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Jun 21, 23

Reflections on the Campaign Against the Turning Point USA/BLEXIT event in NYC

Report on recent antifascist organizing campaign in New York City against Turning Point USA.

From Monday, June 12th to Friday, June 16th, 2023, we — an informal coalition of NYC antifascists — launched a targeted campaign to shut down a Turning Point USA and BLEXIT event in our city. While the event ultimately did happen, we forced TPUSA to move to a less prominent venue, educated many people, and raised the stakes for any other venue that may ever consider hosting far-right groups in the future.

Why We Did It

BLEXIT, an affiliate of the far-right group Turning Point USA (TPUSA), was scheduled to have a show at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday, June 17. The event was set to feature a panoply of alt-right, anti-abortion, and anti-LGBTQ+ pundits such as Candace Owens, Charlie Kirk, and Brandon Tatum.

Despite its claim of “uplifting minority America,” in reality BLEXIT caters primarily to wealthy white conservatives — from whom it receives the bulk of its support. BLEXIT does not stand for Black liberation. It stands for capitalism and Christian nationalism, and against abortion, critical race theory, and LGBTQ+ rights.

TPUSA, BLEXIT’s parent group, pushes far-Right and reactionary politics on high school and college campuses. TPUSA is affiliated with Alt-Right and far-Right actors, including the Proud Boys. The organization has a documented history of racism and homophobia, and played a role in the January 6th insurrection.

Both groups spread violent rhetoric that endangers the LGBTQ+ community, and trans folks in particular. Providing them with a platform in NYC means giving fascists a space to meet, network, and organize — it means expanding their local visibility and reach. We did not want to let this happen under our watch. Deplatforming this event — and all far-Right events in NYC — means hindering the spread of fascism in our city. It means creating a safer space for our trans and gender non-conforming comrades. It means building a united front against those who seek to eradicate entire groups of people.

How We Do It (and How You Can Too!)

  • Stay vigilant: Early spring 2023, antifascist researchers flagged a flyer circulating in local far-Right circles announcing an upcoming event under the banner of BLEXIT and TPUSA.
  • Learn from the past: Comrades involved in past deplatforming campaigns shared their experiences and best practices. As a general rule, it is best to wait until only a few days before the event is set to occur so as to force the event organizers to scramble to find an alternate location (the hope is that they don’t find one at all).
  • Work together with a few people: It doesn’t take many people to launch a campaign (but it will take many many more to take action!). Start a small Signal or Wire chat with 3-5 people you trust. Create a working document to share research (see below), messaging, potential partners, and other ideas.
  • Do your research on the event: Research the event, its speakers, its agenda, etc. Find out what circles have been circulating the flyer, as well as which individuals within those circles. Are there any potential attendees who would look especially bad for the venue, e.g. neo-Nazis, Proud Boys, or militias? If tickets are free, get as many as possible (use a fake name, burner phone number and email address).
  • Do your research on the venue: What kind of venue is the event supposed to be at? Has it hosted far-right events in the past? If so, it may be difficult to get them to cancel (but still worth trying). Do they have a website or mission statement that shows they promote inclusiveness and tolerance? In that case, you can expose their hypocrisy. What neighborhood is the venue in? Identify potential partners in that area, including community groups, businesses, electeds, local news outlets, etc. Who owns the venue? Is it an individual, or a corporation? (In the case of Music Hall of Williamsburg, it turns out its parent group Bowery Presents is owned by the large corporation Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG). This knowledge gave us even more to work with.) Is any contact information for the venue, or specific employees, publicly available? If not, can it be obtained? These are all things you should be finding out and adding to your working doc in an organized fashion.
  • Save your receipts: Have screenshots and links for all of the above.
  • Make graphics with background info and action items:
    • Lay it out in simple terms. Don’t exaggerate, but be straight up about the threat. Have some visual consistency in the graphics, and make sure everything is legible and accessible (with alt text!).
    • Include action items! Before you post, test emails and phone numbers that you include in the graphics! Ask people to report back what happens when they call.
  • Spread the graphics far and wide.
    • Use all the contacts you have. This means making a concerted effort to reach out to local media contacts, local and/or relevant unions, collectives, non-profits, Signal and Telegram chats, newsletters, “influencers”, electeds (council members, assembly members), etc. When reaching out, be sure you include a short, tailored message about why this should be of concern to them and their community.
  • Keep pushing! Send out reminders for people to keep calling, keep emailing, and keep applying pressure on the venue until they have no choice but to cancel.

Pressure Campaigns Can Work

We made it clear to Music Hall of Williamsburg/Bowery Presents that it would be more expensive for them in the long-run to have the BLEXIT than it would be to cancel it. This relates to Devin Zane Shaw’s point that “antifascism seeks to raise the cost of fascist organizing.” If the venue had proceeded with the event, artists would have cancelled their shows, patrons would have boycotted the venue, and New Yorkers would never let the venue forget its enabling of a far-Right gathering. Corporate venues like Music Hall of Williamsburg are, and will always be, driven by profit. Threatening to hit them where it hurts — their pockets — is often the most effective way of getting them to change their behavior.

