“No one surrounds themselves with Runes, totenkopfs and neofolk and REALLY likes the jews. They just pretend they do because they are cowards.”
– James Porrazzo, former leader of the American Front
At first, I didn’t think that I was going to the protest against the controversial band Death in June, but the stars seemed to align. Having just finished reading that 3,500 page tome of Jewish scripture, the Babylonian Talmud, I felt like I had some extra time on my hands and needed to celebrate. As it happened, the protest took place the day before the anniversary of Kristallnacht. The following day was Armistice Day (Veterans Day), celebrating the end of World War I. It seemed like a good day to fight fascism, and Death in June is famous for their openly fascist approach.
Some who join me in coming from an ecological background might wonder, why would you protest Death in June, a subcultural neo-folk band that doesn’t really make any ecological claims? Why act against a musical act unless their music sucks? To be honest, I’ve never listened to Death in June, though I generally dislike what I know about the cultish aspects of neo-folk. What I’m most worried about, in fact, is the mass politics of the ecology movement becoming fascistic, and DIJ’s politics provide one among many models through which the infiltration of fascist ideas becomes possible.
After researching the band, my concerns mounted, and after a discussion with the band’s promoter, I felt further validated. The promoter assured me that the music is supposed to make me uncomfortable. As someone who lost family to the Holocaust and whose grandfather helped liberate a concentration camp, I felt more enraged than uncomfortable with the perspective provided by DIJ and their attachment to “leftist” Nazi ideology. On the other side of my family, my father was shuttled out of Birmingham to the countryside by his mother and aunt at the age of four as the Nazi bombs fell. Uncomfortable is not the appropriate word for two generations of historic trauma, but I didn’t want to over-react (and I still don’t). The promoter apologized, but promptly reiterated her stance about intentionally making descendants of Holocaust victims and their families feel uncomfortable.
I reminded the promoter and the venue that the Alhambra Theater, where the event was planned to take place, is named after the historic scene of the Spanish Reconquista, where the Christians defeated the Muslims in that portentous year, 1492. The Alhambra is a symbol of Crusades, Islamophobia, and the ensuing expulsion of the Jews and Spanish Inquisition, and the music venue would be forever be associated with politically right-wing ideas by inviting a reactionary band to play when no other venue in Oregon would let them play. My post and the ensuing comment thread, which the band’s promoter assured me were very reasonable and levelheaded, have since been deleted by the page’s administrator.
This is not to say that I believe in excommunications; I have friends who like the neo-folk scene. Debate has significantly affected my community, but I believe that people in the ecology movement need to abandon sectarianism and allow for a degree of open and positive debate. Who doesn’t have Wiccan friends, neo-pagan associates who enjoy performing at Renaissance Fairs? At the same time, we must be ware of mass political positions that unite these ideas in some misguided “need to preserve European culture (from immigrants).”
Disputing a Sordid Record
I showed up to the concert with another Earth First!er to see if we could talk to Death in June’s fans and get a sense of what they believe. We hung out outside with some protestors who had arrived early. We spoke about places we’d lived, and we talked a bit about the band. Some people of color showed up to the protest, some anti-racist skinheads, and the energy level was high in the crisp autumnal evening, with a deep sense of solidarity among our side.
As fans began to line up for the show, I took the handy megaphone that my cohort had borrowed from a friend, and I started to ask questions. To repeat: the reason I came to the event, in fact, was to discuss issue-oriented politics with the fans of Death in June, and to express my concern to them in a respectful manner. I prodded them: “Who knows where Death in June gets their name?”
They responded in zombie-like boredom: “We know.”
“Is it from the Nazis?”
“Yes, it’s from the Night of the Long Knives.”
Since some people seemed like they didn’t really understand, I tried to repeat what I’ve learned from reading quotes by the band’s members published in magazines and the like. Taking their name from the Night of the Long Knives, which took place in June 1934, the band Death in June (DIJ) uses Nazi imagery to evoke an aesthetic scene full of nostalgic angst over the purge of the “left wing” of the Nazi movement. Two of their albums have been banned in Germany for the usage of Nazi symbols and, among other things, inserting portions of the SA’s anthem into their songs.
The SA (Sturmabteilung), also known as the Brownshirts, served as Hitler’s paramilitary force. Led by Ernst Röhm, they were notorious for killing leftists and opponents of the Nazi movement. Because they provided the muscle, and fascism often relies on muscle, the SA were found everywhere the Nazis were. They were also unruly and debaucherous, equally famous for their violence as for their late-night, drunken orgies in which sexual inhibitions were banished. They were also (of course) anti-Semitic, racist, and xenophobic, and were largely responsible for the infamous Kristallnacht, the anniversary of which was being celebrated (if indirectly) by the Death in June show.
