Long story short: On July 17th, Social Distortion played a show in Sacramento. At some point during the show, Mike Ness took a minute to verbally express his disgust with the President and what he viewed as the administration’s blatant racism. This apparently incensed a certain member of the audience – a gentleman who is a fervent and outspoken fan of Trump’s policies, as we’ll see later in this article – who then chose to yell that he was there for “your music, not your politics.” He then protested Ness’s statements by silently flipping off the front man for the entirety of the next two songs.
Ness then handed off his guitar to a stage tech, hopped off the stage and allegedly beat the shit out of the guy. The victim also claims that other concertgoers held his arms behind his back so that he was unable to defend himself. The grainy, jittery footage available shows little to none of this save for Ness jumping off the stage and striding headlong into the crowd and then hopping back on stage a moment later. The dude who was assaulted is claiming that it was a politically motivated attack, and Ness is being touted as a “CNN cuck-bully” – not quite sure how that works – or a fascist-bashing hero, depending on what corner of the internet you skulk around in. In a music scene that at one time was nearly casual about its potential for explosive violence, this event marks a new chapter in the age of Trump, and, well, it’s not pretty.
Look, it’s clear that this notion of “shut up and play” is a suppressive tool that anyone working in entertainment and speaking dissenting views – NFL players, musicians, whoever – gets handed. It’s obvious, it’s dumb, and ultimately it’s cowardly. That said, it’s also obvious that we, as concertgoers, should be free from violence when we attend shows. Right? Those of us who remember the frequent skinhead skirmishes of the 80s and 90s will remember how much that shit sucked.
With all of that in mind, there’s also something to be said for common sense. For the idea of not putting yourself in harm’s way and then crying foul once you reap the whirlwind. One might argue that me going up to some drunk Hammerskin and flipping him off isn’t an inherently violent act, though few would be surprised if I got my ass handed to me afterwards. And it’s pretty much a given that even sober and fifty-six years old, you’ve gotta be, as my momma would say, cruising for a bruising to start shit with Mike Ness. It’s just not smart. It’s not right that the gentleman got decked, but it’s also not terribly surprising.
Meanwhile, I’d like to talk a bit about the gentleman that Ness punched. Provide some context. This fellow kept his Facebook page public for some time after the news of the event broke, and before shuttering his online presence, the following were available for anyone to see:
- Reposts of various Proud Boys memes and links.
- Friends and family members wearing Three Percenter gear, an armed anti-government militia affiliated with the white supremacist movement and known to offer “security” at a number of white supremacist rallies.
- Reposted material from Milo Yiannopolous.
- Perhaps most strikingly, photos of the gentleman and various friends making well-known white power hand gestures.
Did Ness know all this when he clocked the guy? Nope.
Is it still indicative of the gentleman’s character? I’d say so, yeah. It also provides a little context.
Here’s the thing about the alt-right. (And yes, Proud Boys are members of the fucking alt-right, don’t let this “fraternity” dogshit fool you.) They’ve has been very successful in presenting the most wretched, violent, shitty worldviews (Incels! Forced creation of white ethno-states! Genocide!) and then acting aghast when people respond. We should consider what one of the most basic tenets of Proud Boy “activism” is: instigating violence and then claiming to be the victims of leftist hate to the media and police. Which, you’ll note, is exactly what this gentleman has done in this situation. This is textbook Proud Boy shit-trolling 101. And the simple fact that the dude dropped white power hand signs in his photos with his buddies, I’m sorry – it negates any amount of sympathy I might have for him. He’s no innocent. He’s also the one framing this as inherently political – because that gets attention, and it reads perfectly into the Proud Boy mode of operating – instigate shit and then claim victimhood.
But here’s the thing - I really don’t want to tout Ness as some kind of figurehead here. Social Distortion, perhaps more than any other band I can think of, are renowned for their boneheaded, knuckle-dragging fans. I mean, aside from the band’s earlier records, I think they’re only tangentially, marginally a punk band at all. They’ve been a rock band for decades, you know? I was actually a little surprised to hear that Ness wasn’t a Trumper himself, given the whole rockabilly, swallow tattoo, biker aesthetic they’ve catered to for so long. The whole Social Distortion aesthetic relies heavily on – at best – being apolitical, and at worst abjectly fetishizing all the dumb post-WWII 1950s bullshit about fast cars and ladies holding your leather jacket and switchblades and shit. Still, there’s something to be said for Ness speaking out against injustices, eloquently or not.
Anyway, Ness blew it. He fucked up. Though this seems less a political act – despite the wretched worldview of the victim and how he’s framing the assault – and more an emotional one, I think. Ness got pissed off that someone was giving him attitude, and that was it. If the guy was doing white power hand signs at the show, or some other fascist, racist signifier, that’s one thing. But he wasn’t. Ness was wrong to hit the guy. And viewing this through the lens of politics gets people incensed. Viewing it as some rock dude with unresolved anger issues punching out a guy who gave him shit doesn’t read as well.
So one hand, this is easily dismissible as A Brief Moment In Rock History, and one that Ness probably regrets, if for no other reason than what will undoubtedly be a number of ensuing legal headaches. On the other hand, it’s pretty much just like a Proud Boy to willfully start shit and then run to the cops crying victimhood, trying to frame it as yet another act of the alt-right being oppressed.