If there’s one thing that can be said about Rage Against the Machine, it’s that they’re a band that lives up to their name, especially when it comes to their activism, if that’s what you want to call it.
Some of the younger generation might be unaware of the specific details of the events that took place in 2000 when they caused the temporary shutdown of the New York Stock Exchange, but Rage proved to be the quite literal antithesis of trying to be The Wolf of Wall Street.
So, how exactly did they manage to do this? Shutting down Wall Street sounds nearly impossible, so how did one band manage to do it? It all started with the recording of their music video for the song ‘Sleep Now in the Fire’, a track taken from their album The Battle of Los Angeles, which centres primarily around calling out corporate wealth, greed, and capitalism.
The video was directed by Michael Moore, who had the members of Rage Against the Machine perform on the steps of Federal Hall in lower Manhattan, New York City. Although they obtained a federal permit for the shoot, NYC authorities denied Moore a sound permit. This led to the NYPD shutting down the shoot after the band went through six takes, after which the group rushed the New York Stock Exchange across the street while he was being threatened with arrest.
Director Moore said of the events later: “We decided to shoot this video in the belly of the beast. For a few minutes, Rage Against the Machine was able to shut down American capitalism—an act that I am sure tens of thousands of downsized citizens would cheer.”
Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine recalls the events, stating: “So we’re on the steps, and we’re performing, and it’s going well. And then he says, ‘OK, now we’re going to play on the sidewalk, the un-permitted sidewalk.’ And so, we get down on the sidewalk, and the police sergeant comes up to me and he’s like, ‘You guys got to get back up on the steps.’ I remember what Mike said, so I’m like, ‘Something’s happening. I’m going to keep playing.’ And then he’s like, ‘Get back on the fucking steps right now.”
He continued, “And he’s mad. The cop vein in his neck begins to pulse. And then he unplugs my guitar, and the riff keeps playing. And then he unplugs Timmy’s bass and takes Brad’s drumsticks. The look on his face is one of religious terror. He doesn’t understand how the song is happening. So he arrests Michael Moore. Then Michael, in his second directorial edict of the afternoon says, ‘Take the New York Stock Exchange.'”
Detailing further, Morello added: “In retrospect, it felt like a historic victory against evil, but on the day, it felt so chaotic because our director was in jail… At the end of the day, it was a pretty spectacular historic rock and roll thing we made. They don’t make them like that anymore.”