White power skinhead
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White power skinheads, also racist skinheads or neo-Nazi skinheads, are members of a neo-nazi, white supremacist and antisemitic offshoot of the skinhead subculture. Many of them are affiliated with white nationalist organizations and some of them are members of prison gangs.
Scholar Timothy S. Brown defines the skinheads as a "style community", that is to say a "community in which the primary site of identity is personal style", which allows for innovative configurations in new geographical and cultural contexts, or around opposing political ideologies – as in the dichotomy between racist and anti-racist skinheads. From a group perspective, John Clarke, a precursor of skinhead studies in the 1970s, has noted that the "skinhead style represents an attempt to recreate the traditional working class community, as a substitution for real decline of the latter starting in the 1960s."
White power skinheads
According to Jean-Yves Camus and Nicolas Lebourg, the white power skinhead movement, which emerged within the skinhead subculture from the late 1970s onward, can be defined by "racism; proletarian consciousness; an aversion to organization, dismissed in favor of gang behavior; and an ideological training that began with or is based on music." They have mostly emerged from working-class backgrounds, except notably in Russia where they have come from the educated middle class in the urban centres.
Origins in Britain
The original skinhead subculture began in the United Kingdom in 1968–1969, probably in London and Southeast England, more specifically in the East End of London according to Clarke. It had heavy British mod and Jamaican rude boy influences, including an appreciation for black music genres like rocksteady, ska, and early West Indian reggae. The particular lifestyle and aggressive look of skinheads was a self-declared reaffirmation of the traditional working class puritanism and gender roles – in fact "a stylized re-recreation of an image of the working class", which seemed threatened in their views with contamination by the permissive and hedonistic culture of the British middle-class in the 1960–1970s. For instance, the defining skinhead short haircut emerged mostly in reaction to the perceived shift of men's style away from traditional masculinity, embodied by the "middle-class, peace-loving, long-haired student" of the hippie movement.
The identity of the 1960s skinheads, however, was neither based on white power nor neo-Nazism or neo-fascism, although some skinheads had engaged in "Paki-bashing", i.e. violence against Pakistanis and other South Asian immigrants. Even so, Black West Indians ("Caribs") were also involved in skinhead gang attacks against South Asian immigrants, and the violence has been interpreted by Alexander Tarasov as a social conflict caused by the new presence of South Indian traders and shopkeepers within a community of white and West Indian poor factory workers. Clarke similarly notes that areas where skinheads became the most prominent were "typically either new council housing estates or old estates being either developed or experiencing an afflux of outsiders", either Commonwealth immigrants or middle-class whites in search of affordable housing.
Leading politician Enoch Powell and his inflammatory 1968 "Rivers of Blood" speech gave a public voice to widespread anxieties present within the British society about immigration and the "threat" supposedly posed by South Asian immigrants. Although there is "little agreement [among scholars] on the extent to which Powell was responsible for racial attacks", the speech may also have helped unleash "Paki-bashing" violence in Britain, referred to as "skinhead terror" in April 1970 by The Observer, with the "Paki-bashers" often simply called "skinheads" in many contemporary reports. By the early 1970s, the reggae scene had ceased to be simply a "party music" and, under the influence of Rastafarism, got closer to community-oriented themes like black liberation and African mysticism, which participated in alienating some white proletarians from the community. In 1973 white skinheads launched a violent melee in a night club, chanting "young, gifted and white" and cutting the speakers as the West Indian disc jokey was playing Young, Gifted and Black by Bob and Marcia.
Emergence of the white power skinheads
The skinhead scene had mostly died out by 1973. A second wave started to grow out around 1977 from the disintegration of the punk subculture, which some members radicalized as "street punk" by accentuating its aggressive character. Although the punk movement emphasized nihilistic and narcissistic values instead of the working class heritage, their opposition to the middle and upper-class, the adoption of Nazi imagery by some punks to maximize shock value, and the development of an underground network of punk fanzines, inspired and facilitated the parallel emergence of a racist skinhead subculture. The latent right-wing and anti-immigrant leaning, present within the skinhead movement since the late 1960s, became progressively dominant in the United Kingdom, fuelled by the job crisis, the economic decline and an increase in immigration during the late 1970s–early 1980s. By the early 1980s, the white power skinhead subculture had spread across most of Britain, largely "through face to face interaction among the fans at football matches." The cartoon character Black Rat, created in 1970 by French artist Jack Marchal, was adopted by young neo-Fascists in various European nations and became an essential marker of the fringe culture.
