THE TRUE STORY OF LD50
At 1pm on February 11 2017, Sophie Jung, a Swiss artist based in London provoked a reply from Lucia Diego, one of the directors of the LD50 gallery in Hackney. Jung had asked Diego to clarify her politics in the wake of what Jung perceived as questionable political expression on her Facebook page in the wake of the New York MoMA’ decision to protest Trump’s travel ban.
Diego confirmed her agnosticism about Trump, and her disagreement with the MoMA’s action. Thirty-six minutes later, Jung publicly posted the private message on Facebook, where it initiated a spiral of escalating condemnations. It was revealed — as if it was a secret — that LD50 had hosted an exhibition about “Alt-Right” memes, and a conference on “Neo-Reaction” — two contemporary currents whose meaning is contested. The conference in fact took place over Skype, but this was never mentioned. I knew the names of some of the people commenting second-hand.
I’d started following LD50 about a month before on Twitter. Their website linked to Jung’s page, and I jumped into the thread. The thread was already strange. I commented that they were creating a witch hunt. (I later learned that many had coincidentally been recently reading Caliban and the Witch). I’d also been researching the Alt-Right, and I knew it was more complex than the discussion was allowing. I’d seen the YouTube videos from Middlebury College, and the University of Berkley, and a masked Antifa punching Richard Spencer in DC. I’d also seen Jacobin, a radical left-wing magazine, carrying advertising for an MFA program in CalArts in Aesthetics and Politics costing $50,000 a year, and a YouTube video of a man in Times Square declaring cryptically to a local TV news journalist that “Trump would complete German idealism.”
I became interested in LD50, because, after years of working in the art world, I’d noticed a pervasive deological hegemony, endorsed in contradiction with the way the art world operated. I wrote about the topic for Art Monthly. I thought it was encouraging that a gallery was engaging with ideas outside the normal frame of reference. They had to be confronted somewhere. Why not in a gallery? Nationalism is an international political reality, it mobilizes through the internet, it’s composed of different groups of people and it cannot be no platformed. Art should be a space for ideas and emoti0ns to attack each other. The question is about what art can do — and more generally, what thought is allowed to do, and people are allowed to do, or not do, and by whom.
A machinery of rumor was in motion. The story seeded an anonymous tumblr, writing in a tiny voice of feeling scared of fascistic currents present in, for instance, the philosophy publisher Urbanomic’s Robin Mackay, just back from his friend Mark Fisher’s funeral, and jumped to Mute, a former publication, under the headline “Is it Okay to Punch a Nazi (Art Gallery)?” LD50 was now a Nazi gallery.
The writer was O.D. Untermesh, likely Danny Hayward. His conclusion was based on Diego’s anti-MoMA comments, her social media profile, Google searches, a recent Atlantic Monthly article, and readings of the positions of the speakers designed to make them seem as sinister as possible.
The writing was incoherent, jargonistic. A cryptic line by one speaker, Brett Stevens, speaking hushedly of veils of secrecy (on his public blog), was transformed into charges of secret fascist organization. Stevens — who did write some twisted things about Breivik — was designated an Anders Breivik apologist. Peter Brimelow, a journalist who runs the anti-immigration website VDare, was called a White Supremacist (and VDare a “hate group”) according to the Southern Law Poverty Law Centre — the same organization which last September declared Pepe the Frog was a hate symbol. The only name I knew at this stage was the philosopher Nick Land, who was denounced as a fascist racist, and a kind of cover to the other, even more racist fascist speakers.
Untermesh/Hayward claimed the darkest possible interpretation of everything the gallery and all the speakers ever said, or shared or tweeted, that he could locate on Google. No reference was made to what Stevens, or Brimelow talked about at the conference itself, despite the fact that both those recordings are online — he hadn’t listened to them. He also didn’t discuss the exhibition, because he hadn’t seen it. I commented that Mute were acting like fascists themselves, and they replied with violent insults alleging I was channelling my racist class fears.
Stevens was also following the story and linked to Jung’s original Facebook thread from his blog; notably, given how all this started with the sharing of a private message publicly, this move was seen to confirm the gallery’s malevolence. They had ‘leaked’ it.
