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 6:47 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT