The Yes Men and Edward Snowden at Roskilde Festival

During the Roskilde festival 2016, activist art group The Yes Men had set up fake signs stating that the festival would be collecting and infinitely storing all text and phone conversations of visitors on festival grounds.

Before the nature of the signs was revealed as a provocative prank, many festival-goers showed both despair and anger. The group’s stunt culminated in a live performance with a fake Edward Snowden who got on stage in the role of an almost tech-illiterate imposter, and finally a talk given by the real Snowden via web stream.

The whole process has been documented by The Yes Men as a 12-minute film about digital surveillance, the data stunt, and Edward Snowden’s talk.

  • Date of recording: Mon, 2016-06-27
  • Language(s) spoken:

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00:03 National security threats are not (only) about terrorism

Narrator: This crowd of thousands of people is eagerly awaiting the next act at Northern Europe’s largest music festival. They’re not waiting for a band, they’re waiting to see NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The Yes Men: …the data collection and user surveillance. How would you recommend we
get rid of it?

Edward Snowden: We better raise awareness. We have to talk. But we have to also be skeptical of the fact that “national security threats” as they like to call them are just about terrorism, because they’re not. Most famously demonstrated by Dr. Martin Luther King.

The day after he gave his most famous speech, his “I have a dream” speech, the FBI created a classified memo that declared him the number one national security threat facing our nation. They considered him someone who injected instability into our political systems. And you know what? They were right. But free and open societies benefit from that instability because what that instability is actually called is progress.

Loving the people that you choose to love. Something as basic as that has been against the law all too frequently. Sometimes the only moral decision is to break the law. And if we… [Applause] That’s pretty popular with you guys. This is normally quite a controversial point, I have to say.

01:32 Staging a political intervention at a music festival

Narrator: This is the largest crowd Snowden has ever addressed. We just spent two days trying to piss off as many people as we could so they would show up. We call that “anger marketing.”

We’re about to start putting up these fake signs about the festival’s new data policy. People are going to be given the impression that this year Roskilde is collecting their text messages, monitoring all their internet activity, and even recording their phone calls. Of course, the festival isn’t actually doing this.

Edward Snowden: But governments are. Every border you cross, every purchase you make, every call you dial is touched by a system whose reach is unlimited but who safeguards or not.

The Yes Men: The gates are about to open and 100,000 people are going to flood in. Let’s see how they react to the festival’s new surveillance policies.

Christina Bilde: Someone put up the signs on — I think it was actually on Twitter or Instagram to begin with. It went on to Facebook, a dialogue started there. And the media are always looking into our social media, tweaking off the arguments and stuff from there.

People here, you know, they’re not used to this.  There’s a group of volunteers sitting here. This just landed at their tables as well.

Roskilde employee: We’re getting some very negative press on this. So my suggestion would be that we meet up with at least a handful of these people to explain.

The Yes Men: So we’ve set up a feedback booth where people can complain. The problem is, they’re going to be complaining to Sean Devlin, who is a comedian and not actually part of the staff here.

Sean Devlin: You know, we could have the guards identify the people who look like terrorists on the way in and then give them, like, a special wristband or something or maybe we write like T on their hand.

Festival visitor: I mean that that wouldn’t be a thing… I mean if there was some guards over there, outside, and go “OK, that guy is white, that guy is black, maybe he’s a terrorist. There’s a possibility that you just miss the terrorist.

Edward Snowden: There is no single race or religion that’s involved in terrorist incidents. Now people might focus on the threat of Islamic extremism, but there are extremists from every religion. In fact, in the United States, the worst single terrorist bombing that ever occurred was the Oklahoma City bombing, which was two white guys driving a van.

Sean Devlin: Well if we know what you look up online, then we can know if you’re a terrorist.

Festival visitor: So if I look up nitro online, then I’m a terrorist?

Sean Devlin: Uh, is that something for a bomb?

Festival visitor: It’s called trinitrotoluene. TNT.

Sean Devlin: What’s your name?

