Metal and Nazis

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, reflecting on my own choices and decisions and that of others I look up to. I’ve tried to structure this so that my incoherent thoughts are a bit more coherent or structured. I’m not an expert here, so I’m more than happy to hear what others think.

Things that happen on Twitter are often blown way out of proportion by those for whom tweeting is like a sport. I know a lot of people who spend a lot of time on social media and don’t have a Twitter account. At the same time, I think it’s also fair to say that Twitter does influence other aspects of our culture.

An example of this is the recent furore where the “Nazis in metal” debate came to somewhat of a head. I’m sorry (not sorry) that this will be a bit of a deeper dive into group psychology to understand why I don’t think certain tactics are desirable, and what we should do instead.

This article by the fantastic Kim Kelly covered how to spot Nazis or fascists in metal for those unaware of the issue. What ensued wasn’t the blatant “bro this is metal, let people say what they want” kind of take you might expect or be used to seeing. The debate turned to the existence of the issue at all.

Before I go further, let me quote myself here:

I don’t think metal has a Nazi problem. I think black metal has a Nazi problem.

The problem even isn’t the presence of Nazis, it’s that the relatively small number of Nazies are not scared to be openly NSBM.

— (I have) A Certain Taste (in music) (@acertaintasty) February 7, 2021

I stand by this (except for the misspelling). I think the issue of Nazis, fascists or white supremacists in metal is not specific to metal, or even greater in metal than it is elsewhere in society because these people exist everywhere. The real issue is that they feel more comfortable enough to espouse these views so openly in this scene compared to other subcultures.

I want to explain this point further.

I will firstly say that I firmly denounce white supremacy, western chauvinism and exceptionalism, as well as fascism, Nazism and any other authoritarian and exclusionary beliefs. Stalinists and all other Tankies can also fuck off. I also agree strongly with Popper’s conclusion to the paradox of tolerance.

With that said, I think that you also cannot remove these strains of thought completely.

As well as being antifascist and intolerant of intolerance, I also try to live my life as a stoic. I have to accept that I can’t change what others think. That is wholly out of my control and up to them. I can only control what I think, feel and do. I can’t allow myself to be upset that fascists still exist, because only those people with fascist beliefs can change that.

This isn’t a “get out of jail free” card to avoid what might be called a moral duty. After all, I would be far more concerned if it was my identity or existence these people wanted to erase, and if I think bigotry is unjust then it is also unjust to allow others to do the same.

To be clear, I do not think you can erase these forms of bigotry or bigotry on the whole. What you can do is to change how you feel and think about it, as well as the actions you take when you encounter it.

A common action to raise awareness of behaviours or actions you strongly disagree with is what I call brigading. This is where many people pile on to one person or account and try to shout them down, so to speak. I do not think this is a net positive action, but it is within our own power and control to change how we react when we see this.

There are a number of competing theories trying to explain why people behave differently in crowds, doing and saying things they would not typically do or say as individuals in different contexts. I lean strongly on social identity theory.

You can read more about Tajfel and Turner’s social identity theory here – and I suggest you do, but I’ll try my hand at a tl:dr for you.

Our identity is not fixed, rather it changes depending on the situations we find ourselves in and on the groups we identify with. So you have a “social identity” which gives you a sense of belonging and directs your norms and values when interacting with others. Stereotyping is a normal cognitive process allowing us to see out-group(s) positively and further distinguish yourself from people in other groups.

Hopefully, this image explains it better.

The reason I’m talking about social identity theory is because of the social identity model of deindividuation effects. Yeah I know, academic language doesn’t often lend itself well to blog posts that are actually readable but we need it here.

You might recognise him from the news talking about coronavirus, but Steve Reicher worked closely with Tajfel and Turner to develop a theoretical understanding of how our behaviours change when we can be more anonymous or divorced from our personal selves and align ourselves more with our group selves – the process of deindividuation. This is a strong theory used to understand how and why people behave as they do online compared to in-person.

When I set up a Twitter account I can choose to be whoever and whatever I want. We are social creatures and this is social media, so unsurprisingly, the research has shown that when provided with the opportunity for anonymity, or at least a version of yourself that can be freely reinvented, many people take this opportunity to create an undiluted social identity. In short, you are free to associate far closer to group norms than any norms you hold as an individual, and many people do.

If you live in a similar culture to me, you’ll know that you probably wouldn’t instantly shout “fuck off you fascist cunt” the minute you hear anyone in any passing conversation talk about “foreigners” or “immigrants” or population control, or “our culture” and so on. You behave differently because the norms in that context are different. If you are in a situation where there are deindividuating factors, such as anonymity provided by a Twitter handle, this might be the first thing you do because it is the norm to behave in that way.

