The white power music industry is helping to drive the internationalization of neo-Nazism.
Close to 500 racist Skinheads gathered in a small town outside Atlanta last October for Hammerfest 2000, the largest white power music concert held that year in the United States. While headliner bands Brutal Attack, Hate Crime and Extreme Hatred played furious "hatecore" music, men dove from the stage into a mosh pit of raging, tattooed Skinheads.
Georgia newspapers didn't cover the concert at all, and local authorities didn't show up at the remarkable gathering in Bremen, Ga., either. For neo-Nazi Skinheads, though, the show was world famous.
Hammerfest 2000 drew fans from Austria, Canada, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain, as well as from across the United States. Four bands flew in from Britain for the weekend. The concert culminated months of worldwide networking by sponsors Panzerfaust Records and Resistance Records, the premier neo-Nazi music labels in the U.S.
The growing white power music industry, now valued at millions of dollars in annual sales, is not just the largest source of money and recruits for the Western world's most dynamic racist revolutionaries. It is also astonishingly international.
Thanks largely to the Internet and cheap air fares, racist music has spread over the last quarter-century from Britain to the rest of Europe and on to the United States.
Today, racist compact discs might be recorded in Poland, pressed in the United States and sold via the Net in Sweden. A German neo-Nazi might see his favorite American band at a concert in Switzerland.
In many ways, this remarkably violent music is accomplishing for the radical right what decades of racist theorizing didn't: It has given Skinheads and many other extremists around the world a common language and a unifying ideology — an ideology that replaces old-fashioned, state-based nativism with the concept of "pan-Aryanism."
"In the last decade, white power music has grown from a cottage industry to a multimillion-dollar, worldwide enterprise," says Devin Burghart of the Center for New Community, which has studied this music extensively.
"Along the way, the music scene has created international ties where there were none, and has inspired an ideological pan-Aryanism that has broken down the walls between racist groups."
It has also spawned a culture of violence.
In internecine disputes, neo-Nazis in the music industry have been willing to stomp each other with boots, to beat each other with baseball bats, and to torture each other with hammers. They have hired hit men and burned down buildings. Racist music fans have bombed children and bludgeoned people with iron pipes; they have drowned LGBT people and executed police officers.
In Europe, where such music is generally illegal, governments have started deporting racist aliens, raiding white power CD caches, and banning neo-Nazi music organizations. Such pressure has driven racist music underground even as profit margins have shot up — and increasingly, it has made the United States, with its unusual First Amendment protections of even neo-Nazi speech, a haven for the racist music business.
Picking Up Teeth
The violence begins with the music. "You kill all the n------ and you gas all the Jews," George Burdi sang with his band Rahowa, short for Racial Holy War. "Kill a gypsy and a commie too. You just killed a k---, don't it feel right?
"Goodness gracious, Third Reich."
And it is contagious. "The concerts were crazy," recalls Burdi, a former neo-Nazi who now says he has left the movement (see Present at the Creation). "Friends would beat each other up and then laugh about it afterwards, with their eyes swollen shut and their noses broken and picking their teeth up off the ground."
Such blind anger might not appear conducive to starting a moneymaking business or even building up an extremist political organization. But the foundations are there and growing.
Internet-based "radio" shows stream racist music around the world at all hours of the day. In the U.S., racist music from 123 domestic bands and 229 foreign ones is available on-line from more than 40 distributors, according to the Center for New Community.
The leading U.S. label, Resistance Records (started by Burdi in 1993), reportedly expected to sell 70,000 CDs last year, meaning more than $1 million in potential gross revenue. Industry profits go to political neo-Nazi groups like the National Alliance and Hammerskin Nation.
The anger and violence that characterize racist Skinhead groups like the Hammerskin Nation may actually help the cause. "All too often we turn [our anger] against ourselves," writes Resistance owner William Pierce, who heads up the National Alliance, America's premier neo-Nazi organization.
"We need to give a proper direction to that anger. ... [Resistance Records will distribute] music of defiance and rage against the enemies of our people. ... It will be the music of the great, cleansing revolution which is coming."
