Is Department of Homeland Security Cracking Down on Art?


I just learned something new today, that the Department of Homeland Security issues permits for the City of Santa Ana, CA to host events, according to a letter sent by Vicky Baxter, Executive Director of Downtown Incorporated of Santa Ana, to the Cacophony Society, who are providing installations and amusement during the Art Walk at Grand Central Santa Ana, the city’s large arts complex. The February 4th Art Walk celebrates the premier of Into the Zone: The History of the Cacophony Society, which will be our subject on Movie Night, February 13.

The Cacophony Society, with lodges in thirty-six U.S. cities and nine countries around the world and whose motto is

You may already be a member

is a group of post-Dada, post-modern, chaos and art creating, urban, urbane Erisians. These disciples of Dischordianism and neo-Anerisia–whose members were instrumental in organizing Burning Man–have long staged events like the Art of Bleeding (faux educational programs in health and safety); mock protests over ludicrous causes; the placing of cement filled teddy bears in public places; painting chalk outlines of bodies on sidewalks; and other

experiences beyond the mainstream.

The Cacophony Society’s antics inspired Project Mayhem in  Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club and organized the earliest  flashmobs. And they are  known to be savvy media hoaxsters/culture jammers. But really, would anyone stage this kind of a prank falsely claiming to be from a city official which cited (teh horrors) the Department of Homeland Security? According to a post by Reverend Al Ridenour of Cacophony Los Angeles (who, full disclosure, I have known for years), Cacophony received a letter from Vicky Baxter, Executive Director of Downtown Incorporated of Santa Ana stating:

Today I received a call from Mike McCoy, Homeland Security who issues permits for events from the City, with concerns about the February Art Walk and the association with the Cacophony Society. He spent some time looking at the website and is concerned about what will be presented to the public because the City of Santa Ana is co-sponsor of the First Saturday Art Walks. He is asking for a detailed description of what will be presented to avoid any issues with public complaints or controversy. I did not anticipate this but he is right. We do co-host the First Saturday Art Walks with the City.

Please send me the details of what is planned so we can inform Mike.

I called Mike McCoy, who is based out of DHS’s Sacramento office where he works in Logistics Management as a pay grade GS15 level employee, and left a message. (BTW, the DHS doesn’t list their local numbers; you have to call the DC headquarters and get patched through. Scary!). Mike McCoy didn’t call me back.

I wanted to know the how and why of DHS issuing permits for Santa Ana’s events. Do those permits cost money? What types of events must must be permitted? What happens if Santa Ana holds an event without a DHS permit? And does this apply to every city in the USA? Is DHS present at the Downtown LA Art Walks? And what exactly about the Cacophony Society’s website is so darned disturbing? What are his concerns about the Cacophony Society? For how many art events throughout the country has the DHS requested additional information, and what were those shows? Are Cacophony members going to fall under surveillance now, and for what exactly?

Cacophony LA responded to McCoy with the following letter:

We understand the Department’s domain over public complaints and controversy in the arts as well as the precedent setting crowd control issues and threat of civil disturbance raised by the April 3, 2004 GCAC’s exhibition of art by Thomas Kinkade “Painter of Light.” In cooperation with your request for further information, we are providing the attached list of public art and performance scheduled as part of our opening.


These are playfully customized cars typically decorated both with thrift store finds, and other colorful detritus, generally free of sharp edges or objectionable content. … It should be pointed out that the visual and sculptural references in Reverend Linville’s “Ass Car,” are exclusively confined to parts of canine anatomy freely displayed throughout our country wherever dogs are found. …


One of the iconic activities engaged in by the Cacophony Society is mock protests over ludicrous causes. Honoring this tradition and as a satiric nod toward the controversial and ultimately dangerous nature of public discourse, we provide a soapbox, poster board, and markers to Society Members as well as enthusiastic passersby.   These activities and limited use of bullhorns will be conducted in accordance with our understanding of issues of pubic nuisance and noise abatement and/or guidelines issues at DHS discretion.


Comedian-magician Bieno Svengali as well as comedian Eric Cash will perform.  Exact content of their sets is not confirmed at this time, though Cash is expected to preside over a mock raffle “giveaway” of an Afghani war orphan.

And to show there are no hard feelings, Cacophony added this bonus attraction:


In the spirit of free discourse and rapprochement, The Cacophony Society will dedicate a table to the display of introductory literature on the CS as well as whatever literature or materials DHS would care to provide.  A live representative will be available for discussion. Coffee and donuts provided.

Oh I have one last question for Mr. McCoy from the Department of Homeland Security: Am I on a list now for writing about this?

image #2 Tarot card from the Rider-Waite tarot deck, drawn by Pamela Coleman-Smith, 1909; public domain

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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.