News & Politics

‘Alt-Right’ Trolls Are Targeting DC’s DIY Music Houses

Residents of the District's underground venues are on guard after being identified on extremist message boards.

Photograph via iStock.

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the authorities, specifically the local fire marshel [sic],” reads the original post on a 4chan thread that has since been archived.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!”

“MAGA,” of course, is a reference to the campaign slogan of President-elect Donald Trump, who is overwhelmingly supported by the alt-right movement. 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.

No DC house venues have been shut down, but their inclusion on lists of “places to research” is alarming members of the local punk scene.

“Our house and specific address was posted,” says a resident of one of the houses mentioned.

The resident declined to give his name out of concern for his personal safety after discovering his home on the list. “I knew about the threads because I knew they were trying to shut down houses around the country,” he says. “Then I heard we were mentioned.”

The resident says the DC fire marshal received calls about his house ahead of a holiday party planned for this past weekend. He adds that DC Fire and EMS Department officials told him and his housemates that these complaints were “ridiculous,” and the party went on as planned. “Nobody showed up,” the resident says.

There has been other unnerving activity. A thread on—a 4chan-like board that has not shut down any of the “Safety Squad” chatter—was updated over the weekend to include a photo of Rhizome, one of the other DC houses targeted, along with the message “Rhizome is clear. They look pretty safe. Does anyone see any fire code violations I’m missing?”

To the resident of the other DIY house, the visual stalking of Rhizome is especially upsetting after the December 4 shooting at Comet Ping Pong, the upper Northwest DC pizza restaurant that has been the subject of a completely unfounded conspiracy theory claiming it is part of a child-trafficking network. According to court documents, Edgar Maddison Welch, the 28-year-old North Carolina man charged with the shooting, told authorities that he went to the restaurant to “self-investigate,” the conspiracy theory, which is known as “Pizzagate” to the alt-right internet users who have promoted it.

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.

Maybe it’s good if we get off Facebook,” the resident says. “Makes us feel more solidarity with each other. Things have to go back to being more underground again.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.