Neo-Nazi Groups Use Traditional Folk Music Festivals to Recruit Radicals
Around the country, radical right groups are staging 'European' festivals in a bid to draw ethnic whites into the movement.
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."
Held in Sacramento last Feb. 8, the city's Second Annual Euro-Fest was put together by the Alliance's local unit leader, Drahomir Stojkovic.
"Holding the event under the auspices of the 'Inter Cultural Group,'" an Alliance newsletter reported later, "the Unit reached out to men and women who were, to some degree at least, conscious of their European ancestry ... We were in for a wonderful evening filled with education, entertainment, European delicacies, and a variety of vendors."
After paying $35 in advance ($45 on the day of the event), visitors began arriving late in the afternoon, waiting outside as strains of Celtic music from Molly's Revenge drifted out into the parking lot. Once inside, they found the hall lined with tables carrying an array of neo-Nazi merchandise (see also Hate for Sale).
First up at the dais was Peter Morell, a remarkably dull guest speaker who held forth on the highlights of Anglo-Saxon civilization — Rembrandt's paintings, great aquaducts, the Wright brothers, computers, George Washington, and Henry Ford (the automaker, an inveterate anti-Semite, drew the loudest applause).
"We are the thinkers and doers of the world," Morell said.
Next was Jim Silva, who offered a scattered presentation on the Norse Sagas, another point of pride for many white supremacists. Following him, and billed as the highlight of the evening, was a former Croatian diplomat whose topic was "Europe Under Attack: From the Early Islamic Onslaught to Communist Disaster." Tomislav Sunic began by telling the audience about his childhood in Croatia, his visit to Amsterdam as a young man, smoking pot and listening to the Grateful Dead. After that, he said, he went on to get his Ph.D. in political science in America.
Sunic's central theme was that Europe has been repeatedly invaded by "alien" peoples and that whites have become a minority in Western Europe. He railed on about non-white immigrants, ending with the Turkish workers who have moved to Germany. "The Turks," he said, "are enslaving white people in Germany."
"Wow," Alliance leader Stojkovic said as Sunic ended. "I am really moved."
Peter Haworth and the other members of Molly's Revenge, meanwhile, had sneaked out to get a bite to eat. "While we were away, they had some 'European philosopher' who was speaking," Haworth told the Intelligence Report. "Thank God we weren't there, because we heard his last few minutes, and it was frightening."
After participants broke for dinner, the evening continued along the same lines. A movement-affiliated folk singer, Eric Owens, sang folk music, but several in the audience held their hands over their ears for the performance. At one point, kids tripped a fire alarm, but Owens appeared oblivious, playing on without a care.
There was a raffle of donated items — grand prize, a medieval sword won by an Alliance member — and a Q&A with Sunic. The white supremacist "Sigrdrifa Dancers" performed. Alliance member April Gaede had her two blonde-haired twins, Lynx and Lamb, perform several folk songs including the very popular "Road to Valhalla."
"The sense of kinship and camaraderie was alive and vibrant," Alliance member Ryan Hagen wrote in the Alliance's internal newsletter later. "I don't think there was a person in that hall that did not feel the bond of common blood."
Peter Haworth saw it a little differently. "Luckily, we were told we wouldn't be able to play the second set of tunes because they were out of time. I said, 'All right,' and he paid me our money in cash. And we got the hell out of there!"
Aryan Family Values
Not every event built along the lines of Gliebe's cultural festivals is really intended to bring whites of all stripes into the movement. Such was the case with the 2nd Annual Folk Fest, an event put on last March in West Palm Beach, Fla., by neo-Nazi Steven Watt, a principal of the tiny South Florida Aryan Alliance. Aiding Watt was Alex Hassinger, editor of Nordland, formerly Aryan Loyalist Magazine.
The come-on was straightforward enough: "Celebrate your rich European heritage with us!" the organizers wrote several E-groups. "We will feature European music, food and drink." Included, along with a playground and crayons for the kids, would be a "hammer-lifting competition" and a live bagpiper, they promised.