The crowd responded to my sermon on the subject rather lethargically, until one intelligent-looking fellow blurted out “Situationism!” One method that DIJ’s apologists use to shirk accountability for advocating a “left-wing Nazism” is to present platitudes about artistic freedom and the free-floating games of signifiers deployed by Situationists and denizens of punk rock’s more obscure archives. I recalled my conversation with the band’s promoter, who claimed that, just as Marilyn Manson and Slayer use Nazi imagery, so too should Death in June blur the lines of acceptable communication.
Neither Slayer nor Marilyn Manson contributes money to genocidal causes. On the other hand, the singer of Death in June visited a genocidal Croatian militia during the ethnic cleansing of Serbs in 1992, recorded an album called “Something is Coming” from Croatia at that time, donated to a Croatian nationalist military hospital, and has reportedly called Serbs “barbarians,” declaring his decision to give substantive support to the genocide to be a “cultural” and “Euro-socio” decision (I hardly think that this approach is defensible in terms of Guy Debord’s Situationist theory presented in Society of the Spectacle; in fact, it appears more like a reproduction of the spectacle of European nationalism and white pride). Slayer and Marilyn Manson also did not publish music on far-right-wing record labels, whereas DIJ has published songs on extreme-right wing compilations (such as one commemorating the Nazi propagandist and documentarian, Leni Reifenstahl, whom Susan Sontag wrote up as a fascist long after the end of the war in the essay “Fascinating Fascism”); neither do they belabor Nazism as the principle aesthetic aspect of their approach. Slayer and Marilyn Manson also have not applauded atrocities against immigrants and people of color, whereas witnesses state that DIJ’s lead singer once dedicated a song to the “White Wolves” (who bombed two markets in England, killing 3 and injuring more than a hundred back in 1999).
Comfort among Nazis
All these claims rolled like water off a ducks back off the concert-goers. Representing genocide? Situationism! Giving money to a genocidal military? No answer. The crowd continued to insist, “We’re not Nazis! We don’t like Nazis,” until some real Nazi skinheads started to show up and regulate. Even the fans that seemed less Nazi and more Indy (meaning independent, not Indo-European), wore the symbols that the band uses: the totenkopf (the SS’s skull and bones insignia) over a rainbow-colored background, for example. Indeed, the fact that the lead singer is gay is used by fans of the band to suggest the band is actually anti-Nazi. Then again, the leader of the SA, Ernst Röhm, was gay, and noted for hiring his lovers up the SA’s hierarchy. This, of course, did not stop some of the band’s fans from calling the group of around 50 antifascists who came to protest “homophobes.”
Sadly, as often happens at some of the larger protests I have attended in Portland, a disappointing few protestors did bellow out the occasional misogynistic epithet, being repaid with condemnations from their own side. We must recognize that fascism is not just something that appears in front of us to be fought, but within ourselves as we fight those patriarchal and racist tendencies with which we are inculcated through privilege from a very young age. This means also rejecting a politics of purity and working to educate in mutual aid. Everybody messes up sometimes.
Others from the fans’ side declared, “fascists and antifascists are the same,” which I argued vociferously against, because there really is a significant difference: one side beats up jews, people of color, and immigrants, the other side protests and fights fascists. One woman said, as she took video footage of me, that she was taping me “for the same reason she would tape the Westboro Baptist Church protestors.” I didn’t point out that the protestors of Westboro Baptist have been queers and antifascists (I think I understood what she meant), but I did point out the muscle-bound, neo-Nazi skinhead who was trailing behind her in line, partially-obscuring his shaved head with an Irish driving cap and wearing a low-cut, v-neck shirt that exposed a large tattoo of an eagle on his chest (this is Portland, where hipster-fascists like to tease us with recognizable, sexualized, and partly-obscured Nazi symbology).
She looked uncomfortable, like she didn’t know whether to be more afraid of the protestors or her fellow fans. She seemed, in the end, to feel more secure with the Nazi, which I think might reflect both the problem with the confrontational direction that the protest had taken (after plenty of goading from the fans), as well as the generalized and only-partially latent fascism within the fans, themselves. It seemed like the ordinary claim, that DIJ provides a safe space for Nazis to meet, should be amended; in fact, DIJ and the controversy they stir up outside of their shows seems provides a space for Indy and goth music fans to seek solace under Nazi protection. Either strategies and tactics ought to be rethought in order to not drive people further towards Nazism, or greater cultural efforts are needed to draw people away from the archaic cryptograms of fascism before they show up to the Death in June (or whomever) shows.
