The Walker Art Center is Platforming Antisemitism

[ cw: antisemitism, Nazism, gaslighting, harassment ]

On 21 December 2018, the Walker Art Center published a dogwhistle antisemitic attack on me written by University of California professor Benjamin H. Bratton, under the guise of what they have since attempted to excuse as “satire” and “critique”.

I asked the Walker to address this matter on 27 December, and outlined the antisemitic nature of Bratton’s text in a note published on Twitter that same day. In their formal institutional response of 18 January, the Walker has—in a move as patently absurd as it is disturbing—stated that they “find no evidence” to support the assertion that Bratton’s text is antisemitic, or that it is part of the wider antisemitic harassment campaign that Bratton is catalysing. The Walker has refused to take any action to remove this antisemitic text from their site, or to attempt to make amends for the obvious harm it inflicts. As such, the Walker is demonstrating their participation in the systemic white supremacy of arts institutions.

It is sad that it is necessary to spell out yet again the antisemitism at play here, but here it is, laid out in no uncertain terms:

  • Bratton’s words deny neo-Nazi hate crimes committed by those who literally want me dead.

Using a thinly disguised pseudonym, Bratton insinuates that an antisemitic hate crime inflicted on me and my colleagues was a false flag attack “arranged” by my gallery “to generate secondary publicity.” There is a long and unpleasant history of antisemitic hate crimes being declared false flag operations by those wishing to discredit the very notion that antisemitism exists.

The incident to which he so transparently refers was the much-publicised theft of my artwork in Tennessee by members of the violent neo-Nazi group, the Traditionalist Worker Party. This assault also saw the private residence of Rachel Bewley and her family, who were hosting the work, set on fire in an act of arson that, but for their heightened vigilance, could have easily resulted in multiple deaths.

The people who committed these crimes are not just antisemites, they literally call themselves National Socialists, aka Nazis. They do not merely hate Jews, they want us dead. Their leader, Matthew Heimbach, states that “Exterminationism toward the Jews is the only way to do it, ’cause they will plant a seed anywhere, like in Antarctica if they have to. If we don’t get them all they will come back. Like they have to fucking go, every God damn one of them.”

John Carollo (front, centre), Joseph Hutchins (right, baseball cap), and Matthew Heimbach (far right) of the Traditionalist Worker Party march at a speech by Richard Spencer at Michigan State University, moments before violent clashes with protestors, 5 March 2018 (REUTERS/Stephanie Keith)
John Carollo in front of the stolen HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US artwork during a celebration of Adolf Hitler's birthday in his home outside Atkins, Arkansas, 20 April 2019 (REUTERS/Jim Urquhart)
  • Bratton deems Mark Brooker’s my practice to be engaging in “MFA psychosis plus Targeted Individual Syndrome”, in what is a clear instance of gaslighting.

I have, over the past 2 years (as the museums and institutions that have hosted my work will attest), been subjected to extensive and unimaginable antisemitic targeting, including a murder plot by armed neo-Nazis that was mercifully foiled by security services whilst I was working at a museum in Europe. This involved my having to be evacuated in the middle of the night due to an imminent threat to my life. At the same time, police forces across five countries have been dealing with antisemitic threats and attacks against me and my property. To pathologise and mock all this as “psychosis” and “Targeted Individual Syndrome” is a cowardly act of gaslighting. It is antisemitism in action.

  • Bratton derides my withdrawal from the Cyprus Triennial Athens Biennale as an “open-ended protest”, whereas I was in fact unequivocally forced to withdraw from the Biennale due to antisemitic abuse. This involved an extensive and well-documented harassment campaign against me being engaged in by alt-right adjacent artists appearing in the Biennale. Over the course of the wider campaign, I received death threats, swastikas, and violent antisemitic images depicting me. The Biennale’s organisers then abhorrently proclaimed me “the epitome of online hate speech” for taking a stand against this antisemitic abuse.

Bratton has tacitly endorsed this harassment campaign by ‘liking’ the posts of a number of those perpetrating the abuse, including a tweet describing me as a “terrorist” made by a far-right account that has been targeting me, my family and friends for several months. Again, for those such as the Walker Art Center who may still not get this, endorsing calling a Jewish victim of antisemitic abuse a “terrorist” for speaking out about their harassment is itself clearly and indefensibly antisemitic.

One of those leading the harassment campaign, whom Bratton has been openly in contact with, also thanked Bratton via Instagram for his Walker attack on me, posting an image of the offending text the day after it was published with the words “TY Benji”.

  • In a precursor to the Walker text’s gaslighting, Bratton took to Twitter the month before its publication to deride my stand against antisemitic harassment as a “pathetic publicity stunt”. Again, gaslighting a victim of extreme antisemitic abuse by neo-Nazis and the alt-right in this way is itself patently antisemitic.

The Walker has given its platform to a piece that derides a racially-motivated hate crime, that insinuates that it never happened, and that mocks the victims. This is unacceptable. One can tag this rhetoric as satire or parafiction, but its meaning is clear; the author paints our experiences of harassment and abuse as false. Bratton’s text is engaging in caricature, and a particularly sadistic one at that, which draws on racial tropes of Jewish avarice and deceit. The Walker’s attempt to excuse the transparent antisemitism of the piece as satire or critique is thus nonsensical. Antisemitic satire is still antisemitism. Racist critique is racism in action.

The Walker Art Center must ask themselves how this has been allowed to occur, recognise their own complicity in the whiteness of institutions, and make lasting and committed structural changes to ensure that this does not happen again.


Top image: John Carollo and members of the neo-Nazi ShieldWall Network burn a swastika and cross outside Atkins, Arkansas, 9 March 2019 (REUTERS/Jim Urquhart)