Music

iSkinhead

27 February 2013

Michael Horn looks at the sinister reality of neo-Nazi music selling right alongside pop tracks.

Today, the Australian iTunes store home page advertises Nick Cave’s new album, acoustic Justin Bieber and Bon Jovi and Justin Timberlake pre-orders. Australian singer-songwriters appear alongside K-Pop, and American rappers brush virtual shoulders with dead German composers. iTunes caters to all tastes. Some of those tastes, though, are less pleasant. Dig a little deeper into the store, and you might find something altogether more sinister.

Take the Bully Boys of North Texas, whose innocuously titled Best of 1984–1999 collection is available on iTunes Australia for $16.99. The first (and biggest selling) track of the collection is titled ‘Fire Up the Ovens’. In the 30 second iTunes preview, hard rock guitars give way to an angry male voice singing ‘Leave no stone unturned / we’re gonna burn ‘til the last Jew burns / fire up the ovens, fire up the ovens / fire up the ovens, let’s do it again.’ Other tracks in the collection include ‘Six Million More’ and, predictably, ‘White Pride’. It’s a long way from Kylie Minogue and The Beatles.

But the ‘listeners also bought’ tab illustrates that Bully Boys are far from an isolated case. The bands in this list have names like Final War, Brutal Attack, and No Remorse No Retreat. One album cover shows Hitler marching past a row of Nazi soldiers. iTunes isn’t the only mainstream vendor providing access to hate music. The Bully Boys and their kin are available on Amazon, Spotify, and YouTube. I even found a Bully Boys vinyl single in a Brisbane independent music store. Racial hatred, it seems, is hiding in plain sight in Australia.

We had a glimpse of that hatred last year, with the announcement of the neo-Nazi Hammered Music Festival. The Queensland event promised “local bands, international acts,” and “a full day of events”. The Gold Coast had hosted the event three times previously. Now, it was moving to Brisbane.

The Sunday Mail picked up the story, beginning a storm of media coverage that eclipsed any attention paid to the previous two years’ festivals. Hammered was condemned by the Queensland Attorney General, the Federal Race Discrimination Commissioner, and the chairman of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia. An anti-Hammered Facebook group even appeared. (On Stormfront—the white supremacist internet forum where Hammered was first announced—one member gloated that he had reported this Facebook group “for being a hate group since their (sic) anti white”.)

On Stormfront, members took gleeful pleasure in the attention of the media. One wrote that he hoped the media coverage would “awaken some local people who may be on their way to being [White Nationalists] to get in touch, get along, and get themselves more informed”. This evangelical aspect was the concern of some opposed to the festival as well. Duncan Hart, media spokesperson for a Brisbane anti-Hammered Festival group, told me that his group opposed the festival because “it was promoting the most toxic form of racism and legitimising fascism”.

Hammered went ahead in April 2012 at a secret location, apparently without disturbance. According to comments on Stormfront, the show was opened by Melbourne band Ravenous—a group who have admitted online to being questioned by ASIO. It doesn’t take long on YouTube to find them screaming lines like ‘They can’t keep the white race down / we are the masters and they are the beasts’.

Ravenous were followed by Open Season, described by a Stormfront commenter as having “old school hate lyrics with modern day killer musicianship”. Open Season’ s discography includes songs titled N*gger Hunt and Kill the Poofs. Third on the bill was Death’s Hand, a band founded in Brisbane and now based in Melbourne. Their lyrics are screamed, and generally present glorified descriptions of Nazi forces—‘The SA march in all their pride / they would not run they would not hide’. Finally, the Californian punk/country group Youngland closed the festival. Their repertoire includes a version of John Denver’s Thank God I’m a Country Boy rewritten to ‘Thank God I’m a White Boy’. According to the Stormfront forums, Youngland performed before a “huge, pumped up crowd”.

The Southern Cross Hammer Skinheads were the primary organising force behind the event, which marked their 20th birthday as an Australian organisation. Like their global parent group, the Hammerskin Nation, they claim to follow a philosophy summed up by what they call the ‘fourteen words’: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

The original Hammerskin Nation emerged out of the skinhead scene in Dallas, Texas in the mid 80s. According to their website, they intended to “set the standard for skinheads in the USA,” by opposing drug use and “exceptions … for the odd racially confused Mexican or Jew”. The Bully Boys were early members. The group gradually grew, and there are now multiple Hammerskin chapters across the United States and around the world. Their website boasts that “no previous skinhead group has grown at such a rapid pace”.

Since their early days, the Hammerskin Nation has been associated with criminal activity. A number of their members have been convicted of assaulting and even murdering minorities. The original Bully Boys’ drummer was sentenced to nearly 10 years in jail for his part in a Hammerskin group who assaulted African Americans and Hispanics in Texas in 1988 and vandalised a synagogue with Nazi symbols. The US Anti-Defamation League (ADL) describes the Hammerskin Nation as the “most violent and best-organized neo-Nazi skinhead group in the United States”. Their website displays pictures of Hammerskin gatherings with all faces blurred out. Hammered Festival attendees are in illustrious company.