It is fascinating, actually, because while the antifascists were comprised to a large extent of queers and people of color, the fans siding with Death in June were supporting a lead singer who collaborated with a known fascist whose associations include the founder of the White Aryan Resistance (WAR), a group remembered in this part of the world for murdering Mulugeta Seraw, an Ethiopian man who had come to the US to attend college. This act sparked a huge amount of controversy known as the “Skinhead Wars,” yet the fans seemed generally comfortable with the Nazis among them. I wonder if those wars are returning through the Trojan Horse of bands like Death in June.
Violence, Liberation, and Mystery
About halfway into the night, a brawl broke out. I don’t know who started it, because I was holding a red “Antifascist Action” banner adorned with black and red flags in front of my face. According to the testimony of a beleaguered security guard with whom I spoke at the end of the night, the fans had drawn a protestor into the scuffle by saying something like “come over here and, blah, blah blah”—something that they were repeatedly told not to do by the guards. After the brawl, which involved what appeared to be eight or so people, somewhere around nine cop cars showed up, and the antifascist side began to chant, “No Nazis, No KKK, No Fascist USA!” We kept seeing this bizarre mixture of goth-punk, indy, hipsters, and Nazi skinheads file somewhat timidly into the auditorium as though out of an episode of Portlandia. One lady of color dressed in Goth attire shouted at the crowd of antifascists, “Why are you protesting here when you don’t do anything about immigration?”
I responded that I have personally marched alongside immigrants and Indigenous people against corrupt law enforcement, white supremacists, and immigration policies. In fact, I’ve been pepper sprayed by police on two of those occasions.
An awkward silence ensued, as we searched each other’s eyes for a way to rise above that which obstructed us from being friends, and then she began to dance, ecstatic on the sidewalk under the lights of the marquee. When she filed into the theater, somewhat more subdued, her heavily mascaraed eye fixed on me through the poster bills and fliers taped to the window-doors, and an inconsolable, abject space of both distance and connection stirred in me.
Another person chanted at the antifascists, “You should be at the justice center!” (Presumably protesting the injustice system, but perhaps behind bars?)
“It wasn’t our side that called the cops,” responded someone from our side.
“Why are you wearing a mask?” asked one person in the crowd to one of the several antifascists who was masked up.
“Uh, maybe they just like the aesthetic,” fired back somebody from our side, satirizing the excuses of fans who “just like the aesthetic” of Nazi symbology.
About the Aesthetic
It’s important to point out that not all those who wear things like swastikas claim that it’s an aesthetic preference. Some of those who wear swastikas believe in its cultural significance as a redemptive symbol of being and time, dating to the proliferation of fantastical Indo-European ancestry from pretended Aryan foundations. There is nothing wrong with the symbology that the Nazis deployed, they claim, the problem lies in its usage.
Fans and apologists often point to Carl Jung, that authority on “man and his symbols,” who offered a stirring condemnation of the Nazi usage of the ancient figure. At the same time, those fans’ healthy readings of Jung rarely touch on the anti-Semitic harangues published by Jung in the early 1900s, or on his importance to the Nazi Party well after the Night of the Long Knives—for instance, his 1937 essay, “Wotan,” which extolled the movement of the Hitler youth, claimed that “maenads [women followers of the cult of Dionysus] were a species of female storm-troopers,” and that the bezerkers “found their vocation as the Blackshirts of mythical kings.” Lawrence Rickels, a historian of psychoanalysis, excavates Jung’s anti-Semitism (perhaps stoked by his fuming hatred for Freud at the time) in his trilogy Nazi Psychoanalysis, wherein he finds Jung declaring that “what the ‘Jews have… in common with women’ is their analytic ‘technique’ (which is the compensation for their physical weakness).” Rickels explains, “Jung’s directives for Nazi psychotherapy are the sentiments fitting for (and into) a figurehead.”
There is something expository about defending the revitalization of Nazi symbols by drawing on the evaluation of an anti-Semite and cornerstone of Nazi psychoanalysis. It seems less convincing that Jung should be the one to “rescue” swastikas from their Nazi appropriations; indeed, it remains deeply troubling to me that the usage of swastikas by people of European descent continues to be excused through some mystical claim to a spiritual connection within Aryan Indigeneity. It is important not be sanctimonious, or claim that any thinker is “perfect.” Everyone changes, and differences of opinion ought to be respected; however, if someone were to make an argument about how a burning cross is a great pagan symbol, and then support their claim by citing an anthropologist who had been an influential member of the KKK and a vocal racist, the point remains tautological.
