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SXSW Responds To Texas Governor’s “Don’t Come Back” Comment After Musicians Drop Out Of Fest Protesting Military Ties

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and SXSW on Tuesday traded jabs on social media in response to a group of as many as 60 bands who have pulled out of Austin-based festival to protest its sponsor ties to the U.S. Army, as well as its inclusion of defense contractors taking part in some of the fest’s conference programs.

“Bye. Don’t come back,” Abbott wrote on his personal Twitter (X) feed today as news of the pullouts spread. “Austin remains the HQ for the Army Futures Command. San Antonio is Military City USA. We are proud of the U.S. military in Texas. If you don’t like it, don’t come here.”

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On its own social media accounts, SXSW responded to Abbott, saying “SXSW does not agree with Governor Abbott,” adding that the organization “welcomes diverse viewpoints. Music is the soul of SXSW, and it has long been our legacy. We fully respect the decision these artists made to exercise their right to free speech.” (See the full fest statement below.)

At the heart of the band boycott is the inclusion of the U.S. Army as a sponsor of SXSW; according to the festival’s website, it is a “Super Sponsor” along with other companies including Volkswagen, The Austin Chronicle, Porsche, C4 Energy and Delta. In addition, defense contractors Raytheon, Collins Aerospace and BAE Systems, as well as Department of Defense agencies including the CIA and NSA, are taking part in conference events at the festival, the sprawling annual event in Austin that encompasses the well-known music, film and TV festival with speaker and conference platforms featuring topics that run the gamut from tech, entertainment, science and culture to health, politics and media.

Organizers of a group called the Austin for Palestine Coalition on their webpage No Warmongers at SXSW 2024 highlight the trio of defense contractors as contributing to the current Israel-Hamas war, saying Raytheon and Collins manufacture weapons and military aircraft components “for the Israeli military to use against Palestinians,” while BAE “supplied weapons and equipment used in the occupation of Palestinian territories.”

It’s calling for SXSW to disinvite the companies and re-evaluate including DOD agencies in festival events and discussions. It also urges fest organizers to “use its platform to raise awareness about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza and advocate for peace, justice, and the protection of human rights.”

“In addition, we are disturbed by SXSW’s platforming of agencies in the Department of Defense, including the CIA, NSA, and NRO,” it wrote. “These organizations contribute to violence around the world, undermining the festival’s reputation as a celebration of creativity and innovation. If SXSW wishes to retain its credibility, it must change course by disavowing the normalization of militarization within the tech and entertainment industries.”

The website listed more than 60 bands musicians who have dropped out of the music festival, which kicked off Monday and runs through March 16. The United Musicians and Allied Workers organization has signaled its endorsement of the boycott.

The SXSW Film & TV Festival runs March 8-16.

SXSW is partially owned by P-MRC Holdings, a joint venture of Deadline parent company Penske Media Corporation and MRC.

Here is SXSW’s full response to Abbott:

SXSW does not agree with Governor Abbott.

“We are an organization that welcomes diverse viewpoints. Music is the soul of SXSW, and it has long been our legacy. We fully respect the decision these artists made to exercise their right to free speech.

Across the globe, we are witnessing unspeakable tragedies, the rise of repressive regimes, and the increasing spread of violent conflict. It’s more crucial than ever that we come together to solve these greater humanitarian issues.

The defense industry has historically been a proving ground for many of the systems we rely on today. These institutions are often leaders in emerging technologies, and we believe it’s better to understand how their approach will impact our lives.

The Army’s sponsorship is part of our commitment to bring forward ideas that shape our world. In regard to Collins Aerospace, they participated this year as a sponsor of two SXSW Pitch categories, giving entrepreneurs visibility and funding for potentially game-changing work.

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

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