The California Deathfest (run by the people behind the Maryland Deathfest) recently dropped the band Disma from the upcoming edition of the festival, apparently due to allegations of Nazism regarding one of the members of the band. As the story goes, Craig Pillard, the singer of Disma, had (or has) some sort of Neo-Nazi allegiances, and with which the festival doesn’t want to have anything to do. Most of the accusations centre around Pillard‘s participation in the band Sturmführer.
In response to the accusations, Pillard and Disma separatedly argued that Sturmführer had simply been a shock project. As Pillard stated on his Facebook back in February:
On their Facebook page (which, as of this writing, cannot be accessed from outside the US), Disma stated
We’ll get to this Angela Dancev character, one of the instigators of Disma‘s removal, soon enough. For now, let’s just agree on one thing: To call Sturmführer a “shock project” is a pretty bad cop-out. After all, Pillard himself gave interviews where he spoke of his support for Nazism saying (about World War II) that:
I think Germany was defending itself from the plague of world usury/Jewry and was unfortunately beaten with the help of world Jewry, between Amerika, CCCP and Britain “OUR” kind was seduced into believing Hitler was a mad man. The sad thing is that most of “US” didn’t even realize that “WE” were fighting “OUR” own people!!!!
He then goes on to demonstrate his knowledge of both history and English grammar, as well as his never-ending love for exclamation points (every single answer gets at least one), by saying that he would have loved to meet Adolf Hitler since
He could of had the world!!!
Oh yes Craig, he could of, indeed.
Now, the issue here is not that Pillard seems to have had a Neo-Nazi past (he most certainly did), but rather if this bears any relevance on whether Disma, a band completely disconnected from Sturmführer, should be allowed to perform. Does the fact that Pillard has a political opinion that we might find repellent mean that everything he does should be judged based on that fact alone? After all, Pillard is an American citizen and, whether we like it or not, being a Nazi is not against the law in the United States. Also, and most importantly, nobody is making the case that Disma are a Neo-Nazi band or that they are advocating any kind of racist ideology; the criticism seems to come exclusively from the thoughts that, separate from his role in Disma, Pillard may or may not have had, as well as for his failure to express the self-flagellating act of contrition that some people seem to believe should have been part of his supposed change of opinion.
As one of the self-described “organizers” behind Disma‘s removal from the California Deathfest, Angela Dancev, an English graduate from UC Berkley with (self-professed) ties to the American far left (seen here burning an American flag because, no, fuck you dad!), Pillard‘s failure to “repudiate” his past appropriately made him inadmissible to perform. After making a completely unexplainable connection between Disma and the Baltimore and Ferguson riots because, you know, why the fuck not, she added:
[Y]ou best think twice before coming here and championing any kind oppression.
Now, as scared as I am of Marxist English graduates with a Facebook account, I have to say that I don’t think her reasoning is very solid.
There is no evidence that Disma have advocated any racist or “oppressive” ideology, nor that they are in any way connected with any acts of violence. There are absolutely no links between the band and any specific acts of aggression let alone the Ferguson and Baltimore riots (even if Dancev does seem to like some of the violence that occurred in those riots), but pestering an organization enough, particularly if you throw some Swastikas in the mix, is sure to create the opposite impression.
I am not here to defend Disma. To be honest, I didn’t even know about the existence of the band prior to this weekend, nor do I care about the political ideas that any of the member may or may not have in the privacy of their lives. I’m also not here, as some basement-dwelling assholes “Internet First Amendment Scholars” have done, to call this “censorship”. The festival has the right to decide what acts it wants in its line-up and so it is, at least in principle, within its right to drop Disma (without prejudice to any contractual obligations that they might have breached). What concerns me, actually, is the precedent that is set by this decision.
By bowing down to the pressure put forward by people like Dancev, who have given themselves the right to decide who is or is not an “oppressor,” the festival is falling prey to moral panics. Let’s not fool ourselves; Dancev, and her group BAMN (“By Any Means Necessary”) belong to a school of civil discourse in which dissent is equated to oppression, and where merely listening to someone else say something they disagree with is hurtful. They are known to disrupt talks by people they disagree with, and to simply shout down the opposition. They are, in other words, excellent at demonstrating the risks of totalitarian ideologies in which a select few give themselves the final authority to decide who has the right to speak.
Perhaps more importantly, what scares me about this decision is that people like Dancev, BAMN, and the organizers of Maryland Deathfest are creating what is, literally, a thought policy for the arts. They don’t only care if a specific act is offensive or inflammatory, as they will also make sure that the thoughts of the people behind those acts fall within what they consider acceptable, even if they have no relation with the art they present. This is similar to what happened when Ebay decided to remove all of Burzum’s material from its site, even if the material itself was not ideologically charged. It sets a dangerous precedent when it comes to thought policing as a manifestation of the same free market that Dancev hates so much, but that she is willing to embrace when it suits her political agenda. I wonder if she’ll also go out of her way to posthumously remove Pablo Neruda‘s Nobel Prize for Literature, since he was a known admirer and defender of Stalin, or if she will also oppose Rage Against the Machine for their support of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Of course, something tell me she’ll give them a pass though.
Cancelling Disma‘s appearance because of what one of its members may or may not have thought years ago was, definitely, the wrong decision. We don’t need to agree with what an idiot thinks to understand that the idiot in question has the right to think it, and that his right to have those thoughts also include his ability to pursue other endeavours without being punished for, simply, thinking differently.