'Running the Show'
If white power music is big business in the United States, it is even bigger in Europe (where it is largely illegal) — and especially in Eastern Europe. Interpol estimated in 1999 that the European neo-Nazi music industry was worth $3.4 million a year, and it has only grown since then.
With the cost of producing a CD little more than $2, Interpol said profit margins were better than for selling hashish.
In Poland, some racist bands sell as many as 30,000 albums, comparable to successful local pop bands. In that country of 39 million people, there are 15,000 individuals intimately involved in the racist Skinhead scene, according to Rafal Pankowski of the Polish anti-fascist group Never Again.
Though there is no reliable count of the American racist Skinhead scene, it is at most a fraction of that size — in a country with seven times as many people.
In Germany, before the neo-Nazi music organization Blood & Honour was banned last year, there were about 180 white power concerts a year — or one every other day — according to Antifaschistische INFO-Blatt (AIB), a German anti-fascist organization. In Sweden, a 1997 survey showed that 12% of young people aged 12 to 19 listened to white power music "sometimes" or "often."
Racist music is found in every one of Europe's 30 countries, but it is especially widespread in the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Serbia and Slovakia, among others.
Perhaps most frightening is that racist Skinhead culture, which has always sought the extreme, has even come to seem normal in places. In Germany, where the neofascist National Democratic Party (NPD) has openly sold white power music for election funds, racist Skins boastfully call some neighborhoods "National Liberated Zones" — no-go areas for any foreigners, blacks or Jews who want to avoid a beating or worse.
"White power music has reached far beyond the hard core of the neo-Nazi movement," said a representative of the German anti-fascist AIB, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals. "In some places, neo-Nazis are running the show."
From Multiracialism to National Socialism
White power music has not always caused such a stir. Though racist Skins have been playing music in Britain since the late 1970s, it was only after the demise of European communism in 1989 that significant distribution channels developed in Europe and the U.S., or that the music business became the main source of funding for many political neo-Nazi organizations.
The classic Skinhead look — Doc Marten boots, braces and shaved heads — first appeared on British streets in the late 1960s. It was part of an angry, working-class response to the hippie counterculture, which was seen by Skins as hopelessly middle class and soft.
Skinhead music was originally derived from black musical forms — like Caribbean ska and rocksteady — which evolved into an exclusively Skinhead variety called Oi.
Skinhead culture wasn't about national socialism, at least not then. Hooliganism and violence, though, were pervasive.
"Oi," wrote one participant in the scene of that era, "is rock 'n' roll, football, beer, sex, going to gigs, having a laugh, fighting back."
'Trotskyists of the Right'
The bitter rift between racist and anti-racist Skins, still visible today, developed in the 1970s when British neofascist groups started recruiting from within the Skinhead movement.
In 1982, Skrewdriver, the now legendary band led by Ian Stuart Donaldson, held the first of a series of white power concerts under the banner of "Rock Against Communism." By 1978, Donaldson was publishing the magazine Blood & Honour, named after the inscription on the daggers of Hitler's SS youth corps.
The international path that Skinheads blazed through Europe and North America in the 1980s gave them a reputation as the "Trotskyists of the right." After the first Skin groups arrived in the U.S. in the early 1980s, hate groups like Church of the Creator and White Aryan Resistance (WAR) began recruiting them in earnest — seeing them, in the words of WAR chieftain Tom Metzger, as the "shock troops" of the revolution.
The first groupings in what would later become Hammerskin Nation, the best organized and most violent Skinhead group in the world today, emerged in Dallas by 1989. During the same period, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, U.S. Skinheads left a trail of ruthless beatings, stabbings and some 40 murders.
Skinheads even frightened other racists. According to White Noise, a publication of the British anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, long-time American Klan leader James Farrands said at the time that they were "garish-looking suckers. ... I didn't want anything to do with them. ... They're just scary."
Business Was Booming
During Skrewdriver's heyday in the 1980s, several European labels sold white power music, often alongside anti-racist punk albums. But racist music didn't really take off until after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.
