The Public Square Belongs to 4Chan
In a few short weeks, He Will Not Divide Us went from celebrity-hyped exhibition to troll playground to dead. What happened tells us everything about the future of civic space and free speech in the age of the alt-right.
If you set out to design a cultural event specifically to provoke the alt-right, it would be hard to improve on “He Will Not Divide Us.” While the group contains multitudes — Trump fanatics, anti–social justice warriors, trolls, ethnic nationalists, neo-Nazis, anime experts, and every conceivable permutation thereof — the piece was expansive enough to incite them all.
Start with semantics. If nothing else, the alt-right is all about division: between nations, between races, between genders, between religions, between ideologies, and between trolls and non-trolls. “[The title] is almost daring people to divide the work,” said Ben Davis, the national art critic for artnet News. “From an art point of view, it was the point of the project, I assume.”
The artists strenuously claim the piece is nonpartisan, and that the words can be, per the introductory text, “a show of resistance or insistence, opposition or optimism, guided by the spirit of each individual participant and the community.” But the media immediately reported the work as an anti-Trump protest, and it’s sort of hard to blame them: “He Will Not Divide Us” appeared the day of the inauguration, in New York City, where Hillary Clinton won nearly 80% of the vote, at the same time as protests against Trump massed in cities throughout the world. Realistically, who was going to be chanting those words?
If the event was alt-right catnip in theory, in practice it was irresistible. The footage from the first day is an unintentional masterpiece of Bannonian propaganda: A rich, white, half-Jewish, hip, liberal movie star (and his black, second-generation movie star friend) leading an ethnically mixed crowd in a piece of performance art that doubled at times as an anti-Trump demonstration, at a New York City museum whose board includes Jeff Zucker, Jeffrey Katzenberg, a labor union leader, and a hedge fund founder.
“It feeds into the right-wing narrative about coastal elites and Hollywood liberals, Meryl Streep versus Trump,” Davis said.
Perhaps most provocatively, as far as the alt-right is concerned, “He Will Not Divide Us” was participatory and livestreamed. Threads announcing the project appeared on 4chan’s /pol/ forum and other alt-right online communities within hours of the stream going live.