The music of racist hate

Alexander Billet looks at the far-right music scene--and how we can challenge it.

Neo-Nazi terrorist Wade Michael PageNeo-Nazi terrorist Wade Michael Page

WADE MICHAEL Page was, among other things, a musician. The man who, on August 5, stormed into a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee, Wis., and opened fire, killing six worshippers and wounding several others, was the singer of a hardcore band called End Apathy.

Rough and aggressive, with a clear "fuck all authority" theme running through all the lyrics, this is the kind of music that understandably appeals to any young, disaffected kid forgotten by the system. But, of course, as the world now knows, this band isn't just another garage cohort designed to let the young folks channel their anger into something productive. Far from it, this music is designed to lead them down a path of bigoted terror.

That's how Page himself got started. In an interview posted on the website for Label 56, which until very recently distributed End Apathy's records, he said, "I went to the Hammerfest 2000 in Georgia," a festival of white power bands that takes its name from the active Hammerskin neo-Nazi organization. This wasn't long after he ended his stint in the U.S. Army at Fort Bragg, where he was first exposed to white supremacist ideas.

"That's when I joined Youngland," Page told the interviewer. "I filled in for various bands on guitar and bass, including Celtic Warrior, Radikahl, Max Resist, Intimidation One, Aggressive Force, Blue Eyed Devils."

In other words, Page wasn't a peripheral figure in the white power music scene; he was a fixture. Nor is this some small, piddly provincial subculture. Experienced anti-fascist and anti-racist activists have been aware of this scene for about as long as it's existed. Now, in the wake of the August 5 shooting, the mainstream media has started to pay attention.

The Huffington Post, the New York Times and Slate among others have run pieces examining the phenomenon of neo-Nazi and fascist music in the U.S. In the Times, authors James Dao and Serge Kovaleski point to National Alliance leader William Pierce's purchase of Resistance Records in 1999. At the time, Resistance was the premier white power record label in North America; not long after gaining the helm at Resistance, Pierce also purchased Swedish hate label Nordland Records, essentially doubling Resistance's roster.

Quoting researcher Devin Burghart, the authors point out that this was a significant turn in strategy for the far-right: "The music became not only the No. 1 recruiting tool, but also the biggest revenue source for the movement."

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ABOUT 10 days prior to Page's act of racist terror, all the way across the Atlantic and halfway across the Mediterranean, another musician was getting his day in the sun. Artemios Matthaiopoulos, the bassist for a Greek punk band called Pogrom, was being sworn in as a deputy in the parliament.

As one might guess from the name, Pogrom are far from subtle. One song, entitled "Auschwitz," features the lyrics: "Fuck Anne Frank! / Fuck the whole tribe of Abraham! / The Star of David makes me vomit!"

It was these lyrics in particular that provoked a roar of protest from several groups representing Greece's Jewish community: "This composer of hate lyrics that praise Auschwitz offends the memory of the 6 million Jewish victims of Nazism--of whom 65,000 were Greek Jews--and also offends thousands of their Christian fellow Greek citizens and vulgarly trivializes Jews and their sacred places," the Central Board of Jewish Communities said in a letter. "He is now a member of the Greek Parliament."

Oddly enough, Matthaiopoulos isn't the only musician with such views sitting in Greek parliament. In May, during the first round of Greece's elections, George Germenis, also a bass player for a black metal band called Naer Mataron, was elected. Both Germenis and Matthaiopoulos are members of Golden Dawn, a party who polled around 7 percent in both rounds of elections and whose neo-Nazi stances are covered by only the thinnest of veils.

Golden Dawn's rise to Greece's parliament is truly horrifying. The ongoing economic crisis and rapid decline in Greek living standards has caused a tremendous polarization in public opinion. While this has certainly opened the door to magnificent developments in resistance (17 general strikes, the rise of the Coalition of the Radical Left, or SYRIZA), it's also allowed for the most toxic flotsam in Greek society to rise to the top. Golden Dawn are that flotsam.

In the May elections, their campaign slogan was "So we can rid this land of filth." Not only have deputies representing the party been involved in recent public assaults on left-wing candidates (one of whom Mathaiopoulos is now replacing), but the group has a long history of terror against immigrants, leftists and religious minorities.

The party's swastika-like symbol has been found at vandalisms of synagogues and mosques. Albanian and Turkish immigrants have been assaulted by individuals connected to the group. Making matters worse, after the June elections, it was found that around half of Greek police officers voted for Golden Dawn. That this kind of party now has 18 seats in the nation's parliament represents a very dark cloud.

