NEW YORK – Christopher Bollyn has the smooth good looks and calm demeanor of a small-market news anchor. But what he claims — that American Zionists and Israelis were behind the terror attacks on September 11, 2001 — is leading to stormy reactions in Brooklyn and beyond.
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Bollyn’s 2012 self-published book about the “truth” of September 11, 2001 states, “the ‘false flag’ terrorism of 9/11 is a monstrous Jewish-Zionist crime of our time.” He has attended Holocaust denial conferences in the U.S. and Russia, according to the ADL, and appeared on David Duke’s radio show.
The fact that his first wife was Israeli, as Bollyn tells Haaretz, adds an ironic twist to Bollyn’s demonization of Jews.
In the back room of The Brooklyn Commons Wednesday night Bollyn, speaking to perhaps two dozen people, spent more than two hours carefully linking together pieces of a story which, he believes, illustrate a plot orchestrated by Israel and her supporters in order to bring to life a war on terror. Their ultimate goal? To “Balkanize” countries like Syria and Iraq “to reduce the Middle East to a patchwork of ethnic states which are weak and powerless,” he said in his talk. The end game, he said, is “the establishment of Jewish military and economic hegemony over the entirety of 'Eretz Yisrael.'”
“The Zionist war agenda waged by the U.S. was the primary reason for 9/11,” he said in the presentation, which was twice interrupted by protestors who came from outside, where about a dozen people stood holding placards and occasionally chanting. Eventually the police were called.
A.J. Woolf was one of the protestors. She is a member of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, which has held several events at the Brooklyn Commons. In tears, she said she felt personally hurt by owner Melissa Ennen, who she considered a friend of many years.
Bollyn “has explicit anti-Semitic comments on his website. To make a blanket statement that the Jews are pulling the strings is classic European anti-Semitism and it shakes me to the core,” Woolf told Haaretz. “When you see anti-Semitism in the left it’s really hard.”
Ennen, the longtime owner of the space in the heart of downtown Brooklyn’s cultural district, was involved in a 9/11 ‘truther’ conference several years ago, she confirmed to Haaretz. “As far as I’m concerned there should be some freedom of speech about 9/11,” Ennen told Haaretz. “I don’t know who was behind it. All I know is that I don’t believe the government version.”
“This isn’t about freedom of speech at all,” Woolf responded. “This is about hate speech.”
Bollyn has, since being arrested in Illinois in 2007 and found guilty of misdemeanor aggravated assault and resisting arrest — which he says was ordered by Homeland Security czar Michael Chertoff who is, of course, Jewish — lived in Sweden with his wife and their children, ages 18 and 21, he told Haaretz in an interview before the talk.
His first marriage was to an Israeli woman he met at Kibbutz Afikim in the late 1970s, when he volunteered there as the pool lifeguard after traveling to Israel to take a break from trekking in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria — places where it snows in winter — and the idea of picking oranges in Israel was appealing, he tells Haaretz.
In his presentation Wednesday night, Bollyn went through a lengthy slide show purporting to link together everyone from Menachem Begin, Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu to World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein, filmmaker Arnon Milchan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein (who presided over 9/11 lawsuits) and, like any good conspiracy theorist, the Rothschild banking family.
In one slide, for example, he superimposed an image of Shimon Peres over the outline of a black-hooded man wielding a Kalashnikov automatic rifle. “Frighten the West,” it says, purporting to quote from a 1955 book by then-PM Moshe Sharett (who despised Peres).
“We are kept in a constant state of fear to keep us supporting the war on terror,” said Bollyn.
It was in Israel that he first experienced racism, he told Haaretz. He was living with his then-wife in her grandmother’s apartment in Jerusalem when relatives called, questioning why she was living with a “sheigitz,” who was at the time her husband. They were a couple from the late 1970s until they divorced in 1985, two years after a city hall wedding in Puerto Rico, Bollyn said.
Bollyn, who speaks rudimentary Hebrew, told Haaretz, “The root word of sheigeitz is something so foul it cannot be touched. To call somebody who is not of your race or religion foul, this is racism.”
