Updated Feb. 10, 2:30 p.m.
A controversial video exhibit installed at the Museum of the Moving Image on the day of President Donald Trump’s inauguration has been removed after at least one arrest and dozens of threats that required a 24-hour police presence at the museum.
“He Will Not Divide Us,” an installation created by LeBeouf’s art collective, featured a camera that streamed worldwide. Participants were encouraged to say the words “he will not divide us” into the camera. The museum had planned to keep the camera there for four years, until the next presidential inauguration.
Almost immediately, problems ensued at the site, which is located at 36-01 35th Ave. LaBeouf was arrested less than a week later after allegedly tugging on a 25-year-old protester’s scarf during an argument and scratching the individual’s neck. He was booked on misdemeanor charges and released shortly thereafter.
The site also attracted Nazi sympathizers — a man repeated Nazi phrases such as “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” and the number 88, an abbreviation for the Nazi salute Heil Hitler.
LaBeouf, who was present when the man started saying the phrases into the camera, began to yell “he will not divide us” in his face.
On Jan. 23, another passerby went up to the camera and repeated “Hitler did nothing wrong.” According to Buzzfeed, Trump supporters and neo-Nazi’s were using sites like 4Chan and Reddit to plan and organize harassment campaigns against installation participants. Some of their actions went viral on the neo-Nazi YouTube community.
The museum released a statement on Friday saying that the “the installation had become a flashpoint for violence and was disrupted from its original intent.”
“While the installation began constructively, it deteriorated markedly after one of the artists was arrested on the site of the installation and ultimately necessitated this action,” the statement read. “Over the course of the installation, there have been dozens of threats of violence and numerous arrests, such that police felt compelled to be stationed outside the installation 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Officials said they were proud to have hosted the installation but that shutting it down “is the most prudent path forward to restore public safety to the museum, its visitors, staff and the community.”
In a statement on the project’s website, the artist collective said they would not abandon the project.
“On February 10, 2017, the Museum of the Moving Image abandoned the project,” said the collective, known as LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner. “The artists, however, have not.”
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer hosted a rally at the installation to condemn hate speech and several hundred Queens residents showed up to repeat the phrase into the camera. But according to Van Bramer, the public safety threats and calls from constituents who felt unsafe living near the exhibit were too much.
“Dissent and dissenting voices are always welcome at cultural institutions,” he said. “But while I am a great supporter of culture in New York City, and believe strongly in the Museum of the Moving Image’s decision to take on challenging works, including this one, it is clear that this installation became a public nuisance and a public safety hazard. That could not continue.”
Florence Koulouris, district manager of Community Board 1, said she received calls from residents living in the area who were sometimes scared to leave their house because of crowds congregating not only at the museum but on their stoops.
“Our office received telephone complaints from resident who live in the neighborhood due to the fact that people were congregating at the site and also going to their private properties whether it be on their front stoop or in the alleyways,” Koulouris said. “In addition to that it was a burden on the community due to the fact of the necessity of the police at the location consistently.”
She also added that the Department of Sanitation voiced concerns about the cleanliness of the area due to trash piling on the floor of the site.
“I think in principle the idea was good, but when you see such a heated item such as the election was and you see that people are so passionate about it you can see that something that starts out as a good idea can very easily be not a good idea,” she said. “People’s passions tend to spill over. You bring out different types of passions, positive passions and negative passions. But when you’re in a residential neighborhood and you’re having an impact on the quality of life of other people it has to be seriously studied and addressed.”