Extremists in the West, now lacking the external threat of communism, turned their fears inward to Jews, blacks, immigrants and their own governments. And in eastern Europe, the crash of communism didn't only mean the lifting of import controls on CDs.
For millions of young people and others, it meant economic disaster, social instability, and an identity crisis that combined to make extremist politics suddenly appealing (see also story on the contemporary resurgence of European neofascism, Reawakening the Beast).
Between 1992 and 1997, the racist music industry mushroomed. In Sweden, for instance, there was one white power concert held in 1992. In 1995, there were 20. White power labels were founded in many European nations, most significantly Sweden's Ragnarock Records and Nordland Records.
Michigan-based Resistance Records, then controlled by Burdi and American Mark Wilson, became the largest American label and even produced its own glossy color magazine.
Business was booming. Burdi told the Intelligence Report that Resistance sold between 60,000 and 100,000 CDs and tapes in the three years ending in early 1997, with sales virtually doubling every quarter. He says that he could often pre-sell an album's entire first pressing to European distributors before a single CD had been produced.
Resistance had licensing agreements with over 40 labels across Europe, even in Lithuania and Bulgaria, Burdi says, and sent free tapes to the Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), the largest neo-Nazi organization in South Africa. Burdi preached Resistance's simple business model religiously to anyone who would listen.
"When I started it was almost impossible for white power bands to sign a record deal," recalls Burdi. "Suddenly, it went from a couple of white power labels to a couple of hundred. ... I let everyone use our stuff. After all, I was motivated by altruism."
Firebombs, Hit Men and Machetes
But the growth of white power music did not just bring international cooperation among extremists. There were also a number of violent conflicts.
Most visible was the war in Sweden between Nordland and Ragnarock, along with their international allies. The combatants took to firebombing each other's bookstores, hiring hit men and mailing letter bombs. One British leader, looking to mete out retribution to his neo-Nazi enemies, started carrying a machete to concerts.
The industry was thrown into disarray in 1997-1998 on both sides of the Atlantic.
Michigan tax authorities raided Resistance's Detroit-area offices, confiscating as many as 200,000 tapes and CDs worth up to $3 million, and Resistance leader Burdi left the movement after his 1997 imprisonment for assault.
In Europe, government raids brought some labels to the verge of bankruptcy, while others changed leadership and moved their headquarters. Leading white power music distributors in Britain were imprisoned for crimes including murder.
But since 1998, the industry's major players have largely ended their rivalries and reorganized. No new battles seem to be in the offing, although there is still violence against bootleggers. Today, the four leading international distributors seem to be cooperating, or at least not battling, with one another. They include:
· William Pierce: In 1999, the leader of the 1,500-strong National Alliance paid some 250,000 for Resistance Records — then almost defunct as a result of Burdi's jailing and the raid on its warehouse — and followed that with the purchase later that year of the Swedish Nordland label.
The purchases raised his international visibility, gave him the ability to communicate with youths far removed from his own generation, and raised the possibility of netting more than $1 million a year in the near future. Pierce (see also profile, in The Internationalists) also diversified into non-Skinhead music, notably a new genre known as National Socialist Black Metal.
The purchases also have raised Pierce's personal profile in Europe. His infamous race war novel The Turner Diaries has been translated into several languages and is now widely known across the continent. Pierce's name recognition among even east European neo-Nazis, very low just two years ago, has gone through the roof, according to an expert on Polish neofascism. Today, Pierce travels widely in Europe and has contacts with many overseas neo-Nazi organizations.
Pierce is clearly an opportunist about Skinhead music, seeing a chance to earn money and win recruits to his racist and revolutionary cause. Pierce himself has repeatedly shown obvious scorn for Skinhead music and its "Negro roots." His own taste turns to Wagnerian operas, German marching tunes and polkas.
· Blood & Honour: After moving from Britain two years ago, the largest, best-organized and most influential European white power music organization is now headed by Erik Blücher of Helsingborg, Sweden. Blood & Honour (B&H) publishes magazines, organizes concerts, distributes music, and has links to neo-Nazi political parties throughout Europe.
