As one of the prominent vegan, straight-edge bands in early ’90s hardcore, Chokehold made a name for itself during its short tenure for writing tight, aggressive songs about radical left causes, including LGBTQ rights, reproductive rights, police brutality, and others. So when the band's label, A389 Recordings, reissued some of the band's music on vinyl and CD this year, fans were ecstatic when the band announced a series of six reunion dates, including a stop in Phoenix on August 1 at the King of the Monsters 20-year anniversary festival at the Nile Theater in Mesa.
The fated reunion did not start well, however.
On the tour's first stop, on July 18, Chokehold played a basement venue in the west end of Toronto called S.H.I.B.G.B.S. Guitarist Jeff Beckman began introducing a song called “Conditioned," off the band's seminal album, Content With Dying. The song itself is anti-police brutality, and Beckman addressed contemporary issues in his introduction.
"I think it's notable to say that pigs, in this continent especially, have been taking advantage of their fucking authority and their power. And it's not just with black people. It's not just black lives matter. There were fucking three slayings in Hamilton alone last year at the hands of police upon white people," he said.
At this point, a transgender woman later identified as "Sadie" called out Beckman, shouting, "Cool racist shit, Grandpa," at the musician. Beckman paused, taken aback at how "it's not just black lives matter" could be construed as racist. Growing angry, in an increasingly confrontational tone, the altercation continued as follows, culminating in Beckman punching the woman in the face.
Beckman: "Are you calling me racist?"
Sadie: "I'm saying police violence disproportionately targets black communities."
Beckman: "It targets every community. I don't know what the fuck you're saying to me, motherfucker."
Sadie: [sarcastically] "OK"
Beckman: "OK, what?"
Sadie: "I"m saying OK, you're voicing off some white supremacist shit.
Beckman: "I'm saying some white supremacist shit? What are you fucking talking about?"
Sadie: "Because you're minimizing the impact of police violence on black communities, and that's fucking racist."
Beckman: "Is anyone else hearing this or is it just me?"
[A scuffle occurs; this is reportedly when Beckman punched Sadie.]
"I’m saying this isn’t an issue of white or black. This is an issue of fucking pigs. And if that dude [Sadie] comes in again I’ll fucking kill him.”
As a recording of the altercation spread online, outrage spread as activists and hardcore fans on the Internet accused Beckman and Chokehold of both racism (for the "all lives matter" comment, similar to what happened to Martin O'Malley a couple of weeks ago in Phoenix) and transphobia (for mis-gendering and assaulting a trans woman).
The band's label released a statement in response, but it did nothing but fan the flames in the comments sections of various Internet forums, where debate about the statements raged into thousands of comments.
A389's statement framed the issue as an unfortunately violent confrontation between two hot-headed people that was neither racist nor transphobic.
"Call Chokehold out for reacting violently if you must, but at the end of the day, that's the only valid
criticism allegation," the statement read.
Of course, debate didn't end there, as people called out A389 for, among other things, making generalized statements about transgender and racial issues while having no ground from which to make them, seeing as the label's bands primarily consist of straight, cisgender white men. (Trans-woman journalist Emory Lorde penned a thoughtful analysis of the label's statement.)
King of the Monsters (KOTM) is a locally based record label headed by Mike Genz. This year, KOTM is celebrating 20 years in existence, and Genz pulled out all the stops, booking dozens of bands for a two-day festival slated to take place Friday, July 31, and Saturday, August 1. Genz was able to pull a bunch of legacy hardcore bands onto the bill, including Crudos, Infest, and Groundwork (a Tucson band). Creation Is Crucifixion, Culture, and Voice of Reason all reunited exclusively for the festival. In addition, Chokehold is on the bill.
The debate over the Chokehold punch raged into Phoenix and onto the Facebook page of the King of the Monsters event. Several comment threads debating whether Chokehold should be ejected from the bill and over the role of race in the local hardcore scene extended into more than 800 comments.
Genz tells New Times that Chokehold will remain on the festival bill.
"At this time, Chokehold will remain on the fest," Genz says. "The conversation being had on the event page is an important one and one that needs to happen regarding these subjects, and that is why I left them up there. If we are to progress as a community and as people we need to have these discussions. By keeping Chokehold on the show it isn't an absolution of their words/actions, but I feel that removing them from the bill penalizes everyone who wants to see them, and stymies the debate."
Chokehold vocalist Chris Logan tells New Times that neither Beckman nor the band meant anything racist.
"We don't subscribe to the "All Lives Matter" movement or any racist connections with it," Logan says. "We were simply getting at that we are all in this together to fight against the abuse dealt out by those in positions of authority. The last thing we were trying to was dismiss the disproportionate amounts of violence and abuse against minorities. That is the reason we wrote the song in the first place."
New Times sent Beckman three questions about the incident, and he sent lengthy replies. In the interest of full disclosure, and seeing how this is really the first time he's spoken publicly on the incident, we'll publish the whole reply at the end of this post.
"Here's my take and story," Beckman said. "When I said the phrase, I was far from done my introduction to the song 'Conditioned,' when I was blatantly called a racist, and that is insulting as fuck to me. What I was going to say and didn't finish because I lost my cool was this... We are dealing with and fighting this new world order of militarized police gestapo, and the rules have changed. The working class and disenfranchised are being targeted on a much larger scale. Wedges are being driven amongst groups with similar ideals by a mass marketing of talking points and buzzwords. My opinion is that people have bought into this "all lives matter" shit as being racist. And this is what the power structure wants. This is their brainwashing through the media and it's bought hook line and sinker by the status quo. So now we have a term that is subliminally drilled into the brain that writes off anyone who says 'all lives matter' and mean it, people who are not dismissing the black lives matter movement but understand it and support it."