But it was hardly a family-friendly recruiting event.
Walking up to the Osceola Pavilion of West Palm Beach's Okeehelee State Park, the first thing a visitor noticed were the police cruisers and photographers circling the site. Flags representing some 50 European countries fluttered in the breeze — along with Confederate battle flags, flags, a banner bearing the insignia of the neofascist German NPD party, and another saying "Friends of Germany."
The crowd was fairly frightening. Neo-Nazi Skinheads and others from the South Florida Aryan Alliance, the World Church of the Creator, the Orion Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the Imperial Klans of America attended — about 40 large, tough-looking men, accompanied by a handful of women who huddled together with half a dozen kids at a picnic table.
At one point, when a news photographer tried to approach, he was surrounded by menacing Skinheads, and Watt seized his flash unit. Only when the photographer complained to police was Watt forced to return it.
A little later, a young man named Jason, from Daytona Beach, gave an extremely aggressive, red-faced speech, shouting about the importance of Darwin, being strong, killing off the weak, and taking on the Jews immediately. At the end, he led a series of Nazi salutes in which the crowd enthusiastically joined.
On sale in the pavilion was an array of hard-line materials: books by former Klansman David Duke and Richard Kelly Hoskins, an ideologue of the virulently anti-Semitic Christian Identity theology; CDs of violent white power music; copies of a White Aryan Resistance newsletter; and issues of Thule: A Prisoner's Journal, with profits going to imprisoned members of the terrorist group The Order.
It was clear that outsiders were not welcome. But that is not to say that the event served no purpose — on the contrary, for some it was an affirming moment in a movement that has not had much to boast about recently. Several people discussed the sorry state of white supremacy in the United States, but said they had been pulled back into the movement by the promise of "family events" like this one. One person expressed dismay at the drunkenness and disorganization of earlier meetings.
Several participants paid homage to William Pierce, saying the late Alliance leader had been a great man with important ideas about celebrating European culture in a family-friendly way. But they were far less sure about Erich Gliebe, who has been widely criticized from within the Alliance and the movement generally.
Ultimately, several speakers talked about celebrating "white" culture. And a man who identified himself as Steve Geller proposed organizing several cultural groups — German-American, Celtic-American and Scandinavian-American, among others — that would each create their own folk festivals. Somehow, these groups would be knit into what Geller termed the "Congress of a Celtic Land."
To Steven Watt, it was all an unmitigated success: "The event was a family event and seeing the smiling faces of the children as they played in the playground next door just helped bring home why we are fighting the fight we are — in order to give them a good White world when it is their time to pick up the torch."
The Culture Wars
It is not clear how effective the strategy of using "culture" to approach and entice ethnic whites is for the radical right. But what does seem clear is that up until recently, extremist recruiting tactics have targeted rebellious youths and people who already hold relatively similar views. Rarely has a strategy come to the fore that aims directly at everyday, working white people.
Pierce and Gliebe's cultural festivals try to do that work. And if Pierce was even close to correct in his estimates — if Alliance workers have been able to sign up almost 10% of those who attend — then the technique must be judged a success.
Plainly, other groups have taken an interest. A number of neo-Confederates, including one-time League of the South director Grady McWhiney, have taken their own message — that the American South is fundamentally an "Anglo-Celtic" land — to the Scottish Highland Games that are popular around the United States.
That very unsophisticated and thuggish groups like the South Florida Aryan Alliance are trying to emulate the technique shows that to many, it appears to have great promise. Just this June, talk of a summer 2004 European heritage rally in Washington began.
But to Peter Haworth, it all remains something of a mystery. "The whole thing was extremely uncomfortable and scary," he recalled. "I never could understand exactly why they wanted a Celtic band. I guess it's because we're white."
Stephen Stuebner, a free-lance writer based in Idaho, contributed to this story.