In November 2004, the assassination of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam by an Islamic extremist shocked The Netherlands. Critics of multiculturalism quickly linked the murder to the perceived failure of ‘soft’ integration policies and questioned the authority and legitimacy of Amsterdam’s political leadership. This article studies the response of political leaders to those challenges from a performative perspective. Analysing governance as performance illuminates the importance of actively enacting political leadership in non-parliamentary settings such as talk shows, mosques and other religious meeting places, and improvised mass meetings in times of crisis. The authors distinguish different discursive means of performing authority, make suggestions for dealing with crisis events in ethnically and culturally diverse cities and draw some lessons from this approach as well as for methods of studying public administration.