Tuesday, November 01, 2005

When to ignore them

I've known for some time about the white-supremacist twin singing duo known as "Prussian Blue." They've performed at Aryan Congresses at Hayden Lake and are prominently touted at a number of hate sites, particularly Stormfront and National Alliance. If you monitor the far right, you know about them.

So, in some ways, the recent ABC News report on them really wasn't anything new. Though I did note that they intend to leave Bakersfield and move up to these parts. We're just thrilled.

What it did highlight, of course, was a noteworthy facet of white-supremacist culture: the way it imitates "secular" society with its own, parallel forms, particularly in the entertainment field.

They've been doing this for some time now. The biggest arena for this is in hardcore metal music, where skinheads and white-power types have been churning out records and CDs for years. The most prominent of these operations is Resistance Records, which is nowadays operated by the National Alliance. [For a complete rundown on this, read the Center for New Community's report [PDF file] on the white-supremacist manipulation of youth music subculture.]

What the ABC report did, unfortunately, was give the Gaede twins national exposure -- exactly the kind they were hoping for. And besides Cynthia McFadden's horrified tut-tutting and moral indignation, the report didn't shed much light on the subject. Certainly there was little discussion of the larger context of this phenomenon, and there was only a brief attempt to examine just how successful the twins actually are in recruiting people into their belief system.

Predictably, the girls' defenders and promoters on the far right used the ABC report for their own ends: to depict themselves as victims of an arrogant, out-of-control media, and to burnish their persecution complex. You also had neo-Nazi figures like Edgar Steele leveraging the moral-outrage line: How could these horrible people abuse two sweet girls like Lynx and Lamb?

You even had mainstream conservatives offering knee-jerk apologias for the twins -- this from a writer for a Web site dedicated to "exposing" left-wing extremists. (The post, which was pulled, was so well researched that the writer couldn't even bother to read the entirety of the ABC News report.)

This is a common problem with reportage on white supremacists: All such reportage, even if largely negative, is seen by them as (and in fact is) a way of getting the word out to the public, much of which is already skeptical of the innate perspectives offered by mainstream media reporters anyway. If the reporter fails to explain to the audience the larger significance beyond the moral horror of these belief systems, then these reports become helpful ways to recruit.

Thus it's incumbent on any reporter filing such stories to get the larger perspective: to explain, in this case, how musical acts play a role in white-supremacist recruitment (there was a brief stab at this), and to discuss whether recruitment like this is actually working (they really needed to talk to someone who monitors the numbers of people actually joining white-power movements). It might not have hurt to have shown the girls performing at an Aryan Congress, so viewers could see what their audience is.

The reality, though, is that acts like the Gaede twins and the Resistance Records hatemongers are of concern almost solely because of their power to recruit -- and that power is questionable at best. Thus, in the bigger picture of the movement, they are an interesting sideshow, but not a lot more. That's why it's questionable to run a report on them, other than its freak-show quality.

I often hear from people who despise the far right that the best thing to do is just ignore them. Of course, my own experience has been that this is a horrible mistake: Movements like this flourish in an environment of public ignorance and silence from the opposition. Pretending that they don't exist and hoping that they go away is a virtual guarantee that they will stay and prosper.

But standing up to them has to entail knowing when and how to stand up to them. This means recognizing the leaders and their strategies and exposing them, as well as publicly opposing them.

And there are, indeed, times to simply ignore them. When they put little girls up onstage to spout their hate -- well, the contempt such a thing inspires is understandable. But the whole point of their schtick is to provoke outrage that they can then claim is left-wing menace directed at two harmless little girls. So it may be best just to deny them the attention they seek.

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