WASHINGTON • On the day of United States President Donald Trump's inauguration, two poorly understood forces of the Internet collided in a sort of bizarre death lock - a struggle that has manifested in the real world as Nazi- costumed dances in New York, a meticulously planned theft in rural Tennessee and, last month, a raid on a British rooftop.
These forces are called 4chan and Shia LaBeouf.
LaBeouf is a 30-year-old Hollywood star who recently restyled himself as a performance artist.
4chan is an anonymous forum whose millions of users gave the world the popular video prank known as Rickrolling and the GamerGate campaign aimed at feminist critics of the male- dominated gaming industry.
Lately, 4chan's vast energies have been spent disrupting a single webcam. LaBeouf's art group installed the camera outside a museum in New York on Jan 20, inviting the public to join him in chanting: "He will not divide us." He Will Not Divide Us was supposed to last the duration of Mr Trump's first term.
Almost instantly, 4chan users turned the live feed into hell's own reality show.
Dubbed "Season 1" on 4chan and associated forums, the New York live stream was forced to relocate after self-professed neo-Nazis and other disrupters kept making cameos, shouting "Hitler did nothing wrong" or dancing around LaBeouf in a Nazi officer's cap. They provoked the star until he was arrested and accused of assaulting a troll.
Since then, the struggle has shifted to Seasons 2 through 4, in which trolls pursued the webcam across the US, until the artists were forced to replace the public chanting with a live feed of a guarded flag in an undisclosed location.
The forum pages turned into a detective game as users studied every scant clue in the footage - cross-referencing passing airplanes with known flight paths and studying constellations after dark to triangulate the flag's location.
They got an assist when LaBeouf was photographed at a diner in Greeneville, Tennessee, and ended up in the local newspaper. They have twice found and tried to steal the flag, most recently on the top of an arts centre in Liverpool, Britain.
"We have been doing everything within our powers to maintain the work in the face of these efforts to silence it," the artist group, LaBeouf, Ronkko & Turner, wrote to The Washington Post.
They called the disruptions "concerted efforts by far-right extremists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis to terrorise, deface, steal and ultimately silence the work".