First, they came for the punks… (boldface mine):
In the wake of the Ghost Ship fire, some individuals banded together to save warehouses and artists’ spaces by fixing them; another group’s end goal was to shutter spaces in an effort to “crush the radical left.”
The group has called itself Right Wing Safety Squad but colloquially calls itself the SS, and claims to have contributed to shutting down 16 artists’ live-work spaces across the country. They claim responsibility for the crackdown on Burnt Ramen and Bridge Art Space in Richmond as well as Qilombo and Peralta Studios in Oakland, although they also admit they have no proof of their participation.
The call to action began Dec. 7 on 4chan, an anonymous online message board that birthed both the hacktivist group Anonymous as well as the practice of “Rickrolling,” an internet prank that sends people to a video by Rick Astley. The anonymous poster claimed that all “artspaces and illegal venues” were “hotbeds of liberal radicalism and degeneracy,” and requested others to report any code violations in an effort to “Make America Safe Again.”
Long forum discussions are accompanied by photos from inside DIY warehouse spaces and music venues, where amateur code inspectors point to what they say is evidence of hazards.
References to President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign slogan shared space with photos of Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character the Anti-Defamation League said has been increasingly co-opted by white supremacists, and Nazi imagery and references.
The group’s nickname, the SS, uses the same double lightning bolt runes that the Nazi paramilitary organization used. Even the name, Safety Squad, elicits comparisons to the Nazi’s Schutzstaffel, which translates to “protection squadron.”
But they’re not racists!
The Washington area has a long and mostly proud tradition of houses that lend themselves as venues for up-and-coming bands. But in the last few days, some residents of those houses have become guarded after discovering their homes’ names and addresses targeted in online message boards populated by members of the white nationalist movement known as the “alt-right.”
Sites like 4chan and Reddit, along with even more unfiltered corners of the internet, have seen the emergence of threads in which users encourage each other to post addresses of houses that host concerts and other arts programming around the country, and to call local authorities to report safety and building-code violations in hopes of getting the venues shut down. The threads appear to be nominally inspired by a December 2 fire at an Oakland, California, warehouse that killed 36 musicians and concertgoers, but the message-board users also make no attempt to hide their political motivation.
“These places are open hotbeds of liberal radicalism and degeneracy and now YOU can stop them by reporting all such places you may be or may become aware of to the authorities, specifically the local fire marshel [sic],” reads the original post on a 4chan thread that has since been archived. “Watch them and follow them to their hives. Infiltrate social circles, go to parties/events, record evidence, and report it. We’ve got them on the run but now we must crush their nests before they can regroup! MAGA my brothers and happy hunting!”
…And there’s a clear path from the virulent, anti-minority rhetoric the alt-right promoted during the election to this campaign against DIY spaces. The venues are described as “flophouses,” with their residents denounced as “squatters,” “degenerates,” and a variety of racial and sexual slurs. The users promoting the threads also refer to themselves as “Right Wing Safety Squads.” The “Pepe the Frog” cartoon character that had already been appropriated by racist internet users makes frequent appearances too—an image posted in Reddit’s alt-right section features the frog wearing a firefighter’s helmet stamped with the “SS” logo used by the Nazi regime’s paramilitary wing, in front of what appears to be a flag-waving punk fan locked inside a concentration-camp shower.
Although 4chan’s original thread has since been closed down, it has already sparked a wave of harassment against DIY venues around the country. An underground comedy club in New York was shut down last week after a surprise inspection that the owner believes to be a tip to building authorities from a far-right comedian, the Verge reported. Some message-board users also claim credit for several DIY venues in Nashville, Tennessee, being shut down after authorities there received an anonymous email tip about the houses.
And it’s having a bad effect on the scene:
But Comet, for all the undeserved attention it’s received, is an established business that sells tickets to its shows and has legal options to push back against its antagonists. House-show venues are not, as a rule, commercial enterprises (Rhizome is a legal nonprofit). People go to hear new bands, bring their own beer, and hopefully throw a few bucks in the jar to help the performers cover their gas money.
What might change very soon, though, is that these underground venues will go back to announcing their shows more through word-of-mouth than the internet. Already, the DIY-house resident Washingtonian spoke with says he’s seeing far fewer Facebook notices for house shows list the actual addresses on the page, and some houses are considering getting off social media entirely.
This is not normal. This is how it starts. They always start with very small, marginal groups–who might be viewed as weird by some. If they get away with it, then they expand their efforts to increasingly larger spheres.
We need to figure out not just how to defend against this, but to hit these bastards where it hurts. Take the fight to them.