It is also worth noting that one of the ways in which the far-Right attempts to make itself socially acceptable is by having a physical presence in locations that are more mainstream. In fact, conservative billionaires such as AEG owner Philip Anschutz intentionally launder their own reputations through spaces that cast themselves as “progressive” (Coachella, Bowery Presents, etc.). Revealing these multi-billion dollar corporations for who they truly are — behind the rainbow profile pictures and DEI initiatives — can also help apply pressure.

What Happened

On the morning of June 14th, 2023, a mere three days before the BLEXIT event was set to happen, Music Hall of Williamsburg finally put out a statement declaring it had cancelled the event rental contract. The venue claimed the TPUSA/BLEXIT organizers presented themselves as “a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of urban and minority communities.” Whether this is true or not (TPUSA claims they were very upfront about who they were), the venue booker should have done their own research. Or perhaps they did, knew the group was harmful, and proceeded anyway thinking no one would pay attention to the event. Either way, this cancellation only happened because of persistent pressure from the community. We did this, and we should be proud.

On the morning of June 16th, 2023, a day before the scheduled event, BLEXIT/TPUSA announced they had secured another location: Triplex / Tammany House in Long Island City, part of Motif Studios. We then shifted our pressure onto the owner of Tammany House. Unfortunately, the owner was not movable, citing money as the main factor (BLEXIT/TPUSA offered him $25,000 for the event).

On June 17th, 2023, BLEXIT’s event proceeded at Triplex. While the space has a capacity of 800 people, the event was attended by less than two hundred, half of which have since been identified. Many attendees belonged to known far-Right groups in NYC — members of Guardians of Divinity (who harass Drag Story Hour attendees), the New York Young Republicans Club, NY Freedom Rally and New York de Jure. It was altogether a bizarre assortment of anti-vaxxers, far-Right pundits, City Council candidates, conspiracy theorists, anti-abortion Christian nationalists, Alt-Right press, ex-cops, and shitty rappers. Neither Candace Owens nor Charlie Kirk showed up in person.

While we were not able to get the second venue to cancel, we pushed TPUSA/BLEXIT to a less prominent location, and forced them to scramble for two days to find the latter. (Also, we lived rent-free in Charlie Kirk’s brain.) We want to thank to everyone who participated in this hectic, thrilling, and community-building campaign.

We will never stop showing up against fash and showing them NYC will forever be an antifascist town.

Where We Go From Here

We’re not done here yet. Despite presenting itself as a queer-friendly space, Music Hall of Williamsburg continues to host queerphobes, including C3 Church. Every Sunday, C3NYC has its services at the venue. C3 NYC is a charismatic Pentecostal church from a tradition originally based in Australia. The structure of the church is evangelical and C3 is rabidly expansionist here in the States and globally. Like all right-wing Christian groups, Protestant and Catholic, C3 NYC holds deeply homophobic values, as noted on its website: “Marriage was instituted by God, ratified by Jesus, and is exclusively between a man and a woman.”  Although C3 NYC may profess to be a church based on universal love, that is clearly not true in practice. We can’t speak to C3 NYC’s specific internal strategy, but our experience as antifascists and abortion access organizers is that right wing evangelicals specifically target NYC which is regarded as the “head of the dragon” or a “sodom and Gomorrah” of sin. To which we say, hell yeah! We are sinners and proud of it.

Bowery Presents specifically stated in their post announcing the cancellation of the BLEXIT event that they will not provide a platform to homophobia. That is also clearly not true in practice. C3 NYC is likely deep pocketed because they encouraging tithing (donating 10% of your income to the church). There is a strong financial incentive for Music Hall of Williamsburg to continue hosting them. However, a community-based venue can’t survive without a community so it’s also in their interest to listen to feedback from the public.

Moreover, it is a proven effective antifascist strategy to attempt to claim the public sphere and set limits on what can be tolerated in public spaces. As this report back hopefully demonstrates, raising the cost of far-right organizing by denying them mainstream spaces in which to internally mingle and externally recruit is possible and worthwhile to attempt.

If this information about C3 NYC and Music Hall of Williamsburg strikes you as an injustice, say something! Email [email protected] and [email protected], and call 917-363-7462. Encourage your friends and others in your community to do so as well!

It is also important for us to note that Music Hall of Williamsburg is, and will likely continue to be, owned by a large multi-billion-dollar corporation. As we mentioned previously, the owner of this corporation donates generously to right-wing causes, including the same groups behind the legal assault on abortion and trans rights. It’s unlikely there will ever be fundamental changes to the way Bowery Presents venues operate, so long as they are, at the very top, controlled by conservatives. With the crushing cost of real estate in New York City, it’s very difficult for independent, artist-run, and community-minded spaces to compete with these corporate-owned venues. Long-term, we can only do our best to divest from them and focus on supporting independent venues instead. Again, hit the corporations where it hurts: their pockets.

In this vein, we encourage New Yorkers who might go to Music Hall of Williamsburg to support local DIY, queer-owned, and/or artist-owned alternatives, such as:

  • Property is Theft
  • 3 Dollar Bill
  • House of Yes
  • Shift 411
  • Main Drag Music
  • Hart Bar
  • Misfit Kava Bar
  • Our Wicked Lady
  • Trans Pecos
  • TV Eye

To Conclude

Keep fighting fascism locally with the tools you have, and together we’ll crush it globally. Solidarity with everyone across the world engaged in this crucial struggle!

photo: Teo Zac via Unsplash

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