Drew. (Photo: Mary Reinholz)

Bluestockings bookstore quickly filled to capacity last night for Mark Bray, a former Occupy Wall Street organizer turned Dartmouth history lecturer who is making waves with the publication of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.

Soon after its release last month, the president of Dartmouth rebuked him in a strongly worded statement after Bray, appearing on “Meet the Press,” expressed support for the sometimes violent tactics of Antifa, that mysterious network of masked anarchists, socialists, communists and varied others who have clashed with white supremacists and neo-Nazis, tragically in Charlottesville.

About 100 of Dartmouth’s faculty then attacked the president for criticizing their 34-year-old colleague and demanded a retraction. If the once obscure academic was feeling the heat, Bray didn’t show it as he amiably addressed a friendly crowd at Bluestockings, first reading an excerpt from his book. It traces the rise of mostly leftwing groups or cells that have long battled fascism, abroad and in the U.S., some well before the rise of Hitler and Mussolini.

Mark Bray (Photo: Mary Reinholz)

During a question and answer period, Bray made it plain that he has no problem with militants on the far left defending themselves with weapons against activists on the far right. “I’m not trying to tell people in politics what to do,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s ludicrous that if white supremacists will be carrying guns then anti-fascists might carry guns too. I’ll leave it at that.”

Bray also quoted Cornell West, one of the counterprotestors at Charlottesville, saying that Antifa “saved his life” from mob of alt-right protestors attending the rally.

B+B asked Bray to respond to the notion that Antifa is a criminal gang–one whose activities have reportedly been classified as “domestic terrorist violence” by the Department of Homeland Security.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” he replied. “Antifa isn’t one group. It’s many groups. In essence, it’s a social revolution against the far right that focuses on direct action. ‘Terrorist organization’ is not a useful term. It’s ridiculous and typical of how the government responds to radical politics.”

Bray couldn’t estimate how many members Antifa has in the U.S. “They don’t give out membership lists, so it’s impossible to say.”

Based on the dozens of anti-fascists Bray has interviewed, he believes most of them use violence as a last resort. “Most anti-fascists would rather do other kinds of work. They’d rather be organizing to save the environment or organizing to destroy capitalism. They might infiltrate a group online or talk to a venue owner and organize a boycott. That would be great.

“But when it comes to hundreds of neo-Nazis marching down the street, then you have to make some changes. Ultimately, it’s by any means necessary,” he said, quoting a much used phrase by the Black Panthers of yore. He added: “It’s often not necessary.”

So far as we could tell, there was one recognizable member of antifa who had come to hear Bray at Bluestockings. That would be a 21-year-old from Wisconsin who donned a face mask at one point in the discussion and later identified himself only as Drew. He said he turned to the movement after working first for Bernie Sanders and then Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Drew noted he was “shocked” when Clinton lost to Donald Trump. He then joined up with an unidentified group to protect “Somalians in the rural areas.” He also noted: “I identify as a feminist.”