DETROIT — The meeting point is a gas station 20 miles north of Detroit. As carloads of people from across the Midwest cruise in, a young man in a blue flannel shirt quietly signals them to follow him.
They drive past a line of watchful police cars, through suburbs dotted with strip malls and fast-food restaurants. Finally, they reach working-class Shelby Township and turn left down a country road, where a Disabled American Veterans assembly hall advertises free admission to a flea market.
Car after car pulls in, and a parade of young men--many with the trademark shaved heads, Doc Martens boots and swastika tattoos of neo-Nazi skinheads--file into the hall. The front door closes, and the trouble starts.
Thundering guitars strike up an infernal rhythm. A call--it might be a human shriek or the growl of a bear--rises with the music: Victory or Valhalla . . . We will never surrender. And then the crowd strikes up a chant that can be heard out on the street: "Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!"
Of the many underground music scenes in America, few are so forbidden that patrons arrive not knowing where the concert is. Then again, few rock 'n' roll bands sing anthems like "If you ain't white, you'll be dead."
White power music is virtually the only kind that no radio station will play, no club will book, few record stores will stock. In an industry that seeks profits in outrageousness, it is the music that goes too far.
Even the old guard of the white supremacy movement viewed the violent skinhead culture with dismay. But now they have begun to embrace white power music, realizing that a single compact disk can be infinitely more powerful a recruiting tool than a parking lot full of fliers.
National Alliance leader William Pierce--whom human rights groups have identified as the most powerful and dangerous white supremacist in America--recently purchased Resistance Records and its accompanying magazine, setting up a warehouse and distribution center on his 350-acre compound in West Virginia.
Resistance expects to generate at least $750,000 in CD sales this year. That money, Pierce says, can be funneled into the National Alliance's expanding political network, and into development of new music genres that will subtly carry the white power message.
"While it may appear to the naked eye that this stuff isn't very prevalent, it has worked itself into a number of different youth subcultures," said Devin Burghart of the Chicago-based Center for New Community, which along with the Northwest Coalition for Human Dignity recently coauthored a report on the growing threat posed by white power music.
"They're trying to target music stores, get airplay. They're trying to move bands more toward the mainstream," Burghart said. "I think right now we're on the cusp of seeing a dramatic increase" in white power music's outreach.
More than a dozen labels operating on the Internet--companies like Panzerfaust Records, Tri-State Terror and Imperium Records--offer catalogs listing hundreds of CDs, with jacket photos you'd never see in a record store: stacks of bodies at a Nazi concentration camp; a black lynching victim; two Serbian officers shooting a bound victim in the back of the head.
In Anaheim in December, more than 100 skinheads showed up to hear the Orange County-based band Youngland--along with other white power bands. A local club owner unwittingly had booked the show after being told that "a couple of bands" would be willing to pay front money to play. With White Aryan Resistance leader Tom Metzger in the audience, they hammered out songs like "Thank God I'm a White Boy"--to the tune of John Denver's "Country Boy" hit.
And in Detroit earlier this month, white power music promoters had to scramble to find a venue after two previously scheduled sites drew opposition from anti-racist groups and neighbors. More than 200 patrons--some who had driven from as far as Ohio, Illinois and Minnesota with no idea of their final destination--bought tickets.
While most record stores refuse to stock white power bands, racist labels have made inroads in at least two dozen retail outlets across the country. Anyone with access to the Internet can download and listen to songs like "Racially Debased" and "Bagels and Blood." And at the mainstream Milwaukee Music Festival last year, everyone entering the gate was handed a copy of Resistance magazine--which since Pierce took over has become the Rolling Stone of the racist music scene.
One of the keys to the growing number of white power labels, industry insiders say, is that technology has made it easy--and potentially profitable--for almost anyone to operate a record company. All it takes is marginal studio equipment and a compact disk burner connected to a personal computer. And if nobody will stock the records, they can be sold--at a better profit margin--at concerts and on the Internet.