Calvert owns Tightrope Records, a Melbourne, Ark.-based store and Web site that sells white power music and racist materials, including Hitler party balloons, white power T-shirts and stickers that say “Fight Crime Abort Black Babies.”
The music appeals to its followers, he says, because “they are tired of multiculturalism being shoved down their throats. They’re tired of the forced guilt trip about slavery. They’re tired of black people making money singing about beating up white hos.”
And while the scene is relatively small, he says that it has more support than most people think since most sales of the music take place online.
“It’s a niche market. You don’t go to Wal-Mart to buy white power music.”
Calvert also says that many fans of the music don’t stand out.
“The cartoon caricature of a white power music fan is someone who is tattooed and has a felony record,” Calvert says. “But that’s circus s---. Our customers, you couldn’t pick them out of a crowd. They are the captain of the football team, the cheerleaders, just regular suburban kids.”
Although some hate bands are more popular than others, the concern for people such as the ADL’s Pitcavage is that the scene exists at all.
“There is violence inside the scene itself and to some degree they seem to directly inspire violence after their concerts,” he says. “But many of these groups also condone violence as a solution to a wide variety of problems. They spread hate and violence across society.”
Frequently, white supremacist groups have used the music as a recruiting tool. At one point, Resistance Records, a label based in West Virginia, was reported to have $1 million in annual sales, although researchers say the distribution has fallen off in the past several years.
And James W. von Brunn, the white supremacist who killed a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, once said he was “very, very interested in the potential for Resistance Records to bring in a new generation of supremacists who were a cut above the knuckle-dragger types,” Todd Blodgett, who was a Resistance Records co-owner, told The Washington Post in 2009.
In 2004, white power music label Panzerfaust Records of Minnesota organized Project Schoolyard, a project to get white supremacists to distribute free white power music compilation CDs to high school and middle school students. In subsequent years, after the demise of Panzerfaust Records, other white supremacists attempted several similar efforts under various names.
Project Schoolyard 2’s compilation disc included such songs as “White Pride, White Passion” by Brutal Attack, “White Revolution” by RAHOWA (Racial Holy War) and “Some N------ Never Die” by Johnny Rebel.
Project Schoolyard was one of the attempts to use the music for recruiting purposes but generally those have been limited and not very successful, Pitcavage says. “The message is essentially one of hate,” he says, “and there’s not a lot of positive response to that.”
Jill Garvey, associate director of the Center for New Community, a Chicago-based civil rights organization, says she worries that the Wisconsin shooting may spark renewed interest in hate rock bands. In 1999, the center launched Turn It Down, a campaign to counter white power music and its growing influence by educating communities about how to respond to the music and its followers. The campaign has operated intermittently since then, but Garvey said Tuesday that the organization is considering reactivating it. One of the center’s biggest efforts, she said, has been to engage sites such as MySpace and Facebook to deactivate accounts that are promoting white power music.
“We’re seeing that this might reignite some interest, both from the public and from those involved with the music,” Garvey says. “Once the controversy in the press dies down, there may likely be a resurgence in using the music as a way to recruit new followers.”
Such music, however, is well within the tradition of protected free speech in America, says an expert in First Amendment law. The bar is high for finding hate speech unlawful, says Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.
“That’s true whether it is extremist Islam or pro-anarchist literature or the communist manifesto or extremist animal rights groups,” he says. “And it’s true for extremist racists as well. Speech is protected unless it is intended to, and likely to, produce imminent violence or other illegal conduct.”