Names with asterisks* are pseudonyms representing anonymous sources. They were granted anonymity due to their concerns over speaking on the record.
CW: mentions of gun violence
Punch’s Alley or Pub, Wellesley’s on-campus, non-alcoholic bar, hosted an event on April 22 at 9 p.m. featuring local bands through live performances. The set performed by the band NEETS ended in confusion and chaos after an audience member spotted an object that looked like a gun on stage. Unsure if the gun-like object was real or fake, some audience members evacuated the building. Following the performance, audience members shared photos of the stage on social media, confirming the presence of an object that looked like a gun on stage. Student concerns about violence increased after photos of the band’s promotional materials, which were passed out before their performance and included a bomb threat, also circulated on social media.
According to Bridget Lynch ’24, who attended the event during NEETS’ performance, band members passed out a small sheet of paper before their set. The sheet said:
[PLEASE RAISE RIGHT HAND]
I SWEAR THAT I AM AN AUTODIALER
I SWEAR THAT I HAVE REJECTED THE LIQUID MAN.
I SWEAR THAT IF 12 POUNDS OF C4 PLASTIC EXPLOSIVES WERE PLANTED BY TWO MEMBERS OF NEETS IN THE ALL-GENDER BATHROOM IN THE CORNER BEFORE THIS PERFORMANCE, I WOULD TAKE FULL LEGAL RESPONSIBILITY.
I SWEAR THAT MY CITIZENSHIP AND ALLEGIANCE ARE TO THE HOSTILE PLAZA.
[PLEASE LOWER RIGHT HAND]
At the time, Lynch did not think much of the pamphlet, recognizing its satirical intent.
When NEETS took the stage at around 12:30 a.m., Lynch observed that the four band members donned black ski masks. One member was wearing a hat that said, “PLEASE BE PATIENT I HAVE AUTISM”; another hat included the US Central Intelligence Agency’s seal. Another member was wearing a shirt with the Israel Defense Forces’ emblem. At this point of the night, audience numbers had dwindled, with approximately 25 people remaining for NEETS’ set, most of whom were off-campus guests from the bands that had performed earlier in the night. The set initially passed without incident, until the audience member in front of Lynch made a disturbing observation.
“This guy in front of me turned around,” said Lynch. “He was as white as a sheet, and he looked right at me, and he said, ‘They have a gun,’ in a low voice. … That guy in front of us ran out, which caused us to run out. … I was grabbing people by the shirt and saying, ‘Some guy said they had a gun.’ … I was in a real panic.”
At first, neither Lynch nor the small handful of people who had exited the building with them were able to confirm the presence of a gun-like object, which was later confirmed by an anonymous Wellesley Sidechat user, who posted a photo of two band members holding gun-like objects on stage the next day.
“My heart dropped to my […] stomach,” said Lynch. “We were, like, 10 feet away from this, and we didn’t even know because there were all these people standing in front of us. If those [gun-like objects] were real, they could have killed every single person in there. A lot of people are being like, ‘Well, it’s obviously fake.’ … But you can’t pull out a gun and not tell everybody that it’s fake. … We’re all traumatized from gun violence in this country, whether we’ve experienced it first hand or not. We all hear about mass shootings every day on the news. So how am I not supposed to freak the hell out when I see this picture of two guys with big, high-capacity guns?”
Since seeing this photo, Lynch said they have felt uneasy in on-campus spaces.
“I literally felt like we were at some kind of racist rally,” said Lynch. “I was so upset that I had brought my partner here, and that I had hung out for [the performance]. I don’t rock with any of this. […] I don’t care if it’s a joke, or if it’s supposed to be political commentary. I’ve seen a million different bands do political commentary on how awful the CIA and FBI are, and I never felt like that in my life.”
Whitney*, who attended the Pub event, disagrees with this assessment of the band. They said that they personally know the members of NEETS, who are committed to anti-fascism and leftist politics. Their use of the rhetoric and aesthetic of the far right is a way to reclaim these images to lessen their power to cause harm. They also believe that other attendees at the event who stayed following the crowd panic understood the satirical intent of the performance.
Amanda Kaufman, assistant director of student involvement & leadership, said in an email statement that the Office of Student Involvement (OSI), which oversees Punch’s Alley, is investigating the situation. In the interim, Pub will be closed until further notice. She encourages any students with concerns about the situation to schedule a meeting with her or to fill out an anonymous feedback form, which is included in the April 24 Senate minutes. This same statement was also delivered at Senate on April 24.
According to an email statement sent to the News by Tara Murphy, chief communications officer of Wellesley College, after students expressed their concerns over this incident, Campus Police swept the building and began an investigation into the incident.
“At a time when mass shootings are resulting in tragic deaths across the country, it is shocking that the performers chose to use props like ski masks and fake guns,” said Murphy. “It is understandable why students were frightened and upset by the incident.”
Murphy said that the College intends to implement new policies for vetting bands and other performers invited to Pub that allow for additional oversight by OSI.
Wellesley College prohibits weapons on campus in accordance with Massachusetts law, according to the faculty-staff and student handbooks and the student housing agreement. While the city of Boston banned fake guns in 2015, fake guns are not banned in the state of Massachusetts or on campus. Murphy said that the College is reviewing its gun-related policies and considering expanding them to address imitation firearms.
Lynch said that this incident was especially alarming because it has made some students feel unsafe in their homes. Unlike an off-campus venue, Pub is part of Wellesley’s campus, which is home to most students for four years. Lynch values Pub’s role in the campus community and hope for changes that would prevent this situation from happening again.
“I would really like to have … some kind of assurance that this isn’t going to happen again, some kind of assurance that these people won’t be invited back onto campus ever again,” said Lynch. “Also, assurance that Pub has some kind of zero-tolerance weapons policy, which our whole campus is supposed to have.”
I was at this show. It is also notable that Aysar Abdelgelil, the person that booked the show, refused to apologize directly to those involved, nor offered any explanation.
Also, the “reclamation” angle is absurd; the band’s website is chock full of racist and sexist imagery. I suppose, to that end, that it’s alright if a person goes to a Proud Boys rally “ironically” and beats people up. There is nothing worthwhile to be reclaimed. The people responsible this should face consequences.