Stormfront Radio has lost its long-time intro music after a cease and desist letter from Johnny Cash’s record labels. Lawyers with UMG and American threatened to sue if Don Black doesn’t stop using Cash’s 2003 cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” on his show.
In response, the producers of Stormfront Radio changed their music track to Johnny Rebel’s “The South Shall Rise Again,” and took down more than three years worth of archives that contain the Cash cover to avoid legal action.
Stormfront Radio host Patrick Slattery knew precisely who he wanted to blame, telling listeners in the opening seconds of Wednesday’s broadcast, “These Jews are trying to crack down on us every way they can.”
Ten minutes later, the hosts were still bemoaning their situation. Black, former Klan leader and founder of Stormfront.org, said, “These goddamn Jews! … Anything they can do, they will do.”
It’s not the first time artists, companies or copyright holders have fought back against white supremacists appropriating their intellectual property. Black’s long-time associate David Duke was sued for trademark infringement by sportswear company No Fear, Inc., after naming his white supremacist organization the National Organization for European-American Rights, or N.O.F.E.A.R. The apparel maker won the legal battle, and Duke changed his organization’s name to the European-American Rights Organization.
In 2003, the FBI raided the home of racist Skinhead Bryant Cecchini, aka Byron Calvert, on suspicion of trademark violation after he printed shirts with the Nike “swoosh” on them, swapping the work “Nike” with “Nazi.”
In May 2016, Andrew Anglin complained on his website, the Daily Stormer, about receiving a cease and desist from Taylor Swift’s lawyers ordering him and his followers to stop using her likeness in their white supremacist memes.
Often, musicians may not be aware what kinds of unsavory places their music appears. For example, Spencer Borum, a member of League of the South who was filmed beating a woman in Charlottesville, gets praise from his white supremacist listeners for playing songs by bands like Lucero, Turnpike Troubadours and Town Mountain during his racist podcast “Radio Free Dixie.”
Even when they don’t take legal action, artists and their associates often protest when extremists use their work. In February, Richard Spencer told a reporter, “Depeche Mode is the official band of the Alt-Right.” The group, long known for their progressive politics, issued a swift rebuke in a statement clarifying that it “has no ties to Richard Spencer or the Alt-Right and does not support the Alt-Right movement.”
And just last month, Cash’s children got involved on social media when an attendee of the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville was photographed wearing a Johnny Cash T-shirt. In a statement posted to Facebook, they said they were “sickened by the association,” and that “Johnny Cash was a man whose heart beat with the rhythm of love and social justice.”
Stormfront hosts actually discussed Charlottesville on Wednesday’s show, and host Francis John Gilroy called the event, “a great victory.” Gilroy went on to describe James Alex Fields, the man who killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injured 19 others when he drove his car into a crowd of protesters, as “the young man involved in the traffic accident.”
Cash’s children said in the end of their statement: “To any who claim supremacy over other human beings, to any who believe in racial or religious hierarchy: we are not you. Our father, as a person, icon, or symbol, is not you. We ask that the Cash name be kept far away from destructive and hateful ideology.”
To that end, this week the Johnny Cash legacy won a meaningful victory.
Photo by RYAN STONE/The New York Times/Redux