The Internet was a game-changer for white supremacist and pro-fascist musicians. They went from occupying the fringes of subcultures such as punk and heavy metal to publishing and interacting with new followers with the click of the button. Not too long ago, you could find some of the most hateful bands plugging their music on the web. If you wanted to jam to Peste Noire telling viewers to create carnage in retribution for an increasingly diverse world or buy tickets for the Militant Black Metal band M8l8th [pronounced mo-lot-kh], then you could do so on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Years of escalating conflicts have prompted the major platforms to kick these offenders off of their sites. White supremacist music, however, is still accessible to anyone willing to search for it. “Where thought and action synthesize into victory,” reads the description of one Spotify playlist. Its title has the phrase the ThirdPosition in it, which directly references neo-fascist ideology.
The music of the web is bristling with pro-fascist and white supremacist music and musicians, and its prevalence speaks to larger issues of content moderation and censorship.
Music that glorifies white supremacy and fascism is nothing new. As a former domestic, slave-based economy, the United States has a long history of creating such songs. Anti-abolitionist titles were common leading up to and even after the American Civil War (1861–1865). For example, the revisionist song I Am Thinking of My Pickaninny Days was published in 1901 and chillingly imagines a Black man looking back fondly on his days as an enslaved child. Slavery apologist propaganda like this could be seen well into the 20th century and still exists today.
As we got closer to the new Millenium, such hatred was no longer as acceptable to consume publically. White supremacist groups often were lucky to get 100 people to come to a live show, and obtaining a venue could be a tedious and difficult affair. These musicians were and continue to remain far from the mainstream. They often created subgenres within counter-culture movements such as Nazi Punk within Punk and National Socialist Black Metal within the Black Metal scene.
To this day, it’s possible to see remnants of all of these genres on platforms such as YouTube. A lot of this music is aesthetically nihilistic. These singers are mournful for our more progressive present. They view continuing diversity in apocalyptic terms. Alongside obvious fascist imagery, it’s common to see destroyed cityscapes and irradiated backgrounds in these songs' videos. These uploaders long to get back to a time of racial purity that never existed, claiming that their time will come again after “a fall.”
The songs are typically not hosted by the original artists. We instead have fan accounts uploading copies to their personal accounts. Some are claiming to do so for “historical” reasons. The user Sheet Music Singer on YouTube has made it their mission to consistently upload sung versions of old sheet music, and many of them are racist and misogynistic. The creator does provide some trigger warnings for these charged pieces, and their overall goal appears to be focused on preserving the history rather than disseminating the hatred within those songs.
Other accounts, though, are clearly attracted to the ideology that these songs espouse. Channel names such as Hatecore Inc and FashLoli are references to fascist symbolism and genres of music. A quick look in the comment sections of these songs reveals that many users are there for the same reason. “Defend Europe,” reads a comment under a song of fascist singer Peste Noire. “Times are changing. Democraxy will fall. Right wing will rise again,” reads a comment under the music video Death Squads.
The same can be seen on social media sites like Facebook, where there are groups dedicated to the appreciation of hateful music. The public group Hate Punk Czechia regularly shares these videos, and it's definitely coming from a pro-fascist perspective. “Punk not red,” reads its banner, which is a reference to the fascist slogan “black not red” — a 20th-century phrase praising the black shirts against the communists. A quick scan of its feed will show cringe-inducing music videos lambasting modern-day progressivism and posts cautioning against diversity.
This situation raises an interesting dilemma for these platforms. Many of these users are not actively spreading “original” hatred but reposting old content under the guise of appreciation. They are not necessarily directly advocating for the positions that these white supremacist and fascist musicians are pushing for. They are simply “fans” of the music or, more vaguely, purveyors of history.
Defining fascist music becomes even more difficult when the song's original intent isn’t about spreading white supremacist or fascist ideology — a problem we see on the web a lot.
Something fascists have been very good at doing is coopting otherwise benign symbols to represent their faith. A classic example of this is the Pepe the Frog meme. It originated from the Matt Furie comic Boy’s Club and had no connection to white supremacist or fascist ideology. The meme spread on the Internet from sites such as 4chan until it infamously became appropriated by the alt-right movement.
