Randy Blazak is an associate professor of sociology at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. He is the director of the Hate Crime Research Network (www.hatecrime.net), which connects academic work on bias criminality. He is also the co-founder of Oregon Spotlight, which monitors hate groups in the state of Oregon and he is the chair of the Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crimes. His latest book is entitled Renegade Kids, Suburban Outlaws: From Youth Culture to Delinquency (Wadsworth, 2001).
Joshua Frank: Randy, I have to start by getting your take on Prince Harry’s decision to wear a silly arm-band to an elite “Colonialists and Natives” theme party over in the UK a few week ago. It doesn’t seem there was any malicious intent, just a poor decision on Harry’s part, yet the backlash was intense. Do you think the criticisms and calls for Prince Harry to visit Auschwitz were justified? Had he dressed up as Christopher Columbus who committed similar atrocities as the Nazis, would there have been calls for Harry to visit Hispaniola instead?
Randy Blazak: The Hitler thing is viewed a bit differently than the Columbus thing. “We,” meaning white people really, were not the victims of Columbus. Britain was bombed daily in the Blitzkrieg, so even if you are not opposed to anti-Semitism, you hate the Nazis in England. Plus 1942 is closer than 1492. People remember that. So that’s why punks, like Sid Vicious, wore swastikas to freak out the older generation. It’s a powerful symbol in England. Harry is a typical teenager who is not taught to value compassion and empathy for the suffering of others. There are a million kids like Harry. They are not evil; they just have no comprehension of evil in history, the human trauma that persists because of the Holocaust and the power of symbols to hurt people. I have no doubt he has Jewish friends. So send him to some camps, have him watch Schindler’s List and let him talk to a Holocaust survivor. Prince Harry could become the strongest advocate against fascism the Brits have ever seen!
JF: It seems that kids like Harry who have no comprehension of evil in history may be prime targets to be recruited into hate groups. Is this true? Do these types of kids become targets of neo-Nazi/skinhead recruiters?
RB: It’s very true. We’re talking about people who were born in the 1980’s and 1990’s. They have no historical experience of racism and they don’t see the more subtle forms of bigotry that every person of color experiences daily. To them, we have equality. I’ve had white students say, in class, “Racism ended in the Sixties. Black people are just complaining.” To them, if racism is gone, why do we need Affirmative Action, Black History Month, etc. It seems very unfair to them because they don’t know about the long history of oppression that continues. So hate groups know how to capitalize on this. They’ll say, “Hey black kids have black power rap. Shouldn’t you have some white power rock?”
JF: Could you talk a bit about recruiters for hate groups; who they are, how they function, whom they prey on, and where to find them? Is music like “white power rock” a primary recruitment tool used in these networks?
RB: Well, they are sort of recruiting 24-7. There’s a high turnover rate since so many kids get in and they’re like, “Ah man, this is like a cult!” and get out. The hate-rock is a big tool. Panzerfaust Records has a thing now called “Project Schoolyard” where they give away hate-rock CD samplers. They don’t care about making money, they want to win minds. And some of the stuff is pretty rockin’. It will freak the parental units out and that’s what rock n’ roll is all about. The logic is “if the black kids can rap about killing cops, why can’t I have this?” Fortunately, Panzerfaust is going out of business. The guy that runs it keeps getting busted for drugs and apparently likes to go to Southeast Asia as a “sex tourist.”
The web is also very powerful since most kids do all their homework and research via Google. If I’m a kid that is assigned a paper on the Holocaust and do some “research” and learn that the whole thing is a big “hoax,” that can be pretty empowering. I would probably want to know what else the “authority figures” are lying to me about and I’ll be hooked.
JF: So what do you tell these kids that claim, “Hey man, black kids have rap, why can’t I have white-power-rock? Why can’t I be proud of my heritage?”
RB: Well, there’s a lot of work to be done. One person in one session can’t hip them to centuries of oppression that still exists. But you can focus on some pretty clear examples. For instance, blacks and whites are as likely to use illegal drugs, according to surveys, but according to the arrest data, blacks are more likely to be arrested. You can also discuss the recent research on job discrimination. But when talking to youth, the best thing is to get personal. Introduce them to ANY African-American who can talk about their real experience being black in white America. Make sure that the kids feel like they can ask anything. It’s like I can read a hundred books about the Holocaust, but I just need to talk to one Holocaust survivor to “get it.” And just one thing about rap and black power. 99.9% of that stuff is not about putting down white people. White racism, yes, but not white people. Hate rock is the exact opposite.
JF: How do you respond to the kids who say the “white race is disappearing?” Especially when they point to stuff like the birth rate in Europe that is now below replacement level?
RB: It’s just an overly simplistic picture of the world, us vs. them. As you may remember, when we were kids, everything was very black and white. We are increasingly living in a world in shades of grey, both figuratively and literally. There are a lot of people that want a coherent world with no ambiguities or, heaven forbid, nuance. It requires too much intellectual thought. Religious fundamentalists are responding to the same fears that organized racists are. The mixed-race kid, the homosexual, and the feminist all destroy the boxes people are supposed to fit into in the traditional power dynamic. You really want to freak a right-winger out? Talk about trans-gendered people! They can’t handle it! It’s an immature way of looking at the world. Fortunately, most of these kids grow up and develop the skills of understanding the shades of grey. Those that don’t become Republicans.
JF: Speaking of idiots, what is the status of hate-groups in the US and worldwide? Is it on the rise? What the hell is their ultimate goal anyway — do they still think a “race-war” is going to break out?
RB: It’s always important to differentiate between hate crimes and hate group activity. As best as we can tell, activity is fairly constant. It tends to increase as the economy for the lower-middle class sags, which it is doing now. You can have ten new groups this week, but they might be ten groups of three [people]. So it’s hard to quantify. The Internet makes it look like the movement is exploding, but much of that is the work of individuals with good http skills. The rise of fascist youth in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s has subsided. Like there, many extremists here have found a voice in mainstream conservative politics.
Here, their ultimate goal is to “save” white America from destruction by alien (Jewish) forces. This is symbolized by David Lane’s “14 words.” “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children.” Like evangelists, they see the signs of the end everywhere. Some believe their duty is to “wake up” white people, others see themselves as soldiers in the coming prophesized race war. That’s the Timothy McVeighs. It’s a small group but it just takes one McVeigh to ruin your day.
JF: So Randy, ultimately what can people do to help prevent hate groups from infiltrating their neighborhoods and cities? Can you also briefly explain the difference between a bias motivated hate crime and a regular crime? Or did I just give it away?!?
RB: First, bias crimes are qualitatively different because they target whole categories of people. Unlike a normal assault, if I assault a black person, I am sending a message of fear to ALL black people. Hate crimes are a form of terrorism. In fact the first anti-terrorism law in this country was the Anti-Klan Act of 1871.
The best thing to combat such hate is to give people the critical thinking skills to cut through the racist BS. For example, teaching kids about stereotypes. For every “homosexual child molester” — I can show you ten heterosexual ones, and so on. Also the fallacy of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories can be easily debunked. Finally, talking about the real value of diversity works with youth. You can’t be a “good” racist and listen to rock music or eat Mexican food. You need to listen to Polka and eat bratwurst.