Campaign targets 'white power music'--and provokes store owners.
According to analysts with the Center for New Community, an anti-bigotry organization based in Chicago, these bands are part of the relatively unknown, but steadily growing, white power music industry. White power espouses racism, anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, and helps fund white supremacist groups. It has a presence in many popular musical genres, from hardcore and heavy metal to country and folk, the analysts say.
Since December, the organization has led a campaign against the sale of what they call white power music in Record Breakers and two Chicago stores, Metal Haven in the North Side's Lakeview neighborhood and Crow's Nest in the Loop. But Record Breakers has resisted pressure to pull music from its shelves, and the other stores have disputed some of the campaign's claims.
John Coakley, the manager of Record Breakers, said the store has sold white power music for 12 years. "Our standpoint is very simple: We do not pull anything for anyone, period," he said. "Racism is wrong, but censorship is also wrong. I don't agree with what [the bands] say, but I do agree with their right to say it."
"They don't have to sell every record that comes across their desk," said Rebecca Steinmetz, 22, a student activist who lives in Chatham on the South Side. "[They should] make a conscious decision not to support white power music."
In their lyrics, white power bands often openly encourage violence against Jews, African Americans, homosexuals and others. In their song "Let's Start a War," Attack, a Tampa, Fla., band whose music is sold at Record Breakers, declare, "Everyday they beat in our heads / That Niggers and Jews are our friends / Everyday women's lib and equality / Homos and commies marching down our streets / Let's start a war for Aryan purity / Let's start a war for our children to be free / Wipe your people from sea to shining sea / I'll make you watch as your family bleeds."
White supremacists "are using [music] to fund, to recruit, to motivate people to commit violence, and to make new international connections to network bigotry worldwide," said Justin Massa, coordinator of Turn It Down: A Campaign Against White Power Music, a project of the Center for New Community.
Since 1987, members of the white power music scene have been linked to 56 murders as well as thousands of acts of vandalism, assault, and desecration of cemeteries and places of worship nationwide, according to the organization.
Of more than 300 white supremacist groups in the Midwest, the most significant membership growth between 2000 and 2002 was among the approximately 100 organizations involved in the production and distribution of white power music, Massa said. Current and former members of white supremacist groups who are under the age of 30 almost universally indicate that it was music that got them into the movement, he said.
"It's becoming a lot more professional, a lot more polished and a lot more profitable," said an expert in extremist groups for the Anti-Defamation League who asked that his name not be divulged because he is currently doing field work.
However, he disagreed with Massa's assertion that white power music is a recruitment tool. "It's too difficult to obtain--you really have to seek it out."
It's the concerts, not the recorded music, that bring people into the movements, he said. "You can watch the ripple effect from their concerts--you will see little flash points of [hate] crimes immediately following a lot of these concerts because it's the first time for these people to be around large numbers of their own kind."
In December, Steinmetz and four other Chicago-area students, all of whom are white, joined Turn It Down's campaign to confront record stores they accused of selling white power music.
"So many people don't even know that this is an issue," said Steinmetz, a women's studies major at DePaul University who closely follows punk and hardcore rock. "It wiggles into our scene and pollutes the environment"
The students sent letters to the management at the three record stores that read, "You are selling white power music." After a week, the students visited the retailers and tried to convince them to pull the music from their shelves.
The group initially threatened to return with leaflets and demonstrations at the height of the holiday shopping season. But the protests were postponed to give the stores a chance to comply. Turn It Down is still negotiating with Crow's Nest and Metal Haven, Massa said, adding that the group is hoping to organize Hoffman Estates residents to pressure Record Breakers.
Brad Hathaway, manager of Crow's Nest, believes his store was wrongfully accused. "If we have it, it's unknown to us," he said.
Hathaway said the student activists had spoken with one of his employees, but not with him. But he went through a list of white power bands the students had provided, and could only find one in Crow's Nest, by the band Bludgeon. "I looked at the CD [and] there's no way to tell that it's white power music," he said.
