Hate Music: New Recruitment Tool for White Supremacists
The Panzerfaust hate music CD cover.
This fall, hate groups took their longstanding effort to recruit teen-agers into the white supremacist movement to a new level, with the owners of a neo-Nazi record company promising to deliver "hatecore" music into the hands of 100,000 teenagers during the 2004-2005 school year. They even created a CD filled with racist music expressly for this purpose.
In one sense, there was nothing new here. Hate groups have for years sought to reach a younger audience with their message of hatred and bigotry, changing with the times and technology. We have seen hate groups create racist and anti-Semitic Web sites designed to appeal to children, and even the creation of racist video games with names like "Ethnic Cleansing."
But with the start of the 2004 school year, the neo-Nazi Panzerfaust Records upped the ante with a brazen campaign dubbed "Project Schoolyard," geared specifically to middle and high school students, ages 13–19. Panzerfaust announced plans to distribute as many as 100,000 free CDs to students in schools across the country. They indicated that they would produce the CDs cheaply and in large quantity, making them widely available to white supremacists across the country, who would in turn volunteer their time to hand out the CDs and help make the campaign a success.
Panzerfaust made no effort to hide the main purpose of "Project Schoolyard." Their Web site proudly proclaims: "We just don't entertain racist kids … We create them."
This was no idle threat. Panzerfaust offers for sale CDs from hundreds of hate music bands from the U.S. and abroad, and the label has grown considerably in the last few years. Based in Newport, Minnesota, the company is run by a former member of the virulently anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi National Alliance. It now competes with the Alliance's own hate music company, Resistance Records, once the most successful such business in the country.
The Panzerfaust "sampler CD," created specifically for this campaign, was made to appear as if it were just another collection of cutting-edge music. Unwitting teenagers would not immediately suspect the CD's racist overtones unless they played it or logged on to the Panzerfaust Web site, whose address is prominently featured on the CD jacket. Once online or tuned-in, the student would encounter the in-your-face racism that is the trademark of the hate music scene.
This very public effort to reach teenagers with racist music underscores the seriousness with which hate groups view their recruitment efforts. After all, it is a matter of survival for neo-Nazi groups to ensure a new pool of recruits who can take up the banner of spreading racism and hate. Hate music provides a ready mechanism for hate groups to raise funds, to recruit new members and give hardened bigots a sense of belonging.
So nearly three months into their campaign, are Panzerfaust's efforts having any impact? Are the CDs getting into the hands of students as promised, and if so, are they having the intended effect of winning over converts?
Although the campaign continues to threaten our schools and communities — the CDs have already shown up at schools in at least four states — there is some good news. School districts, law enforcement authorities and informed parents have been vigilant in spreading the word about Panzerfaust and its campaign to spread hate among children. Dozens of school districts from California to Florida, alerted early on to the campaign by watchdog groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and the media, have put out information helping teachers and students identify the deceptively packaged CDs.
When the CDs finally surfaced — appearing in places such as West Virginia, Florida, South California and Missouri — the reaction was swift, with students, parents and educators taking a stand against hate and proclaiming, in various ways, "Not in our community."
In Madison, West Virginia, three men in black jackets and dark combat boots distributed approximately 125 CDs to students stepping off the bus at a middle school and a high school. That same day, the town's mailboxes were stuffed with newsletters filled with racist and anti-Semitic hate propaganda.
One student journalist recently recounted the reaction school officials in the Charleston Gazette: "Panzerfaust's racist and anti-Semitic hate music has passively slipped beneath the radar in several states — but not in Madison." The student described how her fellow students at South Charleston High School immediately alerted the vice principal, who then raised the alarm to schools throughout the county via e-mail. This led district officials to tighten security around school grounds, and prompted student leaders to speak out against hate in their community.
Those students voluntarily turned the CDs over to school officials. One student recalled: "When I observed the derogatory images of a woman holding a gun and another girl pulling down her skirt on the back of the disk, I handed in the CD. I could not believe that people came into my town with this hate music. It's awful."
Similar reactions to the appearance of the Panzerfaust CDs have grabbed headlines in the national media and appeared on the network news, shedding more light on the group's campaign and aiding in alerting the public to the threat. Yet there is still reason for concern about Panzerfaust's tactics. Their campaign is not going away any time soon.
On Panzerfaust's online forum, white supremacist fans have enthusiastically embraced the project and many claim to have personally handed out the CD in high schools, colleges and stores in different parts of the country. Local chapters of groups like the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement have made a contest out of the distribution campaign, calling on racist groups in Georgia to compete against each other to see who can distribute the most white supremacist propaganda, with extra points being given to those who hand out the Panzerfaust CDs.
Meanwhile, Panzerfaust, claiming to have sold out the first batch of CDs in less than two weeks, is offering them for sale again with special deals for those who order bulk copies. Panzerfaust refers to this as "phase two." On one online forum, a member of the California-based racist Golden State Skinheads discussed plans to purchase "as many of these as we can."
While it may be impossible at the end of the day to gauge the effectiveness of Panzerfaust's efforts to tap into a youthful audience, their efforts to actively and even brazenly recruit young people into the hate movement is disturbing — indeed shocking. We must remain vigilant, while alerting schools and parents to the dangers that hate groups pose, not only in schools, but in the home, where the Internet makes it possible for hate groups to deceptively target teenagers with Web sites and "racialist" chat rooms that are always just a few clicks away.
It is imperative for parents and caregivers to know the warning signs and to monitor what their children are downloading from the Internet and listening to on their headphones. The first line of defense in protecting our children is an awareness of, and responsiveness to, the deceptive tactics of the haters.
Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and the author of "Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism" (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003).
For more information on hate groups go to www.adl.org .