It might seem strange that a group of Australian neo-Nazis tied to notoriously violent groups would choose to hold a music festival, but music has always been close to the heart of the white supremacist movement. The Hammerskin Nation website describes hate music as providing “the momentum driving Hammerskins across the USA,” and the ADL states “one of the major elements binding skinheads from different cultures or geographical areas together is white power music”. This is partly a product of their history, with white power skinhead groups emerging out of punk music scenes in Britain and the US. Financial concerns also come into play, since groups like the Hammerskin Nation generate most of their income through music sales. Most importantly, though, it is a question of recruiting.

In the US in 2004, Panzerfaust Records, a company tied closely to the Hammerskin Nation, launched Project Schoolyard which aimed to distribute 100,000 hate music compilation CDs to American schoolchildren. The CDs were sold in bulk online to Hammerskin members, who paid 15 cents per disc and committed to distribute them free of charge to schoolchildren. The Panzerfaust website proudly declared, “We don’t just entertain racist kids, we create them”. Their CEO, Bryant Cecchini wrote, “We know the impact that is possible when kids are introduced to white nationalism through the musical medium”.
Panzerfaust has now closed down. Project Schoolyard, however, refuses to die. Cecchini has revived it, complete with the original slogan, on a website called Tightrope. The packaging for Project Schoolyard II is intended to appear innocuous, but the lyrics, which are printed on the Tightrope website, are anything but. The violent race hatred and homophobia has not been toned down for the kids. The chorus of one song runs ‘Some n*ggers never die / they just smell that way’. Project Schoolyard highlights the disturbing confidence white supremacists place in hate music as their primary means of recruiting.

If white supremacists have such confidence in the power of their music to “create racists”, shouldn’t we get it off iTunes, Amazon, and YouTube? Not according to civil libertarians and other free speech advocates. These groups argue that censoring hate speech would actually be counterproductive. The racial vilification and hatred policy of the Global Internet Liberty Campaign (GILC), for example, states, “when encountering racist or hateful speech, the best remedy to be applied is generally more speech, not enforced silence”. According to these groups, allowing neo-Nazis to make themselves visible lets them expose the insanity of their own views. Terry O’Gorman, president of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties repeated this view in response to the Hammered Festival, reiterating that, “it’s imperative that speech, even if I as an individual might not like it, is free”.

Not everyone agrees. Duncan Hart, a Queensland based protester against Hammered, told me that he believes “freedom of speech for fascists is really just an argument for fascists being allowed to undermine basic tenets of democracy”. According to Hart, “fascism is the greatest threat to freedom of speech, as well as a raft of other freedoms”. His argument is at the base of most curbs placed on freedom of speech around the world. Freedom of speech must end; the argument goes, at the point where it impinges on another’s freedoms.

Many other countries do have much stricter control over material inciting racial hatred. In the European Union, for example, the denial or “revision” of the Holocaust—a staple of hate music—is a crime, specifically exempted from free speech laws. The Hammerskin Nation is illegal in several countries, including Germany and Spain, though it still manages to maintain chapters in these countries. Some countries also attempt to suppress hate music specifically. Three years ago, German authorities launched a large-scale crackdown on the neo-Nazi music scene. German police seized 45,000 CDs and 170 computers from over two hundred locations. iTunes Germany certainly doesn’t sell the Bully Boys. Australia may actually be one of the best places in the world to access hate music.

Opponents of the Hammered Festival, including former independent MP Rob Messenger, were quoted repeatedly in the press as saying that the festival violated the Racial Discrimination Act. But Queensland Attorney General, Jarrod Bleijie, stated that while he was disgusted by the event, it was “not illegal”. The Racial Discrimination Act bans speech that “offends, intimidates, or humiliates another person on the basis of race”, but only in public. As an invitation-only event held at a secret location, Hammered was not public, and therefore not illegal.

What about the music available on iTunes? The Australian Human Rights Commission states, “as the Internet is one means by which words, sounds, images and writing are communicated to the public, the [racial vilification] legislation clearly applies to this medium”. But hate music gets off the hook on the basis of an exemption listed in the legislation: “if the communication is part of an artistic work, it is not unlawful”.

Of course, iTunes and Amazon could still choose to stop selling this music—with sufficient public pressure, they undoubtedly would. The question is, do we want them to? By selling the Bully Boys alongside Beyoncé and The Beatles, iTunes may lend racial hatred dangerous credibility. At the same time, driving hate music entirely underground could be a bad idea. Bryant Cecchini, the man behind the Project Schoolyard hate compilation, said that he would love to see racist music banned in the US. “Make it illegal tomorrow. It would be great. What we do is illegal in Germany, and it’s 50 times more popular.”

So perhaps we’re better off keeping the neo-Nazis where we can see them, even if iTunes does stock enough hate music to fuel a dozen Hammered Festivals. Just as long as the Bully Boys don’t replace Kylie on the front page.


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