Winston Marshall was, until last years, the banjo player for the band Mumford & Sons. Last March, he sent a message to journalist Andy Ngo, famous for his work exposing Antifa, a loosely organized group that purports to oppose fascism but, in reality, employs fascist tactics to oppose anyone who disagrees with them. They are opponents of free speech and freedom of assembly, at least for any one or any group that thinks differently than they do. Andy Ngo was reporting on a demonstration in which Antifa was employing their usual fascist tactics when he was attacked by Antifa activists, who beat him so badly he ended up in the hospital with brain trauma. Ngo wrote a book about his investigation of Antifa entitled, Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy. During the lockdown, Marshall read Ngo’s book and sent him a note: “Congratulations @MrAndyNgo. Finally had the time to read your important book. You’re a brave man.”
Marshall’s appreciation for Ngo’s investigative journalist didn’t sit well with those of the woke left, who immediately criticized him as a racist, fascist, right-wing extremist. In an essay written recounting the episode, Marshall wrote, “Posting about books had been a theme of my social-media throughout the pandemic. I believed this tweet to be as innocuous as the others. How wrong I turned out to be. Over the course of 24 hours it was trending with tens of thousands of angry retweets and comments. I failed to foresee that my commenting on a book critical of the Far-Left could be interpreted as approval of the equally abhorrent Far-Right.” Not only did these attacks target Marshall, but they went after his bandmates, too. Marshall wrote, “I’ve had plenty of abuse over the years. I’m a banjo player after all. But this was another level. And, owing to our association, my friends, my bandmates, were getting it too. It took me more than a moment to understand how distressing this was for them.”
Marshall, in an effort to spare his bandmates, apologized. Thinking about the whole episode over the following months, however, Marshall felt ill about his apology and the hit to his personal integrity it represented. He didn’t like the fact that he had caved to the woke mob. He didn’t like the notion that he couldn’t speak his mind without bringing down bricks on his bandmates. Again, Marshall wrote, “I have spent much time reflecting, reading and listening. The truth is that my commenting on a book that documents the extreme Far-Left and their activities is in no way an endorsement of the equally repugnant Far-Right. The truth is that reporting on extremism at the great risk of endangering oneself is unquestionably brave. I also feel that my previous apology in a small way participates in the lie that such extremism does not exist, or worse, is a force for good.”
So, he retracted his apology, doubled down on his appreciation of Ngo’s work, and quit the band. Explaining why he decided to quit the band, Marshall wrote, “For me to speak about what I’ve learnt to be such a controversial issue will inevitably bring my bandmates more trouble. My love, loyalty and accountability to them cannot permit that. I could remain and continue to self-censor but it will erode my sense of integrity. Gnaw my conscience. I’ve already felt that beginning. The only way forward for me is to leave the band. I hope in distancing myself from them I am able to speak my mind without them suffering the consequences.”
But, all of this happened a year ago. Why am I writing about it now? Because an article this month in the National Catholic Register reveals something that secular news outlets reporting on the story missed, or failed to mention. It seems that Winston Marshall’s decision to leave Mumford & Sons was made in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Marshall is Catholic, and in an interview with Bari Weiss, Marshall confided that his faith inspired him to reverse course. “My faith has played a big part in this period of my life,” Marshall told Weiss, “and actually the week before making the final decision, I was pretty much planted in my local Catholic church around the corner from the house. It’s a bloody big moment for me. That’s probably why after a while, the apology was bothering me like it did, particularly that I’d felt like I’d been participating in that lie that we already talked about. I couldn’t square those things in my conscience.”
Winston Marshall made what was certainly one of the hardest decisions of his life “planted” in his local church. Not a bad strategy for making hard decisions. Marshall paid a great price for his desire to be true to himself. In the end, it was worth it. “I feel like I got my soul back a little bit,” Marshall said in his interview with Weiss. “Sorry, not a little bit — completely.”
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.