Music played a key symbolic role in the political polarization of the skinhead subculture. Marchal recorded a French Hard Rock album named Science & Violence in 1979, and German students of the neo-Nazi party NPD formed the first German nationalist rock group in 1977. A new music genre, Oi! – a contraction of "Hey, you!" pronounced with a Cockney accent – emerged as a skinhead version of punk rock in the late 1970s, contrasting with the sometimes multiracial bands of the left-wing and unpolitical skinhead resurgence, which rather drew influence from the original Jamaican Ska roots of the late 1960s. Coined as a nickname for the new genre by British journalist Gary Bushell in 1980, "Oi!" soon became synonymous with "skinhead". Unlike many their followers however, early Oi! band members were in general not neo-Nazi or even affiliated with right-wing organizations, and they increasingly distanced themselves from some of their fans, who contributed to recurrent riots at concerts.
In July 1981, the "Southall riots" sparked at an Oi! gig welcoming hundreds of skinheads in a predominately-Asian suburb of London. Some skinheads began to attack the neighbouring Asians stores, and 400 Asians later responded by burning the venue with paraffin bombs while the skinheads were fleeing with police help. The event led to a moral panic in Britain and the skinhead subculture was firmly associated with right-wing politics and "white music" in the public opinion by 1982. According to Brown, some lyrical themes of Oi!, such as social frustrations, political repression and working-class pride, were common to other genres such as country music or blues, but others like violence ("Aggro", for 'aggressiveness') and football hooliganism "could be easily interpreted in extreme right-wing terms."
From the late 1970s the British National Front, which was losing ground in electoral politics, had turned toward the skinhead movement to obtain grassroots supporters among the working class. The Rock against Communism (RAC) genre, relaunched in 1982 by Skrewdriver leader Ian Stuart Donaldson in association with the National Front, appeared in reaction to the Rock against Fascism movement. To draw new adherents, the National Front attempted to use the white power music scene to re-frame its message from overt hate to self-love and collective defence of white identity. Donaldson and the National Front founded a record label named White Noise Club, which released Skrewdriver's album White Power in 1983, the eponymous song becoming "the most recognizable neo-fascist skinhead song" according to Shaffer. In 1987 a music festival was organized by National Front member Phil Andrewon on Nick Griffin's Suffolk property, attended by hundreds of racist skinheads from across Europe who gave the Nazi salute and sang along the chorus that demanded "white power for Britain".
A split within White Noise Club led to the establishment of Blood & Honour in 1987, as Donaldson became involved with the West German label Rock-O-Rama and felt the need to create his own global neo-fascist skinhead movement without any political party affiliation. The music promotion network quickly turned into the "major reference point for young neo-fascists and neo-Nazis throughout Europe who came to Britain to attend the gigs of Skrewdriver and other bands." Even though skinhead violence helped damage the National Front's public image, the movement draw thousands of young people to neo-fascism and provided the party with a new medium to diffuse their message. In an effort to clean up both the British National Party's discourse and public image, Griffin publicly distanced the party from the skinhead subculture after he became its chairman in 1999. The party expelled skinhead members, although it has allowed white power band members to join and has accepted donations from neo-fascist skinhead concerts in the early 2000s.
In 1990 the European Parliament's Committee of Inquiry into Racism and Xenophobia reported that the violent and racist skinhead subculture was "by far the most worrying development since the last Committee of Inquiry report [in 1985]." The deaths of Donaldson in a car crash in September 1993, followed by Nicky Crane who succumbed to AIDS in December, led to the takeover of Blood & Honour by Combat 18, "a more extreme, semi-terrorist neo-Nazi splinter group",[note 1] and eventually to bloody internal feuds between Combat 18 supporters and Blood & Honour loyalists in the mid- and late 1990s. In 1985, a French worker at the Brest Arsenal, Gaël Bodilis, created the label Rebelles Européens, which had an allegiance to neo-Nazism. It was associated with the FNJ, the youth wing of the Front National, the neo-fascist Troisième Voie and later with the neo-Nazi PNFE. The label rapidly grew as the second-largest white power music label in Europe, although the European white power rock scene only managed to enter the mainstream market in Sweden, where the band Ultima Thule reached the top of the charts in 1993.
Racist faction of the skinhead subculture began to appear in the first half of the 1980s in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, West Germany, Austria, the United States, Canada, and Australia; and by the mid-1980s in France, Belgium, Denmark, and Switzerland. During the 1990s, the movement rapidly grew in the West and spread towards Eastern Europe, Russia in particular. Before the Internet came to be widely available after the mid-1990s, white power skinhead music played a key role in the international diffusion of white supremacist ideologies within a highly fragmented racist movement. In many European countries, merchandising – and sometimes illegal racist or Holocaust-denying material – was sold via mail-order or during the touring of bands.
