White Power Cyberculture
Building a Movement
By Pete Simi and Robert Futrell
My bro N I went to our first Aryanfest this last weekend in Phoenix. It was just mind blowing on the amount of brothers and sisters out there all living, breathing, and working for the cause. And here I thought we were alone LOL. The bros from Volksfront were not only helpful, but very professional as well. Living in today's society it's nice to know that at any time I can log onto Panzerfaust and be connected to my brothers and sisters, and speak our minds on the cause at hand. For me it's all of us getting together and fighting for the same common goal "THE PRESERVATION OF THE WHITE RACE." Once again thanks to Azvolksfront and Panzerfaust Records for the weekend with my new family. --Proudwhiteman (Panzerfaust.com 3/24/04).
This chat room posting is just one of many in the days following the 2004 Aryanfest -- a two-day concert that brought together white power activists from around the country. Today, with a simple keyword search such as "Aryan" or "white power," websurfers can easily find a growing number of similar white power websites where acidly racist and anti-Semitic themes replete with visions of racial separation or even violent racial extermination are the norm.
But more than supporting virtual communication among often isolated members, the web has proved invaluable for organizing real-world gatherings of Aryans that cultivate and nurture a sense of community.
After more than eight years of studying white power activism in the United States -- research that includes more than 100 interviews with movement leaders and members, observation of a wide range of Aryan activities, and extensive analysis of the white power movement's cyberpresence -- we see the Aryan cyberculture as a critical piece in explaining how this marginalized and highly stigmatized movement continues to retain its members and cultivate new ones. Activists deploy cyberspace to expand their opportunities to interact with comrades beyond the "real world." They find the social supports crucial to sustaining and building the movement.
Community and Cyberspace
In cyberspace, constraints of time and place are diminished and information flows freely, creating additional ways for people to connect. Skeptics, however, claim the relationships in cyberspace can only approximate true community. Without face-toface contact, they say, people cannot establish the strong social ties and solidarity needed for robust community bonds.1
Those watching the ominous expansion of the White Power Movement's presence in cyberspace similarly ask: Is the Web a useful space for sustaining members' commitments to the movement or does the spatial distance and relative anonymity of cyberspace diminish organizers' capacities to build solidarity and recruit new members?
The way these questions are asked typically treats virtual interaction and face-toface interaction as separate social worlds with little connection between them. But community-building and cyberspace experts Barry Wellman and Minea Gulia point out, "people do not neatly divide their worlds into two discrete sets: people seen in person and people contacted online. Rather, many community ties connect offline as well as online. It is the relationship [between virtual and real-world contexts] that is the important thing."2 The Internet does not replace face-to-face interaction, but rather adds on-line interaction to social relationships. If anything, cyberspace may allow for more social interaction than would otherwise occur.
The more relevant question then is: what is the relationship between the White Power Movements' cyberpresence and its real-world movement contexts?
The White Power Movement
White power activists are drawn from a network of overlapping groups, most notably the Ku Klux Klan, Christian Identity groups, neo-Nazis, and Aryan skinheads. While there are differences among them, they all agree on fundamental doctrines. Foremost is a commitment to white power and defending the "white race" from "genocide." They envision a racially exclusive world where "non-whites" are vanquished, segregated, or at least subordinated to Aryan authority. Adherents are also strongly anti-Semitic; support Aryan militarist nationalism; oppose homosexuality; and denounce inter-racial sex, marriage, and procreation. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that more than 750 white power organizations are active in the United States, the most notorious being the Klan, Aryan Nations, National Alliance, Hammerskins, and White Aryan Resistance.3 But the number of groups is not a wholly reliable measure of white power activity and no one knows just how many actual members there are.
Real-world Spaces of the White Power Movement
What is this "real world" that the white power cyberpresence supports? For many activists, the heart of the movement is the rather benign, everyday life of the home. The home is a place of refuge from the stigma and tension that Aryans face regarding their beliefs. It is also where white power parents indoctrinate their children into Aryan worldviews. In short, it is space in which their movement activities can go relatively unchallenged because of the control and anonymity they enjoy there.