The brigading tactic of piling on anyone who says anything remotely disagreeable is one such norm. The problem is that often these people do very little to no verification, so mistakes often happen. In light of social identity theory, I think we can predict what would happen next.

If I misspeak or phrase something poorly on Twitter where there is limited space, then a group of people pile in and my notifications read “99+” and it’s all personal attacks – if I didn’t see them strongly as an “outgroup” before then I will now!

But if they are definitely the “bad guys” for what I see as unjust attacks on me as a person (remember, your social identity is still part of you!) then who is my ingroup? Often, this is a group who are also attacked by the people who piled on you. Are there groups who do not think of themselves as fascist but strongly deride “lefty cancel culture”? Yes.

This is one path to radicalization.

Brigading is not a net positive unless it is focused on appropriate targets, those whose behaviour can be forced to be changed by this form of social pressure such as large influencers and corporations. When used against small businesses or individuals it typically achieves the opposite.

Listen, I’m not advocating for non-action.

I think its important to understand that speech that harms others should never be protected speech. I also want to be very clear here that I recognise the fascistic strategies and tendencies of the right-wing in countries across the world; India, Brazil, The Philippines, USA, Israel the UK and elsewhere. The question isn’t whether it exists, it’s how do we effectively combat it without using tactics that radicalize people?

1. Don’t give them money or oxygen

This advice is only for when online. If you see a fascist in the street or at a gig, punch them in the face. That is the only way we can be certain, historically speaking, you can demonstrate the consequences of preaching intolerance. Any form of fascist organising needs to be broken up. That includes gigs.

But online, when dealing with bands or labels who have problematic members or bands, the best thing you can do if you have any sort of audience is just don’t talk about them. Don’t cover the label’s releases. Don’t repeatedly tweet to anyone talking about it that you are disappointed that a band’s new album is on a certain label.

I don’t mean that you should stop talking about far-right politics and activities. far from it! Being silent about or ignoring this is part of the problem. But when it comes to fascist artists or labels, a single tweet suffices.

They forfeit the right to coverage when they decided to advocate for Neo-Nazis, or that associating with those who do for what is essentially business reasons was acceptable.

It’s not acceptable to me, anyway. You can make your own mind up where the line is for you. And on that note…

2. Don’t fucking grandstand

This follows naturally. People love to tell others they are no longer listening to bands from a specific label or to a certain band and then explain exactly why. Stop it. No money or oxygen means you just don’t talk about them. Cut them out of your life like an abusive relative or partner. They are gone.

I know that opposing fascism is “trendy” now because it seems like a genuinely anti-establishment viewpoint, especially if you self-identify as the dreaded “Antifa”, but if you need an ego boost for your political viewpoints then re-evaluate your life and choose something else to boast about.

Cut the oxygen.

Bands and labels know their sales and streaming figures. If a popular band releases music on a sketchy label and it sinks, I guarantee you they will know. It’s a shame, but there is a lot of other amazing music that isn’t made by fascists, or people willing to turn a blind eye to fascism.

I know you feel bigbrain having meta discussions about the scene but honestly, it helps nobody except the hatmaker you visit for new hats for your massive head.

3. Learn what works elsewhere

Having people who are openly fascist, neo-nazi or white supremacist is, admittedly, a bigger problem in metal than in other subcultures but far-right viewpoints are becoming more prominent everywhere. And antifascist organisations rise up to tackle them using a variety of tactics.

For example, Swiss right-wing anti-immigration pushes have been defeated in five separate referenda not by trying to directly counter any anti-immigrant claims made by the Swiss People’s Party, but by pointing out the liberal democratic and progressive values that the Swiss people see as being tied to their national identity.

The lesson here is that you don’t need to build your identity as a metalhead around what you are against. If you build a culture around your friends or fans based on the most positive aspects of being a metal fan then you can use those positive aspects, like tolerance, distrust of authority, community spirit and so on to promote an environment that is repellant to fascism.

Black metal has roots in and history with far more controversial topics but you don’t have to start reading Evola and talking to people about the great replacement to be a black metal fan. A lot of great black metal covers esotericism, occultism, history and mythology.

To conclude:

  • I think that a zero-tolerance approach towards bigotry of any form is needed. But different tactics work in different contexts
  • What works to change the behaviour of a bigger company online won’t work with an individual online
  • You can’t use the same strategy for every scenario because that will not work and may even exacerbate the problem
  • I think that understanding how social identity plays a part in the choices we make and the biases we have will help us understand what actions we can take for the greatest benefit
  • Support acts, labels, groups, projects, podcasts and blogs that are explicitly antifascist!

Leave a Reply