A Brief But Very Informative History of How Fascists Infiltrated Punk and Metal
Since the 1970s, fascists have been trying to push their ideology on punks and metalheads by cloaking it in esotericism and "free expression."
Immagine di Lia Kantrowitz.
Alexander Reid Ross is a lecturer at Portland State University, the editor of 'Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab,' and the author of the new book, 'Against the Fascist Creep' (AK Press). His book traces today's often-disguised forms of rightwing extremism through the decades and across the globe to show how infiltration is a conscious and clandestine program for neofascist groups that seek to co-opt and undermine both the mainstream and the new social movements of the left.
The fallout from the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville organized by open fascists has brought a renewed sense of urgency for the anti-racist and anti-fascist movement. Following the abortive rally, a neo-Nazi named James Alex Fields drove into a contingent of antifascists, murdering one and injuring 19. Fields was pictured at the rally among the fascist Vanguard America group, wearing their uniform of white polos and khaki pants and brandishing a shield with their logo of two fasces crossed in an X. This image appears to give us a clear understanding of what fascism looks like and where it can be opposed. However, fascist organizing is rarely so open or obvious. Fascist efforts to recruit and influence often take place under shades of ambiguity within subcultural spaces, for instance at shows, parties, in magazines, and online. There is a likelihood that many will either leave the alt-right or retreat back into such spaces to regain momentum.
For people who live across the country from Charlottesville, in Portland, Oregon, the August 12 slaying brought back sad memories of May 26, when a racially-motivated slashing by Jeremy Joseph Christian left two dead and one critically injured on public transit. News quickly emerged of Christian's associations with recent alt-right linked protests, but he did not fit the typical white supremacist profile—he was into heavy metal, anarchy, and nihilism.
While Fields gives us the image of the clean-cut fascist from the Midwest, eager to bully others whom he deems weaker and capable of extreme acts of violence, it is important to remember that the alt-right emerged through a longer history of ongoing efforts by fascists to manipulate different cultures and their values, from conservative anti-interventionism to leftist anti-imperialism and even rock subcultures. In order to stop fascists from continuing to organize, subcultures must stand against not just those wearing white polo shirts and khakis but those who are used to the cover of ambiguity often afforded by the insular subcultural dynamics of belonging and in-group formation.
In the wake of the May 26 murders in Portland and the Charlottesville slaying on August 12, the alt-right must have no safe space, no place to hide, and no capacity to organize.
Metapolitics, Skinheads, and Neofolk
A glance at the photographs and videos from Saturday's macabre display and the alt-right's torch lit march through the University of Virginia that took place the previous evening reveals not just a renegade country club aesthetic, but an assortment of styles, from hipster mustaches and haircuts to hate rock band shirts and open skinheads wearing Blood & Honour merch. The alt-right has not attempted to replace such counter-cultural scenes as add onto them with new sectors of the population. In fact, the punk attitude and metal subcultures remain vital to the modern fascist movement.
When the punk and metal scenes came to prominence first in the 1970s, they encapsulated the feelings of working class people betrayed by conditions out of their control. Exploiting an economic downturn in the UK under a left-wing Labour government, fascists began organizing for a political party called the National Front but faced violent opposition from the left. A group of National Front members agreed on a "metapolitical" approach, intervening in subcultural milieus like punk and metal to turn them into breeding grounds for fascism. This approach, gleaned from a group of fascist ideologues known as the European New Right, would later form the bedrock of the alt-right's ideology.
Taking inspiration from a network of "national revolutionary" terrorist cells structured like left-wing nuclei and inspired by the occult fascist, Julius Evola, this breakaway group founded the Official National Front and began actively working to recruit fascist skinheads as "political soldiers." Their seminal point person in this regard, Ian Stuart Donaldson, fronted a band called Skrewdriver, which emerged with the gritty rock' n' roll of the Oi! punk scene in 1976. When leftists organized an annual concert called Rock Against Racism to build a grassroots movement against the National Front and fascist skinheads, Donaldson created a counter-event called Rock Against Communism and a distribution network called Blood & Honour, both of which continue to this day.
When leftists organized an annual concert called Rock Against Racism to build a grassroots movement against the National Front and fascist skinheads, Donaldson created a counter-event called Rock Against Communism and a distribution network called Blood & Honour, both of which continue to this day.
