Neo-Nazi Groups Use Traditional Folk Music Festivals to Recruit Radicals
SACRAMENTO -- Peter Haworth could hardly believe it. Here he was, with his bandmates in Molly's Revenge, setting up last February to play traditional Celtic music to some 75 people gathered at "Euro-Fest 2003." He was fine-tuning the sound equipment when his wife rushed up with the news.
"She said, 'Do you know who they are?'" the folk musician recalled.
Haworth will never forget the scene that his wife, who had been setting up a table nearby to sell Molly's Revenge CDs, described. "You should have seen what they were selling there!" he said. "They had Mein Kampf and little baby blankets in blue and white with little swastikas all over them. It was horrible."
That wasn't all. Around the famous folk band was a virtual Nazifest. Women in knee-length skirts and Bavarian bustiers sold copies of ABC: Aryan Beginnings for Children, along with Talk Back, a publication of the White Student Alliance. At a nearby table, photos were on sale of two beautiful young blonde girls giving the Nazi salute. A fellow with a black T-shirt bearing a swastika strolled by; near him, another man's shirt urged "David Duke for Senate."
Over at the table of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, women's thongs with the Alliance symbol embroidered on the front, available in green, pink, yellow, white and red, were moving briskly. (See also Hate for Sale.)
The members of Molly's Revenge could certainly be forgiven for their ignorance. Nothing in the advertising for the event had suggested that it was being staged by people who believe that Jews and "race traitors" need killing. The venue was perfectly respectable Clunie Hall, in a city park. The National Alliance official who hired the band told Haworth the event was being put on by "a group of friends" into ethnic music.
"Maybe we could have left, but what would they have done?" the musician asked later. "We were scared. We had a signed contract to play. And you have to understand, one of our band members is Jewish. We were worried."
Around the country, white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups are staging events like the "Euro-Fest 2003" put on by the Sacramento unit of the Alliance, the group that first popularized the strategy in the late 1990s. Neo-Confederate groups have sent speakers and propagandists to events like the Scottish Highland Games, some 200 of which are held each year. Even thuggish Skinhead organizations like the Hammerskins are staging events that are meant to emphasize "Aryan" culture.
Although each group's strategy is different, the general idea is to draw in ethnic whites by celebrating various strands of European culture — from Celtic bands to Irish singers to Lithuanian cloggers — and, ultimately, to recruit them.
The idea of reaching out to ethnic whites without explicitly pushing neo-Nazism — the wolves-in-sheep's-clothing strategy — was pioneered by Erich Gliebe, the National Alliance official who took over America's leading neo-Nazi group after its founder, William Pierce, died last summer. After successfully getting ethnic clubs in his native Cleveland to host a number of controversial speeches, Gliebe hit on the idea of organizing what he calls the European-American Cultural Society.
Starting in 1997, Gliebe began to hold European-American Cultural Fests in Cleveland, where he had long been the Alliance's local unit leader. The venues he chose included several ethnic clubs and a VFW post. Typically, the events featured Irish, German, Polish, Slovak and other ethnic dancers or musicians, often followed by speeches emphasizing European history without specifically mentioning Nazism.
In 1999, for instance, Gliebe's front organization threw a "European Festival" at a club called The German Central, in Parma, outside of Cleveland. (The club, as it happens, hosted meetings of the pro-Nazi German-American Bund in the 1930s. The Bund was outlawed after the American entry into World War II in 1941.)
At a cost of $35 per couple ($8 for children), the festival was to feature performances by the Central Saxon Cultural Organization; the Kashtan Ukrainian Dancers; the Lucina Slovak Folk Ensemble; the Murphy Irish Dancers; and the 87th Cleveland Pipes & Drums. Dancing music for all was provided by the Stan Mejac Orchestra.
"The great value of this type of activity," Pierce wrote his members in a 1998 newsletter, "is that it brings the Alliance into contact with ethnically conscious non-members in an atmosphere especially conducive to building understanding."
Pierce attended several of Gliebe's festivals, and approved of them wholeheartedly — so much so that it seems clear that they almost certainly helped assure that Gliebe would be chosen to replace Pierce after he died last July 23. In fact, the Alliance staged at least five festivals in the Cleveland area, in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001 and, most recently, 2002. Between 200 and 300 people attended each event. More recently, others in the Alliance have emulated Gliebe — two times in Sacramento (in 2002 and this February) and at a St. Louis event last Nov. 9.
In a 2000 interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Pierce expanded on his reasoning. The festivals, he explained, "are an effort to help people develop a sense of ethnic consciousness, ethnic identity. Cleveland is a good area for that because there are a lot of relatively unassimilated ethnic communities still there."
Recruitment, he said, was the aim. "I circulate among the crowd. If we recruit 20 or 30 people out of 300 or 350 people coming to one of these, then it's been very successful. We don't push them. There's no arm-twisting at these events."
It's hard to say if the cultural festivals are as successful as Pierce suggested. Certainly, at the recent Sacramento event, the signs of neo-Nazism were far more visible than in most Alliance-sponsored festivals, and organizers — probably as a result — did not seem very successful in getting people to sign up. But there is little question that the Alliance's clean-cut cadres sometimes do manage to win local support.
"Some people are afraid of the National Alliance for the point they are bringing out," Johanna Roth, publisher of the ethnic Ohio monthly Germania, told the Plain Dealer after attending her third European-American Cultural Festival in 1999. "My personal opinion is that European people should stick together."