Thor Harris, drummer for the influential experimental rock band Swans and the meditative instrumental project Thor and Friends, made national music headlines Wednesday after his Twitter account was suspended a few days after he posted a video tutorial on “How to Punch a Nazi.”
Turns out, it’s not the video post that got him suspended. Instead it was his background image.
“It was a bunch of drawings of penises, you know, like nice pen and ink drawings of penises,” Harris said over the phone Thursday morning. The artsy male members had been hanging out in the background of his Twitter profile for years, but Twitter didn’t take issue with them until the flurry of outrage about the Nazi video. Someone logged a complaint about “nude and possibly pornograpic images.”
“It’s sort of like code enforcement. If they come to your house and tell you to cut your grass it’s because your neighbor called,” Harris said. He replaced the image with an aerial shot of the recent women’s march at the Texas Capitol, and 24 hours after the suspension his account was back up and running.
So why did Harris, a peacenik who’s quick to give out hugs at shows, who has helped countless artists with his frank videos about his struggles with depression, make a video about punching people?
“I wasn’t condoning punching anyone in the video,” Harris said. He begins the video saying, “If you’re thinking of punching a Nazi, or any member of the Republican party, don’t do it. Peaceful protest is better.” But “if you have to do it” he offer tips.
It was created in response to a widely circulated video of white nationalist, Richard Spencer being punched during an interview on Inauguration Day.
“It just bounced around the Internet like crazy, and honestly, it does make me a little sad to see anybody get punched,” he said. “But then after watching it several hundred times I thought, ‘Man, that punch didn’t quite land just right. There’s a better way to punch somebody.'”
Harris’ video, filmed by his friend and fellow musician Adam Torres, recommends punching through the face to an imaginary target behind the victim’s head.
Harris originally posted the video on Feb.3. Later, Torres translated it into Spanish, subtitled it and he posted it again. It didn’t explode for a day or so and then “it was all over the place.”
It didn’t sit well with Twitter users who identify as Nazis.
“Oooh yeah, man they were pissed off and hateful,” he said. “Tons of them were sending me pictures of their guns… one guy sent me a picture of himself out in the desert shooting at targets and said, ‘This is how you put three holes in an Anti-fa.'” (Anti-fa is shorthand for Anti-fascism, and refers to the black masked, armed groups who show up at protests. Harris is not affiliated with the movement.)
Another Twitter user wanted to meet Harris downtown to fight him on Sixth Street. Harris declined –“Is this junior high?” he said — but the experience was illuminating.
“This thing that’s in the White House is a hostile authoritarian regime,” he said. “It’s a weird very scary time. I hit a nerve with those people. And actually a couple of them, I had reasonable conversations with. This woman, once we started talking, the hate kind of chilled out.”
Ultimately, the video was meant to be humorous. Harris sees humor as “an amazing fluid language” with the potential to inspire change. In the current climate he feels it’s a powerful tool for artists to harness. With inflammatory, racially charged rhetoric running rampant on Twitter, he doesn’t plan to back off.
“A lot of this just comes down to (expletive) racism 101,” he said. “White people who think they have some divine right to this land America. They call it alt-right. It’s just racism and it’s so hideous.”