Veterans group issues strong rebuke of South by Southwest band boycotts over US Army sponsorship

A Veterans Affairs group addressed the boycott by dozens of artists and bands who left the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, in protest of the U.S. Army’s sponsorship, claiming the groups supplied weapons to Israel to support “their violent oppression of the Palestinian people.”

In February, the Austin for Palestine Coalition launched a campaign that called for a protest and boycott of SXSW because the U.S. Army was a “Super Sponsor” of the event. In response, 80 artists, bands and performers pulled their scheduled appearances as a show of support for Palestinians.

“We are heeding the call of Palestinian civil society to engage in Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israeli occupation and those supplying arms to Israel for its genocide against the Palestinian people,” an Instagram post by the Austin for Palestine Coalition read. “SXSW must disinvite Raytheon (RTX), its subsidiary Collins Aerospace, and BAE Systems to the conference and festivals in the city of Austin.”

“Raytheon, Collins Aerospace, and BAE Systems have direct ties to the arming of Israel, supporting their violent oppression of the Palestinian people,” the post continued. “Raytheon manufactures missiles, bombs, and other weapon systems for the Israeli military to use against Palestinians.”

A sign in front of Speakeasy on Congress Avenue in Austin, Texas, on March 11, 2022, welcomes visitors back to SXSW for the first time in three years. (Jim Bennett/WireImage)

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On Tuesday, a few days after the conclusion of SXSW, National Commander Duane Sarmiento of the Veterans of Foreign Wars responded to the boycott, stating the organization “fully supports free speech,” but warned that the artists who pulled out of the festival “missed out on a great opportunity for needed exposure.”

“They seem to have forgotten it’s the good men and women of the U.S. Army who fought and died for their opportunity to perform in the U.S., or not,” he said. “Their decision will have lasting impacts on their careers, and if free speech enthusiasts like Horse Jumper of Love, Squirrel Flower, Lip Critic or any other artist who cancelled their appearance in Austin again get the opportunity to come to our great nation, we invite them to visit with some of our Army veterans to gain some insight into the positive world impacts they’re responsible for.”

Squirrel Flower, also known as Ella Williams, who was named by Commander Sarmiento, wrote on Instagram on March 4 explaining she was pulling out of the SXSW festival because it was “platforming defense contractors including Raytheon subsidiaries as well as the US Army, a main sponsor of the festival.”

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“Genocide profiteers like Raytheon supply weapons to the IDF, paid for by our taxes,” she wrote. “A music festival should not include war profiteers. I refuse to be complicit in this and withdrawl [sic] my art and labor in protest.”

From left: Peter Hall, Alex Garland, Kirsten Dunst, Cailee Spaeny and Wagner Moura appear at the premiere of “Civil War” as part of SXSW 2024. (Chris Saucedo/SXSW Conference & Festivals via Getty Images)

Other artists posted public notices that they were pulling out for similar reasons.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told the bands and performers: “Bye. Don’t come back.”

“We are proud of the U.S. military in Texas. If you don’t like it, don’t come here,” he added.

SXSW rebuked his statement in a post on Instagram that it “does not agree” with the Texas governor, adding it “welcomes diverse viewpoints” including the decision of performers to withdraw from the event.

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“These institutions are often leaders in emerging technologies, and we believe it’s better to understand how their approach will impact our lives,” the statement said. “The Army’s sponsorship is part of our commitment to bring forward ideas that shape our world.”

A view of 6th Street during the 2023 SXSW Conference and Festivals in Austin, Texas, on March 10, 2023. (Hutton Supancic/Getty Images for SXSW)

“We have and will continue to support human rights for all,” the statement concluded. “The situation in the Middle East is tragic, and it illuminates the heightened importance of standing together against injustice.”

Fox News Digital reached out to SXSW for comment.

Fox News’ Lindsay Kornick contributed to this report.

Kendall Tietz is a Production Assistant with Fox News Digital. 

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