The store buys its music from "major labels and major distributors," Hathaway added, and it can be difficult to weed out this type of music. He said that, if he knew how to identify it, he "would bring it to the owner's attention, and we'd probably not carry it."
Through its Web site, Metal Haven, a small, independent music store, sells 30 "National Socialist Black Metal" bands the Center for New Community considers white power acts.
Mark Weglarz, the owner and manager of Metal Haven, said he agrees with many of the points made by the Turn It Down campaign. But he maintains that not all National Socialist Black Metal is racist. "I do not carry white power music," he said.
According to the Web site www.nsbm.org, which is dedicated to the genre, National Socialist Black Metal is "aurally hateful" heavy metal music that carries an "inspired White nationalist spirit and a message of racial separation" and looks on the writings of Adolph Hitler as an influence.
Weglarz said he had never heard of www.nsbm.org, but doubted that it represented the views of most of the genre's bands or fans. He draws a distinction between bands whose lyrics advocate for white power, and bands with members whose personal beliefs may be bigoted.
"I sell their music--I don't sell their personal beliefs. I'm not going to stop selling something because of someone's personal ideology," Weglarz said. "If you've got stuff where the [lyrics of a] band in print [are] racist, bigoted and talking about violence, that shouldn't be sold."
About a third of Metal Haven's customers are Latino, black or gay, Weglarz added, "and I've never heard any complaints from the people who come in here about what I carry."
More than 40 bands that Turn It Down classifies as white power are available through the Web site for Record Breakers, which calls itself the largest independent record store in Chicago's suburbs. The store sells about two of their albums a week, bringing in approximately $1,600 a year, Coakley said.
"We provide the music that other stores don't," Coakley said. "In order to get big in this [business], you have to really diversify your inventory. That's how we've grown."
While acknowledging that the proceeds from white power CDs may fund white nationalist movements, Coakley does not believe the store is responsible for investigating everything it sells. "We don't look at the content of a CD. If it's legally distributed, I don't think it's our responsibility. It's the responsibility of people whether to buy it or not," he said.
"I believe in freedom of speech, but I don't think that argument applies to white power music," said Nick Goodwin, who, along with his wife, owns Clubhouse, a small, independent record store in Chicago's Wrigleyville neighborhood. "I don't think that anyone should have the right to wantonly spew hatred."
Goodwin criticizes those who justify selling white power music. "It's like a vegan who owns a grocery store, but puts a butcher shop in because it will make him money," he said. "We've got some stuff that people might think is off the wall or strange, but the bottom line is: We don't carry any music that attacks people."
Still, the American Civil Liberties Union defends the white power bands' right to free speech. "The government shouldn't pick and choose between which messages are appropriate and which are not, even if the vast majority of us find the message of a group to be particularly noxious," said Ed Yohnka, director of communications for the ACLU of Illinois.
Massa agrees. "I don't think legislating it away is going to solve the problem. We need people to respond and create community standards that don't allow these ideas to spread."
According to a 1999 report by the Center for New Community, white power music has become a multi-million dollar industry with music sales surpassing counterfeiting and armed robbery as the biggest source of income for the movement.
There are 250 white power bands whose music is available in the United States, including 21 in the Midwest, according to Massa. About 40 record labels nationwide, 11 of them in the Midwest, distribute their music, he said.
The largest of these labels, Resistance Records, is run out of Hillsboro, W Va., by the National Alliance, a white nationalist organization with an estimated 2,500 members nationwide. The group has a chapter in Downers Grove, a suburb west of Chicago, according to its Web site.
No one from either the National Alliance or Resistance Records returned phone calls. The voice mail for the Downers Grove chapter has a message from William Pierce, the late head of the organization, urging anyone who is concerned about "the out-of-control immigration situation" or "the Jewish monopoly control of our mass media" to join in the struggle for a "free, strong, proud White America."
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|Publication:||The Chicago Reporter|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2003|
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