Measuring the number of white power skinheads is made difficult by the lack of a formal and organized structure, the issue of overlapping memberships, and a tradition of silence set up to cultivate the mystique of their clandestine activities and to prevent the police from estimating the size of local groups. In 1995, around 70,000 of them were estimated to be present in 33 countries (half being "hard-core activists", the others friends and associates), including 5,000 in Germany, 4,000 in Czechia, 4,000 in Hungary, and 3,500 in the US. By 2002, 350 white power music bands were active the US and Western Europe, and 138 racist skinhead organizations operated worldwide in 2012.
In most European countries, the racist skinhead subculture became polarized on the far-right between 1983 and 1986, and shortly after 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in Eastern Europe, where it has been particularly strong since the transition to capitalism. The white power music scene rapidly embraced the growth of the Internet, which allowed them to bypass local European hate speech laws and further develop their international networks.
In Germany, the hard rock band Böhse Onkelz ('Evil Uncles'), formed in 1980 in Frankfurt am Main, lay the ground for the radicalization of the skinhead movement by connecting the music scene with right-wing nationalism. Although they never openly embraced "white power" ideas, their 1981 song Türken Raus ('Turks Out') earned them a reputation as a racist band. In the 1980s, the German neo-Nazi skinheads were known for their violence, sometimes murderous. In 1985, a 76-year-old Jew who had survived the concentration camps was trampled to death during a fight between skinheads and anti-fascist demonstrators. In 1987, skinheads attacked believers during a Christian festival in Lindau because of the town council's refusal to allow the neo-Nazi Alliance of the German People to hold a meeting in the town hall. In August 1992, racist skinheads participated in the Rostock-Lichtenhagen riots, lynching immigrants with the help of ordinary citizens as passersby cheered. During the 1990s, the number of Neo-Nazi groups in reunified Germany skyrocket as numerous unemployed young East Germans joined the white power skinhead movement.
In France, the white power skinhead movement was structured around Jeunesses Nationalistes-Révolutionnaires (JNR), founded in 1987 by Serge Ayoub. It was linked to the label Rebelles Européens and to the neo-fascist organization Troisième Voie, then to the French Nationalist Party. The JNR initially performed policing functions for the French Front National, but the latter eventually distanced itself from Ayoub and the JNR after mass skinhead attacks on immigrants in Rouen and Brest.
The Russian white power skinhead subculture takes its roots in the Glasnost during the 1980s, a period of relative liberalization led by the Soviet regime which allowed for fascist discourses to emerge among young Russian punks, primarily as a reaction against the ideology and history of the Soviet Union. Football hooliganism also played a role in the diffusion of neo-fascist rhetoric in the 1980s. The subculture, known in Russian as skinkhedy, appeared in 1992 in Moscow with a dozen of skinheads. Their size became noticeable by 1994, in the atmosphere of chaos that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Mikhail Gorbachev's attempts at liberal reforms and rapid economic privatization. Their number skyrocketed throughout the 1990s, fuelled by economic disorder, the collapse of the education system,[note 2] and the legitimization of violence against political opponents and minorities by the newly established liberal state, illustrated by Boris Yeltsin's attack on the Russian parliament during the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis, and the introduction of a state of emergency the same year to police and deport Caucasians in preparation for the First Chechen War. Sensationalized coverage of the skinhead movement by Russian state-owned media until the early 2000s has also participated in the large-scale diffusion of the movement. By the end of 1999 there were 3,500 to 3,800 skinheads in Moscow, up to 2,700 in St Petersburg, and at least 2,000 in Nizhnii Novgorod.
The movement remained unnoticed in the general public until the early 2000s, when acts of violence began to multiply. Skinheads attacked a Vietnamese hostel in October 2000, an Armenian school in March 2001, led a pogrom at the Yasenevo Market on Hitler's birthday in April 2001, then a second pogrom in the Moscow underground transit system in November 2001, which resulted in 4 deaths. Despite some common grounds with Vladimir Putin's nationalist agenda, skinheads remain opposed to vestiges of authority in the country. The skinhead subculture presents itself, in the words of scholar Peter Worger, as an "ultra-nationalist alternative to Putin’s state-sanctioned patriotism." The neo-Nazi Russian National Unity party, in contrast, is known to have enrolled young members from skinhead gangs. The Federal Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity, adopted in 2002 after the skinhead pogroms, is rarely enforced by the police and skinheads are rather prosecuted for murders associated with hooliganism and everyday-life conflicts than for hate speech and racist violence.
