by JIM KNIPFEL
December 2, 2018
All Those Silly Nazi Goons!
Last night, Morgan and I watched a recent documentary about the events in Charlottesville and the White Supremacist underground’s emergence into mainstream consciousness. It was a good but fairly short doc tracing the journalist narrator’s efforts to track down the identities and affiliations of some of the central instigators of the August 2017 mayhem.
In the end it repeatedly confirmed something I’ve been saying for a long time (though no mainstream outlet ever saw fit to publish it) namely, in a fight between fascists and anti-fascists, the cops will always side with the fascists.
What frustrated me about the doc was the complete lack of context. The historical parallels are blatant and important, but they were completely ignored. Granted it was an hour-long film with a sharp focus, so I guess I need to forgive that. And I admit I did learn a bit about the current American Neo-Nazi scene along the way. What struck me most was how many of these groups had appropriated bits and pieces from the Eighties hardcore scene, from the Rise Above Movement (R.A.M.), a militant street fighting gang which lifted its name from a Black Flag song, to the inevitable evolution of the Straight Edge movement, originated by Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye, into a violent and dangerous skinhead philosophy. Hell, it only makes sense and I could write a long form piece tracing all that out, but likely never will.
(As a quick side note, a week after we watched the film, the F.B.I. rounded up several R.A.M. members and associates, charging them with conspiracy for their involvement in the Unite the Right violence in Charlottesville and other riots.)
When the film was over, my brain was racing in a thousand different directions, mostly backwards. Here are a few random and splintered thoughts plucked from amid the swirl:
· This is likely no longer the case (except in certain circles), but there was a time when it was commonplace for feeble, dorky, bookish and bullied kids to develop a fascination with Nazis. It had less to do with ideology than aesthetics. The Nazis had really cool uniforms and insignias. Come on, when you’re a kid, the Totenkopf and lightning bolts were fucking awesome! I remember just now that I had a Young Adult biography of Hitler, maybe eighty-five pages long, which I ordered from a little catalog of YA paperbacks they handed out in grade school. It was an effort to encourage independent reading, all the books were under a buck, and now I’m curious why they saw fit to include a Hitler biography in and amongst all the books about sports heroes and rock stars. Maybe they understood their audience better than I would have guessed. I soon graduated from that YA book to Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and John Toland’s two-volume Hitler biography, which had just recently come out. Best thing of all about the Nazis when you were a geeky, bullied kid is that they scared the shit out of people, even if you didn’t fully comprehend why.
As with most youthful obsessions, like dinosaurs, sharks, or UFOs, my Nazi infatuation passed soon enough. A few other people I know who went through the same phase can’t make the same claim.
· Morgan and I were standing in line on a bright Sunday afternoon outside The Pyramid in the East Village. It wasn’t a huge line, but long enough, all of us waiting to get into a secret performance by neofolk luminaries Death in June, whose band logo was the Totenkopf. We didn’t give a hoot in hell about Death in June—we were only there because an old and dear friend was the opening act. We had to buy our tickets through a secret site and our names were kept on a secret list and we had to use a secret password to get into the club. All this was because the organizers were scared to death an early incarnation of Antifa would show up and beat the crap out of everyone. It wouldn’t have been that hard—these weren’t a bunch of Nazi skinhead thugs in line on that sidewalk, but dorky Goth kids who never quite made it past that Nazi stage mentioned above. Despite a few attempts at friendly, curious conversation on our part, no one in line would talk to us. Of course since we weren’t dressed all in black, lacked any facial piercings, and were noticeably older than those around us, they might have taken us for undercover agents.
I found it pretty funny, given it was a secret Nazi concert, that the organizers chose to hire two massive, stony-faced African-American bouncers to stand on the sidewalk outside the club as the show went on to provide that added layer of security, irony be damned.
· In 1993, I was asked to be part of a panel discussion at what was then known as The New Music Seminar. The panel was sponsored by Seconds magazine, which I liked pretty well, and focused on the problem of racism in music. So along with me, Peter Gilmore from the Church of Satan (still a good friend)) and Marilyn Manson (long before anyone had heard of him), the panel also included the Jewish editor of a hip-hop magazine, a Pakistani rapper from London who’d been regularly beaten by skinheads, and a skinhead in full Nazi regalia. Knowing a bit about white supremacist groups at the time, I asked his affiliation. When he told me he was with Church of the Creator, I decided to keep my distance. Those people were scary.
It was only after the panel discussion that I learned I’d been asked to participate because someone told the organizer that I was “a redneck racist,” likely on account of my Midwestern accent. I wasn’t, and this pissed off the organizer no end. A few days after the disastrous panel discussion, he called me at home and screamed and yelled because I wasn’t a redneck racist. I found this very odd and funny.
· When I was up for the receptionist job at the New York Press, my editor at the time informed me that I was facing a good deal of opposition from the people in the administrative and advertising departments because they, like that guy from Seconds, thought I was a Nazi.
“Where in the hell’d they get a stupid idea like that?” I asked.
“They’ve read what you’ve written.”
Nevertheless I got the job and was apparently able to convince the business staff I wasn’t a Nazi. Most of them, anyway.
· Several years after my musician friend opened for Death in June, Morgan and I went to see him perform at a little club in Brownsville. He confessed quietly to me that he was trying very hard to break away from all his past Nazi connections, and no longer wanted to perform any of those songs, which admittedly could be pretty harsh. Mighty catchy, yes, but harsh. But that night, an obsessive Russian fan insisted he play the ugliest and most brutal song in his repertoire, a song I’d never heard him dare perform live before. As he reluctantly did so, the Russian fan—a young woman with some obvious mental and emotional issues—danced alone in near delirium. A year earlier, my musician friend had toured Europe with another infamous neofolk band, Blood Axis. That’s where he saw first hand the scope of the European neo-Nazi movement. “The further east we went,” he told me afterward, “the higher the arms went.”