Rearing ideologically aligned children is seen as essential for the vitality of the movement, and so the home becomes an ideological shelter for Aryan resistance. According to a member of the Southwest Aryan Separatists, "We all know the movement begins with the family so if you can't save your family then what's the point? The family is what we fight for -- it is the struggle -- keeping your families pure and raising your kids among your kin so you don't have to worry about the 'nons' (nonwhites) coming in."4
Aryans are creative in the ways they imbue the home with racial politics. They name children and pets with symbols of Aryan ideology, create racist and anti-Semitic family rituals such as racialized birthdays complete with Hitler, Klan, or swastika cakes, or offer pre-meal prayers that stress redemption through the struggle for white power. Homes display the movement's cultural paraphernalia, such as Aryan-themed posters, clothing, wall hangings, books, flags, jewelry, hats, and even g-strings.
Homeschooling is the most systematic form of political socialization in white power families. As an Aryan mother and homeschooler explains, "European culture is fading and our tradition is being stripped away, so we have to do something to fight the assault. With the public schools just promoting filth and hypocrisy I can't imagine sending my kids there so I teach them here and I know the more we do this we will be ensuring our children have the tools to preserve our culture."5
Small independent churches and racist Bible study meetings assemble between five and 20 members in activists' homes where they openly practice what they believe is the "true" Biblical insight: whites that are the "true" Israelites and Jews are the seed of Satan. Worshipers say these house meetings offer them a great deal of autonomy and support for elaborating white power ideals. Similarly, informal house parties provide space for people to explore and openly act out their white power ideology. With 15 to 50 Aryan sympathizers gathered at any one time, they freely discuss Aryan ideas and enact Aryan relationships. A Southern California skinhead told us:
When you live in a world like we do, you have to find places where you don't have to hold back on being racist; where other people feel and act the same way you do. The parties are definitely part of it...You get a chance to come together in a small setting where it's easier to know people and build friendships.6
Taking this to a grand scale are white power music concerts and "congresses" that draw smaller movement networks into more extensive webs of white power culture. The congresses are very prominent and celebrated locales for fellowship and support among Aryans. The Aryan Nations Congress, Christian Identity Conference, and White Christian Heritage Festival all stress the "normality" of extreme racism and create the space to express their white supremacy in a supportive face-to-face context with other Aryans. Those gathered sing racialized hymns and wear white power regalia, while also solemnly performing sacred cross lightings and commitment ceremonies. As an Aryan Nations member explained, the crosscutting networks and the inspirational character of participating in racist rituals are crucial to sustaining participation.
I'm so glad to see folks from all over the U.S., and even comrades from Europe... It's during these congresses that we really get to share in fellowship and white solidarity... It's a great sight when you have your racial brothers show up for an event like this... and when it's time to light the swastika: well, that's what really inspires me.7
Since the late-1990s, white power music concerts have become the largest and most prominent real-world gatherings for the movement. Racist music hotspots include Southern California (especially Orange County and San Bernardino County), Portland, OR, Detroit, and the corridor between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA. Every year, 150 to 600 activists go to Hammerfest, which is sponsored by the skinhead group Hammerskin Nation; Nordic Fest, organized by Imperial Klans of America; or VolksFront's Aryan Fest.
Eight to 12 bands perform, white power leaders declaim from the stage and white power merchandise vendors surround the performance space. Government authorities and counter-protestors often lurk, so organizers hold concerts on remote, private lands, the exact location of which is announced via movement websites only days before the event. They also limit attendance to sympathizers as a way to insulate themselves and create the private movement space devoted solely to white power ideals that allows fellowship to flourish. As a band member observed,
When you're at a show you get to do things you normally can't do [like sieg heiling during the performance] and it just feels great to let go and be what you are. You know, be a racist with everyone else who's here. We're all here because... we want to be somewhere where...you don't have to be ashamed... It's hard to find places where you can do that.8
Music events are especially important as one of the few real-world settings where white power activists participate in face-toface collective relationships anchored in Aryan ideals. Here they can experience a large, all-white, extended community that exemplifies the qualities of the "racially cleansed" society they imagine. "Don't listen to what they say," sings Youngland "Don't ever fall away / Don't listen we'll have our day / When our nations have their way."
Along with the home, concerts and congresses are the real-world contexts where Aryan community is built and sustained.
