“The museum has abandoned us.”
This is all that remains of the Shia LaBeouf’s livestream, which in a matter of weeks created a center of positivity, chaos, community, conflict and the launching point of Internet fame in an otherwise quiet Queens neighborhood.
The Museum of the Moving Image decided to shut down the art exhibit this week, saying it had become “a flashpoint of violence.” Neighbors in the area were complaining of loud noises late at night, and some even found visitors to the livestream smoking pot on their porches in the early hours of the morning.
The stream’s founder, Transformers star LaBeouf, had intended for the exhibit to last the full term of Donald Trump’s presidency. But as it became a gathering point of neo-Nazis at late hours, it was all but inevitable the project would not last more than a matter of days.
He Will Not Divide Us began with a clear message of protest beginning on Inauguration Day. Hundreds gathered for the spectacle and to see celebrities like Labeouf and Jaden Smith. For the first few days the scene was filled with protesters against Trump, and the camera feed was devoted to people chanting the mantra “He Will Not Divide Us.”
“Everyone was coming to be positive,” said Paperboy Prince of the Suburbs, a Brooklyn artist who became a mainstay at the stream. “Everyone was showing love, having fun, dancing. It was literally like the first day of summer camp.”
It did not take long, however, before the trolls started trickling in. The message board 4chan caught wind of the livestream and soon their best and brightest provocateurs began appearing on camera.
At first they came specifically to mess with LaBeouf personally. Some would come up to him and hold Pepe signs or yell neo-Nazi slogans to provoke a reaction.
LaBeouf eventually snapped on multiple occasions, and was inevitably arrested after hitting a guy who yelled “Hitler did nothing wrong.”
Following his arrest, LaBeouf only came to the stream a few times, then stopped all together.
“After the arrest is when it started to change,” Paperboy Prince said. “That’s when they started to come out. When I say “they” I mean people who didn’t want to see others spread the love.”
The area around the livestream (ironically) became divided into two camps. There were the Trump supporters — a mix of 4chan trolls, Proud Boys and college Republicans, many wearing Make America Great Again hats.
Then there was the anti-Trump faction, often outnumbered at night, huddled around the livestream chanting “He Will Not Divide Us.” Paperboy Prince, a black guy with neon died hair and flamboyant clothing was an obvious standout and became the face of the “Resistance” camp.
— Paperboy the Prince (@PaperboyPrince) January 25, 2017
He began receiving death threats on social media and his personal information was leaked online, including his cell and home phone number. He said he was receiving almost 50 to 60 calls a day. He eventually just gave out his number so “positive” people could call him too.
I went to the livestream the weekend after LaBeouf was arrested. On a Saturday night it was almost 75 percent Trump supporters, camping out and eating pizza. There were 4channers with Naruto headbands and one holding a waifu pillow. There were Proud Boys, members of shock jock Gavin McInnes’ online movement of men “proud of their boys.” The scene was both tense and jubilant with about six cops surveying the scene at any one time. The city had to allocate a round the clock police presence to keep the area from descending into violence.
The exhibit was not easy for museum staff either. They went from running a quiet film museum to having to manage a raucous late night meeting area. Paperboy Prince said he saw the museum manager out as late as four in the morning.
Alt right hero Sam Hyde came to the stream. He’s the creator of an Adult Swim TV show, which was cancelled following accusations it contained hidden alt right symbolism.
Declining an interview, Hyde told simply me “Shia LaBeouf is a fake ass artist. If he was a real artist he would be here right now and take the L.”
By taking the L he meant, taking the loss of the space to Trump supporters. By leaving, the space lost much of its anti-Trump contingent, many of whom came out to see the celebrity.
Hyde and others would chant slogans like “8 years of Trump,” blue lives matter,” and “lock her up.” To throw off the people chanting “he will not divide us” the Trumpsters would yell, “he will nut inside us.”
At the end of the night, however, police kicked everyone off the lot and installed a barrier. People were only permitted to go in front of the camera in groups of five and then leave. Some on 4chan joked the museum had built a wall and instituted “extreme vetting.”
Leading up to the shutdown, museum staff had to kick out people they believed were shouting white supremacist slogans and making people feel unsafe.
While Paperboy Prince was the face of the “He Will Not Divide Us” crowd, the Trump supporters had a few recurring characters which became living memes on 4chan.
You had Jackie 4chan, /pol/blart, Bogdanon and Rose all named for various physical appearances or 4chan memes. Jackie, because he’s Asian, /pol/blart because he’s fat and Bogdanon because he liked to show off Bogdanoff memes. And these three weren’t the only ones named and celebrated by 4chan.
They would go to the stream yelling 4chan memes and Trump slogans. When they would get a moment to themselves in front of the camera, sometimes they would go into long riffs about how Trump won.
The scene on the stream was not completely divided, however. Paperboy Prince and the 4chan guys had many interactions.
Here you can see Paperboy Prince and Jackie 4chan dancing together.
And here’s Bogdanon and Paperboy discussing Pizzagate.
When people began chugging milk at the livestream, Paperboy Prince argued with /pol/blart over why it was racist. Apparently black people have higher instances of lactose intolerance and chugging milk is a white supremacist code to mock them.
Apparently /pol/blart didn’t take it to heart because he was out dancing and chugging milk a week later with people who appeared to be white supremacists.
“The whole point of ‘He Will Not Divide Us’ is I can use that as an opportunity to engage with them and talk to them,” Paperboy Prince said. “I never got to talk to that many Trump supporters from so many different backgrounds.”
Paperboy Prince, whose mom happens to be a Trump supporter, believes the stream was able to bring people together, despite the conflict.
Unfortunately I was unable to speak to any of the 4chan livestream celebs, although they did give a final message to the livestream after the wall came up.
“The series may be over but the friendships that we forged here will last forever,” one of the mainstays said. “So in actuality, we were not divided, we were united.”
/Pol/blart had a different perspective.
“I’m gonna say it for the first time, he will not divide us, and we straight up divided them. Five at a time, they put up a barrier and we completely fucked up Shia’s plan. It was a lot of fun.”
Even though the stream ended due to increased activity by white supremacists, and a few people got into fights, and the leader of the project was arrested, He Will Not Divide Us was clearly a success.
It was a cultural moment, completely unique to the modern age. It combined the technology of the Internet with our societies obsession with the camera. To a casual observer walking by the area, not aware of what was going on, it must have looked like a scene from The Twilight Zone with dozens of young people staring at a wall and shouting at each other.
While it may have seemed divided at moments, the livestream did bring people together. People from different backgrounds, with wildly different political views could have a place to argue and eventually hash out their differences.
It gave Internet voyeurs a three week hobby. It gave denizens of obscure message boards a reason to go outside and bring their memes to the real world. It gave a black Brooklyn artist an excuse to talk with white, working class Trump supporters.
RIP, He Will Not Divide Us. You will be missed.