By now Stevens was mutating in the radical imagination from a nihilistic blogger into a far-right terror organizer, in effect, Breivik himself. The gallery was a Nazi cell that needed to be shutdown immediately. It was effective propaganda, and went viral, shared across Facebook, and the art world advertising platform e-flux. Two days later a new anon tumblr appeared — Shutdown LD50 — repeating the arguments as Hayworth/Seymour’s article, and adding a further twist — that the very lack of information that they had about the gallery indicated an intention to conceal.
Diego responded with a statement defending herself — this was flatly rejected, by people who had never visited the gallery, or seen the program, as “lies and evasions.” There could be no discussion and no debate. The gallery had to be shut down immediately.
A rally was organized for Saturday February 25. With SDLD50 now campaigning, the “Nazi gallery” story kept spreading, first to local Hackney papers, then the Guardian, who illustrated their article with a photo of former KKK-leader David Duke, who had nothing to do with the gallery, and misattributed a quote from Diego as Jung’s. The charges of the tumblr were repeated, and we now learned about their author — Andrew Osborne, 42, a member of Unite (his Twitter directs followers to vote Ian 4 Unite), a Fine Arts Technician at the Royal College of Art, and a PhD student in sociology at Goldsmith’s without a publication record.
SDLD50 was spreading fear. We were reminded that the gallery was not a gallery, but a secret fascist cell, organizing under the subterfuge of art — it was a public safety issue, Osborne told the New York Times, who reported it, despite the fact the dangerous program had already occurred, and nobody had noticed or felt threatened at the time.
I still was following the story on the LD50 Facebook page, mesmerized. Al-Jazeera picked-up the story and added an “Islamophobic” angle. Philip Glanville, the Labour Mayor of Hackney, made a comment in support of their campaign. By now I was also talking to Diego — I sympathized with her predicament. She was being scapegoated on unsupported slanderous allegations, and convicted with no trial — getting rocks through her window, and threats over the internet. I didn’t know what Diego’s intentions had been, but neither did anyone else. None of the campaigners had seen the exhibition, or listened to the talks, or researched the story for themselves; they’d just believed things they had read on Facebook and the internet.
Diego and I discussed advertising the protest as a performance — the kind of work I used to do with Public Movement. But the night before, she backed down on police advice. I was in Copenhagen for work one day earlier, and decided to attend alone, and make a counter-protest, in support of freedom to discuss ideas, and against intimidation. I made a sign saying “The Right to Openly Discuss Ideas Must be Defended” (the reverse side said “Stand-up to Violence and Intimidation”) and came in the morning and stood against the gallery wall. I’d only been there for a moment when a crowd started to form. Almost immediately, I was surrounded by a group of people screaming Nazi at me — “Nazi”, “white supremacist”, “fascist”, etc. I said I was Jewish, and also an anti-fascist, and I believed in discussion. The crowd jeered. It wasn’t unexpected. I stood my ground until a guy appeared — Garry McFarlane, a Black Lives Matter leader, and ripped it from my hands, symbolically. Led by him, the crowd pushed me away. “Don’t worry, I got the whole thing on video,” I heard a voice next to me say, and she disappeared. You can see her video here. Later, I noticed Andrew Osborne in a military jacket standing near the back.
At the demonstration journalists had asked me for my name, and I’d supplied it, on the basis that I wanted to stand-up for something, as an individual, in my own name. In retrospect, that wasn’t a smart move. When I logged back on the internet, I was an hero. There were dozens of hits on my Facebook pages, and Andrew Osborne was retweeting an Antifa account called FashXKilla threatening to punch me in the face. A former lover got in contact, nouvelle vague-like to tell me she was disappointed in me. “Why?” I asked. “If you like these things.” I stayed the night with a friend in Highbury, and returned to Berlin the next day.
I was supposed to be giving a talk at a bookshop later that week about Julius Evola as part of a project called the University of Muri — a fictional university originally initiated by Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem in 1917. So far we’d talked about Giordano Bruno, and A.E. Waite as part of a series of discussions on magic. My colleague Amir and I had read a New York Times article on Evola’s influence on the Alt-Right two weeks earlier, and we’d decided now would be a good time to discuss him. We put up an advert, and nobody said anything.