Some of the skinhead groups are autonomous, while others are linked to the US-based organizations Blood & Honour and Hammerskin Nation. Contrary to most other countries, the Russian skinhead subculture has attracted members from all income levels, and they have tended to come from the educated middle class in the urban centres. In 2004, there were about 50,000 self-identified skinheads in the country, with groups active in approximately 85 cities. Up to 2,000 rioters linked to the Russian skinhead movement have participated in an anti-Chechen pogrom in 2006.
In the 1980s and 1990s, many young American neo-Nazis and white supremacists, often associated with the Ku Klux Klan, joined the growing US white power skinhead movement. By 1988, there were approximately 2,000 neo-Nazi skinheads in the United States.
The first identifiable neo-Nazi skinhead group is the short-lived Chicago's Romantic Violence. It was established in 1984 by 25-year-old Clark Reid Martell, soon jailed for episodes of violence, leading to the collapse of his group. Shortly thereafter in 1985, the American Front emerged in San Francisco. As other groups like the Hammerskins (1987) or Volksfront (1994) were growing in the country, racist skinheads gained acceptance among existing and organized US white power organizations like the Church of the Creator, White Aryan Resistance, the National Alliance or the Ku Klux Klan, which perceived the popularity of the subculture as an opportunity to expand their audience.
At the time of his death in 2002, National Alliance leader William Luther Pierce, who regarded music as an opportunity to reach a young audience and counteract mainstream cultural productions, had become the largest white power music producer in the world thanks to his label Resistance Records. In 2004, the white power label Panzerfaust Records launched a "Project Schoolyard USA" to distribute sample CDs to middle and high students across the United States.
In the United States, the majority of white power skinhead groups are organized at either the state, county, city or neighborhood level, the Hammerskin Nation being one of the few exceptions, due to its international presence. According to a 2007 report by the Anti-Defamation League, groups such as white power skinheads, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan have been growing more active in the United States, with a particular focus on opposition to illegal immigration. The Aryan Brotherhood has grown in some parts of the United Stated by swallowing whole skinhead gangs.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) notes that the skinhead movement "has almost no young recruits" in the United States. "Image-conscious white nationalist groups and militant neo-Nazi groups", the SPLC follows, "are attracting the younger generation, while new racist skinhead groups are emerging only from the fragments of existing groups. No group is recruiting in significant numbers." Sarah Lawrence College journalist Chelsea Liu identified their fashion style as one possible reason for the decline, declared it "increasingly obsolete" and noting the alt-right's preference to dress in everyday clothes.
Anti-racist skinhead opposition
From its emergence in the late 1970s, anti-racist forces within the skinhead subculture, sometimes called "Red Skins" when they are associated with left-wing politics, have sought to resist the white power skinheads, who they often deride as "boneheads". They generally emphasize the multicultural roots of the original skinhead subculture, and the authenticity of the skinhead style, which developed outside of the political realm. The Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP), founded in 1986 in New York City, stress the importance of the Jamaican influence in the original British skinhead subculture. The next largest antiracist skinhead organizations are SLO (Skinheads Liberation Organization) and RASH (Red and Anarchist Skinheads). In the views of white power skinheads, the skinhead subculture emerged out of a "pure white", working-class cultural and social context. They emphasize the "Paki-bashing" of the late 1960s to falsely portray the original skinheads as "white separatists".
Style and clothing
According to the Anti-Defamation League, white power skinheads fit in some cases their boots with white (or alternatively, red) laces to signify their affiliations as white power skinheads. These laces are usually done in a "ladder" style (laces are done horizontally instead of crossed), and in some gangs, these laces must be "earned "through acts of racist violence.
In the early 2000s, the Lonsdale clothing brand became popular among some neo-Nazi skinheads in Europe, partly due to the association of the four middle letters of Lonsdale – NSDA, the only visible part if worn under open jackets – with NSDAP, the acronym of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party. However, the brand has also been popular since the 1980s among non-Nazi skinheads. Londsdale has publicly denounced the trend and sponsored anti-racist events and campaigns.
White power skinheads also tend to bear tattoos displaying their affiliation to the white power movement, although some leaders have encouraged members to abstain from receiving tattoos. Frequent depictions include Viking warriors or Bersekers, World War II German soldiers (especially Waffen-SS), and skinheads themselves – often bringing all three together. Tattoos of the "crucified skinhead" are also extremely common among white power skinheads.
