Skip to main content

Hate with a beat: White power music

By Lonnie Nasatir, Special to CNN
updated 5:05 PM EDT, Wed August 8, 2012
Wade Page, who killed six people at a Sikh temple, played in two white power bands, End Apathy and Definite Hate.
Wade Page, who killed six people at a Sikh temple, played in two white power bands, End Apathy and Definite Hate.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lonnie Nasatir: Tattooed men pump fists in front of Nazi flags at white power music concerts
  • Nasatir: This music a part of white supremacist movement subculture since 1970s
  • For supremacists, the music reflects attitudes toward hate they already have, he says
  • Concerts don't attract a lot of people, he says, attempts to recruit are not truly successful

Editor's note: Lonnie Nasatir is director of the Anti-Defamation League's Upper Midwest Region, which includes Wisconsin. He is based in Chicago.

(CNN) -- Picture a field full of heavy-set men sporting shaved heads and covered with tattoos. They pump their fists in the air and dance raucously in front of a stage festooned with Nazi flags and racist skinhead symbols. Others, including a few women, watch around the perimeter.

Onstage, people are playing deafening music, shouting more than singing, with lyrics urging white people "to stand up and fight."

Without the racism element, this might just be another concert. But this is music with a message -- a white power music concert. Every year, versions of this scene play out across the United States, if not in a field, perhaps in an old warehouse or, more rarely, an actual music club.

Some white supremacists drive for hundreds of miles to attend. Others purchase or download white power music from the Internet. Since white power music arrived in the United States in the late 1970s, it has become a pillar of the subculture permeating the white supremacist movement.

Lonnie Nasatir
Lonnie Nasatir
Author: 'White power' music targets youth
The expanding white supremacist movement
White supremacist ties to massacre
Vigils honor Sikh temple victims

White supremacist groups strong

It is in this subculture that Wade Page, the white supremacist responsible for the massacre earlier this week at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, moved, made friends, and fully immersed himself. Page, 41, was a white supremacist skinhead who played in two white power music bands, End Apathy and Definite Hate, affiliated with the Hammerskins.

The Hammerskins are a longstanding hardcore racist skinhead group with a history of violence and hate crimes. Page was a member, identifying himself as a Northern Hammerskin, part of the group's upper Midwest branch.

White power music is a small music scene, not comparable to any mainstream music genre. The largest concerts won't attract more than 300 people; most organizers would be happy to see half that number.

Music, military marked Sikh temple gunman's path

At any given time, about 100 to 150 white power bands are in the United States. The bands' own names defiantly express feelings of hate or violence: Aggravated Assault, Angry Aryans, Attack, Definite Hate, Final Solution, Force Fed Hate, Fueled by Hate, Hate Crime, Jew Slaughter and White Terror, among others.

Most of these bands are the white supremacist equivalents of garage bands—nobody is getting rich from this music. Behind them are small record labels or distributors that specialize in white power music: Label 56, Tightrope Records, Final Stand Records, and others. Many bands are associated with a racist skinhead group such as Volksfront, the Vinlanders Social Club or, especially, the Hammerskins.

The Hammerskins dominate much of the white power music scene. Many bands are Hammerskins-affiliated, while the group itself organizes hate music concerts, including Hammerfest, its largest annual event.

Temple killings put spotlight on hate rock

The music comes in many flavors. The oldest is a racist form of Oi!, associated with the original skinhead subculture in Great Britain. Also popular is hatecore, a white supremacist version of hardcore punk. A white supremacist form of death metal music, known as National Socialist Black Metal Music or NSBM, has become popular. There are other small subgenres of hate music; even a few white power hip hop artists, though most white supremacists dislike hip hop.

White power music conveys many messages. Obviously, it conveys hatred: antagonism toward Jews, immigrants, nonwhites, Muslims, gays and left-wingers. But songs can convey other messages, too. Some white power songs may glorify heroes or martyrs of the white supremacist movement. Some are essentially self-promotional, praising a group or leader.

Songs that urge or celebrate generic violence are also common, emerging from a subculture in which violence is easily condoned. A number of songs attempt to convey some sense of commonality, to strengthen the sense that listeners are in a movement with shared ideas, goals -- or enemies.

What are the effects of white power music? It's often hard to know exactly how music of any kind may affect someone. Music is universally acknowledged as powerful, yet its effects are often indirect.

Hate music does sometimes create direct effects. Incidents of hate crimes being committed by people who had just been at a hate music event have been reported. More indirectly, hate music certainly contributes to the shared ideas and notions of the white supremacist movement, including its willing acceptance of violence.

But there is a "chicken and egg" question, too. It is almost certainly the case that, for many white supremacists, the music doesn't motivate them to violence so much as reflect attitudes about hate and violence they already possess. Does the music motivate them to be hateful, or does the fact that they are hateful cause them to appreciate the music? For each individual, there's probably a different answer.

White power music is often cited as a recruiting tool for white supremacists. This is certainly true to some degree, although most of their recruitment tends to be passive rather than active. Organized attempts are made from time to time by white supremacist groups to use white power music to attract young people, but none of these attempts has truly been successful.

Of more importance is simply the existence of hate music. A certain number of people will like the music or the message, or both, and some may be drawn into the movement itself. The Internet has allowed more people to encounter this music than previously.

What can be done about this music and the violence it seems to beget? One solution is to shine the light of day on the hateful lyrics and subculture, so that more people will speak out and reject their disturbing and sometimes violent message. This is part of the work we at the Anti-Defamation League do every day.

A previous version of this commentary incorrectly included the band Hatebreed in a list of white power bands. Hatebreed is a self-described "hardcore metal" band. CNN regrets the error.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lonnie Nasatir.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT