Behind All the Noise of Hate Music
The meeting point is a gas station 20 miles north of Detroit. As carloads of people from across the Midwest cruise in, a young man in a blue flannel shirt quietly signals them to follow him.
They drive past a line of watchful police cars, through suburbs dotted with strip malls and fast-food restaurants. Finally, they reach working-class Shelby Township and turn left down a country road, where a Disabled American Veterans assembly hall advertises free admission to a flea market.
Car after car pulls in, and a parade of young men--many with the trademark shaved heads, Doc Martens boots and swastika tattoos of neo-Nazi skinheads--file into the hall. The front door closes, and the trouble starts.
Thundering guitars strike up an infernal rhythm. A call--it might be a human shriek or the growl of a bear--rises with the music: Victory or Valhalla . . . We will never surrender. And then the crowd strikes up a chant that can be heard out on the street: “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!”
Of the many underground music scenes in America, few are so forbidden that patrons arrive not knowing where the concert is. Then again, few rock ‘n’ roll bands sing anthems like “If you ain’t white, you’ll be dead.”
White power music is virtually the only kind that no radio station will play, no club will book, few record stores will stock. In an industry that seeks profits in outrageousness, it is the music that goes too far.
Even the old guard of the white supremacy movement viewed the violent skinhead culture with dismay. But now they have begun to embrace white power music, realizing that a single compact disk can be infinitely more powerful a recruiting tool than a parking lot full of fliers.
National Alliance leader William Pierce--whom human rights groups have identified as the most powerful and dangerous white supremacist in America--recently purchased Resistance Records and its accompanying magazine, setting up a warehouse and distribution center on his 350-acre compound in West Virginia.
Resistance expects to generate at least $750,000 in CD sales this year. That money, Pierce says, can be funneled into the National Alliance’s expanding political network, and into development of new music genres that will subtly carry the white power message.
“While it may appear to the naked eye that this stuff isn’t very prevalent, it has worked itself into a number of different youth subcultures,” said Devin Burghart of the Chicago-based Center for New Community, which along with the Northwest Coalition for Human Dignity recently coauthored a report on the growing threat posed by white power music.
“They’re trying to target music stores, get airplay. They’re trying to move bands more toward the mainstream,” Burghart said. “I think right now we’re on the cusp of seeing a dramatic increase” in white power music’s outreach.
More than a dozen labels operating on the Internet--companies like Panzerfaust Records, Tri-State Terror and Imperium Records--offer catalogs listing hundreds of CDs, with jacket photos you’d never see in a record store: stacks of bodies at a Nazi concentration camp; a black lynching victim; two Serbian officers shooting a bound victim in the back of the head.
In Anaheim in December, more than 100 skinheads showed up to hear the Orange County-based band Youngland--along with other white power bands. A local club owner unwittingly had booked the show after being told that “a couple of bands” would be willing to pay front money to play. With White Aryan Resistance leader Tom Metzger in the audience, they hammered out songs like “Thank God I’m a White Boy"--to the tune of John Denver’s “Country Boy” hit.
And in Detroit earlier this month, white power music promoters had to scramble to find a venue after two previously scheduled sites drew opposition from anti-racist groups and neighbors. More than 200 patrons--some who had driven from as far as Ohio, Illinois and Minnesota with no idea of their final destination--bought tickets.
While most record stores refuse to stock white power bands, racist labels have made inroads in at least two dozen retail outlets across the country. Anyone with access to the Internet can download and listen to songs like “Racially Debased” and “Bagels and Blood.” And at the mainstream Milwaukee Music Festival last year, everyone entering the gate was handed a copy of Resistance magazine--which since Pierce took over has become the Rolling Stone of the racist music scene.
One of the keys to the growing number of white power labels, industry insiders say, is that technology has made it easy--and potentially profitable--for almost anyone to operate a record company. All it takes is marginal studio equipment and a compact disk burner connected to a personal computer. And if nobody will stock the records, they can be sold--at a better profit margin--at concerts and on the Internet.
“A CD costs $2 to produce. You sell it for $14.88. Good profit,” said one white power music industry observer who asked not to be identified. “But as far as Dr. Pierce’s belief that this is going to be a means of reaching young people who are going to be part of his revolutionary vanguard? He’s absolutely delusional. . . . I think the excitement, the alcohol, the girls, the loud music, all that has much more appeal than the message does.”
“It will never have mass appeal,” echoed Michael Moynihan, whose Portland-based band, Blood Axis, and small publishing company have come under attack by racism watchdog groups for their use of fascist symbolism and ideology.
“The No. 1 reason is that the musical quality is usually lacking,” Moynihan said. “I don’t think most people who listen to music as an art form are going to get excited about being yelled at with slogans.”
But the managers of Resistance Records and Resistance magazine, which prints 12,000 copies quarterly, beg to differ.
“The key . . . is to make our views more fashionable than those that the system peddles,” Resistance magazine said in an editorial.
“We are the ubiquitous ‘rebels with a cause,’ the champions of youthful aggression, the masters of controversy and excitement . . . and the perennial ‘bad boys’ of myth and legend.”
More Attuned to Beethoven
The newest godfather of the bad boys doesn’t look the part, sitting in his cluttered office, stroking a Siamese cat. Pierce, once an Oregon university professor, has a doctorate in nuclear physics. His musical tastes run more to Beethoven than the Angry Aryans. He is apt to make apologies for the beery antics of his musicians.
The Anti-Defamation League calls his National Alliance “the single most dangerous organized hate group in the United States today"--a reference that Pierce says he takes as a compliment.
