The murder of six worshippers at a Sikh temple in the American midwest has put the spotlight on a violent type of music embraced by racist groups around the United States. Experts say the music, which glorifies the white race and heaps hate on other ethnic groups, is used to attract new members and spur them to violent action.
“It’s the chief recruitment tool of the entire movement,” said TJ Leyden, who spent 15 years in the white-power movement but now works to counter its influence. “It’s what hooks the kids. That’s how powerful music is.”
The racist skinhead movement is just one type of white supremacist group. Others include the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and academic white supremacists. According to the Anti-Defamation League, there are probably 100,000 active white supremacists in the U.S., but the number of racist skinheads is hard to count.
Skinhead music has its roots in the hardcore punk scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is usually loud and aggressive, and the angry lyrics are often violent and filled with racist messages.
Wade Michael Page, the shooter who killed six Sikhs at a temple in the midwestern U.S. state of Wisconsin, was heavily involved in the racist skinhead music scene. Page led a band called End Apathy, whose lyrics talked about genocide against Jews and other minorities. He also played in a band called Definite Hate, whose album “Violent Victory” featured a “gruesome drawing of a disembodied white arm punching a black man in the face,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama.
In a 2010 interview, Page told a white supremacist website that he became active in white-power music in 2000, when he left his native state of Colorado, and started End Apathy in 2005 in Nashville, North Carolina.
Whether music can spur actions such as the August 5 mass shooting is hotly questionable but there’s no doubt it plays a crucial role in the racist skinhead movement, said Marilyn Mayo, the co-director of the Anti-defamation League’s Center on Extremism.
“White power music has always been the focal point of the skinhead movement,” she said. ”The white power music scene hasn’t changed in all these years. It promotes ideology, brings them together from all over the country, and the music has a violent subtext. It has always been a culture with a lot of violence.”
Leyden said teenagers are prime targets for recruitment into white power groups, often because they’re seeking a connection. Music, he said, is a very effective tool because it’s more appealing to kids than written material or speeches.
“Think about how often you get a song stuck in your head,” he said. “Think if that song was talking about racism. That gets stuck in your head. That’s what these guys hope for. They’re hoping to attract one of those kids into the movement.”
Band members freely allude to recruitment as one of their goals. In a recent interview posted on the pro-white power Label56 website, “Josh,” of the band 96 Brigade, said the following about his band’s music:
It's fast, mean, and aggressive. I didn’t hold back any punches with any of the content. My hopes are that it might allow a young skinhead, or even just some kid somewhere, the ability to make a more educated decision on politics.
Leyden added that music is also something kids can easily hide from their parents, as some of it is available on iTunes, a popular music download service.
“They can go around their parents,” he said. “They don’t have to have a CD, and as a parent, you may never find out what your kid is listening to.”
The music is also available for free on the Internet via numerous streaming radio stations. According to the Anti-Defamation League, in 2005 a station called RadioWhite maintained six different 24-hour music feeds, with more than 5,000 songs on its playlists. The site is defunct, but has since been replaced by others.
Call to action?
One of the best known white supremacist record labels is Resistance Records, located in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Sample songs from the bands the label distributes are available on its website. Many of the lyrics are racist and profane.
“The message is consistent,” said Mayo “They usually attack and dehumanize blacks, Jews and other minorities.”
The lyrics are also overwhelmingly depressing.
According to Leyden, the end-of-the-world rhetoric is a call to action.
“They’re trying to make it look like everything is falling apart, that the world is on the verge of collapse,” he said. “Here’s the problem. There’s only one solution: To act.”
Erich Gliebe, the CEO of Resistance Records, the self-proclaimed “musical branch” of the white-supremacist group the National Alliance, said in an email statement that his company “distributes a wide variety of pro-White music for purposes of education and entertainment, and to provide a rationale for the alienation young Whites experience today.”
The statement noted that Page was not a member of the National Alliance. It did not condemn the shootings.
Label 56, the company that distributed Page’s music, did not respond to requests for interviews, but said in a statement on its website that all “images and products” for Page’s band End Apathy had been removed from the website.
Mayo called the responses of Resistance and Label56 typical.
“The modus operandi is to distance themselves from the incident,” she said. “They claim they are not promoting violence, but when you look at the ideology, there is an undercurrent of violence.”