But it this, too, had to be shutdown. “This is not okay,” a Goldsmith’s graduate named Casper Jade Heinemann wrote on her page. The protagonists were people from Jung’s thread. They came as a group, some with usernames, to the event page, informing the owners of the bookshop that the man giving the talk, your correspondent, was a fascist sympathizer who had defended the Nazi gallery in London. A guy called Justin Katko wrote: “Fascists should have their tongues cut out before they are allowed to speak.” Andrew Osborne showed-up to write cryptically: “what a wasteman” “fash” “off your meds” and “?!?!?” Jacob Bard-Rosenberg said that I’d spent the days leading up to the demo “annoying the Antifa” by putting up posters which criticized them, and threatened that, if the event was not shut down, he’d write to publishers telling them not to stock books in the shop. Ed Luker, a PhD student studying Ezra Pound demanded we justify discussing Evola. A mysterious anon named “Gallimard Radiant” appeared, and threw charges back.
This went on for several days. At one point Antifa threatened to come to the bookshop with dogs. Nobody arguing — SDLD50 — had any knowledge about Evola beyond Wikipedia, but that wasn’t the point. The point was desire for control. Like with LD50, every argument and explanation just made them crazier. Buckling under pressure, Doron, the owner of the bookshop decided to cancel the event. I posted the text of talk I was going to give, previously delivered in a seminar at the University of Amsterdam two years before, and someone commented it was the “most fascist thing (she’d) ever read.” Finally, SDLD50/Antifa departed, deleting their most violent comments, and returning to their own pages, and a new person arrived, like in Kafka, to inquire: “How could you even think of hosting this kind of event in the first place?”
We were bewildered. Amir was on the verge of tears. The event page was like the ruins of a destroyed city. Elsewhere they were calling me a fascist, and a racist, mixing ideological and personal insults based on things they‘d invented or read somewhere. A writer named Megan Nolan wrote a hit piece for The Baffler, misrepresenting things I’d said, and my motive as greed for publicity. My only gesture had been to protest, in my own name, what they were doing with my sign.
I read some of their Twitter timelines. They were lonely and sad. I e-mailed the Baffler and requested a right to reply, they responded with a formal rejection. I remembered Mark Fisher again, and the last thing he’d written I’d read — about the Vampire Castle: a “grim and demoralizing impasse: where class has disappeared but moralism is everywhere, where solidarity is impossible but guilt and fear are omnipresent. Not because we are terrorized by the Right, but because we have allowed bourgeois modes of subjectivity to contaminate our movement.”
“They are united by hatred and fear, not solidarity — the fear they’ll be the next to be exposed,” Mark wrote. He’d been vilified for writing it, and chased from Twitter shortly afterwards. And now here it was again.
I’d somehow busted-up my knees in London, and by this point I could barely walk, but I still dragged myself to Mitte a few days later anyway to see a talk by a philosopher of science named Yuk Hui. By this point, the British art writer Hannah Black was also demanding that the Dana Schutz destroy her “black death spectacle” painting of Emmet Till at the Whitney Biennial in New York. In Berlin, I was hoping to meet Robin McKay, the publisher of the book, who I’d met ten years earlier at the Speculative Realism conference at Goldsmith’s.
Instead, I met Mohammed Salemy, one of two organizers (with Jason Adams) of the New Centre for Research and Practice, or NCRAP, where Land was conducting of series of internet seminars on Bitcoin. Yuk Hui referred to Land at one point in his talk — I asked him in the questions what he thought the campaign against him. A man in a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, literally — Salemy — jumped-up to declare that he had been the only person named as fascist in the original “I’m scared” tumblr page which had appeared the same time as the Mute article.
I tried talking to Salemy afterwards.
“But don’t you understand, if people are saying it’s fine to punch Nazis, and a Nazi is anyone they define as a Nazi, that means…”
“I’m from the Bronx, we punch Nazis in the Bronx,” he repeated, like a robot.