Virtual Movement Spaces
Even as white power concerts have grown in popularity, activists are using cyberspace more and more to enjoy virtual freedom and to connect with one another. Here members can network in a way that is relatively unconstrained by limits of time and space and the pressures of the government and anti-racist groups. The sites supply online links to an array of members and groups, offer information about movement ideology and activities, and serve as repositories for movement culture.
Listening to activists, you learn that the white power movement's web presence directly connects them to much larger networks of activists than isolated activists would otherwise be aware of or able to contact.9 An Aryan Front member captures a common sentiment when he observed:
It [the Web] keeps me connected. I don't have much free time to attend as many rallies or festivals as I'd like but emailing and the chatrooms and just the websites make me feel a lot less alone... The Internet just makes it easier to be a racialist when you know what's out there and how many other people all over the world are fighting for pretty much the same thing you are.10
A Southeastern Aryan activist referred to it as "something larger that's out there."11 That "something larger" is a sense of a collective movement community that can be tapped in ways that were once impossible. Information about the movement travels quickly and unimpeded across these cyber-networks. Visitors report on activities across movement branches and real-time communication in chatrooms create links among individual members.12
The ties created are increasingly international. A Northern Hammerskin told us, "Since we've been able to access the Internet and email Hammers in other countries it's changed everything. We really see ourselves as part of an international movement... We knew about [skinheads in other parts of the world], but it was more word of mouth and now we're actually working together.13
The cultural life of white power activism is on display on the websites of the major organizations -- National Alliance, Aryan Nations, and White Revolution -- making them virtual storehouses of the movement's cultural materials. There members create and preserve movement traditions and nourish support for their beliefs. Photo galleries are filled with pictures of infants adorned with movement regalia such as baby Klan robes or children posing for family portraits saluting Nazi-style wearing symbols of the movement. Also common are photos of activists' tattoos composed of Aryan symbols such as the German iron cross, Confederate flag, portraits of Hitler, and slogans such as, "Supreme White Power." If you want to buy a racist video game like "Ghetto Blaster" and "Racial Holy War" for your teen, turn to an Internet catalog. Dolls, games and other toys for kids are easily accessed along with a variety of adult movement paraphernalia such as racist clothing, music CDs, books, magazines, flags, patches, and stickers.
A SoCal skinhead told us, "It's really cool how you can get all this shit off the net now. Ten years ago there really wasn't that much stuff you could get...but now you've got all the music, the clothes... I mean you can get pretty much anything you can think of. I bought my daughter a toy figure of Hitler from a movement website."14
Music is arguably the most popular aspect of movement culture accessed through the Web. Music-based websites are prevalent and provide easy access to racist songs like "Hate Train Rolling" (see box) through MP3 downloads, CDs, and streaming radio and video. Resistance Records and Free Your Mind Productions (formerly Panzerfaust) have the most prominent and elaborate Internet presence. Hundreds of titles from white power bands can be ordered through each organization's website along with access to 24-hour streaming radio, chatrooms for listeners, and racist books, videos, jewelry, and clothing. The websites display activist Aryan lifestyles which viewers are encouraged to assimilate and reproduce. Resistance Records markets their own fanzine -- "Resistance" -- and clothing brand -- "Aryan Wear." These racist cultural displays help people reproduce the look and sensibility of the movement.
Unknown or inaccessible national and regional concerts and other gatherings suddenly become available through the web, with information conveniently categorized by locale. For instance, concertgoers for Aryan Fest 2004 were instructed to gather at a meeting place several miles from the event at times set by festival organizers where they were first scrutinized and then led to the site. The web also provided information about hotels, restaurants, and carpools to help concertgoers.
Once back home, music-based web-sites like that of Resistance Records offer fans chat rooms where they enter activist networks that intersect around the white power concerts or other events they have attended. This means that contact among members does not have to end when a concert is over, a congress closes, or a party concludes. White power music companies and concert organizers are also starting to provide real-time web access to the events that include live video streams, photos, and sound clips for those who cannot attend or those wanting to relive the experience.
Online fanzines also report in great detail on Aryan music festivals and concerts offering coverage of the bands, fans, and movement leaders who attended. These virtual dimensions of white power music culture help activists feel a part of the real-world experience without physically being there. They participate vicariously by attending to reports from those involved in movement music, by listening to broadcast performances and recordings, and by consuming CDs, symbolic apparel, and other merchandised accessories that represent white power music and the wider movement. In these ways, access is spread beyond the concrete setting of a particular show to the virtual realm and back into real-world contexts of the home or parties.
These real-world-cyberspace connections can make even the solitary experience of listening to songs, surfing music web pages, or reading fanzines feel part of the broad collective "community out there." One Midwest Aryan explained:
I listen to white power music and I still have that feeling of being involved with something as a whole... I can sit at home alone and even though I know the whole world is against me I can pop in a...CD and listen to it and go. Not only is this uplifting me but I know the band's behind it and there are people who have the same CD that forms a community and gives us strength.15
The fact that this movement community can be accessed both virtually and in the real-world settings of festivals and concerts appears to help intensify members' sense of belonging and identification with a wider "we" of the movement.
Other Real-world and Virtual Connections
Beyond the music scene, the white power cyberpresence is becoming an essential part of other real-world activities, even racial socialization in the home. The web-site of Women for Aryan Unity (WAU) offers parenting advice and a space for parents to discuss strategies for indoctrinating their children into the movement. There are also several cyber-newsletters, downloadable textbooks, and discussion groups organized around home schooling. For kids, racist crossword puzzles, coloring pages, and children's white power literature are posted on sites designed explicitly for children (and even, ostensibly, by children, as in the case of Stormfront.org creator Don Black's 12-year old son who fronts Stormfrontkids.org). Parents use the coloring books, children's literature, and workbooks as a way to integrate and normalize radically racist ideals in their daily life.
The Internet also allows organizers of established groups to quickly respond to those searching for offline connections. In a typical chat room exchange, a nascent member asked, "Do any of you guys ever meet up in the real world? I live in Farmington. If any of you guys would like to get together, please feel free to contact me.16
Shortly thereafter, a membership coordinator for a statewide white power group responded with, "White Revolution members actually get together quite often.
Sometimes for cookouts...but mostly for our meetings... White Revolution members will be having a meeting later on in the month... If you feel comfortable enough to send me your email... I can put you on our email list so you can stay up to date on what we are doing."17
It is also common for Aryans moving to a new area to ask about potential off-line connections. "i (sic) am a skingirl planning on moving to south city in the middle of april and i dont know many people there. it would be good to meet some like minded folk. email me if you get some time. Hail Victory!!".18 As is typical, activists responded to this posting in a quick and inviting way, congratulating the "skingirl" on her new move and offering a number of ways to establish real-world connections once she arrived. Activists make similar use of e-mail lists to organize small, regular local gatherings such as Bible study meetings, campouts, and house parties.
"When did you realize you hated niggers or what made you hate niggers?" The freedom to express hardcore racist beliefs is a key element of on-line interaction among white power members and parallels the talk in real-world settings. Virtual conversations abound with talk of violence against "racial enemies" and an Aryan future "cleansed" of homosexuals, "non-whites," communists, and other "villains." These conversations identify the social, physical, and moral boundaries that mark the white power community against its foes. They offer support to members' virulent racism.
If members lose faith that they will ever prevail, stories both online and in the real world celebrate the movement's power and persistence, championing its inevitability and righteousness in the struggle for Aryan dominance. Morality tales focusing on the personal trauma that led members to their "racial awakening" are popular and draw some of the most emotion-laden discussion among forum participants.
Dear Abby-style advice is sought and given on topics ranging from ways to spread the movement's messages, to more personal concerns such as parenting strategies, financial investments, or relationship problems. For instance, a young Aryan wrote:
"Hi my name is Stan and I am 18 and I been in the movement for almost a year but I've always been racially aware of what's going on... Any ways I wanted to get your opinion on a problem I have. See my girlfriend is mad as hell at me for being racist because i just told her and she said if I stay racist she will break up with me... so I just wanted to get some peoples opinion..." (PainlessBrutality, 1/14/05)
He received 16 quick responses, most offering sympathy and support -- "Hey man that's a bad problem, I've been in the same situation myself many times..." "Same deal with me mate, my girl is German and very anti nazi's. but talk to her, try to educate her. my girl is slowly coming around now" (red neck nzr, 1/16/05).
