Playlist to accompany ofc- https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3sqFbCB2Y5L0sQ4tr6Tsky
NAZI PUNKS FUCK OFF!
A hundred thousand punk rockers, adorned with anti-Nazi paraphernalia, band merchandise and crude denim jackets, walk seven miles through bustling Central London. Their march crosses key National Front strongholds. A masked figure emerges on the Trafalgar Square stage, chanting “This ain’t no Woodstock. This is the carnival against the f—ing Nazis!”
The 1978 Rock Against Racism concert affirmed the mobilizing power of punk rock, and more importantly the movement’s rebellion against all things fascist. Artist features included The Clash (the half-Jewish, so-called “Only band that matters”), the integrated X-Ray Specs, Steel Pulse, Tom Robinson Band and Patrick Fitzgerald. Their message was clear through their manifesto: “LOVE MUSIC, HATE RACISM.”
Rock Against Racism wasn’t just a concert in Victoria Park, it was a movement. It propelled anti-racist rock carnivals across the globe. Rock Against Racism was successful in bringing Nazi-esque elements of the National Front to public attention via carnivals and the dissemination of over five million pamphlets.
Initially, it formed in response to the rise of neo-Nazi punk and Eric Clapton’s praise of Enoch Powell, as well as rallying cries of “Keep Britain White” at a 1976 concert.
Those interested in joining the movement were encouraged to write a letter with the postscript, “P.S. Who shot the sheriff, Eric? It sure as hell wasn’t you!” Earlier, Clapton capitalized off a cover of Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff,” while supporting carceral regimes. The postscript reference called attention to this irony.
As punk rose in political influence, it was warped to promote malintent. In response to the power of punk, the National Front spoofed the genre. Eddy Morrison of the British far-right group explained, “We either had to condemn punk or use it. I chose the latter option and started a spoof fanzine called ‘Punk Front’ which featured an NF logo with a safety pin in it.” In tangent, skinhead bands sprung up with unvarnished, bigoted messages.
White supremacists began to view punk rock as a way to attract a younger following. Skinheads attended burgeoning concerts of the hardcore genre with the intention of creating chaos and negating the utilitarian appeal of punk.
Hardcore punk, as the name suggests, was more aggressive than anything the scene had seen before. It became a breeding ground for aggressive, racist punk. Greg Hetson, guitarist for Bad Religion and Circle Jerks, described such an occasion in “No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens.” Said Hetson, “Here was a group of skinhead gentlemen who decided to come to the show, take over the pit, dominate, and not let people near the stage. They were sieg-heiling and that kind of stuff, causing problems. They were fighting with the kids five-on-one, beating little kids up.”
True punk rockers would have nothing to do with it. Keith Morris, lead singer of the bands Circle Jerks, Off! and former lead singer of Black Flag decided to take down the skinheads at the concert Hetson described. In the same interview, Morris recalls: “ I saw them slowly charge towards the stage, and I jumped off the front of the stage and ran at them. It was me against 20 or 25 skinheads. I said, ‘You’re not going to do that here. If you wanna do that, you can go out in the parking lot. All you guys can go out and play in the parking lot.’ People shook their heads like, ‘This guy’s going to get killed. These guys are going to stomp him to death right here.’”
Other punks shared that disgust with skinheads. John Doe of X says that though they might adopt punk fashion, a neo-Nazi is “still a meathead at heart, he’s still looking to take his anger out on someone. So we were like, ‘Thanks but no thanks.’ Those people didn’t get it. They didn’t have a f—ing clue what it meant to be a punk.” Accessories used to signal racist skinhead ideals, such as red Doc Martens boots or laces, red suspenders, tattoos and shaved heads, became universal grounds to get kicked out of clubs.
Author of the Antifa handbook, Mark Bray, attests that “in many cases, the North American modern Antifa movement grew up as a way to defend the punk scene from the neo-Nazi skinhead movement, and the founders of the original Anti-Racist Action network in North America were anti-racist skinheads. The fascist/anti-fascist struggle was essentially a fight for control of the punk scene.”
Anti-fascist punk did not start or end with the Rock Against Racism movement. Early punk quite literally emerged in a post-Mussolini and Hitler public sphere. The Sex Pistols, who served as a Vitruvian Man for British punk, were heavily doused in political rhetoric. Ballads like “God Save The Queen” deplored monarchy and “the fascist regime.” Members of the English punk band Crass were anarcho-punk pioneers and deployed a fascist resistance in their music and art. Two-tone bands, such as The Selecter, The Beat and The Specials defied racial stereotypes at a time when Jim-Crow-esque tension was still high.
Emerging after the dissolution of the Sex Pistols, the Dead Kennedys brought a political edginess to punk. With a song titled “Nazi Punks F—- Off” and persistent activism in addition to an already evocative band name, The Dead Kennedys earned a lasting legacy of outspoken anti-fascism. Spoken-word, satirization and shock value hallmark their voice. “California Uber Alles” mocks a hippie regime under presidential hopeful, Jerry Brown, with references ranging from the Third Reich to George Orwell’s 1984. The song has been remade three times, extending commentary to the presidential bids of Reagan and Schwarzenegger. Throughout their discography, they also commented on government overreach, police brutality and environmentalism. Their fans shared their energy, sporting iconic crossed-out swastika armbands and attending protests.
