A progressive gathering space in Brooklyn is sticking by its decision, despite widespread condemnation, to host a talk by a conspiracy theorist who has blamed Israel and Jews for the 9-11 attacks on their 15th anniversary.
Melissa Ennen, founder of Brooklyn Commons, a self-described “movement building space” serving the “progressive community” in Boreum Hill, wrote in a statement released Tuesday afternoon that the Commons was not “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.”
Ennen noted that since launching in 2010, the Commons has rented space to Tea Partiers, anti-union corporations and elected officials who supported wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While “progressive organizations dominate the calendar,” Ennen wrote, “the Commons is available for rental by other groups.”
The event in question is a talk by Christopher Bollyn, who the Anti-Defamation League has identified as prominent voice in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. The writer Daniel Sieradski, founder of the Jewish website Jewschool.com, flagged the event to the ADL, wrote about it, and also has been organizing other groups to condemn the talk.
TFW you find a great new cafe… and then realize it’s a den of antisemitic conspiracy nuts pic.twitter.com/btD0lPnOFS— Noah Shachtman (@NoahShachtman) September 3, 2016
Bollyn, an American author, is billed to speak Wednesday at Brooklyn Commons and deliver a talk about “9-11 and Our Political Crisis.”
“The ‘false flag’ terrorism of 9–11 is a monstrous Jewish-Zionist crime of our time,” Bollyn wrote in one of his major books. “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.”
A group of nine organizations affiliated with the venue, including the leftist magazine Jacobin, wrote that “such politics should have no place in leftist spaces.”
Democratic New York council member Brad Lander called Bollyn an “anti-semitic conspiracy nut” on Twitter, and said it was “highly distressing” to see Brooklyn Commons hosting the event.
“We call on Brooklyn Commons to cancel the scheduled event immediately,” Jews for Racial and Economic Justice wrote in a statement, “and to issue a full and complete apology to its community.”
Jewish Voice for Peace’s New York City chapter said members were “concerned and disappointed.”
“As a progressive community space, the Brooklyn Commons should not provide a platform for anti-Semitism,” the group wrote in statement.
Bollyn was among the first people to promote anti-Semitic conspiracy theories linking the 2001 terrorist attacks with Jews and Israel in the months after the 9-11, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which has been following the spread of such anti-Semitic tropes for years.
In the last fifteen years, the theories — though regularly challenged and debunked — have spread. An entire industry has emerged, with authors, speakers and mini-celebrities, including Bollyn.
And with the emergence of the so-called “alternative right,” a movement associated with white nationalists and the support of Donald J. Trump, virulent online anti-Semitism has come to the fore — and previously fringe conspiracy theories have a mainstream platform.
“In recent years the theories have become more and more entrenched,” said Marilyn Mayo, who has researched 9-11 conspiracy tropes for the ADL. With the fifteenth anniversary of the attacks this week, Mayo said, “people on the alt-right will talk about it.”
Sam Kestenbaum is a contributing editor and former staff writer for the Forward. Before this, he worked for The New York Times and newsrooms in Sana, Ramallah and Beijing. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum and on Instagram at @skestenbaum.