The primary B&H label, Ragnarock Records, is run by Blücher from Sweden, but there are at least 10 other labels associated with B&H, according to Stieg Larsson of the Swedish anti-fascist group Expo.
An American branch of B&H was active in California and Minnesota in the 1990s, but went dormant several years ago until this spring. Today, it has chapters in California, Georgia, Ohio and Texas.
Trying to maximize distribution, the California chapter now sells a sampler CD of white power music at what it says is cost. Many of the international B&H Web sites are registered on a server in Alaska.
B&H is active in most European countries, but is strongest in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Switzerland and throughout Scandinavia. The group had a large presence in Germany until it was banned last fall, after simultaneous government raids on the homes of 30 members.
Since then, German B&H has organized concerts in the nearby Czech, French, Swiss and Hungarian border regions. German officials said Blood & Honour was guilty of "the poisoning of minds and hearts."
· Hammerskin Nation: The extremely violent, U.S.-based Hammerskin Nation had 19 chapters across the U.S. in 2000. But it also enjoys a major European presence, including strong factions in the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia and Switzerland.
In addition, within the last year in Poland, the Hammerskins have organized several concerts and started up a color magazine that features interviews with foreign bands. The level of cooperation between chapters is unclear.
The Hammerskins first appeared on the white power music scene with Minnesota-based Panzerfaust (in German, "armored fist") Records in 1998, picking up the slack in the United States from then-struggling Resistance. Quickly, Panzerfaust became the premier label for virtually every significant American racist Skinhead band.
Even today, with Resistance once more a major player, more U.S. white power concerts are organized by the Hammerskins than by any other group.
"Wherever Hammerskins pop up, they are always the most professional, the most dedicated and the best at what they're trying to do," says Justin Massa of the Center for New Community. "They're the ones that scare me the most."
· National Socialist Black Metal: Anti-Christian National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM) music has only recently made connections to the older Skinhead music scene.
NSBM fans are likely to embrace paganism or satanism, dress in Viking garb, wear "corpse paint" makeup, and carry coffins or skulls to concerts — behavior that alienates many more traditional racist Skinheads. But NSBM is as fascist and racist as any other genre of Skinhead music.
"National Socialism," explained one NSBM performer in an interview published in the book Lords of Chaos, "is the most perfect synthesis of the Luciferian will-to-power, and neo-heathen principles & symbolism."
NSBM began in Scandinavia in the early 1990s in a birth of fire — literally. Over 100 churches were set afire in Norway and nearby countries in an arson campaign against Christianity; evidence for many fires pointed to the "Black Circle" of black metal principals.
One of them, Burzum band leader Varg Vikernes, was convicted of arson and also of murdering his musical mentor. In prison, his politics moved from anti-social and anti-Christian satanism to explicit national socialism.
Still in prison, Vikernes remains central to today's international scene, which is increasingly tied to the racist Skinhead music industry. The main NSBM organization is the Pagan Front, a confederation of bands, labels and activists in the U.S., Australia and across Europe.
NSBM bands have been featured in the traditionally Skinhead Resistance magazine, and NSBM labels have reached licensing agreements with Skinhead labels in Europe and with Resistance Records in the U.S. The largest NSBM scene today is probably in Poland.
"No More Brothers' Wars"
Today's racist Skins have a vision — and it is a vision that is clearly picking up adherents and energy on both sides of the Atlantic.
More and more, neo-Nazis around the world are seeing their movement in international terms, a cause that cannot succeed in one country alone. And the trans-Atlantic contacts spurred by the white power music scene have only served to intensify that view.
One recent article, posted on a Blood & Honour Web site, seemed to sum up these developments when it suggested that whites needed to "scrap the whole idea of nationalism for the sake of White racialism. ... The term 'No more brother wars' [a white supremacist reference to wars between white people] can only be achieved through international cooperation and understanding between White people."
"The ideal," this writer adds, "is naturally a pan-Aryan army with divisions wherever White people dwell. ... The days of pure patriotic xenophobia and imperialism are over. They have spilt enough Aryan blood."