The story was still developing. Frieze, another ex-employer, ran a story centered on an artist named Keller. Scheduled to talk about meme magic at Goldsmith’s, he’d been targeted for liking posts on LD50’s Instagram by SDLD50 — in particular by the account Horrible Gif, and had his talk shutdown.
“In order to proceed with my lecture as planned,” Keller said, “supporters of Shut Down LD50 demanded me to:
‘- stop making *any* further online comment on LD50/protest/etc.
- stop liking or RTing LD50 feeds.’
A few days later I was informed by Suhail [Malik of Goldsmith’s] that he had spoken to the students, and those involved in the Shut Down LD50 campaign would agree to not heckle my talk provided I carry out the following:
(i) a clear renunciation from me of affiliation or allegiance with [LD50] and the views it is understood to espouse.
(ii) my direct endorsement of the campaign against the space
(iii) a counter-presentation to my talk from Shut Down LD50
Keller cancelled, and doxxed his tormentor Horrible Gif as Kyle Zeto, an artist at the RCA.
In frieze, former Goldsmith’s student Casper Jade Heinemann represented SDLD50’s position with a construction from bell hooks: the enemy was “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” She argued: “contemporary art is structurally dependent on right-wing sentiments inasmuch as such sentiments are intrinsic to current economic and social formations… I, and others in similar positions of relative privilege, have been complicit in a cultural discourse predicated on exclusion that implicitly or explicitly upholds white supremacy and misogyny, and which many of us continue to socially and economically benefit from.”
The reality is that international contemporary art promotes multicultural left-wing sentiments, for obvious reasons: it is a State-supported, global capitalist industry. Capitalism isn’t itself racist, sexist, or right-wing: it’s beyond ideology because it sells ideology, and the more manufactured it is, the more capitalist. Capital liquidates patriarchy because it it liquidates tradition and nature in insatiable hunger for profit — that is Marx’s argument. It’s anti-racist — it annihilates all human differences into quantitative units; on the same basis, if feminism lowers wages, and creates consumer markets, it’s pro-feminism.
With Keller cancelling his lecture. Zeto and SDLD50 occupied his slot, and organized what one attendee described as a recruitment rally, and another as an employment pitch. An art world curator at the Kunstwerke named Tirdad Zolghadr flew from Berlin to join them, on the basis of his participation in the anti-Israel BDS movement, and I wrote a story called Microstalin in which I fantasized that SDLD50 murdered him.
The official event page describes a trap set in four stages: “The far-right attacks inclusive and diverse societies in order to be challenged by those who defend such inclusivity; The FR then position themselves as advocates of free speech repressed by an orthodoxy of ‘political correctness’; the liberal commitment to free speech leads to them defending and legitimizing the FR as liberal victims; and the alliance of liberals and the FR then condemn as authoritarian those who seek to block the FR.”
The attack had come from SDLD50, who’d accused an individual on invented charges of promoting far-right ideology and hate speech, as defined by themselves, based on a private Facebook message too supportive of Trump for the radical London art scene to tolerate. They’d appointed themselves judge and jury, and refused to substantiate their arguments, instead responding with intimidation tactics and abuse.
SDLD50 positioned themselves as anti-fascist defenders of the tolerant society by demanding that a targeted individual be shut-down, and created a campaign of violence and harassment to achieve that aim. In the escalation, the nominal liberal commitment to anti-fascism led liberals to defend and legitimize their actions, and to condemn as idiots or fascist sympathizers anyone who attempted to block their advance. Those who questioned SDLD50’s political authority, or argument, were labeled apologists for ’fascism’ and themselves attacked and threatened.
The rally was officially programmed as part of the Goldsmith’s MFA course, to around a hundred people, and a registration was taken.
