Eater.com, a popular food and restaurant website owned by Vox Media, placed an editor named Nick Solares on leave for at least one week, effective immediately, after he apologized for participating in New York City’s skinhead punk rock scene in the 1980s, according to several sources with knowledge of the decision.
The suspension came a week after former associates of Solares began sending reporters (including several at Gawker) links and photos documenting his past life as a skinhead. On Wednesday, Solares published an apology and explanation of his past on Eater, where he had recently been promoted to the position of Restaurant Editor:
When I was a teenager in NYC in the 1980s, I became involved with the right-wing skinhead scene within the hard punk subculture. I am deeply ashamed by this, and I made the decision decades ago to disassociate myself from far-right politics and fully disavow the bigoted and dehumanizing ideologies they represent. ...
I was a British kid who wound up falling in with a group of white-pride American nationalists, and while I was part of this group I believed the hateful things that they believed, and helped spread the message. I was the lead singer of a popular hardcore band and fed off — and indeed contributed to — the darker impulses of the scene.
“I am sorry to the people who were the target of my hateful speech then, and its equivalents and legacy today,” Solares’ wrote toward the end of his note. “I am sorry to those that I have hurt—particularly my colleagues at Eater and Vox Media—for putting you in a position to have to confront my shameful past.”
Solares, then known as “English Nick,” belonged to a punk band called the Youth Defense League, or Y.D.L., whose members identified as “skinheads” and focused on the experience and liberation of the white working class. Though their lyrics were never explicitly racist, the band’s politics leaned far-right-wing, attracting many fans (and members of other bands) who did, apparently, believe in white supremacy. Y.D.L. reportedly tried to thread this needle by arguing that they believed in white pride, but not racial hegemony.
Solares’s public apology came after several people who knew him as “English Nick” directly contacted editors at Eater. Among the pieces of evidence they provided was an album of photos uploaded to Y.D.L.’s dedicated Last.fm page, in which Solares can be seen performing at a Y.D.L. show:
The red, white, and black flag hanging from the stage’s back wall is most commonly associated with the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, a militant group that historically advocated for the political and racial hegemony of South Africa’s white Afrikaner population, who descended from the territory’s Dutch settlers. The group, which still exists today, believes in reinstating South Africa’s apartheid system, under which the country’s white minority subjugated its black majority.
Sometime after Solares published his apology, editors at Vox Media were apparently sent a link to the photo below, in which Solares appears to mingle with several other members of New York’s skinhead scene—including Mervin Shields (far left), who at one point played bass for the infamous neo-Nazi rock band Skrewdriver:
The existence of this photo, which was taken and uploaded to a Google+ page in late 2012, would appear to contradict Solares’s suggestion that he disavowed the skinhead scene “decades ago.” In a statement to Gawker, Solares argued otherwise:
The photo in question is from a few years ago at Manitoba’s Bar in NYC and was the first time I had seen Mervin Shields since the 1980’s. Additionally, the photo in question was only something Eater editors and Vox Media became aware of recently. I have long since turned my back on these oppressive views, do not have friends that are still racists or play in racist bands, and have no political affiliations with any hate groups. I remain deeply ashamed of and apologetic for my actions as a teenager and any inferences this photo may lead to.
It’s unclear how exactly Solares’s colleagues at Eater (or other Vox Media employees) reacted to Solares’s apology, at least internally. (According to Grub Street, at least two editors, Helen Rosner and Robert Sietsema, voiced their support for him.) No other staffer at the company has publicly addressed the matter.
In the past few years, people who write and report for a living have engaged in a fractious debate over the degree to which a person’s private activities or beliefs, including their past political views, should bear on other parts of his or her life. It’s not illegal to be a former (or current) skinhead, so as a matter of New York labor law, Vox Media would likely find it difficult to fire Solares for being one. And it’s not as if there’s a clear connection—or conflict of interest—between his racist past and his present ability to visit and review restaurants.
In 2009, Human Rights Watch suspended an analyst named Marc Garlasco after several bloggers documented his deep interest in Nazi war memorabilia. In that case, there was a much more obvious conflict between Garlasco’s private activities and his work at Human Rights Watch, where he focused on researching allegations of human rights abuses committed by the Israel Defense Forces in the Palestinian Territories.
Eater is not all-powerful by any means, but the Solares story raises the question: Who is forming the identity of this industry? The people living in this city? The people cooking the food? The people serving us? Or the former skinhead assigning restaurant reviews? ...
What makes [this] all worse is that one of the things Eater has done is help push a kind of restaurant consensus around that monoculture, which goes a little like this: notable chef, must speak English, must be media-savvy ... Eater’s not alone in doing this — plenty of others do, too (including Grub Street). But the result is a formula that has basically condo-ized New York’s food culture with some ultimately pretty conservative, even intolerant, values. Which means maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that there’s a penitent skinhead near the top of Eater’s food chain.
Update, 5 p.m.
A spokesperson for Vox Media provided the following statement to Gawker:
While we do not comment on individual employee matters, Vox Media disavows and adamantly rejects hate groups and hate speech as well as organizations that seek to oppress individuals or groups based on religion, race, gender identity or sexual orientation.