asia [and other countries],” Bray said. “Especially after the Berlin Wall falls in 1989, there is an ultra-nationalist insurgency leading the far right to come out of their holes — there’s threats to immigrants and leftists.”

Bray stated that he views the left as more united now than in his examples of wartime Europe.

“In the big counter-protests in Berkeley or Charlottesville, there are people in all sorts of different parties that show up,” Bray said.

Connecting disparate anti-fascist techniques, Bray talked about anti-fascism in America.

“It was very effective for the Black Panthers to talk about the fascist pigs in the way that police occupation was similar to occupation in Europe,” Bray said. “The moment that you can see the two struggles intertwined is to start to understand the significance of what’s happening with anti-fascist politics.”

He said that fascist movements stay viable in America through the interconnection of loose right-wing political groups, networks and individuals such as the alt-right.

When asked about how the press has characterized anti-fascism — and characterized Bray himself — Bray said he thinks “there is a tendency by the media to reduce movements to personalities, and I think that is problematic.”

“The alt-right is not right in the sense of morally correct,” Bray said. “How it tries to brand itself is pushing back against what it claims of a stilted, PC, Marxist kind of world. The alt-right is neither alternative nor right.”

Ross Hernandez, a graduate student studying comparative literature, said the right-wing protesters in the room were purposively disrupting Bray’s presentation.

“I couldn’t really concentrate that much,” Hernandez said. “I think he went through the talk really quickly because there was a lot of tension in the room. It’s too bad that those fascists — I don’t know what you want to call them — those gentlemen in the back of the room were intimidating people and sort of distracting. I know there was some people around me that were very nervous.”

Hernandez said he feels it is good to “be open to these ideas and hear people talk about things in a real, historical way.”  


Written By: Aaron Liss — campus@theaggie.org


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