Concert Organizer Bows to Politicians' Demands, Cancels Pantera Show
The Vienna Green Party had demanded a scheduled performance of the reunited heavy metal band be canceled because of a 2016 incident in which singer Phil Anselmo threw out a Nazi salute.
We're barely two months into the reunited rump of Pantera touring again, and the legendary heavy metal band is already at the center of a free speech scandal.
Earlier this week, music news site Consequence reported that the band has been booted from the lineup of two German music festivals and had a scheduled performance in Vienna, Austria, canceled as well. Concerts organizers haven't been explicit about the reasons for the canceled performances.
The reporting thus far suggests it's in response to a 2016 incident when Pantera lead singer Phil Anselmo threw out a Nazi salute and shouted "white power" at a tribute concert to the band's murdered guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbot.
The organizer of the two German festivals said in a translated Facebook post that after "many intensive conversations with artists, our partners and you, the festival fans, we have continued to deal with the criticism together and decided to remove the band from the program." The organizer for the Vienna show hasn't said why the band's performance was canceled.
After the 2016 incident, Anselmo issued an initial video statement in which he explained the salute and "white power" remark as a joking reference to his consumption of white wine backstage and that he would not be apologizing.
When that statement failed to quell the outrage, Anselmo issued another, longer video apology in which he conceded his actions were in poor taste and said he deserved the criticism he was receiving.
At first glance, this is just the typical cancel culture dust-up. A performer does something offensive and then apologizes, leaving everyone else to argue about how serious the offense was, whether the criticism was proportionate, and how necessary additional condemnation or disassociation is.
Free people in a free society can have different views on that and act accordingly. (As a longtime fan, I'd happily go see a Pantera show today, and I'd be irritated with someone else exercising their free speech rights to pressure a venue into taking that opportunity away from me.)
But the cancellation of Pantera's Vienna show raises some serious concerns about actual government censorship.
Brooklyn Vegan reports that Vienna's local Green Party (which controls 16 of 100 seats in the local legislature) called for the Pantera show in that city to be canceled.
"Vienna in particular has a special historical responsibility to oppose any form of right-wing extremism. The appearance of Pantera is completely incompatible with this responsibility," reads a translated statement from Die Presse. "Therefore, it can only mean for Vienna: No stage for a Hitler salute, no stage for Pantera!"
This is an explicit demand for censorship coming from a political party with members in government. Were it to have happened in the United States, it would raise serious First Amendment problems. On the flip side, had Anselmo's Nazi salute scandal happened in Austria, he could have faced legal consequences given the country's ban on Nazi salutes and symbols.
The fact that Pantera's Vienna show was, in fact, canceled after this demand means that the demand for censorship was effective.
This is particularly concerning in Austria where free speech rights are not as absolute as they are in the United States. Music venues are likely more susceptible to government pressure as a result.
It's one thing if people want to double-bass drum Anselmo out of polite society by not going to his shows and demanding concert organizers not host him. It's another thing entirely when political parties participate in these demands for censorship.
One needn't be a fan of "5 Minutes Alone" to see the free speech problems that raises.