Guest post by Mitchel Cohen
I was one of those targeted by Spencer Sunshine and the little group of thugs who tried to intimidate people so that they would not attend Chris Bollyns talk at the Brookyn Commons last autumn, 2016. I even interviewed Spencer and others during that episode in my capacity as a journalist for WBAI radio and as a longtime radical leftist and Green activist. I came away from that event critical of Bollyns presentation and at the same time disgusted with the politics and actions of Spencer Sunshine, whod tried (and failed) to shut it down.
The one thing Spencer Sunshine did succeed in accomplishing through his libelous campaigns is in promoting himself to the fore of his authoritarian circle. (I wouldnt be surprised if he turned out to be some sort of a cop.) But he utterly failed in his alliance with local real estate developers and Democratic Party officials (like NY City Council members Steve Levin and Brad Lander) in breaking The Commons and forcing it to be put up for sale, as the Left community, for the most part, rallied to save this crucial open-minded venue.
I consider myself an anarcho-communist who is also Jewish. In my view, protesters of Bollyn and other controversial speakers have the right to express their views and to air them at events -- and even to verbally challenge the speakers at those events. But they do not have the right to physically assault those who, utilizing their own freedom of speech, challenge them about what they are saying.
By the way, I didnt find Bollyns talk all that controversial. For the first 1/2 hour Bollyn presented a pretty standard (for those of us on the activist Left in New York) anti-imperialist analysis that included a very strong critique of Zionism (not Judaism). Where he went wrong -- and what I objected to -- was that contrary to the stipulations governing use of the space, Bollyns speech went unnecessarily on and on for hours; by doing so he undermined his own initially interesting critique and truncated actual discussion from taking place. He did so, it seemed, in fear of actually being publicly challenged on things hed written or said.
I was also subjected to a smear campaign by Sunshine and his associates, who said Id sexually assaulted one of their disruptors at another event at the Commons a few weeks later, and claimed they had video to prove it. Of course they have no such thing, because it never happened. In reality, four of Sunshines collaborators disrupted a discussion of the debate between Clinton and Trump -- a discussion led and attended primarily by young people of color. The main disruptor here was a white NYU Ph.D. student, who -- in the name of anti-racism -- acted like a racist thug and seized the microphone and prevented others from speaking. Of course I never grabbed his genitals as Sunshine et al. had charged (you could check the video for yourself).
So I have no choice but to question everything that Sunshine et. al. posit as fact. I see that the same sort of libelous attacks that he and his group had made about me are now being used as evidence against the others on Kevin Barretts panel, in their attempt to get their panels banned from the Left Forum.
I am appalled that, in the name of research, Sunshine et al. is compiling dossiers on left activists who claim, for example, that 9/11 was an inside job. Theres nothing like weaving for oneself that air of authority -- using innuendo and decontextualized comments, such as the obvious satire presented by Kevin Barrett -- which allows them with self-righteous impunity to smear activists, with the effect of shutting down legitimate discussion and debate.
As a longtime participant in the Left Forum and an occasional presenter there, I have only the highest regard for its organizers. Left institutions need to continue to provide venues that offer the widest latitude to leftist speakers on controversial topics even if -- and especially if -- currents in the Left have failed to do so in the past.
Brooklyn Greens / Green Party