The same has been happening in music for a very long time. For example, the punk genre Oi! — derived from the British slang for “hey there” — has long been associated with neo-Nazi skinheads. This genre emerged in the 1970s as an alternative type of music for those dissatisfied with the system. Although some Oi! groups definitely had far-right leanings, many were explicitly anti-fascist. For example, the group frontman for the Cockney Rejects fondly remembers the band's crowd beating on Nazi skinheads, telling The Guardian: “The Rejects crew battered them all over the station. They didn’t come to the gigs after that.”
That legacy continues today with users on Oi! music appreciation groups having to stipulate explicitly that they do not condone Nazi punk. As one user wrote in the Facebook group Punk n Oi!: “Today it looks like I need to make myself clear, I BELIEVE IN PUNCHING NAZI’S! If you have any hate for any other person, please get off my posts and do not friend request me.” Not every member agrees with this perspective; however, it's endemic of a cultural struggle within the genre that we do not see with many other musical subcultures.
We observe a similar trend with electronic synthesizer music. Fashwave (a portmanteau of “fascism” and “wave”) or Trumpwave have emerged in recent years as a spin-off of Vaporwave music, which is a subgenre of electronic music that juxtaposes the lounge music sounds of the 80s and 90s with Internet memes. Fashwave songs will often take the standard Vaporwave aesthetic and superimpose fascist imagery on top of it. It’s common in these videos to see the swastika, Hitler, and references to fascist academics such as Julius Evola.
Fashwave and Trumpwave come up frequently on YouTube, Soundcloud, and Spotify for those willing to look. YouTube has users uploading this content regularly, and hundreds of Fashwave playlists are on Soundcloud. Interspliced in between electronic beats on YouTube are speeches to segregationist or fascists leaders. You can also find straight-up fascist speeches sometimes — as with this SoundCloud playlist with clips of the former leader of the British Union of Fascists, Oswald Mosley.
However, not all the music is coming from fascist musicians or DJs. “Let the wars begin. We’ll keep our pistols near,” go the lyrics of one song plastered on a lot of Fashwave videos. “…When the world falls into the flames. We will rise again.” Those are lyrics from Ubisoft’s satirical game Farcry 5, which directly parodies this mindset's culty nature. The song comes up frequently in self-declared Trumpwave or Fashwave music, where posters have reappropriated the lyrics to strip them of their irony. They want to go to war for real.
Much of Fashwave music comes from artists who are not fascists. Richard Spencer infamously claimed that the band Depeche Mode was the band of the alt-right, only for them to publically and swiftly denounce it. Richard Spencer remarked on how he likes the “existential angst, pain, sadism, horror, [and] darkness” of the band’s music — in essence, conflating the song’s reasons for existential despair with his own. Fascists are really good at reappropriating rebellious music and simply pretending that the artist is rebelling over the same thing (i.e., the irrational fear that a white utopia is slipping away from them).
Often, an artist will be curated on a fascist playlist, even if they have no connections to the movement or ideology. That Spotify playlist we mentioned earlier — “Synthwave | FutureWave | ThirdPosition” — is made up of fairly mainstream electronic synthesizer artists. The sole reference to fascism is “ThirdPosition” — a phrase only people aware of the ideology would be familiar with. It’s a bait and switch that allows converts to hide among the uninitiated or curious.
Platforms have come a long way with regulating white supremacist and fascist music. It’s not as easy as it once was for a hateful musician to profit off of the anonymity of the Internet. Music streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music do not let their users stream hateful bands anymore.
While these bands have been relegated to the dark corners of the Internet on sites such as Telegram or MeWe, their fans have not. The same people who used to buy hateful music off iTunes share reposted links of these songs on YouTube, Facebook, and SoundCloud. They are watching what they can say, always navigating that line of what is acceptable and what they can get away with.
The sharing of this information triggers some complicated questions on censorship. We certainly don’t want white supremacists to profit off their hatred, but in what manner should that music be preserved? If no one monetarily benefits from it, is a random person sharing hateful lyrics on YouTube ethical? We are left debating how far we should go in curation, balancing the need for de-platforming with a desire to preserve even the most hateful parts of our history.
There are no easy answers. Platforms ignored these problems for such a long time that now many are playing catchup, and there will probably never be a single set of policies that curb white supremacy and fascist music for good. It might be that this hatred will always be standing by. Fans forever waiting for the moment a hateful song can be more than just a share or a repost.