Barely two months have passed since Pantera’s reunion tour, and the legendary heavy metal band is already at the center of a free speech scandal.
Earlier this week, the music news site Repercussions reported that the band had been dropped from the lineup at two German music festivals and that a scheduled show in Vienna, Austria was also canceled. Concert organizers are not explicit reasons for canceling performances.
Reports so far suggest it’s in response to an incident in 2016 when Pantera singer Phil Anselmo threw out a Nazi salute and shouted “white power” at a concert dedicated to the band’s slain guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott.
The organizer of the two German festivals said in a translated post on Facebook that after “many intensive discussions with the artists, our partners and you, the fans of the festival, we continued to solve the criticism together and decided to remove the band from the program.” The organizer of the fair in Vienna did not say why the performance band canceled.
After the 2016 incident, Anselmo issued an initial video statement explaining the salute and the “white power” remark as a joking reference to his consumption of white wine backstage and that he would not apologize.
When that statement failed to quell the furor, Anselmo released another, longer video apology in which he admitted his actions were distasteful and said he deserved the criticism he was receiving.
At first glance, this is just a typical dismissal culture dust-up. A performer does something offensive and then apologizes, leaving everyone else to debate how serious the offense was, whether the criticism was proportionate, and how much further condemnation or distancing is needed.
Free people in a free society can have different views on this and behave accordingly. (As a longtime fan, I would love to go see a Pantera show today, and it would piss me off if someone else used their free speech rights to pressure the venue to take that opportunity away from me.)
But the cancellation of Pantera’s Vienna show raises serious concerns about actual government censorship.
Brooklyn Vegan reports that Vienna’s local Green Party (which controls 16 of the 100 seats in the local legislature) has called for the cancellation of Pantera’s show in that city.
“Vienna in particular has a special historical responsibility to oppose every form of right-wing extremism. The appearance of Panthera is completely incompatible with this responsibility,” reads the translated statement from the newspaper. “That’s why for Vienna it can only mean: No stage for the Hitler salute, no stage for the Panther!”
This is an explicit demand for censorship coming from a political party with members in government. Had this happened in the United States, it would have raised serious First Amendment problems. On the other hand, if Anselm’s Nazi salute scandal had happened in Austria, he could have faced legal consequences given the country’s ban on Nazi salutes and symbols.
The fact that Pantera’s show in Vienna was actually canceled after this request means that the censorship request was effective.
This is of particular concern in Austria where free speech rights are not as absolute as in the United States. Because of this, music venues are probably more susceptible to government pressure.
It’s one thing if people want to kick Anselmo with the double bass out of decent society by not going to his shows and demanding that concert organizers not host him. It is a completely different matter when political parties participate in these requests for censorship.
You don’t have to be a fan of “5 Minutes Alone” to see the free speech issues that arise.