The fraternal quality of these types of exchanges highlights the moral support, empathy, and camaraderie found both in real-world free spaces and on-line, particularly by veterans seeking to encourage new members. This veteran's encouraging response to a query is typical:
Mike, you are so welcome here. We have a lot of good people here, all happy to meet you, and converse with you... There are people of all ages...and we are all of one mind... enjoy your participation on this forum... Lucy19
Members questioning their "faith" are often met with empathy and appeals to stay committed in the face of pressures to change their racist politics. But activists can also scrutinize each other for depth of feeling and commitment to movement ideals. Just like in real-world spaces, participants in on-line chats attend closely to how they present themselves. They rely upon shared expressions of racial authenticity to determine each other's true allegiance to the movement.
Since skin color cannot be directly observed in cyberspace, signals of racial loyalty become even more crucial. Several codes are apparent. Messages often begin or close with phrases like "88" (8 stands for "h," the eighth letter of the alphabet; 88 symbolizes "Heil Hitler") or "Sieg Heil" to mark their connection to Aryanism. People invariably use pseudonyms that bear the mark of movement membership, such as "Aryan Warrior," "White Resistance," or "Mudslayer." Also, cybertalk is imbued with expressions of fraternity and kinship, with terms like "brother" and "sister" used to evoke a sense of solidarity that is at the core of white power culture.
Extended Interaction and Support
Cyberspace increases the potential for participants to boost their involvement in both virtual and real-world movement activities to the point of making Aryanism central to their daily life.
It is unclear just how Aryan cyberpresence has affected recruitment, although many members certainly perceive it as crucial to their recruitment activities.
Discussions both on and off the web reflect the sense that new, young members are gravitating to the movement through the Web. As this Southeast Aryan said, "You should see from the load of e-mails I have gotten in the last few days how many new kids are coming to the new site... We have just started, and between the board and the site, we will have loads of new educational resources for the newbies in the coming weeks."20
We think that most effective recruitment still relies on face-to-face contact. To the extent cyberspace helps organize and coordinate real-world activities, and promotes face-to-face contact, it plays an important role in drawing new converts into the fold.
Sociologist Steven Buechler has said that simply maintaining a cultural community of activists is an indicator of success for highly marginalized movements.21 As Aryans develop virtual spaces that parallel the real-world free spaces where the unconstrained expression of radical racism is encouraged and supported, they provide an important bridge among members whose participation might otherwise be very limited and whose commitment to the cause might be tenuous. Participating in both virtual and real-world movement contexts appears to help sustain a members' involvement and ultimately to sustain the movement in ways that neither would on its own.
Peter G. Simi is an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. Robert Futrell is an associate professor of sociology at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.End Notes
1. Cyberspace theorist Howard Rheingold thinks that the Internet introduced a new community form as people gather together on-line around shared values and interests, and create ties of support. Sherry Turkle, a pioneer in studies of identity and interaction on the Internet, claims that the virtual realm offers "a dramatic new context" in which to think about human interaction and how people make connections. Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1993); Sherry Turkle, "Cyberspace and Identity," Contemporary Sociology 28:643-648 (1999).
2.Barry Wellman and Milena Gulia., "Virtual Communities as Communities," in M.A. Smith and P. Kollock, Communities in Cyberspace (New York: Routledge, 1998), 167-194.
3."Active U.S. Hate Groups in 2004," http://www.tolerance.org/maps/hate/.
4.Interview, January 22, 1997.
5.Interview, June 20, 2004.
6.Interview, September 7, 2002.
7.Interview, July 23, 1998.
8.Interview, July 15, 2002.
9.David S. Hoffman, The Web of Hate: Extremists Exploit the Internet, (New York: Anti-Defamation League, 1996).
10.Interview, June 27, 2004.
11.Interview, December 15, 2002.
12.Also see Val Burris, Emory Smith, and Ann Strahm, "White Supremacist Networks on the Internet." Sociological Focus 33: 215-234 (2000).
13.Interview, July 13, 2002.
14.Interview, June 14, 2004.
15.Interview, September 2, 2001.
16.www.whiterevolution.com, January 24, 2005.
17.www.whiterevolution.com, January 21, 2005.
18.www.panzerfaust.com, May 22, 2004.
19.www.whiterevolution.com, July 29, 2004.
20. www.panzerfaust.com, January 11, 2004.
21.Steven M. Buechler, Social Movements in Advanced Capitalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
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