By Tom Dalton
---- — SALEM — A performance by the group Death in June has been canceled for September.
Gordon College, which has a contract with the city of Salem to manage Old Town Hall, announced Friday that it is canceling the controversial concert it booked at the historic venue for this Thursday.
The announcement came a day after the Christian college in Wenham said it had “strong reservations” about the event after learning that the two-person acoustic group it hired has been the target of protests and controversies in the past over allegations that it uses Nazi images and symbols.
The Sept. 19 concert had been sold out at Old Town Hall, which holds 200.
Gordon College Vice President Rick Sweeney said the decision was made after learning from Salem police of vandalism at a recent Death in June concert on the West Coast and of threats in Salem.
“After consultation with the Salem chief of police and the mayor’s office, and with management responsibility for the preservation of Old Town Hall — a federally designated landmark on the National Register of Historic Places — Gordon College is canceling the rental agreement,” Sweeney said in a statement.
The promoter, Thomas Nolan, said he may sue.
He also strongly denied that Death in June has any ties to fascist or Nazi ideology. He said the group plays “romantic acoustic music” and uses symbols and images from a variety of sources.
“First, I’m going to deal with the school civilly, but if not, it’s going to be a legal matter because they have a contract with me,” Nolan said in a telephone interview.
Gordon officials contend their contract gives them the right to cancel the event for “extenuating circumstances,” which would include the right to protect Old Town Hall and the public.
“This decision is based on several factors that came to light this week after we learned the name of the band performing and the reputation for unrest that has accompanied many of their performances,” Sweeney said in the statement.
“These include reports of vandalism associated with Death in June’s most recent concerts on the West Coast. Additionally, negative feedback regarding the show and threats to disrupt it have come to the attention of Salem police and suggest that even heightened security will not be sufficient to forestall or avoid damage to this historic building.
“In the interest of both public safety and in our primary responsibility to protect the integrity of an historic property, we do not believe an historic site such as Old Town Hall is the appropriate venue for this performance.”
A threatening notice was already found outside Old Town Hall last Thursday night, according to police.
“There was a poster found outside saying if the city doesn’t cancel, we will come and cancel it or do it ourselves,” said Salem police Chief Paul Tucker. “It was not signed, but was posted at one of the kiosks downtown.”
Tucker also said he learned of reports of vandalism at the Los Angeles hall where Death in June performed last week. The “neofolk” group, founded in Britain in the early 1980s, is on a U.S. tour.
Tucker added, however, that the decision to cancel was not made by Salem police.
Nolan criticized the college and city for caving in to what he called militant left-wing groups that have disrupted past concerts and who he believes are behind the current threats and protests. Nolan said he has received threats in recent days.
“I’ve organized a nice event, a peaceful event ... and we’ve been intimidated by violent people,” he said. “The city isn’t standing up for me, and Gordon College isn’t standing up for me. Instead of going after the people making the threats, they’re punishing me.”
Nolan also took issue with the college’s claim they did not know the identity of the group scheduled to perform on Sept. 19 and did not hear the name “Death in June” until a few days ago.
“On July 27, shortly after renting the hall ... I gave them a breakdown of who was performing and (said) a band called Death in June was performing. They knew about it from the beginning.”
Nolan said he stated the name of the group in a meeting with a Gordon College employee who was helping manage Old Town Hall.
Gordon College is in the sixth year of a contract with the city to manage the historic building.
Sweeney said the college will refund the rental deposit.