By Brian Fencil
Prussian Blue back in their hate-pop days. Photo courtesy of Gerard van Schip.
The recent shooting in Kansas has reminded us that hate groups are still active. However, many of us do not realize how prevalent or violent they are. In 2009, Stormfront, a large white-pride group, started becoming more violent and over the last five years has been responsible for nearly 100 murders. Two years ago in 2012 hate groups hit an unprecedented high of 1,360, with at least one in each state. In the same year, there were 5,790 single-bias hate crime incidents reported to the FBI.
Though the number of hate groups has since slightly decreased, they are surviving despite social and legal pressure because of their ability to recruit new people. Dr. Nancy Love, a professor at Appalachian State University, tells BTR about the connection she has been studying between music and hate groups.
“What I know from my research… is that music is what initially hooked [people] because it was a powerful form of communication they could relate better than a political speech or the written word,” Dr. Love explains.
As a genre, hate music promotes anger and violence against a specific group of people. It originated in Britain in late ‘70s and grew to its height in the ‘90s and early 2000s–sales were earning several million dollars each year. To handle this growing market, several large record labels appeared, like Resistance and Panzerfaust Records. Although numbers are currently lower, there are still between 100 and 150 hate bands in the US, and about 350 worldwide. Music from dead and current bands are sold on hate music retail spaces, like Micetrap (which also sells books, flags, and clothes) as well as mainstream retailers, like Amazon.
Music has been vital within many socially conscious movements no matter the stance. For instance, music was vital in the Civil Rights Movement during rallies and strikes because it is an incredibly powerful way to get people to unite. Unlike speeches, songs get people involved. They “use call and response so people can echo a song leader [and this] creates a sense of group belonging and solidarity by being in the music, together.” Dr. Love tells BTR. Additionally, the lyrics and melody create strong emotional responses, which help listeners remember the content.
It is common to think of memory like a video camera that just passively records what it sees and files the information away into distinct boxes, but that is not actually how it works. We only attend to information that is interesting, like music, and because our memories are not stored like files in a cabinet. So, as we record a song, we also record information associated with that song, like who we were with or where we were when we heard it. Because of these correlations, as people experience more and more hate music, they form more and stronger associations between those songs and their environment. These associations mean more pathways to the memory of the song, and the anger it incites. Later, being with those people or in those places reminds people of the song, its message, and the feelings it provokes.
Co-manager of Panzerfaust Records Bryant Cecchini explained that “[w]e know the impact that is possible when kids are introduced to white nationalism through the musical medium.”
To spread hate music to people, hate groups often record very cheap sample CDs, which they encourage members to buy in bulk and give away as gifts. Panzerfaust Records even used this strategy to target middle school children–they aimed to hand 100,000 free CDs to kids while they were on their way to school.
Often, groups start younger recruits with softer sounds, like the band Prussian Blue, (the Mary-Kate and Ashley of white-pride music) and then gradually move them to more violent music, like Angry Aryans.
“The idea is that you introduce people to the music as a gift, which creates some sense of reciprocity, some sense of relationship,” Dr. Love tells BTR. Also, by giving people a sample CD, you are giving them a gateway through which they may find more hate music on their own. If they like the music, they visit the record label’s website, which often introduces them to other racist paraphernalia, like books and clothes–an entire identity.
Luckily, the number of hate groups has declined from the historic high in 2012 as the economy improved and legal pressure tightened on these collectives. Dr. Love points out that there is a third reason for the decline.
“To some extent, the political mainstream has moved right. Some of the issues that were picked up by extremist groups have been entered into mainstream political agenda,” she says. White-pride members are finding representation in local and federal government and do not need extremist groups for representation.
We have also seen several famous bands, like Skrewdriver, and the largest record label, Resistance Records, disappear in the last few years. But despite these good signs, we must view them with cautious optimism. Dr. Love explains this is not the first time Resistance Records has gone out of business, and probably not the last. Also, even though these bands may have broken up, their music will live on. Hate groups are capitalizing on the internet’s capacity to connect previously unconnected people. CDs from these bands don’t just sit on shelves in a few stores scattered across the country, but are readily available to anyone with an internet connection.
Music is a natural form of expression during social plight. Advocates often turn soap boxes into band stands, and their music unites and inspires people. Even though hate music often advocates violence, Dr. Love doesn’t believe we should censor it.
Instead she believes it would “drive this music underground rather than eradicate it…many hate groups claim they are already persecuted and [they] are prone to seeing conspiracies. Censorship would play into that mind set.”
Dr. Love promotes education, and wants to teach people, especially teenagers, how hateful the music is. Many people, she explained, are drawn to hate music’s sound and do not know what the lyrics mean. Education would be the best way to combat much of the ignorance surrounding hate music.