It is a question of Commons’ decency.
Boerum Hill event space the Commons is hosting a talk by a 9-11 “truther” who believes the Sept. 11 attacks and War of Terror are a Jewish conspiracy, outraging patrons and neighbors who plan to picket the event and say they’ll never go back.
“The Commons has made itself a place where bigotry and demonizing historically oppressed groups … will be welcome,” said Spencer Sunshine, a local resident and activist who used to frequent the space and was thinking about renting it for his own event before the controversy, first reported by blog the Jew School. “I won’t be patronizing anymore and I don’t think anyone else should.”
Sunshine and others were aghast to learn Christopher Bollyn — a “raging anti-Semite,” according to famed civil rights organization the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the author of two books on 9–11 — is scheduled to speak on Wednesday about his belief that the attack was really the work of “the Israeli-Zionist and neo-conservative cabal that controls our government and the media” at the self-described “progressive” co-working space and cafe on Atlantic Avenue at Bond Street.
The leftist organizations that use the Commons as an office — including socialist magazine Jacobin, the Marxist Education Project, and anti-gentrification activist group Furee — published an open letter denouncing the talk, while others flooded its social media pages with complaints, including Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope), who tweeted that it was “highly distressing” to see the venue hosting an “anti-Semitic conspiracy nut”
The venue owner claims she wasn’t aware of Bollyn or his opinions when a third-party organizer approached her about a “cutting edge speaker” appearing for the 15th anniversary of 9-11. But now she does, she has no plans to cancel the event, as she doesn’t think that’s the best way to confront “racist thinking.”
“I never intended for the Commons to be a safe space at all times,” the Commons’ founder Melissa Ennen wrote in a statement on the venue’s website. “Nor was it 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.”
Sunshine said he is all for different ideas, but anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are going too far.
“I’m happy with that space representing a diversity of political views but ethnic bigotry and hatred is crossing the line,” he said.
Critics are planning to take their rage to the streets outside the Commons and protest before Bollyn’s talk, and one neighbor said he hopes they give him hell.
“I am alarmed that Mr. Bollyn’s outrageous, abhorrent, and libelous theories on 9–11 are being presented as somehow ‘progressive’ and I hope those in attendance challenge Mr. Bollyn forcefully,” said Councilman Steve Levin (D–Boerum Hill), whose district office is a block away.
Christopher Bollyn at the Commons, and protest against Christoper Bollyn at the Commons (388 Atlantic Ave. at Bond Street in Boerum Hill). Sept. 7 at 6 pm.