“(People) can’t tell the difference between irony and fascism”
“Boycott one thing boycott everything”
“What we don’t occupy, Israel will “ (Zolgahdr, representing BDS)
‘No debate..no discussion.. it’s a threat. Shut it down”
Andrew Osborne, Sophie Jung, and the jittery Antifa Danny Hayward, who refusing to give his name, appeared on stage on the panel with Zolgadhr and Malik of Goldsmith’s. Jung read an Adorno pdf and looked bored. Zolgadhr accepted there might be collateral damage, but believed this was a necessary price to pay. Responding to a request from an Antifa member in the audience, Andrew Osborne, McCarthy-like, said he possessed a list of artists who were associated with fascism, which he was slowly working through, and at the right moment would reveal, and again declared that “LD50 was not a gallery but a recruiting platform for the far-right.”
A few days later the campaign reported — they may be surprised — that they’d succeeded in their mission, and that LD50 had been shut-down. They’d also, for the moment, created a climate of intimidation in which nobody except for them, in London, or the internet, was permitted to discuss the subject. Across town, Natalie Lambert, an MA art student at Central St. Martin’s asked Diego if she could display an object from the LD50 exhibition — a crystal with no obvious ideological meaning showing Pepe being sacrificed by other Pepes — as part of her interim exhibition. It was forbidden: the crystal was deemed “too dangerous” for public viewing; there were concerns it would be destroyed by protestors, who might also target surrounding exhibits, and Lambert was asked if she had sought the ‘permission’ of her classmates to show the work. She requested a formal, written explanation and justification as to why the work could not be shown, but to date none has been provided.
Nick Land — the only figure connected with the gallery with links to art, and therefore the closest target, was next on Osborne’s list. As at Middlebury, where Murray was supposed to speak about class issues, anyone between the populist Right and college Left — anyone talking to both sides — was being violently rejected through a “kill the gray zone” strategy. Equally significantly, Land’s followers held desirable positions academically, e.g., teaching hours, which could potentially be seized.
With LD50 apparently dead, Land was re-indicted on charges of racism and fascism for his writings and tweeting. Publishing another blog, SDLD50 — Osborne, Zeto, Jung, Heinemann, Ed Luker, Uma Debray, Bard-Rosenberg, Ben Seymour, Megan Nolan, Linda Stupart, John Russell, and whoever else — demanded Salemy fire him from NCRAP. “We invite them to ditch their positive association with Land before their credibility is tested beyond repair.” Inconsistent from the outset, and now himself being harassed on Facebook, Salemy crumbled and obeyed. After consulting with e-flux associate Hito Steyerl, he denounced the man on whose work NCRAP had constructed their entire program.
Nick Land is a philosopher who helped create the CCRU, arguably the most original philosophical project in the UK in the last three decades. His students have included people from all over the world. In recent years, he’s argued that the world is organized by artificial capitalist intelligence, which will enslave, and destroy humanity in an unconditionally accelerating Darwinistic process, and he criticizes fascism as a “sustained social mobilization under central direction.” Salemy now denounced Land as a racist crypto-fascist and announced they would stop working with him — in a decision taken unilaterally by Salemy and Jason Adams without full consultation of the NCRAP board. A student named Giancarlo Sandoval wrote on Facebook to protest — he too, now, was no platformed, and an article that had already been accepted by the journal Boundary 2 was cancelled by the editor, David Golumbia. Sandoval continued his criticism.
An art world media studies lecturer named Matteo Pasquinelli, an NCRAP associate issued a strange public statement denouncing them — for unclear reasons and observing with odd glee that following Land was now a path to “structural unemployment” that is, being blacklisted, or as they now call it, no platformed. Warning of a “large grey zone of political ambiguity growing right in the center of the art world” he ended with the phrase: “I agree with what Florian Cramer said during the Transmediale in Berlin, that “we should not leave the monopoly of hate to the alt right.”
Sonic Arts Festival (2017)
A week later, closing the account, Jacob Bard-Rosenberg added an blogpost from Amsterdam where’d he been attending the Sonic Art Festival. His new contribution picked-up where his last one left-off, and remained on the same level. Again, he denounced “racist events in the art world” like the my talk on Julius Evola at a Jewish bookstore, supported the Antifa, and finally denounced nuance itself in the cause of ideological authority — kill the grey zone. His blog was retweeted enthusiastically by SDLD50.