A former top lieutenant of the American Nazi Party, Pierce abandoned academia and took over the National Alliance in the early 1970s with an avowed aim to secure “a racially clean area of the Earth” and the pledge to “do whatever is necessary to achieve this white living space and to keep it white.”
His 1978 novel, “The Turner Diaries,” remains a best-seller in far-right circles and is said to have provided the architecture for the Oklahoma City bombing. In it, a white army known as the Organization starts in California and launches an all-out war against the U.S. government, systematically exterminating blacks, Jews and race traitors.
“For many years, [anti-hate groups] have tried hard, and largely successfully, to keep me marginalized. . . . Nevertheless, my audience kept growing, and now I have essentially moved into the mass media. I think that fascinates people,” Pierce said. “It’s like watching a rattlesnake getting ready to strike.”
Pierce points to a chart that, according to figures provided by outside watchdog groups, shows National Alliance membership up 49.7% in 1999 to 1,500 people after nearly a decade of flat numbers.
“The whole climate for our revolution has shifted toward more favorable conditions,” said Pierce, who asserted that more people are fearful the future will render whites a minority in America.
Until his acquisition of Resistance Records, Pierce mostly used the Internet and radio to spread his message.
His weekly radio broadcasts, “American Dissident Voices,” reach an audience of more than 100,000 around the world and allow him to pontificate on the American political scene from what he calls a “patriotic” perspective.
In recent weeks, he has taken on the defense of Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker (“The people who pretend to be shocked by . . . Rocker’s expression of distaste for the denizens of Times Square and the New York subways are the same people who will never give an honest explanation of why they have fled the cities for the suburbs”); former Austrian Freedom Party leader Jorg Haider (“Democracy works just the way the Jews want it to work--except when someone who isn’t a member of the club slips through a crack and gets elected”); and white victims of black violence.
Pierce says it’s clear those messages appeal to a certain number of white, middle-class men--and some women--who have been the traditional recruiting targets of the National Alliance. But he contends the acquisition of Resistance Records and its magazine opens the door to a wider audience.
White power music, Pierce says, must evolve into “a much broader category of resistance music” that could take in black metal bands with national socialist themes, traditional Germanic and Celtic folk music--and more.
“We’d like to move into graphics, art, video; that’s the media I’d like to get into most. . . . Why not do documentaries, revolutionary drama? Just like TV entertainment is more effective in shaping people’s opinions and views than TV news, I think video drama is the way to get people to accept your point of view.”
The overall reach of Pierce’s umbrella is small--1,500 dues-paying members are hardly going to launch a race war--but some of his toughest critics say Pierce is shrewd when it comes to laying the groundwork.
“He is incredibly bright and . . . has long-standing and deep roots in the hate world,” Brian Levin, head of the San Bernardino-based Center on Hate and Extremism.
“Anywhere he can spread the message, whether it be over a radio show, or with these novels, or the Internet, or hate rock, he is almost like a one-man media conglomerate of the hate world, and arguably the most successful.”
It’s not easy to run a white power record label. Forget about the trouble of finding a place to play. What about simply finding a printer to put out a CD cover depicting swastikas and piles of Jewish corpses?
“To begin with, the music is politically incorrect, so you’re going to run into problems. Freedom of speech only applies to people who aren’t hurting anybody else’s feelings,” said Eric Davidson, the 39-year-old operator of the Minnesota-based Panzerfaust Records.
But in some ways, the forbidden nature of the music helps sell it, said Erich Gliebe, an ex-boxer (“the Aryan Barbarian”) who has taken over management of Resistance Records and Resistance magazine. He also heads up the National Alliance’s biggest chapter, in Cleveland.
“Kids . . . tend to listen to music they’re told they can’t listen to,” Gliebe said. Even kids too young to buy over the Internet with a credit card, he said, have access. “Surprisingly, a lot of these kids, their mom will order it for them. They must have some sympathetic parents.”
Actually, say some white power record promoters, parents who see the overtly violent messages in some black rap music or the vague, multicultural call to revolution in bands like Rage Against the Machine may wonder what’s so wrong with a white group putting out the same message.
“White power music is a cultural, religious expression of people who feel they are absolutely left out of the system and have banded together,” said Vincent Breeding, a guitarist, concert promoter and former marketing director for Resistance Records. “In the same way that black rap [originally] attracted . . . black gangsters, skinhead music today is about nothing but fighting against the system.”
But how can white power music move out of the realm of high-volume garage bands and into something more mainstream, the kind of music your sister might to listen to?
Gliebe said that Resistance is ready to make a major move into black metal music--an eerie, Satanic-tinged genre of heavy metal that was linked to a wave of church arsons and murder in Europe through the 1990s. A few of the leading black metal bands now have openly nationalist and racist themes. Their music often evokes the kind of pagan Norse and Germanic mythology that has become popular in anti-Christian circles of the American far right.
Aiming Now for Sophistication
Breeding said he has hired mainstream musicians, most working under pseudonyms, to develop a new generation of white power music--in genres ranging from rock to folk to country--with a more sophisticated message.
“We are in a position where we own the only record companies that promote an entire genre of music,” Breeding said. “It’s getting ready to explode, and when it does, we’ll be the cultural disseminators of this, and not our enemies.”
A fan at the concert in Detroit, a 35-year-old who identified himself only as “Skinhead88,” said he started listening to white power music after years of listening to the Doors, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and Black Sabbath.
“The media says our music is dangerous. Why? Every culture has their Spanish pride, black pride. But when you say white pride, you are labeled a racist,” he said.