Festival visitor: [laughs]

Edward Snowden: A computer can’t tell the difference between someone who’s saying they want to bomb the White House and someone who thinks that last song was the bomb.

Narrator: Clearly, Ed had much better answers than we did, so we wanted him to speak to people directly.

The Yes Men [Speaking on voice chat over a mobile phone]: We’ve got a great idea. Why don’t you come to this awesome festival and give a talk here?

Edward Snowden: [laughs] I’d love to guys, that would be great. But that’s gonna be a little bit difficult.

The Yes Men: You don’t like the festival lineup? But there’s some pretty good bands here this year.

Edward Snowden: There’s the whole “life in prison thing,” the US government chasing me around the world, big international manhunt, remember that?

The Yes Men: Uh, right, yeah.

So we did the next best thing. We found an actor who looked a bit like Snowden and we gave him a little makeover.

05:26 Snowden lookalike performance

Actor playing ES: Hi, I’m Edward Snowden.

Moderator: Please welcome the most wanted man in the entire world: Edward Snowden.

ES actor: This year Roskilde has instituted a new data policy. If a high school dropout like me could walk out of a US military facility with a treasure trove of information, how powerful could information be in the hands of this music festival? Let’s find out.

I’m going to hack into the “main frame” of the Roskilde fest. This should only take me a few minutes. [Switching to a second notebook] I’ll use this one, sorry.

Oh, caps lock. Caps lock is on. Or off. Now it’s off. It’s off, right? I hit it twice. Okay, off. And… here we go, it’s fro… what? Okay, I got the wheel. You know, the little rainbow wheel… I… okay, what does that wheel mean? Is that a wheel, or is it a beach ball? I liked it back when it used to have just an hourglass. At least you knew it’s time. Maybe that’s… Anyway.

[Addressing his notebook] Come on, come on, cancel. Cancel.

07:26 The hoax is revealed

The Yes Men: Actually, I am — we are — actually investigative reporters and we have a major announcement. We’ve sniffed the routers and we’ve found that all of this is actually false.
It’s not true and I’m very sorry, Mr. Snowden, that this project has misled you.

ES actor: May I? I actually have something to admit too. I’m not Edward Snowden. My name is David Neal, I am an actor from Los Angeles.

The Yes Men: Thank you for that apology Mr. Snowden, and we have an apology too. We are not actually investigative journalists, we’re actually a group called The Yes Men, we do hoaxes, and in fact we hired you, Mr. Snowden, to do this.

Now some of you seem like you’re pretty worked up about it. Does it make you frustrated? [Pointing at a young man in the audience] He is. He’s angry. He’s pissed about this.

ES actor: Please don’t kick my ass.

Narrator: The anger marketing had worked. Now it was time to give people what they wanted. We harnessed the power of the Internet and connected people directly to the real Edward Snowden.

08:58 Edward Snowden live at Roskilde

Edward Snowden: Arguing that you don’t care about privacy because you’ve got nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.

Boy from the audience: I want to ask, if the US government catch you, how long are you going to prison?

Edward Snowden: [laughs] If you’re ten, the minimum sentence that they are threatening right now is three charges, each ten years apiece. So I would spend in prison basically three times the length that you’ve been alive today. If they didn’t add any other charges. But the government in the United States said that for every document, every new story that these journalists have published, that’s another ten years. So it’s very likely that I would be in jail for longer than you will be alive, no matter how long you live.

The Yes Men: Okay, he had one other question.

Boy from the audience: How old are you?

Edward Snowden: I just turned 33.

[Audience sings “Happy Birthday”]

Edward Snowden: Thanks everyone, thank you. Really. [laughs] You guys staying with me on my personal case, again, is overwhelming. But this is not about me. This is about us. What matters is the kind of world you guys are building today.

11:16 Outro

[Credits roll, background music plays]

ES actor: Oh damn. Damn. Oh that’s why caps lock was on. Caps lock is off. Is it off? The light off means it’s off? Oh, I’m sorry, I’m getting one of the circle… the circle thing. That’s why. Adobe wants to install… I don’t… I never even had an account with them.

It’s the usual password. Eddie Snowballs.