The Phenomenology Of White Supremacist Bands
I remember reading, a good 12-15 years ago, an interview with Lars Frederickson of Rancid*—one of the most articulate and insightful punk musicians to ever open his mouth—in which Frederickson was showing the magazine writer his massive LP collection when the writer spotted some white supremacist records. (Skrewdriver, if I remember correctly.) Rancid was about the polar opposite of a white supremacist band, so the writer asked what was up, and Frederickson explained: a) know your enemy, and b) these are copies that are now not in the hands of the neo-Nazis who would want them. He’d bought the LPs off some guy who believed in the stuff, and deprived that guy of his racist material. The records now sat in Frederickson’s living room, inert, deprived of any power or opportunity to sway or corrupt.
Those were the days when the distribution of music was a finite enterprise. In 1996, a white supremacist band couldn’t press more than a couple hundred copies of an LP, if they were lucky. Their cause was so unpopular and so unwelcome that only ideologically-sympathetic record companies would take them on, record companies with near non-existent resources for production and distribution; the White Power music scene was structurally, economically prevented from spreading very far, which meant a guy like Lars Frederickson, whose scene occasionally bisected the white supremacist scene, could, by buying up a few used records, significantly reduce the total number out there.
Obviously, none of this holds anymore. There are now an infinite number of copies of End Apathy, the band led by the alleged Sikh Temple shooter Wade Michael Page; their music is on MySpace, as accessible as could be. There is no more buying up loose copies of neo-Nazi records to keep them out of circulation, as the very same factors that have led to a democratic expansion of the music industry have also eliminated the constraints upon white supremacist bands. If you’re the lead singer of one of these groups, you no longer even have to bother finding a label consonant with your cause; recording is cheap, distribution is easy, and there already exist web-based communities primed to find, consume, and relay your music. The dark side of the structural revolution that was (and is) the digitization of music is that in opening the door to all variety of non-commercial artists, it let in the far peripheries as well. A band like Cults, which never could have existed before the internet, can now flourish, but so can End Apathy.
Fortunately, there is only one Wade Michael Page, and the Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracing his every move since 2000, essentially doing on a grand, organized, and existential scale what Lars Frederickson was doing with neo-Nazi records. Thanks to the SPLC, authorities now have a trove of information on what had been, until a couple of hours ago, an unidentified corpse with suspicious tattoos. The SPLC no doubt knows with whom Page spent his time, and can point the investigation in the right direction. And given the tendency for situations such as this to lead to immediately high levels of recrimination, the fact that we have so much concrete info so soon will help not only the investigation but improve the public discourse that will inevitably follow it.
Most of us can ignore things like white supremacist music; but in a time when neo-Nazis can use the internet to metastasize at will, it’s a good thing there are people like Frederickson and organizations like SPLC who are willing to store this noxious stuff in their living room, so that somebody always knows where they are.
* I grew up in the 90s, don’t judge.
What struck me looking at some of the lyrics Weigel quoted was how often a racist band’s chorus was only distinguishable by one line from any other heavy band. How vague and blandly positive is a name like End Apathy? Frequently the line between a band with a progressive ideology, one with an abhorrent one, and one with no particular ideology is hazy at best. What’s truly disturbing about this to me, is how so many not just bands but any kind of political or pseudo-political leader can weave hateful ideas into middle-of-the-road platitudes that they present as “common sense.”
In New England, the hardcore/punk/metal scene is dominated by working class white men, and it tends to have a generally anti-authority, libertarian view point. I went to a show once and heard a lot of whining about PC liberals and yuppies, but also a lot of “jokes” about slavery and the Holocaust (We’re just trying to be shocking; blah blah First Ammendment, blah blah), but nothing about a bloated military or asshole cops. I’ve had working class white men who are obsessed with underground hip hop music and style pull me aside and say, “Most of these people are just listening to whatever mainstream crap the radio tells them to; I’m not saying anything against black people, but I mean, let’s face it, we both know most of the people I’m talking about are black…”
I think the biggest thing is that working class white men don’t think they have anything to stand FOR, so they define themselves by what they stand against. Ron Paul appeals to them because he claims he wants to tear everything down and start all over. Which he can say only because he has nothing to lose. Many of their fathers voted Democrat and depended on unions for their livelihood. Now they think, I don’t have much, so somebody else must be getting it. They feel like “rich liberals from the suburbs” are taking away from THEM and giving it to “Those People.” They say, “I’m not a Republican, but I’m *definitely* not a Democrat.” It’s just like that joke you used to tell about the straight edge kid. You asked, “What do you guys do for fun?” His answer: “We definitely don’t get high!” “No, what do you DO?” “…We sure as hell don’t have casual sex!”
I remember once getting into an argument with the white hip hop fan I referred to above. He reminded me that I didn’t know what it was like to grow up poor and then see some kid use his welfare check to buy sneakers. It’s true that I didn’t know specifically what that was like, but this guy wasn’t saying that it’s a shame that someone would waste social assistance on a meaningless status symbol because they’d been duped by our culture’s destructive materialism; he was *jealous* of this kid.