Content warning: homophobia, threats of violence and death
While the rest of us were mourning the loss of life resulting from the tragic Ghost Ship Fire that killed 36 people earlier this month during a concert in a warehouse in Oakland, California, there were some people in the internet’s fetid back alley—also known as 4Chan—who were celebrating. Even more horrifying, some commenters went so far as to advocate using the fire as a pretense to “infiltrate” and shut down as many independent art spaces as possible.
REPORT ALL “ARTSPACES” AND ILLEGAL VENUES TO CRUSH THE RADICAL LEFT.
The Ghost Ship fire is proving to be a much bigger even than a simple fire. It’s being used as the justification for police and fire departments to shut down many similar spaces and venues across the country.
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]
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!
Ghost Ship, like many of its fellow collective live/work spaces, was a warehouse without the proper permits for use as a residence or a concert venue—yet it was home to more than 20 artists and hosting up to 100 people attending a party when the blaze broke out on December 2. The exact cause of the fire is still being determined, but the building’s faulty electrical wiring and failure to meet safety codes likely played roles.
An aging and cluttered warehouse to some, Ghost Ship was much more than that to its residents and the broader community of artists and musicians who gravitated to it. Underground DIY spaces like Ghost Ship have been central to several subcultures and artist communities for decades. In equal measure homes, studios, and concert venues, they’re anti-authoritarian dwellings where people come together in the name of free expression, collective living, and the pursuit of art.
These artistic communities are noted for their radical acceptance and ability to provide a safe space for populations living on the fringes of society; gay, trans, polyamorous, people of color—all are welcome. It’s no wonder, then, that bigoted, homophobic, transphobic Trump-supporting internet trolls would want to shut these spaces down, especially now that they’ve been emboldened by Trump’s victory. The administration they’ve heralded openly threatens the freedom of the press and discriminates against society’s most marginalized—from the LGBTQ community and people of color, to low-income workers, free thinkers, and artists of all stripes.
Which is why protecting these spaces and the safety of their inhabitants is more important than ever—and what makes the recent spate of 4Chan threats even more chilling.
There are dozens (if not hundreds) of disturbing comments on the thread, egging on this idea of infiltration—“Any actual DIYf*gs reading this post, be scared because it’s happening,” one reads—and even reveling in the thought of more fires.
“They always complain that they should be able to live in vacant houses, well how about vacant tinder boxes? Preferably ones with original wiring like this one,” one commenter wrote.
“We don’t need to shut down these spaces, we need to encourage them, and then burn more down. The thought of these f*ggots trapped and burning alive puts a smile on my face,” added another.
One commenter claims to have once been part of the DIY scene, and lists the names and addresses of three DIY spaces in New York City.
A loss always makes you appreciate what’s gone in a way that you might not have before, and this loss was no different; it showed us how much we value the freedom to gather on our own terms to live and create and party together, outside of the cookie-cutter mainstream. It showed us how much art and outsiders need ways around the rising rents of gentrification. Rents in Oakland, for example, rose 68% between 2007 and 2015, with a median one-bedroom apartment now going for $2,200 a month. And it showed us the risks that many expose themselves to in order to achieve that freedom (like living, working, and partying in buildings that are far from up-to-code).
It also showed us that we won’t be scared away, but will only fight for these spaces with more conviction than ever.
But it’s important to temper that renewed commitment with caution, as bringing these spaces into the forefront of public conversation has shone a bright light on safety concerns, and transgressions real and perceived—like drug use and operating without permits—that authorities have long ignored but now feel pressure to respond to. And it’s gotten the attention of dangerous 4Chan mobs seeking to manipulate this anxious climate in order to see people who live differently than they do burn to death, trolls who think of collaborative, inspiring art spaces at “hotbeds” and “hives” that need to be “crushed.”
Several art spaces have been investigated and shut down since the fire, including Rhinoceropolis in Denver, The Bell Foundry in Baltimore, Werk in Los Angeles, and multiple locations in Nashville. It’s unclear whether these crackdowns were the result of the malicious reporting discussed above, or if officials are just on edge and getting pressure from the public and their superiors since the fire to investigate more spaces. Either way, it’s important for anyone involved in art spaces across the country to be aware that there are people—both would-be infiltrators and anxious cops and fire marshals—who are on the lookout for any excuse to shut these spaces down. We need to be extra vigilant, keep our heads down, and be more scrupulous than usual about safety, noise violations, and things as small and usually insignificant as walking outside with an open beer.
But while it’s crucial to remember that this threat is out there, the real challenge will be to remain aware of these harm-seeking 4Chan trolls without letting that awareness bubble over into paranoia and exclusion. These spaces serve as a refuge for people who don’t feel like they belong anywhere else; their most beautiful quality is their open-armed, no-questions-asked welcome, their willingness to create family out of a bunch of strangers. If we become too fearful of malicious infiltration, we risk shutting out newcomers who genuinely want and need the openness of these spaces—especially with the imminent attacks against the marginalized that Trump has promised.
If this happens, these trolls will have won a more devastating victory than if they succeeded in shutting down the spaces themselves. Physical locations can be replaced, but the mentality of creating a space where misfits belong and feel valued cannot.
While people out there try to burn down everything we’ve built, literally and figuratively, we have to hold our ground and create; create art, create connection, create progress.