At the same time, cute references to Situationism masquerading as an ideology for a group that supports anti-immigration atrocities, Islamophobia, and ethnic genocide are by no means true to the meaning of Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, where fascism is described as “a cult of the archaic completely fitted out by modern technology.” There is no opening for cheeky claims about practical jokes when suture is granted to fascism and its archaic cult.
Ecology and Populism
This is where the radical ecology movement comes into the picture. I have seen how some radicals—the former ecoprisoner and member of the Earth Liberation Front, Nathan “Exile” Block, for instance—fall into this mystical ideology of swastika-redeeming and spiritualism with very bizarre and unfortunate bedfellows. With the climate movement going large (300,000 at the Peoples Climate March), it’s time to start deliberating on populism and what the entryism of the Nazi “left wing,” and populism in general, actually mean in the context of strategies and tactics. To do that, it becomes necessary to further investigate the history represented by “Death in June.”
The year before the Night of the Long Knives, in 1933, Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt called for the “disciplining” of the SA, and the forging of a triadic state wherein the People (represented by the SA, government-run workers’ syndicates, and corporate bureaucracy) would join the Movement and the Party in forging a total state. The SA’s proximity to the “Movement” and their position as “close to the People” provided a semblance of leftist polity, where all could join together in the enthusiasm of a rising ethos. Schmitt’s call to this form of populism would be rejected, however, as Hitler moved towards a more centralized form of control. Occurring in June 1934, the Night of the Long Knives would be the enduring symbol of Hitler’s consolidation of power; for the ideologues of National Socialism, this moment in history stands out as the betrayal of the folkish mission in favor of what Nuremberg prosecutor Franz Neumann called “a perverted liberalism” perhaps best dramatized by Dirk Bogart in Visconti’s classic film, The Damned.
This political position of “left Nazism” would be revitalized in the 1970s by Otto Strasser, the brother of Gregor Strasser who was killed during the Night of the Long Knives. Called “Third Positionism,” this ideology harkens back to Gregor Strasser and Röhm’s “leftist” position promising to unite anti-capitalism with racial seperatism and promote a kind of popular nationalist insurgency against immigrants and liberals. It is precisely that ideology which was taken up by Death in June, whose members had assembled as a leftist, political punk band called Crisis until proselytizing in the early 1980s.
Today, we must remain vigilant against such trends, which are represented in part by the rise of far-right political parties with roots in Nazism, like Hungary’s Jobbik, Ukraine’s Svoboda, France’s National Front, and the coalition Europeans for Freedom and Direct Democracy. Protesting DIJ, which has a member that once joined the UK’s far-right party, the National Front, is one way of exposing the trendy rise of fascism amongst the left. We might mention that the “Night of the Long Knives” (Nacht der langen Messer) is simply an expression for an event of betrayal, which is not restricted to the assassinations of June 1934, also known as the Röhm-Putsch. The rise of such Third Positionists who champion the fascists before June 1934 seems to propose its own Night of the Long Knives—taking power through left-wing entryism (i.e., subcultural infiltration), and then purging non-fascists, just as was done by the SA via the cultish and pagan German nationalism.
The Earth First! Newswire, which I’ve been a part of since its inception in 2010, has been keeping tabs on the rise of right-wing populism, its connections to fascism, and its co-optation of the environmental movement through “green fascism.” One example of this is Golden Dawn in Greece, another is the “National Anarchists” who have co-opted Earth First! in attempts to gain credibility. Even Metzger, the head of WAR who has collaborated with friends of DIJ, has claimed to have recruited ex-EF!ers. That said, it would appear that EF! is one of the few radical ecology groups with an anti-oppression stance that actually speaks out against fascism in the movement. Radicals must be stricter in refusing to give a pass to Nazis, just because a subcultural umbrella shields them. We also must recognize that Nazis are not the end-all of our opposition; there are larger systems of injustice, racism, and xenophobia that must also be contested, as they represent a contemporary onslaught against the earth and all its inhabitants.
The more that right-wing populism can obscure its racial ideology and fascist roots, the more of a mass appeal it has. While it gains mass appeal based on central talking points, its imagery and symbolism begins to proliferate. Hence, DIJ and their fans claim to be non-anti-Semitic, because they work with Jews sometimes, and support the State of Israel. Mass-murderer and white supremacist Anders Breivik also supports the State of Israel, as does the French National Front and countless far-right parties in Europe gaining international legitimacy from Zionist claims while retaining and supporting anti-Semitism in Europe. Indeed, this is precisely the “Third Position” proposed by Strasser: fascism through pseudo-anticapitalist racial separatism rather than Imperialism.