The Would-Be National-Bolshevik "Avant-Garde"
In the early 1980s, two members of a left-wing band that had played at Rock Against Racism moved to Germany disillusioned by the left, and joined the "third positionist" tendency of fascism (neither capitalism nor state communism but national socialism). What they created was a kind of avant-garde fascist aesthetic that could draw in those who recoiled at the drunken, boisterous presence of skinheads.
Taking ideas from both left and right while adopting Evola's occult trappings "beyond" ideology, their new band, Death In June, produced a brooding, monotonous sound with often lugubrious lyrics evoking the ruins of civilization and the desire to rise, phoenix-like from the ashes. Soon, Death In June and associates developed a network of close-knit bands around the genre, "neofolk," which was loosely connected to the National Front, as well as fascist think tanks like the Islands of the North Atlantic (IONA) and Transeuropa.
While Donaldson's Blood & Honor distribution network helped spread the National Front and Nazi ideology through skinhead shows and parties around the world, neofolk bands and related noise and experimental artists like Boyd Rice and Michael Moynihan increasingly explored the counter-cultural allure of metapolitics, becoming involved in Satanism, paganism, and fascism. Dedicated musicians ensured that no milieu, excepting hate rock, could be exclusively claimed by fascists, but the struggle would be difficult and often violent.
In San Francisco, the fascist skinhead and avant-garde scenes converged with the American Front, which developed further ties to larger political assemblages from Australia to Belgium, Canada to Spain, France, and England in a new network that would take the name "European Liberation Front." Many of these groups organized under "national-Bolshevik" ideas that the world should be organized into ethno-states in a federated ultranationalist version of the Soviet Union. It was the earliest issuance of an international fascist syndicate that would later come under the influence of Russian fascist Alexander Dugin and his "Eurasianist" philosophy, both of which are currently associated with the alt-right.
European Liberation Front organizers like Troy Southgate, formerly of the Official National Front, sought to exploit the anarchist ideology associated with punk and metal subcultures, as well as rebellious autonomous radical groups. Calling their syncretic ideological fusion "national-anarchism," these fascists commandeered a Trotskyist strategy known as "entryism," entering groups (particularly in the green movement) and either turning them toward their ideology or destroying them from within. In a fashion later taken up by the alt-right, fascists deployed leftist ideas against the left in order to conceal itself while eroding egalitarian and anarchist tendencies within subcultures that remained superficially anarchic. Denying fascists such entry points cuts a large and important base off from their organizing.
National Socialist Black Metal
Through record labels like Resistance Records, Elegy Records, and Unholy Records, distribution enterprises like Rouge et Noir, and magazines like Requiem Gothique and Napalm Rock, fascists merged haterock and neofolk with anarchist and nihilist thought in order to convincingly carry their ideas and themes into subversive, though politically ambiguous, countercultures. Important themes included spiritual occultism and nihilism (as in, everything must be destroyed for truly nationalist life to begin anew), as well as a linking of localized ecology with the essence and spirit of the nation, often identified along "folkish" or tribal lines.
Fascists also fetishized the Aryan mythos and a return to paganism as naturally closer to the European folk—a tendency that became especially clear with their championing of Scandinavian black metal. Developed as a reaction to the glitzy hair metal and messy death metal bands of the 1980s, early Scandinavian black metal strove for brutality in music, emphasizing an austere aesthetic of blood, violence, and sacrificial rituals.
As black metal spread to the US and several groups aligned with Blood & Honour, a number of bands became increasingly open about white nationalism. After Burzum leader Varg Vikernes murdered a member of a rival band, Michael Moynihan co-authored Lords of Chaos to discuss black metal and satanism in what became the leading narrative of the black metal scene. Thus, many young people intrigued by the gruesome and brutal black metal scene found their introduction through a "heathen anarcho-fascist," according to eminent scholar Mattias Gardell, feeding into a growing international network of specifically National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM) bands and fans.
Portland's Ominous Warning
The consequences for cross-over between fascist and anarchist ideas in subcultures can be severe. In May 2010, antifascists campaigning against the violent fascist skinhead network, Volksfront, were shocked when an antifascist activist named Luke V. Querner was shot by a fascist, leaving him paralyzed. Following the shooting, Rose City Antifa released an exposé of two NSBM bands, Immortal Pride and Fanisk, that eerily cautioned, "subcultural settings are also being contested ideologically, a reality that we ignore at our own risk."
