With the recent shift in mass-market tastes toward fast, hard-edged music, Orange County’s punk-rock movement has a chance to make a mark on the world. But it will be a hollow achievement if local rockers and promoters don’t also muster a determined effort to cleanse the stain on their own music scene.
That stain is violence fueled by hatred. Its source is a small but dangerous faction of local neo-Nazis and white supremacists who like hard-core punk rock and who think they have license to vent their views at concerts and inflict mayhem on those who might disagree.
I’ve heard stories about at least three local bands, the Crowd, D.I. and HFL, whose shows during the past two years have been marred by violence sparked by neo-Nazis. The incident that makes it impossible to ignore the threat any longer happened just a month ago, when a pack of what appeared to be racist skinheads wielding fists and a knife nearly killed an 18-year-old Vandals fan during a punk show at the Ice House in Fullerton.
When I reached him a week after the Dec. 16 incident, the victim, who suffered a punctured lung, would talk about it only if I promised not to name him. He feared his attackers might find him and try to finish the job.
Here’s his account:
He was standing on the Ice House floor during a break between bands, waiting for the headlining Vandals to play. “I was talking to a friend of mine. Someone said something, then shouted it louder. He said, ‘What are you wearing that shirt for?’ I had a shirt with Jimi Hendrix (on it). He said, ‘What do you have a (black man) on your shirt for?’ After that he hit me in the face, and I felt about seven more (blows) to the head. I got jumped by a lot of them, 11 or 12. I didn’t even know I was stabbed until I was at the hospital.”
Members of HFL, the last band to play before the assault, estimate that there were 20 to 50 racist skinheads at the Ice House that night, out of a crowd of more than 600.
Even though the shaven-headed, tattooed skinhead look is also favored by many non-racist punk fans, musicians who are in the punk scene say it isn’t very hard to spot the neo-Nazis: They’re the ones who sport red suspenders and swastika symbols, who go around lifting their arms in a “Sieg Heil” salute during concerts, and who yell slogans like “white power.”
“That Ice House show had the most (white supremacists) I’ve ever seen,” said Joel Bull, an HFL member who is clearly anguished by a pattern of neo-Nazi attendance at his band’s shows. HFL--the initials stand for Hard, Fast and Loud--vehemently disavows any ideological kinship to the racist element, and Bull quotes the following refrain from the band’s new album, directed at the neo-Nazis among its following:
Forget about peer pressure from fascist ignorant minds
Lose the ignorant disguise and do your time
It’s time for the punk scene as a whole to lose its apathetic, turn-the-other-way response toward those who wear this “ignorant disguise,” and to start putting some concerted, systematic, nonviolent pressure on them.
As Bull aptly puts it, “My head’s telling me, ‘Those (neo-Nazi) guys could get mopped up in a second’ ” if anti-racist punks who outnumber them took them on in a fight. “But there’s got to be an alternative, a more positive way, because that would just be contributing to the problem. There’s enough violence in this world, and we don’t need any more.”
The punk community’s response should have a two-pronged emphasis: prevention, in the form of ample, alert and well-drilled concert security crews who know the punk scene and can tell the difference between rowdy mosh-pit fun and attempted assault; and education, with the musicians themselves using their position of respect to make it clear that racist views and violent actions have no place in their scene.
On the prevention end, promoters and venue owners can look to Mesa, Ariz., where Corey Adams, a promoter and club owner, got fed up about six months ago with the neo-Nazi presence at shows he was running.
Adams says he decided after “some real bad incidents” to start handling the white supremacists much as concert promoters long have handled the threat of gang violence at rap shows: by treating the neo-Nazis as a gang and prohibiting any manifestation of their gang identity.
“Any white supremacist (clothes or paraphernalia), we don’t let ‘em in, we turn ‘em away,” Adams said.
If the neo-Nazis dress down for the occasion and make it inside, only to doff shirts to reveal swastika tattoos or other white-power emblems, Adams has them ejected.
The same goes for any shouting of slogans, flashing of hand signals and, of course, any violence. If neo-Nazis want to come to shows for the music, behave peaceably and leave their symbols and demonstrations outside, fine.
“Since taking a stand against it, I haven’t had any problems” at shows, said the promoter, who runs a 500-capacity club called the Nile Theater. The improvement has its cost: Adams says he adds off-duty police to his security crew for shows featuring the aggressive hard-core punk bands most likely to attract a neo-Nazi element. He figures his costs go up “a couple hundred dollars” per show as a result.
And Adams has had to show the courage of his convictions: He says he has received death threats because of his stand, and there has been petty vandalism at his club.
“I don’t go out in the parking lot by myself. I keep security around me most of the time,” he said. “But the skinheads are definitely outnumbered.”
It’s an example that all promoters serious about the well-being of the Orange County punk scene should follow. And if they do, the risks should be lessened by the force that comes with widespread solidarity and the sense of inevitability that comes with standard operating procedures.
Those who fear the heat that anti-racism policies like Adams’ might bring should get out of the kitchen and not book shows that might draw neo-Nazi gangs--which would include some of the harder-edged, better-drawing bands on the circuit.
Augmenting the measures Adams takes in Arizona with technology would be a good idea: metal detectors to keep out weapons, and video cameras to scan the club or concert hall, with the understanding that if violence occurs--skinhead-related or otherwise--promoters will turn over the tapes to police and prosecutors.
This will drive up costs and lead to higher ticket prices. Promoters should let their customers know about it by posting signs like this at each show they attend: “The ticket for this concert cost $7, plus a $3 stupidity tax to ensure the best possible security against violent and hateful elements inside your music scene.”
The musicians are in the best position to preach against that violence and hatred. Two weeks after the Ice House stabbing, it was gratifying to hear Mark Adkins of the punk band Guttermouth speak out from the same club’s stage against the neo-Nazi presence on the punk scene.
As political campaign strategists and advertising executives well know, an idea expressed often enough and forcefully enough can turn into an avalanche that sweeps away competing positions. Let’s have an avalanche of tolerance to overwhelm violence and hate.
Let’s also have powerful music that makes the same points. The best way for the O.C. punk community to take a stand against neo-Nazism would be to pool talents and resources and record a compilation album of songs that state the anti-racist case.
It could include existing tracks and material written and recorded just for the occasion.
It should not be a benefit album for any organization but, rather, a record that is pure political speech, to be distributed for free at every show and record shop.
It’s hard to believe that one or more recording studios wouldn’t donate time, and perhaps disc manufacturers can be prevailed upon to reduce their charges, too.
Get thousands of these albums into local circulation, get KROQ and the college stations to play it and to interview participating players on the air. Get the idea across that this punk community will not be an idle witness to beatings, stabbings and hate speech.
Of course, the world being what it is, there is no guarantee that taking firm precautions and being outspoken will stop violence. Haters’ noggins are often too thick to be swayed by reason, their hearts too hardened to yield to an appeal to human feeling. And one determined, hellbent extremist can thwart the best concert security in the world.
But the effort has to be made.
If these measures work, the benefits are obvious. If they fail, the Orange County punk movement would know more frustration and pain. But at least it would be spared the shame of having stood by and done nothing.