Resistance Records, even after a multinational crackdown, remains the nation's largest and most profitable purveyor of racist rock.
Last spring, police in Michigan and Canada cracked down hard on Resistance Records, arresting its founder and hauling away just about everything the white power label owned — computers, financial records, magazines and 10,000 compact discs.
Yet by year's end, after Michigan's tax evasion case against Resistance resulted in only a small fine, the nation's largest purveyor of racist rock was back on its feet, filling orders as if the raids had never happened, planning to restart its slick promotional magazine this spring, and turning a handsome profit.
Its success, while disheartening, is not surprising.
"What's held back [other white supremacist organizations] is the mediocrity of their leaders," says Michael Barkun, an expert on extremist right-wing groups. "But these guys are smart. You look at their magazine, the albums, and they're very professional. Their [organizational] models are not political but media-oriented."
Resistance Records has grown rapidly since its founding in 1994, turning a healthy profit for the first time in 1996, according to its leaders. The appeal of the virulently racist bands it promotes is expanding, both in the United States and elsewhere, and the bands are now drawing hundreds of new recruits into the racist movement. Their music provides ideologically unsophisticated racists a kind of shared culture.
"Throughout history, music has been used to recruit and unify ultra-right movements," says Carl Raschke of the University of Denver. "A lot of people think the Third Reich couldn't have happened without Wagner. For Skinheads, who follow the concept of leaderless resistance, white power music is what binds them."
Michelle Lefkowitz, an official with Oregon's Communities Against Hate who's worked to get teenagers out of the Skinhead movement, agrees.
"It's probably the most successful organizing tool white supremacist Skinheads have," she says. "Kids get into the scene because of the music, and then they're introduced to the politics."
'Defend Us With Baseball Bats'
Resistance downplays its racism in statements to the media by asserting the label promotes white pride, not violence or white supremacy. But the briefest glance at the lyrics of its music shows that stance to be disingenuous at best:
- "Niggers just hit this side of town, watch my property values go down. Bang, bang, watch them die, watch those niggers drop like flies." — Berserkr.
- "Skinheads in the papers, Skinheads you just can't fool. Defend us from Blacks with baseball bats, racism back in rule." — No Remorse.
- Bound for Glory, one of the hottest bands, titles one album "Doctor Martens Dental Plan," an apparent reference to kicking victims' teeth in with the heavy Doc Martens boots favored by Skinheads. No Remorse offers another called "Zigger! Zigger! Shoot Those F---ing Niggers!"
White supremacist bands originated in the 1980s in western Europe, where they quickly became a staple of the original British Skins. Britain's Skrewdriver, later linked to an American Klan group (see The Klan Overseas), was one of the seminal bands, followed by America's RAHOWA (short for "racial holy war"). Today, there are more than 25 such racist bands in the United States, and over 100 worldwide.
Resistance Records was founded by George Burdi (alias Eric Hawthorne), a Canadian who set up shop in Detroit to avoid criminal prosecution under Canada's strict hate crime laws. By 1996, the label had signed 12 of the hottest racist bands and was distributing in Europe, South Africa, South America and the U.S.
It was also publishing Resistance, a glossy, full-color music magazine that promoted the label's bands and their philosophy. That year, Resistance officials say, the magazine (costing $6,000 an issue to produce) had a circulation of 5,000.
Also in 1996, Resistance Records made a profit for the first time, from sales of some $300,000. Writer Michael Herschwann of Spin magazine, which covers the American music industry, says that level of sales is "on the successful end for an independent label."
Resistance also sells its wares through a slick Web site.
Raids, Arrests and Swastikas
Last April 9, Michigan authorities raided Resistance's offices in the Detroit suburb of Highland Township after investigating allegations that the company had not paid state tax on its sales. The same day, Canadian officials raided Burdi's Windsor home, finding illegal Nazi paraphernalia and arresting Burdi and two aides.
Sgt. Rodney Young, an agent in the Michigan state police's treasury division who was part of the U.S. raid, said the tax case turned out to be minor because most of Resistance's sales were to out-of-state customers. It was settled with a fine.
Since Burdi's arrest, Eric Davidson, the former editor of the neo-Nazi Blood and Honor magazine, has taken over as general manager. Davidson, 36, says that as of late last year the company was filling some 120 orders a month, about the same number as before the raid. He now hopes to make white power videos for MTV.
Such a move would fit the image Resistance Records is cultivating — an image meant to appeal to middle and upper-middle class youth. Lefkowitz says the music is clearly helping recruit such teens in her home town of Salem, Ore. A third of 40 recent neo-Nazi converts, she says, "come from social and economic privilege."
Burdi himself may best describe the appeal Resistance's bands have for young racists who are tired of the white supremacist movement's aging leadership.
"Here I was in a movement that surrounded me with middle-aged men and elderly men, and suddenly I heard this voice — this amazing, soulful, mighty voice — that was from a young man like myself," Burdi rhapsodized in an editorial.
"This must become the voice of my generation ... nothing can stand in the way of this music reaching the hearts of millions of white people. ... [T]hey will turn in droves to a radical solution to a radical problem.
"And Skinheads will be waiting in the wings, trained in maximum ferocity ... tough, tenacious, indefatigable."