According to comments on the Indymedia page, the Volksfront-connected group, Immortal Pride, admitted their fascism proudly, while Fanisk argued that their "transcendent" art had been misunderstood by vulgar, witch-hunting antifascists. Fanisk's attempts to deflect allegations ran parallel to fascists' attempts to translate their ideas into uncontroversial themes like "the right to difference," which means apartheid style ethno-states, or "simultaneously being in favor of White Power, Yellow Power[, Black Power], and Red Power."
Amid the controversy and fallout from both the shooting and subsequent exposé, one Immortal Pride fan named Tom Christensen quietly announced on Stormfront his exploitation of the punk and black metal scene and gathering of information on antifascists:
"I used to be a big punk rocker in the music scene and there were some antis that ran around in the same scene. I was friends with a few… I kept my beliefs to myself and would shut down any opinions the[y] expressed that seemed to have holes in them. It's been fairly useful to know some of these people. I now know who all the major players are in the anti and SHARP [Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice] scene."
He later asked Stormfront whether or not he should snitch out his antifascist associates. Christensen was discovered by Rose City Antifa and outed in a May 2013 alert, only after a series of regional grand jury indictments of anarchists that some speculate might have used information he handed over to the police. He also came to identify as "Trigger" Tom, suggesting perhaps that he had shot Querner in 2010. Whether or not those speculations are accurate, Christensen's position within radical subcultures opened antifascists to crucial vulnerabilities. As recently as Tuesday, August 8, Christensen was arrested for stabbing someone at a Rancid/Dropkick Murphys show in Chicago.
An End to Entryism?
To this day, fascist groups find shelter moving between politically ambiguous subcultures and fascist groups. Paul Waggener, the leader of a violent bioregionalist-fascist group, the Wolves of Vinland, which has chapters across the US, attempts to spread his ethno-separatist vision through both neofolk and black metal projects. Despite the fact that WoV Portland-area leader Jack Donovan calls himself an "anarcho-fascist" and has spoken at alt-right conferences, efforts by Rose City Antifa to expose this group and their local workings have met with resistance from nihilist apologists.
It was significant to many that Jeremy Christian identified his idea of a bioregionalist, whites-only homeland in the Pacific Northwest as "Vinland," a term used not just by WoV but also by the now-defunct US chapter of the NSBM-linked fascist group, Heathen Front, headed by infamous Nazi, James Mason, whose work is published by "anarcho-fascist" Michael Moynihan.
Christian's mixture of bioregionalism, racism, and metal also resonated with the leader of the Nazi group Northwest Front, Harold Covington, whose experience as a Nazi includes participating in planning the 1979 Greensboro Massacre and creating the Blood & Honour-linked UK fascist skinhead group Combat 18. Currently dedicated to entering the popular Cascadian bioregional movement and turning it toward fascism, Covington declared, "it does look like [Jeremy Christian] was one of 'our' many fringe characters[.]" Similar white nationalist groups exist around the neo-Confederate movement in the South.
The metal scene, punk, bioregionalism, and other interlinked subcultural milieus continue to provide a sense of belonging for those who need it, but often become insular and defensive when criticized from the outside. That insularity opens a vulnerability to the persistent efforts of fascist entryists. Nevertheless, opposition continues to grow from within as people become increasingly wise to the dangers posed by creeping fascism.
In the last few years, protests have grown outside of venues that host metal and neofolk bands that have been proven to be or are allegedly associated with fascism. Protests against Death in June have emerged from Portland to South Florida; a large group of people demonstrated against Graveland in Montreal, while Satanic Warmaster had to play a secret show in Glasgow, Blood and Sun gigs were called off in the Midwest, and Marduk was cancelled in Oakland and protested in Austin. Meanwhile, antifascist black metal bands like Ancst and Dawn Ray'd are gaining notoriety for their rejection of sexism and racism.
Despite some fans and journalists complaining about the free speech of musicians, judging by the increasing demonstrations, the metal scene is becoming increasingly conscious not only of the safety of its own members, but its role in either fanning the flames of a global fascist revival or helping to put them out.
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