The central themes of white power skinheads revolve around "the ethnic war to be waged and the denunciation of a global Jewish conspiracy promoting miscegenation". The early-20th century Judeo-Bolshevik and Judeo-Masonic anti-Semic antisemitic conspiracy theories have evolved into the idea of a Zionist Occupied Government (ZOG), which claims that Jews secretly control the governments of Western states. Their attitude towards the Holocaust ranges from outright denial to the minimization of the death toll, even to the glorification of the event in the lyrics of white power bands such as No Remorse or Warhammer.[note 3] In contrast, Nazi theories about Slavs as Untermenschen ('sub-humans') have been largely abandoned in favor of a more "inclusive" concept of white supremacy. American neo-Nazism and white supremacism largely helped "crystallize" the Nazi imagery and have had a powerful influence on the worldwide movement, as evidenced by the popularity of David Lane's Fourteen Words and William L. Pierce's The Turner Diaries, which some Combat 18 leaders regard as their "Bible".
The white power skinhead movement is generally associated with neo-Nazism, in part due to its origins in the National Front and British Movement, along with the presence of former Nazis (especially SS) serving as mentors for nascent German racist skinheads groups in the 1980–1990s. Historian John F. Pollard contends that "the racist skinhead ideology is fundamentally neo-Nazi in inspiration". Camus and Lebourg also argue that although a skinhead needs not be neo-Nazi, "neo-Nazism is hegemonic in the far-right skinhead groups". Scholars concede at the same time the difficulty of separating provocative aesthetics from real ideological commitment. According to Camus and Lebourg, the Nazifying imagery of white power skinheads was "at first largely provocative", and sometimes a way for the proletarian youth "of responding to the sacralization of the memory of World War II". Pollard also notes that "adolescent 'rebellion'—like the wearing of Nazi regalia by motorcycle gangs in the 1960s and punk rockers in the 1970s—involving the desire to be different and to shock, and thus reject prevailing societal norms, probably plays some part in the decision to wear neo-Nazi or racist symbols or even to adopt the ideas that they represent." References to Nazism have also been less significant in countries like Italy or Hungary, where fascist figures like Benito Mussolini and Ferenc Szálasi still exert a strong cultural influence on the far-right.
Both the permissive society and the sexual revolution are perceived as "perversions" by white power skinheads, who generally promote an image of "clean-living, drug-free, heterosexual, working-class males". Homophobia and the rejection of any form of drug-taking (except tobacco and alcohol) are common traits found across skinhead groups. According to historian John F. Pollard, this "puritanical" stance takes its roots in the anti-permissive way of life of the original skinheads who rejected the mod and hippie subcultures.
A central element of this puritanism is the skinhead idea of "naturalness"; their aim is to "eliminate all abnormalities like, homosexuals, lesbians and other kinds of 'sick' and 'deviant' people" according to a University of Joensuu research quoted by Pollard. Skindhead's opposition to abortion partly results from a backlash against feminism and the sexual revolution, along with a paranoid anxiety about the demographic decline of the white race embodied in the widespread slogan "9 per cent", meaning that only 9 per cent of the world's population is white by their own calculations.
Women are much fewer among the white power skinhead movement. In Britain, France and Germany, they rarely attend gigs, in any case escorted by their boyfriends. Female presence at gigs is however more frequent in Italy, and entire families have been seen attending the Aryan and Nordic Fest in the United States. Despite a widespread misogynistic culture and a general absence of notions of female equality, some skinhead women have rejected the traditional gender roles and can act as aggressively as their male counterparts.
Skinheads present themselves as an excluded or martyr group repressed by the "police state" of liberal democracies. Blood & Honour and Combat18 have promoted conspiracy theories about the death of Ian Stuart Donaldson, suggesting that he was the victim of a political "assassination". A common skinhead motto is "hated but proud", expressing the closed and excluded, but feared lifestyle of white power skinheads.
Odinism, the modern pagan religion reconstructed on the beliefs of Old Norse and Ancient Germans, is particularly popular among skinheads due to its warrior ethos. Blood & Honour magazine regularly points out that Odinism is a "religion of warriors", whereas Christianity is a "religion of slaves". In the United States, racialist pagan organizations like Odin Brotherhood or Wotansvolk have found some followers in the skinhead movement, and skinhead groups have also tended to revive the pre-Christian Slavic paganism in Eastern Europe. According to Pollard, however, "the appropriation of Odinist/pagan imagery and iconography by racist skinheads seems to be largely symbolic, rather than a serious attempt to adopt an alternative religion to Christianity." Furthermore, Odinism and neo-paganism have been less popular in countries like Italy or Spain, where skinhead groups have maintained a cultural attachment to Catholicism.
In popular culture
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