Most Americans never encounter neo-Nazi music. Few even know it exists. Wade Michael Page -- the man who murdered six people at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin -- may be their only glimpse into this cesspool of hatred.
Hours after Sunday's tragedy, reporters began stressing Page's role in racist rock groups End Apathy and Definite Hate. By Tuesday morning, they had thrust hate music into the national limelight. Several reports cited research by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which showcased a slogan these two bands shared: "New lineup, new songs, same hate."
Many reporters have labeled Page's music "punk" or "metal," though neither term is appropriate in terms of culture and community. Bands like his don't belong to a typical music community. Though they sometimes sport punk fashions, they function like hate groups.
That's why most of us rarely discuss neo-Nazi rock, except to savor the irony of racists adopting a musical form dominated by left-wing artists and indebted to the work of Bad Brains, an all-black hardcore group.
After Sunday's massacre, the wisdom of a neo-Nazi hate music guide compiled by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) loomed large: Hate groups make music to recruit new members, and they sometimes achieve their goal.
It's distressing that hate-music groups are so hard to locate. These bands and their fans seem to eke by in obscurity; they're more substantial than a rumor, but barely qualify as a side note.
Jason Heller, 40, who's played in Denver bands for many years, says racists and skinheads were once par for the course. His take: Years ago, some hate music imitated the catchy, upbeat sounds of Oi! punk, but today's racist bands play "more of a shitty punk style" that bears little resemblance to Oi!
"Over the decades, [Oi!] has proven not to be angry and hateful-sounding enough to sustain this new Nazi-skin militancy," he says. "So the music has just gotten ... uglier."
Definite Hate songs such as "Welcome to the South" are just delivery systems for slogans about pride and violence. As an astute YouTube commenter remarked, "They need to focus more on their musicianship than their hate."
Connecting these hate groups to Wisconsin and its music communities is even more futile. The only Wisconsin specimen I could find was Das Reich, a band mentioned in the ADL's guide. An online search also yielded the Hammerskins, which has been active in Wisconsin. The group is a self-described "offshoot of the punk scene" that cites Milwaukee's 1988 Skinfest gathering as a pivotal moment. (I emailed their "northern chapter" but received no reply.)
When I chatted with a cross-section of Wisconsin hardcore and punk musicians -- from Ben Brooks of Wausau's Poney to Keith Brammer of Milwaukee's Die Kreuzen -- a theme emerged: People like Page are seldom seen outside the neo-Nazi movement, and this movement itself lives far underground.
"Wausau is only 25 minutes south of Merrill, and I know there were white-power bands there, especially when I was much younger," says Brooks, 26. "I never saw those bands and definitely never spoke to them. I was in an equally active opposing scene. In the Wausau punk scene, there was a strong anti-bigotry sentiment, and we took up pretty much every fight we could in the name of crushing discrimination."
Nearly everyone I spoke with insisted that the punk and hardcore scenes are perfectly capable of ousting neo-Nazi elements.
"Most scenes that I'm a part of have already done a pretty good job of weeding out the Nazis," says Lauden Nute of the grisly Madison band Deep Shit.
Nick Zumm and Anthony Moraga of Madison hardcore band Pyroklast say their recent European tour introduced them to a punk culture equipped to lock out neo-Nazis. There, anti-fascist groups work hard to make racists feel unwelcome in music venues, even if it means risking physical confrontation, says Zumm. Moraga says he's known fans of white-power bands in such places as Kenosha, but sees few white-power acts forming in Wisconsin.
As for neo-Nazi punks in Madison, "I ain't seen 'em," Moraga says. "Better not, either."
Rob Cleveland, who owns Ear Wax, the punk and metal record store on Gilman Street, says the Wisconsin punk scene's skinheads disappeared long ago. Though he acknowledges that "blatantly skinhead bands" existed in the '80s and '90s, no more than two customers a year furtively inquire about records by Skrewdriver, a seminal English skinhead band.
"They know the routine at record stores, that if you have it, you put it behind the counter," says Cleveland. For the record, he doesn't.
Mike Olson, founder of Madison Music Foundry and owner of Blast House Studios, reported a few encounters with racist punks: "I've seen skinheads pumping their fists around a dance floor, not realizing that the band they are listening to is completely against their racist views."
He also recalls that about ten years ago, in Chippewa Falls, a racist band wanted to play a show with one of his groups. "I just had to laugh and say no," he says.
It bears repeating that white-power music is as insular as the hate groups that spawn it.
Mike Beer, who runs Milwaukee's Beer City Skateboards and Records, only seems to encounter people who've left these kinds of bands.
"I can remember back in the '80s or so, it was a little bit more active, but now [it's] extremely underground ... You'd have to really seek something like that out," he says.
If you're seeking more evidence of hate music, look to the "Rock Against Communism" tag on Last.fm. Though it sounds like a throwback to the Cold War, it's a popular self-descriptor among white-power bands.
Then there's the clandestine rantings of message-board visitors, but you probably can't access them unless you're a vocal white supremacist.
An intro page on one such site, crew38.com, creepily promises to vet all new forum members: "Generally the first thing we do is see where else you've been on the internet, what you've been posting on other websites and who your friends are. We already have everything we need, so don't bother trying to hide it now."
Sunday's shooting could convince Americans that they can't ignore racism and fascism. If one thing is for certain, Wisconsin bands, including those in the punk and metal scenes, want neo-Nazis to know they're unwelcome and outnumbered in music and beyond.