· My bookshelf still contains a number of Nazi and White Supremacist-related titles, but most are cautionary volumes written by sober historians. I think I might still have one by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Morris Dees, though I never liked him much. Of them all, my favorite is an art book simply called The Nazis, which I picked up at the Jewish Museum’s gift shop. The Nazis consists of nearly two hundred movie and television stills featuring notable actors, from Marlon Brando and Alec Guinness to William Shatner and Ronald Reagan, dressed in Nazi attire. Amazing, really, to flip through that one and see how many name actors have played Nazis, but I guess as The History Channel quickly discovered, Hitler makes for boffo box office.
· Around the time the book and film Blood in the Face came out, I was working on a long feature about white supremacist groups and the neofolk scene. I did an awful lot of research, gathering interviews and publications and recordings dating back to the Thirties. As Blood in the Face illustrated, in the late Eighties American groups like White Aryan Resistance (W.A.R.), Aryan Nations, The Order, and a grab bag of others were mostly a motley bunch of semi-literate yahoos who found comfort in dressing up in camo gear and Nazi uniforms and talking about race war and revolution. They were deep in the shadows and didn’t pose much of a real threat. That’s what I thought at the time, anyway. They’d get together on remote compounds, drink beer, and giggle at all the ethnic slurs they were tossing around. They put out their own little papers and magazines, and, as illustrated in the film American History X, had their own brand of music, with skinhead bands like RaHoWa (short for “Racial Holy War”) producing an incomprehensible sort of speed metal, but with apparently racist lyrics. I say “apparently” because I could never understand a damn thing they were saying.
Well, sometime after my feature ran, another writer I knew asked if he could borrow some of my research materials for his own story. So, pleasant and helpful fellow that I am, I put together a box filled with newspapers, magazines, CDs, books, all sorts of crap, asking him kindly to please return it all to me when he was finished. He never returned a thing, and when I ran into him several years later, he’d become a skinhead.
· Toward the end of the 2010 album, Born Again, Blood Axis founder and front man Michael Moynihan, using veiled and coded language as ever, urges his devoted and militant fan base to remain patient, that the white revolution they’d been dreaming of would never take place in their lifetime. The joke might well be on him.
· I’ve written about this before, but when I was in high school I corresponded with a guy in the local prison named Anthony who asked if I might tutor him in German. Only later did I learned he was studying German as a way of getting in solid with the notorious prison gang The Aryan Brotherhood. For a moment I wondered if I should really be accessory to such a thing, but continued to tutor him best as I could. Later, he asked if he might send me a box for safekeeping, full of things, he said, he had to get out of his cell. Like an idiot I agreed. It turned out the contraband in question was a bunch of racist and Holocaust denial literature. Oh, he had The Turner Diaries, The Journal of Historical Review, everything. I decided then that maybe I shouldn’t deal with Anthony so much. As the rest of this column will attest, I obviously didn’t take that to heart.
· Here’s where I get into trouble. Yes, I’ve known my share of avowed fascists. Many of them I’m happy to call friends. But with the exception of Anthony, who was kind of a simpleton (I mean, who gets eight years for check forgery?), they were all intelligent, funny, well-read, interesting and artistic people. The secret list includes novelists, visual artists, filmmakers and a number of musicians. I’m sorry, but I judge people by their character, not their politics. I also have friends who are Democrats, anarchists, communists, nihilists, Republicans, librarians, and socialists. I don’t care so long as they can carry on an intelligent conversation, whether or not we agree about what’s being discussed. The Nazis I’ve known, and for obvious reasons I’m not naming them here, posed no threat to anyone except philosophically. They bear absolutely no resemblance to the jarheads who like to get dressed up in army surplus military gear, tape their knuckles, grab baseball bats and go to rallies hoping to crack the skulls of a few skinny college students. These Proud Boys and Rise Above Neanderthals know nothing of the history they supposedly represent, they have no sense of humor and are, by and large, dumb as rocks.
Scary thing is, they are the future. The rallies are only going to grow larger as membership swells, and the street violence is only going to get bloodier.
· I always have to stifle a chuckle when I hear members of these far right groups railing against socialism. Um, and why do you think your brown-shirted heroes and role models called themselves “National Socialists,” exactly? Dumbasses.
· When I was teaching at SVA ten years ago, one of the things I had the students read was the original twenty-five point NSDAP party platform of 1920. As I explained to them, after the war when the full extent of the Holocaust was revealed to the world, everyone began asking, “How could such a thing happen?”
Well, I’ll tell you exactly how it happened. At the time no one bothered to stop and read the fucking party platform, because it’s all laid out right there. Not the concentration camps so much, but at least four of the planks deal specifically with clearing the Jews out of Germany. It was all right there, laid out in simple and clear language. The Holocaust happened because no one paid these National Socialist losers any attention or took them seriously until it was too late. They were just a little ragtag gang lurking in the shadows and beating up those people who disagreed with them. But as the powers that be combined to dismiss and ignore them, they were gaining power and support among the disenfranchised, those people who themselves felt dismissed and ignored by the government. And look what happened just a few years after that platform was written.
Now people are seeing all these vocal and visible white supremacist groups holding larger and larger rallies across the country. And why wouldn’t they, after the election of a president who validates them? Yet people are once again treating it like an anomaly, an aberration. No, it’s just the way history works when people are willfully blind and ignorant.
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