I’m publishing this on April 16 2017. The latest news I’ve heard is that SDLD50 have been invited by Salemy to present a seminar at NCRAP themselves. All of this seemed scarcely conceivable a month ago, yet strangely now also inevitable. It provokes a few thoughts.
The power of the networked media — this machinery of viral replication — was something to behold. But it wasn’t inexplicable. The speed through which the campaign escalated was possible only because of a shared interest of elite cultural institutions, and the radical Left in presenting the specter of a “fascist” enemy as their opposition. The Hackney Gazette, e-flux, the Guardian, and The New York Times all recirculated propaganda legitimating the campaign. The Mayor of Hackney supported it. Art Monthly, funded by the Arts Council, carried a piece by Larne Abse Gogarty describing “a delusion of free speech only permissible to those who never have to feel vulnerable on the street.” (I wondered how facing a mob screaming Nazi at you ranks in the vulnerability sweepstakes.)
Suhail Malik at Goldsmith’s programmed an SDLD50 recruitment rally as part of the official MA program. The Royal College of Art employs Andrew Osborne, and the Antifa Zeto. Bard-Rosenberg is a student at Birkbeck. Goldsmith’s employs Benedict Seymour, the Mute editor who published Hayward’s story, as a lecturer. None of these people should be teaching students.
Important to remember is that SDLD50 are children of the cognitive elite — composed in universities, instead of factories. They are not the underprivileged; they are privileged with their nausea. At the same time, they’re attending a brutally expensive art university at the end of a long decade in which the costs of elite institutions like the RCA and Goldsmith’s has dectupled, and their value to their graduates has fallen off a cliff. This generation will be poorer than their parents, who retain unprecedented shares of global wealth, and faces feral competition for diminishing resources and status.
The structural point pertains to the reality of their political formation within a cultural academic system that is itself a form of exploitation. The reality is this: Demand for art students and liberal arts graduates does not support production. The difference is split with ideology. Students graduate into debt, precarious employment and freelancing, low-paying service jobs, including sex work, theorized intricately by radical academics, and/or continuing economic support from their parents. By selling them identities instead of skills, paid via debt guaranteed by the government (in the US, student debt is now $1.3 trillion) universities and the contemporary culture industry have created radicals in and as the process of exploiting them.
What the art world education system in fact creates is surplus labour art consumers and Apple customers, who tape over the logos on their Macs and protest capitalism, for capital — for cultural capital — their own. It’s a perfect storm of dissonance and mental illness. How can someone think and speak critically about a system which itself has instructed them in criticism, defined the limits of its objects, accredited their own identity and authority to speak, and either currently, or at some point will hopefully employ them?
On one level, SDLD50 is a form of acting-out — a ritual of discharge in a system in order to remain inside it — an identity parade, and cry for help. At the same time, it represents itself the embodiment of the menacing projection it developed — a repressive and manipulative network element coagulating in the art world. In the black mirror of guilt and desire, SDLD50 embodies everything it claims to criticize.
Either way it should be taken as a warning. Sales of 1984 skyrocketed after Trump’s election but a machinery of dystopia was already here — it just had to be switched-on. Pepsi’s recent ad was criticized for co-opting global protest imagery — it’s real crime was to expose the fantasy of protest which today is encouraged and consumed around the world. We are the children of Pepsi and Mao, cradled in an apparatus of ideologically directed thought and action, manufactured mask-identities and manipulation by accredited careerist propagandists, participating, more or less consciously, in a memetic escalation in real time. This presents trajectory of increasing violence can either can be de-escalated, or confronted, or it can’t be; everyone can draw their own conclusions.
At the same time as SDLD50 a friend was working on a project with a group of artists in London. She built a website — an empath library — which included, amongst other things, a quote from Aristotle via William of Auvergne. When she showed it to the group, another member had a problem — the page didn’t represent her own beliefs. She didn’t like the quotation from the “psychic woman” (Dion Fortune) and she wanted to replace a reference to the Stoics with a piece written in BitchMedia. And she also had a problem with the quote from Aristotle.
“But he’s one of the most important philosophers who ever lived!” my friend said.
“Yes, he has contributed to the long history of patriarchy, and that’s why he has to be removed.”