I almost made it through 2018 without having to plead with the president of my alma mater for the lives of the Jewish community, but the University of Montana never disappoints.
On Friday, the International Conference on Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology announced fascist ghoul and former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon would be the keynote speaker at this year’s conference, ACE 2018, hosted by the University of Montana starting on the last night of Hanukkah.
You might not have heard about this yet because the following day a reported fascist Nazi massacred 11 elderly Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue, an event that has raised violent white nationalism once again to the top of the nation’s mind.
I and the rest of Missoula’s Jewish community were already reeling from that attack as the news that one of the men most responsible for spreading the ideology that inspired it will be speaking at UM. Montana’s Jews have dealt with the occasional plastering of our communities with white nationalist propaganda (including UM’s Helena College recently), or death threat campaigns for taking action against white supremacists like Richard Spencer, but what UM’s administration did next was hit us while we were down.
University officials denied they had anything to do with hosting Bannon, with UM President Seth Bodnar’s director of communications, Paula Short, saying Saturday that “ACE 2018 is not a University of Montana-sponsored event, but the group is using venues on campus,” according to KPAX.
Monday afternoon, Bodnar sent out an email about the Pittsburgh massacre, saying it occurred near where he grew up and that affected students should seek counseling.
“Acts such as these contradict the human values that we hold dear at the University of Montana, and we hold strong in our stance against the hate that motivated this tragic event,” Bodnar said. “This tragedy reminds us that we must continually affirm our shared commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
Bodnar’s email failed to mention that Bannon is slated to speak at UM on Hanukkah. I’d say that contradicts “the human values that we hold dear at the University of Montana.” His omission certainly isn’t a “strong stance against the hate that motivated this tragic event,” and I think the best way to “continually affirm our shared commitment to diversity and inclusion” would be to make not let America’s biggest fascist speak on campus instead of sending emails.
If there was any hope that his administration was going to avoid the public relations disasters of his predecessors, it’s gone now. The blood on the walls of the Tree of Life synagogue wasn’t even dry yet and instead announcing there will be no conference if he speaks, UM’s administration said that technically it’s not their problem. That’s cowardice of the highest caliber.
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To be clear, the University of Montana is responsible for Bannon speaking at ACE 2018. Bannon will stand on a university stage under university lights and a university sound system will amplify his fascist rhetoric, all of which is paid for by tuition and tax dollars. The craft services table he’ll gorge himself on will likely be provided by UM Dining, the crowd will sit in chairs set up by university employees, and the UM Police Department will no doubt be on hand to stop anyone from disrupting the event. This event simply could not happen without the approval and actions of University of Montana employees, who can stop it any time they want.
In terms of the value of Bannon speaking in Missoula, it’s not like fascists ever have any new ideas. We heard everything they had to say last century and executed many of them for crimes against humanity. Over 1,500 Montanans were killed fighting fascism in World War II. This isn’t a conversation we need to have again.
According to conference organizers, Bannon’s keynote address will be “about how economic nationalism will help minorities (blacks, hispanics, etc.) to obtain more high tech jobs such as in computer entertainment industry," which is an interesting way to describe the use of Jewish slave labor in German industries producing V2 rockets.
It bears mentioning that Bannon does not know anything about technology and isn’t qualified to give a keynote at ACE, which sounds like an awesome conference besides this whole fascist thing.
The other keynote speaker scheduled to present alongside Bannon has already pulled out of the conference due Bannon’s fascism. There are plenty of controversial but qualified speakers Bodnar could offer up to ACE other than Bannon, like Alexandra Elbakyan, Yasha Levine, Quinn Norton, Evgeny Morozov or Porpentine. Among that list are Jews, immigrants, trans women, communists and feminists, so not the type of people Bannon respects or are represented much at tech conferences.
That’s what critics don’t understand about the supposed “free speech crisis” on university campuses: typically these protesters are potential murder victims protesting administrators inviting their potential murderers to campus. Most of Bodnar’s administration isn’t made up of the type of people Bannon and his acolytes would put up against the wall, which is why they simply cannot comprehend what a dangerous idea it is to let Bannon speak here.
If you thought there were some bad apples among the crowds at Missoula’s Trump rally last week, just wait until you see what crawls out from under a rock for Bannon. There’s a strong possibility for violence here, which other university administrators have used as an explanation for why they’ve canceled similar events or replaced speakers.
Bodnar would be smart to do the same, otherwise the blood is on his hands.