When he went to get his tourist visa extended in Tiberias “they automatically stamped my visa with a beit, while my Jewish friends got an A, an aleph,” he told Haaretz, which for him confirmed Jewish and Israeli racism. “Discriminating by race is anathema to me.”
While Bollyn has heretofore not been a major player in the alt right sphere, he pops up every year or two in the weeks leading up to 9/11. His supporters have been targeting left-wing venues in the apparent belief that this might be fertile ground for his views.
But every space booked by an intermediary canceled Bollyn’s use of the space as soon as their owners became aware of his beliefs. A Unitarian church in Hartford, CT., and bookstore-café in Washington, D.C., as well as a beer garden in Texas are among those which this week barred him from speaking.
A palm reader and psychic named Cat McGuire rented space at the West-Park Presbyterian Church for a Bollyn presentation this Friday night on the Upper West Side.
The small congregation, which hosts arts organizations and rents space to other groups about 100 times a year, didn’t think much of it until the pastor saw flyers promising Bollyn would speak about “the Zionist cabal” behind September 11th’s destruction.
On Tuesday the church canceled the rental contract. “The event was presented to us without full disclosure” when McGuire rented the space, Rev. Robert Brashear told Haaretz. “Reading the advertisement we concluded their activities are clearly anti-Semiticwe can’t let that go forward.”
McGuire did not respond to phone messages and emails from Haaretz.
But once informed the rental had been jettisoned McGuire emailed the church. “I do hope the church does not come down on the side of censorship. Charges of anti-Semitism and hate speech will most assuredly be hurled, but we went with Presbyterians because you support the BDS movement,” McGuire wrote. “As such, we felt surely you would recognize such bullying tactics for what they are: the silencing of free speech and right to assembly,” she wrote.
West-Park Church has taken no position on BDS, or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, said Brashear. Its denomination, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), voted in 2014 to divest from companies that benefit from the occupation, a move it confirmed in June with a vote expanding that position.
West-Park has a long history of progressive activism. It was the first mainline church in the country to grant LGBTQ people full rights and participation, in 1978, said Brashear, and regularly hosts Palestine solidarity events, most of which are screenings of films made by Israeli filmmakers.
The single venue to keep Bollyn’s talk on the calendar was The Brooklyn Commons, which houses several leftist organizations, including The Marxist Education Project and radio station WBAI. The tenant organizations issued a statement on Monday, saying, “We reject the anti-Semitic politics of Christopher Bollynsuch politics should have no place in leftist spaces.”
The political left has a problem with anti-Semitism in its midst, say some, and appears often unwilling to address it.
“Anti-Semitism is often the glue that holds unlikely political bedfellows together, and can create a bridge linking the far left and radical right,” said Spencer Sunshine, a researcher on extremist political movements and expert on left wing anti-Semitism, who was among the protestors Wednesday night.
Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, a left-wing political organizing group in New York, as well as the New York chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, a pro-BDS organization, separately urged The Brooklyn Commons to cancel Bollyn’s appearance.
The organization If Not Now, which held a training at The Brooklyn Commons just last week, urged Ennen to cancel Bollyn’s appearance.
“Bollyn is a virulent bigot and his opinions have no place in a venue that claims to serve the progressive communityCriticizing the policies of the Israeli government—or any government—is not anti-Semitism. Blaming a cabal of malicious Jews for orchestrating the tragic events of 9/11 is,” wrote If Not Now.
JFREJ staffers previously told Haaretz that the organization is planning to address anti-Semitism on the political left. This week, however, they declined repeated requests for more information.
“Bollyn is definitely looking for sympathy on the left, and it’s there. This has to be fought,” said Brooklynite Raul Rothblatt, a composer and musician who last week became aware of Bollyn’s planned Brooklyn Commons talk. “This is the responsibility of progressives, lefties, to stop it. If the left doesn’t root this out clearly and decisively, then the criticisms of the right that are soft on anti-Semitism will be true.”