Matthaiopoulos and Germenis are both the logical result of Golden Dawn's own conscious attempts to reach out to young people using music. The party's youth wing regularly puts on "Rock Against Communism" concerts, involving bands from the country's own hate-core and racist metal scenes.

The Golden Dawn Youth Front have also collaborated with far-right groups from across Europe, such as Italy's Forza Nuova and the National Democratic Party of Germany, to put on continent-wide white power music fests. It's not a far leap to imagine a young Matthaiopoulos or others like him today drawn in by these types of events.

Martin Smith, convener of Love Music Hate Racism in the UK, is well acquainted with these types of tactics:

The British National Party--a fascist party in Britain--produced a CD of various folk, Oi! and ska music. Lots of the bands are not identified, and they were giving them out to school kids at the school gates...We're seeing overall an attempt to reach out to kids who are looking for a bit more raw in their music, so they used music to do that.

As Smith points out, this is certainly made easier by the long, albeit somewhat marginalized, tradition of far-right punk groups going all the way back to Skrewdriver in the late '70s.

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THE COLLABORATION with Golden Dawn extends to the United States. In 2001, William Pierce, the same National Alliance leader who had purchased Resistance Records just two years earlier, met with party leaders in Thessaloniki to share ideas and strategies. Resistance Hellas-Antepithesi, magazine of the Golden Dawn Youth Front, is the official sister publication of Resistance, run by its namesake record label.

It seems no coincidence that the National Alliance was one of the many white nationalist groups that Wade Michael Page would drift between.

The public attention in the wake of the Sikh temple shooting has caused Label 56 to remove all articles and merchandise connected with Page's End Apathy (as well as release a crocodile tear-stained statement condemning his actions). This hasn't stopped them from maintaining the rest of their fascist dreck, including an interview with a Greek white power punk identified only as "Kostas."

Kostas, according to the interview, runs the "Skinhouse Hellas" project, and has been involved with several far-right bands over the years. Among those bands? Pogrom, Artemios Matthaiopoulos' group.

It gets worse. Naer Mataron, the black metal group featuring George Germenis, is signed to Season of Mist, an imprint distributed by EMI--one of the world's biggest three record labels!

All of this alarmingly contradicts the persistent tone in much of the present coverage of white power music. While it can't be denied that mainstream acknowledgement of this scene is a positive, most pieces fail to realize just how close some of these acts may potentially be to puncturing the mainstream and reaching a larger audience.

True, the U.S. doesn't have any Nazis seig-heiling on the floors of Congress (at least not openly). But the toll of the Great Recession, mixed with America's adventures in the Arab world and the virulent racism that come with them, have created a potent atmosphere for targeting the easy scapegoat.

Right-populist astroturf movements like the Tea Party make no bones about allowing white supremacists to organize in their ranks. Furthermore, the befuddled handling of Page's terrorism by authorities (not to mention the complacency of record labels like EMI) reveals an utter failure on their part to prevent such a thing from happening.

Of course, one obvious point never mentioned in any of the recent coverage is what useful idiots white power punks willfully make of themselves. Every fascist regime has had a long string of vicious censorship running through it--including subversive artists who may have even been supportive of fascism at one time, but soon found themselves on the unfriendly end of the law.

"I had seen the Clash on the first night of the White Riot tour," says the legendary Billy Bragg, "and I remember thinking that the fascists were against anybody who wanted to be different--once they had dealt with the immigrants, then they would move onto the gays and then the punks; before I knew it, the music I loved would be repatriated."

And so, as always, it falls to us. Which isn't entirely bad. Their side may have a network and infrastructure at their disposal, but so do we. For every bonehead screaming about the purity of the white race into a mic, there are countless Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP) or Red and Anarchist Skinheads (RASH) sick of seeing their culture become a synonym for hate.

We have a history of bottom-up mobilizations against the far-right--from confrontations with the German-American Bund in the late 1930s to anti-Klan mobilizations in North Carolina this past May. We have the history of Rock Against Racism and the example of Love Music Hate Racism today. And a growing sense of solidarity--from Syntagma Square in Greece to the Occupy encampments here at home--has inspired a growing number of young people to take on the policies of austerity and racism that has allowed the far-right to grow in the first place.

What form this tradition might take today is anyone's guess, be it a petition to EMI urging them to drop hate musicians or a full-on network of punks, heads and indie kids screaming "not in our name." Whatever form it takes, however, it needs to happen with a quickness.

"Exposing these links is a key task for anti-fascists," says Martin Smith. "'Never Again!' must be our watchwords."