In the past few days, in the wake of the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin, the national media has once again begun to blame a crime on art. On Sunday, police discovered that Wade Page, the skinhead who stormed into the Oak Creek temple that afternoon and killed six people before killing himself, was once in a white-power band called End Apathy.
Page's band wasn't very good or well-known, but in the hours since his attack, it's been a horse race to see which national media outlet can scrutinize the dangers of white-power music the most.
Speaking to a Reuters reporter, Arno Michaels, founder of anti-racist online magazine Life After Hate, called white-power music "an active practice of hatred and violence." "If you are playing white power music," he went on,
you are learning how to hate people and you are practicing emotional violence against them. Tragically, what happened on Sunday was the logical conclusion of this hate and violence.
The Paper of Record also went big on the denunciation of Nazi music, running the headline, "Wisconsin Killer Fed and Was Fueled By Hate-Driven Music," the day after the shooting. Today, they've followed up that piece with an op-ed column called "The Sound of Hate." In it, Robert Futrell, a sociology professor, and Pete Simi, a criminal justice professor, argue that neo-Nazi music culture provides venues and reasons for skinheads to gather and fulminate against their perceived enemies. The duo calls these gatherings "hidden spaces of hate."
"Law enforcement and anti-racist activists should pay close attention to the [music] scene as a motivating force for hate crime because when extremist ideas endure, so does the potential for extremist actions," they warn. "We should not be surprised when other neo-Nazis follow suit, because potent inspiration for violence continues to percolate in white power music's hidden spaces of hate."
I tried to find some End Apathy lyrics for this story, but by the time I went looking the band's MySpace page had been scrubbed away. So I found the next best thing: lyrics from a band called the Blue-Eyed Devils, a defunct "hatecore" group that for years helped cultivate the kind of "spaces of hate" Futrell and Simi talk about. This is from the song "Murder Squad":
Traitors are hung and others shot dead
Kill the Jew and cut off his head
Destroy the enemy and his lies
Send the filth to an early demise
It's the same routine day to day
Murder anyone who gets in our way
A cleansing wind throughout this land
The final solution, the final stand
My orders are simple, plain and clear
Murder on command and have no fear
In my heart I know what's right
To do what I must for my nation's fight
I listened to "Murder Squad"—twice, actually—on a Nazi website I found, and I can't say I liked it very much. Besides the ultra-racist lyrics, the music is awful and the production worse. It sounds like it was recorded in a teenager's bedroom. In the end, it was no "Dead Wrong."
In deference to the uninitiated, "Dead Wrong" is a song from the Notorious B.I.G.'s posthumous third record, Born Again. It features a guest verse from Eminem, and is easily one of the most violent mainstream rap songs of recent memory. Some sample verses:
Tears don't affect me, I hit 'em with the Tech, G
Disrespect me, my potency is deadly
I'm shootin' babies, no ifs, ands or maybes
Hit mummy in the tummy if the hooker plays a dummy
Slit the wrist of little sis, after she sucked the dick
I stabbed her brother with the icepick
Because he wanted me to fuck him from the back
But Smalls don't get down like that
Caught your father hidin' in a room, fucked him with the broom
Slit him down the back and threw salt in the wound
Who you think you're dealin' with?
Anybody steppin' in my path is fuckin' feelin' it
Basically, "Dead Wrong" is the kind of brutal, ugly, hyper-misogynistic stuff my mom was always worried I was listening to when I lied and said my rap records weren't that bad—and I love it. I love it so much, in fact, that I was able to come up with most of those verses above from memory. The college I went to was in a very small town in Virginia, and often, to get away from campus, I would borrow my roommate Will's Jeep Grand Cherokee, which had the loudest speakers of all my friends' cars, and drive around running errands. Will's shake-the-rear-view speakers were an important element of those drives, as none were complete until we played some rap music very loudly with the windows down, an act I consider to this day to be an invaluable part of my childhood. The song selection was much what you'd expect from young men in the early aughts—"In da Club," "Ain't No Fun," etc.—but we always seemed to come back to one particular track that my friend Andrew could scream word-for-word: "Dead Wrong."
I've been thinking about "Dead Wrong" a lot lately while reading the breathless, alarmist inveighs against white-power music. Like many coastal liberals, I find all forms of bigotry grotesque, and thus I find songs like "Murder Squad " grotesque. But I must also acknowledge the hypocrisy of thinking neo-Nazi bands are unlistenable garbage while not thinking at all about putting onto my iPod "Dead Wrong." Or playing "Gimme That Nut," Eazy-E's infamous anti-woman anthem, at a house party. Or playing on a bar's jukebox my favorite Misfits song, "Last Caress," the opening line of which is, "I got something to say, I killed a baby today, and it doesn't matter much to me as long as it's dead." After that, Danzig, the lead singer, says he raped your mom.
I've listened to that and other violent Misfits songs hundreds of times in my life, even as a teenager, before my brain was done developing, and yet I've never raped or killed anyone. Nor did "Dead Wrong" ever make me interested in the idea of sodomizing a man with a broom, slicing open his skin, then torturing him by putting salt in his gaping wounds. For all its disgusting chaos and carnage, it was just a song my friends and I rapped on the way to the Mexican buffet near our house.
People like Futrell and Simi try to avoid sounding like the neo-Tipper Gores that they are by not condemning the neo-Nazi music itself and instead saying that it's the culture around the music that's dangerous. It's the "spaces of hate" they're after, they say, not the art. But then they expose their anti-free speech leanings by finger-wagging and threatening that we shouldn't be surprised if another white-power maniac kills people thanks to this hateful music scene. That—and I'm so glad I work at Gawker now so I can say this—is a total crock of shit.
To follow Futrell and Simi's logic, let's fight drug culture by cancelling the Electric Daisy Carnival, a massive electronic music festival that's become as synonymous with MDMA as it has dubstep. Let's also cut down on drunk driving by banning football games, at which tailgaters young and old get blotto all day before getting in their SUVs and driving home. And, of course, let's eliminate violence in the inner city by totally banishing hip-hop from our nation, which, as Tipper and her ilk argued for years, is the real reason young black men kill each other at heartbreaking rates.
I'd be remiss if I didn't note that there are studies [PDF] that show a correlation between violent music and aggressive behavior. But there is a Grand Canyon-sized gulf between "aggressive behavior" and going on a killing spree. Neo-Nazi punk rock may not be an art form in which you choose to indulge, but trying to pretend that it's not art, or that it should be banned or cracked down upon because it's dangerous, is almost always going to be the wrong course of action. Because the truth is that thousands and thousands of people just like Wade Page have for decades been listening to the same kind of hatecore he enjoyed, and yet very few of them have done what he did. In the same vein, neither will most Marilyn Manson fans go on a shooting rampage like that of his late fans Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who executed a host of their classmates at Columbine High School.
Over the past few days, Wade Page's friends and family have shed some light on his recent history: Page was an alcoholic who was discharged from the military in 2001 for showing up to a formation drunk. He was then fired from a trucking job in 2010 because he got arrested for a DUI. After that, he found work hard to come by, and the bank foreclosed on his house in January of this year. By then he was 40 and living with no money, no job, no family, and few ways to escape his alcoholic haze. It would certainly be tidy to say that the music made Page do it, but that neglects to acknowledge that hate, rage, and the eagerness to implode are also emotions every broke alcoholic probably feels, neo-Nazi or no. Interestingly, End Apathy put out one record before Page died. It was called Self Destruct.
[Image via Facebook]