An Anti-Semitic Conspiracist Comes to Brooklyn, Sparking Outrage

Protests against bigoted Christopher Bollyn were led by self-identified anti-Zionist Jews and local left-wing forces

On Wednesday night, anti-semitic conspiracy theorist Christopher Bollyn stood in front of a crowd of about 20 people at Brooklyn Commons to deliver a long speech about how 9/11 was an inside job. Or how it was orchestrated by the Rothschilds. Or by the Israeli Mossad. Or something…it was hard to tell. One minute he was attacking the U.S. government for not trying to overthrow “the democratically elected government of Syria” and the next he was ranting about how the billionaire Ron Lauder privatized the World Trade Center -- which just so happened to contain a vault with top-secret documents about Enron.

Earlier in the night, a protester dressed in traditional anarchist garb (black jeans, black t-shirt, bandana around his neck) was forcibly removed for interrupting Bollyn’s speech by calling him a fascist. He was not alone – there were almost as many protesters outside the event as attendees, and the event had already attracted considerable controversy among leftist circles after activist Daniel Sieradski published a blog post outlining some of Bollyn’s more outrageous statements (a sample: “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.”)

The crowd didn’t come close to filling the small space, and half of them looked like them may as well have just wandered in by accident. A mustachioed fellow in a baggy orange button-down nodded off in one corner, while another man with a gray ponytail seemed utterly incapable of silencing his phone, which rang about half a dozen times during the seemingly endless presentation. At one point, a guy wearing sunglasses slid and crawled across the floor in front of Bollyn so that he would not get in the way of another man’s camcorder. If there was any hope to be found in the midst of all the ugly rhetoric, it was that this collection of crackpots appeared more likely to soil themselves than carry out a pogrom.

Brooklyn Commons serves as the office for a handful of progressive organizations and publications, and several of their representatives signed a statement condemning the event. Chris Lehman, Editor-in-Chief of Baffler Magazine (which is holding an event at the space next week) called for the event to be cancelled in a Facebook post in which he wrote, “Giving a public platform to fantasists and hatemongers such as Bollyn is not part of any truly humane left politics.” Owner Melissa Ennen, reportedly a truther herself, responded to the criticism in a now-deleted post claiming that the space was not meant to be “a cozy cocoon for intramural debate.” In the process, Ennen seriously damaged any credibility she might have had among those affiliated with the New York Left.

Like many conspiracy theorists, Bollyn was not concerned so much with forming a coherent argument as connecting an endless array of supposedly interrelated dots – some of which provided actual evidence of government malfeasance, while others (like his a bizarre segue about how the movie Brazil and X-Files spinoff The Lone Gunman predicted 9/11) were pure fluff. The dots don’t create a picture any more lucid than one of Glenn Beck’s chalkboards, but to the audience members who knowingly chuckled at his revelations, it didn’t matter - what mattered is that some vague they are responsible (which means that nobody is responsible, since the conspiracy is so vast and involves so many powerful Jews that it’s beyond any logical explanation).

Bollyn initially claimed the presentation, complete with PowerPoint, would only last an hour, leaving an hour for comments. By the time he was done he has spoken for well over two hours, and the point he was trying to make was still maddeningly unclear. During the Q&A, he rushed everyone through their questions since time was running out, but I had the chance to bring up an email in which he claimed that he saw no evidence of large ovens on his visit to Auschwitz, Dachau, and Buchenwald. I asked him if he believed the Nazis killed six million Jews, and his response was that such matters was “not his area of expertise” (unlike military operations, international politics, finance, and metallurgy). The cowardice of this supposedly brave iconoclast, prevaricating for a half-empty room of gullible dimwits while dressed like a dad at a PTA meeting, was a pathetic spectacle.

Zionists have long made a habit of smearing critics of Israel as anti-Semitic, which is why it’s so important to draw a line in the sand separating advocates of Palestinian rights from right-wing racists who think every manmade disaster can be traced back to a nefarious Jewish cabal. Bollyn, who has appeared as a friendly guest on David Duke’s radio program, is firmly in the latter camp. It is notable, then, that at the forefront of the protests against his appearance at Brooklyn Commons were self-identified anti-Zionist Jews and left-wing critics of Israel. And while they demonstrated outside on Atlantic Avenue for hours, the right-wing Zionists who make a living crying wolf were eerily quiet.

Rob Bryan is a journalist who has written for Jacobin and Mondoweiss among other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @robbryan86

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