Modern punk moguls carry on the genre’s anti-fascist core. The well-known current punk band Green Day is a keen example. Green Day’s 21st-century repertoire includes entire albums devoted to social commentary. American Idiot explores themes of disillusionment within the American Dream, media propaganda and, of course, “rage and love.” The albums 21st Century Breakdown and Revolution Radio are more direct examinations of the state of America. “American Eulogy,” off of 21st Century Breakdown is like The Monsters on Maple Street through a punk rock lens. It foreshadows a class war complete with media misinformation, asphyxiating wealth and “mass hysteria.” Every song on the album, except for the unapologetically lovey-dovey “Last Night on Earth” critiques world politics. Revolution Radio examines the “Troubled Times” of the Trump era. The band started each concert of the Rev. Rad. Tour with the chant “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!”
To continue the conversation, Ha’Am connected with Brian Brannon of Jodie Foster’s Army. JFA is a pioneering band of the skateboard punk genre. With guitar riffs reminiscent of The Ventures, a youthful edge and the fearlessness of punk, JFA is classic yet bold. Their song, “Jodie Foster’s Army” satirizes John Hinkley Jr.’s attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in order to impress the actress Jodie Foster. Reagan was a hated figure in the punk scene in the ‘80s.
Interview with Brian Brannon of JFA
Ha’Am: Can you share any anecdotes about JFA taking a stand against Nazis?
Brian Brannon: JFA was and always will be anti-racist. And not just because our original bassist, Michael Cornelius, is Black. For the most part, racists knew enough to stay away from our shows, but when they did rear their ugly heads we did not abide by their stupidity. It didn’t matter if there was one of them or 100 of them, we would not let it stand. We played a gig in Fallbrook and a bunch of them came out and started being idiots and there was no way I was going to let them push and bully people around or even let them stand there unchallenged. To make it worse, it was Veterans Day and I had just come back from a ceremony honoring the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who fought in World War II. So, between songs I gave a history lesson of how generations before us our fathers and grandfathers fought against racism and Nazis. Our country has a proud tradition of fighting such ugliness. Nazi punks were not welcome then and they certainly are not welcome at any JFA gigs, ever.
Ha’Am: In the early SoCal punk scene, racist skinheads often attended shows. Has this ever happened to JFA? How did you react?
Brian Brannon: Well, that last story is from the ‘90s, which I wouldn’t call the early punk scene. But I do remember another story from the ‘80s, which is early enough… We were playing Dallas, which isn’t quite SoCal, but honestly, we don’t tolerate skinheads anywhere. Anyway, me, our guitar player Don Redondo and our drummer Bob Cox (RIP) were walking through a parking lot where some skinheads were hassling anyone smaller than them and demanding money to cross the parking lot like the stupid trolls they were. Well, Bob was about 6 foot 10, so they tried to ignore him. But Bob was not one to be ignored, especially with these idiots. He walked up to one who was actually wearing a T-shirt that said “White Power” on it… It was rare to see Bob pissed off, but this was one of those times. Something about that shirt… So Bob grabbed this guy by the neck and slammed him high and hard up against the wall and shook him. Then he said, “That better mean laundry detergent!” Then he threw him down. I’m not sure that skinhead grasped the inherent comedic genius of Bob’s statement, but he definitely got the point.
Ha’Am: Is it possible to be a Nazi and be punk rock?
Brian Brannon: Interesting question. The answer is a resounding no way. The punk rock I know is about accepting people no matter who they are, where they come from, how they look, how they dress, or how they choose to express themselves – just as long as they aren’t telling you what to do or trying to be something they’re not. That is the opposite of what Nazis believe. So anyone who says that Nazism is part of punk rock is ignorant, lying or trying to rewrite history. There may be bands that sing about such stupidity and play it in a similar manner to punk rock, but that is not, nor will it ever be, what it is.
Ha’Am: For every feature in this series, we include a playlist. Are there any songs you can recommend to our readers?
Brian Brannon: Here are a few from back in the day:
The Jam, Down in the Tube Station at Midnight
Stiff Little Fingers, It Doesn’t Make It Alright
The Clash, White Man (in Hammersmith Palais)
DOA, Race Riot
Dead Kennedys, Nazi Punks Fuck Off
There are many, many more.
*** A genre that promotes all things unique and DIY doesn’t have room for intolerance. Punk rock, in all its crude glory, is an anti-fascist lifestyle. Take it from the Dead Kennedys, who proclaimed “punk rock means thinking for yourself” in their astutely named ballad “Nazi Punks Fuck Off!”, or Crass, who wants you to “pogo on a Nazi.” So put on your DK armband, lace up your Doc Martens (as long as they aren’t red) and “Sing! Like a rebel’s lullaby.”