On White Supremacy and Music

In the wake of the Oak Creek shooting, many are talking about the shooter’s involvement in white supremacist counter culture. Wade Michael Page had been a member of several white power bands since the early 2000s. Today’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook delved into Page’s past, even playing some music samples, and invited listeners to weigh in on their encounters with racist skins.

One caller explained that he had been in the hardcore scene in the late 80s and early 90s, and the racist skins were a constant presence (read: nuisance). He explained that he saw many brawls and heard about crimes, but that he thinks many young people who get involved in hate music are looking for something extreme but aren’t prepared to handle the real hate behind it. His following comment is one I’d like to expand upon: people in the hardcore scene didn’t like the racist skins, but they never had the gall to confront them.

I don’t need to go into the histories of the music scenes or white supremacy here (although I can recommend sources if anyone needs them, as it can be difficult to navigate for those who don’t already know the music). I think most people realize that racists didn’t create the “sound” of oi!, hardcore punk, metal, or any other music. Racist groups adopted these genres’ sounds as a recruiting tool, as these musics have always appealed to disenfranchised youth (and in the 80s and 90s, especially white youth). In my own research on folk and pagan metal (a more recent sub genre, though my research has branched into black metal for certain reasons) I’ve seen how racist skinheads, aryanists, and neo-nazis make up a portion of the fan base; going to a show, there is always the chance you’ll see an individual or small group of white supremacists, identifiable by their dress, tattoos, snobby attitude, and, if they’re brazen, a nazi salute. What the caller said was true – no one likes these people coming to shows, but everyone tolerates them.

I cannot speak to the hardcore or punk music scenes, but I have ample experience in extreme and folk metal to explain why we’re a bunch of push overs. Metal fans can be representative of the entire range of political thought, but in terms of how we see each other as fans, a distinctly libertarian (lower case ‘l’) social sentiment abounds: it doesn’t matter what a musician or fan *thinks* politically; what matters is that he/she plays or consumes high quality music and doesn’t act like an ass. At first glance this may seem like a rose-tinted self view – it isn’t. In reality, it is nihilistic, apathetic, or somewhere in between. And this is exactly the problem.

It would be unrealistic and wrong to want every metal fan to be paranoid of white supremacists and denounce them at every turn. But we really ought to reexamine how much we will tolerate as individual fans and musicians. Apathy is as lazy as it is cowardly. And, at heart, I don’t believe the majority of metalheads are actually as apathetic as they seem; after all, many of us engage in hearty policing when we feel the integrity/brutality of our music is compromised by weaker sound. Hell, the swiftness with which we cut off formerly worshipped bands if they produce a weak album is mind blowing. In truth, it’s a lot easier to tell someone their music is pathetic, than tell that person they have no claim to our culture. In the end, though, aren’t sound and scene culture inextricably linked? We don’t need to be heroes, but we could stand to grow some balls. Instead of taking the weak way out (‘oh, well he/she may be racist in his private life, but it’s not like I’m supporting racism by buying his/her music’, or ‘I only ever care about the music’), we could probably do more to reclaim our musical territory. After all, when white power music with heavy riffs is featured on a news show, any heavy music becomes suspect for society. We end up sounding a bit like Muslims or Christians who explain away the extremists in their faiths after a violent crime has already claimed victims. I’m not saying we should fight violence with violence like the antifa; we should hold ourselves to higher standards than that! At the very least, we should know our music and the faces and labels behind it. We should make sure our local venues don’t end up as stops on hate music tours.

But don’t white supremacists have the right to exist, not to mention the right to free speech? Of course they do. Here’s the catch: freedom of speech is a social contract. I agree to honor your right as long as you honor mine. White supremacist groups and individuals don’t hold up their end of this contract – by wanting to deny anyone else rights, they forfeit these rights for themselves.

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