And Minneapolis lawyer Aaron Davis lost his job after his hobby operating a neo-Nazi music label came to light.
Until then, most people probably didn’t know such entertainment — if that’s what it can be called — existed. Nobody knows the exact number of neo-Nazi/white nationalist bands here and abroad.
At least 37 of them streamed on Spotify until recently.
In fact, the genre has been around for decades, relegated for years to certain sympathetic rock clubs and underground mailing lists until the Internet changed all that.
The origins of white supremacist and neo-Nazi music can most easily be traced to the rise of punk music in 1970s Britain.
Many of punk’s practitioners, such as Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols and Ron Asheton of the Stooges, adorned their clothes with Nazi iconography.
But it was meant as provocation, not endorsement. Punk bands generally preached against racism and fascism.
But white nationalists led by Eddy Morrison of the Britain’s far-right National Front saw an opportunity in 1976. As Morrison wrote on his blog “Memoirs of a Street Soldier: A life in White Nationalism”:
At first I was bewildered when I saw some of our once clean cut members wearing safety pins and dressing in ex-charity shop clothes. However, I could also see that Punk was becoming a powerful weapon for anyone who could turn it politically. The reds were already attempting to do this with their newly formed ‘Rock Against Racism,’ and many teenagers went to their concerts, not because they were anti-racist but simply to hear the music.
This couldn’t be allowed to continue. We either had to condemn Punk or use it. I chose the latter option and started a spoof fanzine called ‘Punk Front’ which featured a NF logo with safety pin in it. To my great surprise, “Punk Front” was a huge success and soon, especially in Leeds, NF members and supporters were going to the biggest Punk Club around — the infamous “F Club”. I started to regularly go to the club and NF Punks were recruiting other punks.
As Nazi punk music began to spread globally, it prompted a backlash. American punk band Dead Kennedys released a song in 1980 titled, “Nazi Punks F— Off.” Art for it featured a black swastika against a red background, with a large black slash through it, like a no parking sign.
The year after that song’s release, modern neo-Nazi rock began when Ken McLellan formed Brutal Attack. If any band represents modern hate music, it’s this one, which the Anti-Defamation League called “one of the oldest hate bands in continuous existence,” according to Spin.
Its racist messages were unvarnished. Consider these lyrics from “Aryan Child”:
Child awake now for your lands been robbed & sold,
By men of high finance, the truth you must be told.
What your ancestors fought for, sacrifice untold,
Has all been stolen by bankers of the Jewish fold.
That’s one of the band’s lighter and less offensive tunes. Many of the other lyrics can’t be published in the The Washington Post.
Disseminating these songs — along with ones like “Rock Against Islam” by Kill, Baby, Kill! and “Six Million More” by the Bully Boys — wasn’t easy. As Spin reported, most record stores wouldn’t carry them. Any that did risked being protested by anti-hate advocacy groups.
Fans and sympathizers generally found them through mailing lists, white supremacist publications, underground shows and even music festivals.
“Because stores wouldn’t carry us, selling records used to be laborious,” McLellan told Spin. “We relied on mail order. We relied on concerts.”
With the Internet, these bands suddenly had a free platform for sharing their music. Long before teenagers were downloading Destiny’s Child and Train songs off Napster, white supremacist groups had Internet radio stations blasting racist vitriol around the clock.
“The way that movement has sold music has always been ahead of the curve in some ways,” Aaron Flanagan, director of research for the Center for New Community, an anti-racist group based in Chicago, told the Southern Poverty Law Center.
These bands “saw the Internet as a place where recruitment was possible, and they’ve long known that music was a main avenue for their message as it related to connecting people to a community that could solidify them within that movement.”
Eventually, they began peddling their music through mainstream online providers like iTunes and Amazon, which didn’t catch on to what they were selling for years.
“The scary thing about iTunes is that it places in this forum, that companies like Apple are brilliant at, creating a marketplace that pushes these cultural products closer to the consumer and facilitates the purchasing of them in ways that are so intuitive,” Flanagan said.
The main goal of the music, according to Jeff Schoep, manager of white nationalist record label NSM88 Records, is to spread a message.
“We’re far more interested in spreading our point of view,” Schoep told Spin. “If people can hear communist sympathizers like Rage Against the Machine on iTunes, then they should have the right to hear music that celebrates white culture. The Beastie Boys and other Jewish artists might support banning ideas, but we don’t. We support the American way.”
The Internet allowed them to do just that — and it worked. It made at least some of these bands feel like their beliefs were becoming common.
“Being sold in mainstream places shows that white power isn’t so taboo anymore,” McLellan told Spin about selling his music on the Internet. “Attitudes are changing.”
“The music has also been terribly, terribly important in bringing young kids into this movement,” Mark Potok, who edits Intelligence Report, told the New York Times. “I’ve talked to many people who have come out of this movement. To a man and to a woman, they say it was the music, more than any other influence, that brought them to the movement in the first place.”
Daniel Koehler, formerly of the Institute for the Study of Radical Movements, told NPR that the music “is not just a recruitment tool, but also a very important tool for financing infrastructure, networks; and to buy guns and to buy explosives.”