On President Donald Trump's Inauguration Day, Shia LaBeouf and his artistic partners — Luke Turner and Nastja Rönkkö — set up a livestream outside the Museum of Moving Image in Queens, New York. The project, called He Will Not Divide Us, sought to establish a four-year continuous broadcast as a "show of resistance or insistence, opposition or optimism" for those who are nervous and defiant in the age of Trump.
Like anything handed as an innocent gift to the internet, though, it immediately turned into a sandbox for Nazis.
Neo-Nazis and trolls have descended repeatedly on LaBeouf's art installation, transforming it from a project for unity into a channel for hate — broadcasting 24/7 for the next four years. The New York Police Department has vowed to keep things safe after neo-Nazis and trolls first showed up to cause trouble at LaBeouf's installation, but that hasn't stopped a small legion of white supremacists from regularly descending on the livestream to hold parties, drink milk and promote their other media channels.
And it doesn't appear as if LaBeouf or the museum hosting the livestream feed plan on doing anything about it.
The first obviously hateful incident cropped up in the first few days of the project, when a white supremacist appeared in front of a chanting crowd to whisper "14, 88" into the camera, a neo-Nazi numerical code for "Heil Hitler." The racist provocateur also delivered a slogan to the camera: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children."
LaBeouf responded by shouting a slogan on his own: "He will not divide us." The young neo-Nazi, perhaps too knowingly, responded with a grin, until he finally left the scene.
That's when 4chan, the internet's air traffic control tower for hate speech and harassment, became involved. Through the online forum, other neo-Nazis got wind of the livestream and began organizing its trolls to show up. The formats of both LaBeouf's art installation and 4chan — constant streams of user-generated content that is forgotten shortly after it's created — are ideal mediums for trolling and abuse.
On Friday, the trolling culminated in an extravaganza of milk-chugging, hairless white supremacist neo-Nazis chanting, dancing and promoting alt-right radio shows. At one point, the broadcast featured a shirtless reveler with a black sun tattoo — a symbol referring to the notorious German S.S. Nazi paramilitary. Police eventually showed up to slowly disperse the crowd.
LaBeouf's He Will Not Divide Us forum isn't full of Nazis all day long. It's mostly full of nothing. The livestream just sits quietly with no demonstrations, or the occasional pedestrian haphazardly finding their way onto camera for a moment before ducking out of the way.
But now that white supremacists have made it their home, they have an unadulterated safe space to broadcast their message whenever they gather. The one time LaBeouf tried to intervene, shoving one of the white supremacists, he was arrested before the day was done. And the Museum of the Moving Image doesn't seem intent on shutting the broadcast down.
We've reached out to LaBeouf and the museum, and will update this story if we hear back.
LaBeouf, for his part, seems to have wanted to spark a piece of resistance art, but it's being used instead by those forces at the far-right of Trump's support base to pump out their message. No good deed, the cliche dictates, goes unpunished.
Feb. 13, 2017: This story has been updated to fully represent all artists who worked on the HWNDU installation.