Missing from the label's response, and those from Logan and Beckman, is an apology — a demonstrated understanding of why saying "all lives matter" comes off at best as dismissive and condescending to activists fighting against racially rooted police brutality and, at worst, racist. The label denied that race was an issue, and Beckman framed racist connotations of "all lives matter" as part of a conspiracy enacted on radicals by the powers that be in order to divide leftist opposition to the status quo. New Times asked Logan if he wanted to explicitly issue an apology, and he responded with this:
"Of course we are sorry that the words used to describe a song have been gravely misunderstood and related and compared to racist groups. This is not where we come from and the complete opposite of what we stand for and what the song is even about. That is why we are fighting these accusations with such ferocity and not rolling over while trying to give people something to think about . . . We are not the enemy."
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So as of now, Chokehold will play the King of the Monsters festival as scheduled. It appears that, via Facebook, the band has offered at least one of the most vocal activists opposing the band online a pass to the show, so as to enable in-person discussion of the issues. It should make for an interesting set, to say the least.
Here are Beckman's full replies to New Times' questions, lightly edited for grammar and punctuation.
1) As Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley learned recently in Phoenix, saying "all lives matter" in response to "black lives matter" is regarded as a racist, dismissive response to the concerns of activists. Does Jeff Beckman understand why?
Do I understand it or do I believe it? Two totally different worlds...
Here's my take and story. When I said the phrase, I was far from done my introduction to the song "Conditioned," when I was blatantly called a racist, and that is insulting as fuck to me. What I was going to say and didn't finish because I lost my cool was this... We are dealing with and fighting this new world order of militarized police gestapo, and the rules have changed. The working class and disenfranchised are being targeted on a much larger scale. Wedges are being driven amongst groups with similar ideals by a mass marketing of talking points and buzzwords. My opinion is that people have bought into this "all lives matter" shit as being racist. And this is what the power structure wants. This is their brainwashing through the media, and it's bought hook, line, and sinker by the status quo. So now we have a term that is subliminally drilled into the brain that writes off anyone who says "all lives matter" and mean it, people who are not dismissing the black lives matter movement but understand it and support it. These catchphrases cause chaos and hatred and that's exactly what "they" want, turning us all against each other. How else could you stop a movement in its tracts, but to cause them to battle each other rather then the real problem? We have been duped into this' it's classic phycological warfare, turning people who believe the same thing into going frantically after each other rather than the true problem. It blows my mind that people who claim to be intelligent can't see what they are doing! And the situation that unfolded at the Chokehold show on July 18 is a perfect example..... Before I even finished what I was going to say when I had said all lives matter, I was attacked and called a racist, white supremacist and I didn't even get the chance to finish. I was verbally attacked by someone who believes in the same things I do for the most part. The fact that more or less we have the same agenda, we want to see the same changes in the world but the wedge was driven between us because of this "phrase" that was delivered to us by all the same people that own every network, every radio station, every multi million dollar entity that dictates to us. They lie to us day after day and subliminally control us. This isn't a new tactic, and frankly I am blown away by the morons who can't see what they have done and the damage it causes when you buy in to it! This nonsense that happened at the chokehold show is happening at protests, at workshops, at schools, everywhere!! If we are going buy this shit they subliminally force on us then we will never fucking win. That phrase has been hijacked and manipulated to deem someone as a racist who truly believes what it means, someone who is not dismissing the black lives matter movement and who stands firmly against police abuse against minorities and the power structure we all want to see end. The battle against this police state we will never have a fucking chance unless people don't start to recognize that they are being pitted against each other. I don't know if what I am saying resonates with everyone, but it's fucking sad that this has become a battle amongst ourselves by idiots who cowardly sit behind computer screens all day, destroying the character of people who believe the same thing they do! Like the peace movement before, like the Occupy movement, the powers that be have intelligent ways of turning us against each other rather than them. This has been evident with what horse shit is been going on facelessly behind keyboards for the last 10 days. I understand the black lives matter movement, I am not a fucking idiot, I've been fighting this shit for almost 30 years. So to answer the question.... I won't buy into the "all live matter" bullshit, that is not the world I live in!
2) Why did Jeff Beckman punch the audience member in the face? Are there plans to issue an apology?
Well to be called a racist, you might as well spit into my face. I'm not going to apologize and I am sure I am not the first person to hit someone at a show. The world still turns and this person and I have communicated since then. At this point it's the radical shitheads that were miles away claiming they know everything that transpired and making comments behind computers, igniting fires for their own selfish reasons that keep this burning. Again I don't live in that pathetic world!
3) Why has the band issued no statement on the matter so far?
I don't do the shackle and chains of Facebook so I can't communicate with these morons that are demanding apologies, but I know Chris, the vocalist has said stuff. But as usual everything gets micro-dissected and it becomes totally irrelevant. We are not hard to find. We are more then willing to talk to people in person, remember that concept?? Let's remember this is a band that took up the issues of homophobia, racism antipatriotic, antigovernment, pro choice, gay rights, animal rights, women's rights, the list continues, and then to be called a racist transphobic woman-bashing band by people who weren't around 20 years ago? Or by people who have no concept of hardcore but are inserting themselves in this? What's the point? They will find any thing to fight about except the real things to fight about...
Update, 7-29-15, 3:03 p.m.: Added more detail about the Toronto incident.
Correction, 7-31-15, 1:10 p.m.: Corrected a misquote from the A389 Recordings press release.