The important German newspaper, Der Speigel, points to this trend, opining (correctly) that the far-right sees Islam as a more popular talking point than anti-Semitism, and seeks to rally supporters through the former while obscuring the latter in a Zionist position that seeks to keep Jews out of Europe.
It is precisely this kind of obscurantism and obfuscation that allows the Nazi ideas to infiltrate leftist and green groups, delink anticapitalism from antiracism, and promote modish ideas that mask hatred and fear in trendy angst and nostalgia. The reason Nazism succeeded, in fact, was precisely this: it provided a nationalist alternative to the internationalist left, thus uniting racist, conservative reaction with a semblance of radical, egalitarian principles. Shifting leftist ideology towards a racialized quasi-egalitarianism along the populist lines outlined by Schmitt in 1933 is precisely the goal of modern right-wing populism with its promises of “freedom” and “direct democracy” for Europeans (i.e., for “Aryans”).
“Blood and Soil”
Among the greatest dilemmas for contemporary radical movements, such as the ecology movement, is how to deal with and identify reactionary tendencies, such as white nationalist claims to “blood and soil,” which claim a hierarchy of national belonging based on the number of generations one’s family has lived on “the land.” (It apparently doesn’t matter if someone’s family moved to Wisconsin from Germany in the 1910s, and then to California in the 1990s; they are still more “US American” than a Guatemalan or Chinese immigrant who moved to San Diego in the 1970s, even though they have relatively no “connection to the native soil,” according to this position.) Even the most acceptable version of this tendency, which asserts that Indigenous peoples maintain true rights to the land, claims that there are still hierarchies promoted amongst white nationalists as to how US American they are, and this way of thinking seeps into the broader counterculture. For instance, I was recently told by a very well-respected and well-known “radical” (who happens to be blonde) that I was less of a US American, because my parents are immigrants. When I told my very non-“radical” friends from Houston about this exchange during a recent trip to Texas, they were totally appalled by my “radical” friend’s pretense. It just goes to show that ostensibly non-“radical” people from the South can understand antifascism better than pretentious “radicals” in Portland, Oregon.
In Europe, where my family comes from, these claims to “blood and soil” developed out of German Romanticism and were used by the Nazis to promote the synthetic nationalist combines produced after the Treaty of Westphalia without any bearing on historical understandings of European ancestry, which is generally understood (in my experience) as more intertwined and diffuse than structured by borders and races. Indeed, it manifests a privileged fantasy of lineage and attachment to “homeland,” which feeds into the reactionary myth of security that fuels hatred towards immigrants and “nations within a nation” manifested by the figure of “the Jew” or the Muslim who wears a veil. Within all of this pseudo-ethnic, nationalist bickering, the notion of Indigenous peoples’ rightful inheritance of the land is poisoned as an essentialist claim that seems to validate the largely-falsified Aryan myth, rather than produce a valid assessment of the actual claims made by peoples who are indigenous to what is now called North America, which often include little more than the adherence to the numerous treaties signed many years ago between the tribes and the governments of the US and Canada.
But for contemporary “radicals,” the approach of “blood and soil” stirs a desire to return to the land, to engage in the communal purity of farming and collective living, and to defend ecosystems from intrusion. However, it does so on the basis of unsound genetic and nationalist claims—a very easy lie for whites of German and English descent, who were afforded great opportunity to prosper in the US hinterland, but far less so for Russian Jews who emigrated during the pogroms of the 1880s, for instance, and have largely been segregated to urban areas. It also neglects the place of people of African descent brought forcefully to the US’s South during the 18th and 19th Centuries, alienated from the land by mechanized agriculture, pushed into urban areas during the 1950s and ’60s, and are increasingly displaced through gentrification and urban renewal.
These points marked a subtext for the conversations spewing out in rapid-fire during the protest, and they have since manifested, for myself, in moments of deep, personal grieving. Again, I don’t want to over-react, but I also don’t want to deny my feelings. Remaining sensitive to my place in the US as a first generation settler also means struggling with my family’s historical experience of oppression in solidarity with those who continue to be oppressed by the very existence of the US. Finding these common roots of liberation, we held the frontlines against fascism together, for what it was worth. Late into the night, a surge from the back of the protest pushed us forward, and the marquee of the Alhambra was smashed. The letter E fluttered to the ground before me. “D..ath in June” displayed on the marquee stood out like a true Situationist dérive; a Dadaist mash-up. A cop car returned, and the stragglers of DIJ fans scudded into the theater. After a brief calm, I, with my comrade, called it a night.
Alexander Reid Ross is a contributing moderator of the Earth First! Newswire. He is the editor of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014) and a contributor to Life During Wartime (AK Press 2013). This article is also being published at earthfirstjournal.org/newswire.