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.