( I am NOT Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey NOR am I connected to her in any way. I discuss naming it after her in the "notes" post)
(As far as the anti-bigotry part of this blog, I decided at some point early on that I wanted to work around the edges of battling bigotry, offering ideas and information that most people are unaware of but which might help them here and there with anti-bigotry work. So that’s why there are a lot of posts that seem a little weird, including this one)
This was originally written and published in Dec.of 2008. I have re-written it to improve it’s read-ability and have written it from my perspective in early 2015.
(I came up with this new version by editing the old and I hate to say it, but I didn't make any changes to reflect the sad passing of Jeff Hanneman. Besides the part about them doing more anti-racist stuff this post is about the time when the band included Hanneman, King and Araya)
There are many, many people (in both the nazi and anti-nazi camps) who think that Slayer is a racist and/or ant-Semitic band (Slayer of course is one of the top four thrash metal bands, known for it’s creative and controversial lyrics and creative and very aggressive music). As I’ll explain, although I’m sure they AREN’T racist or anti-semitic, they need to do more to combat those kinds of bigotry among their fans.
Am I writing this as a long-time and dedicated fan of Slayer? Have I carved SLAYER on my arm? Will I if that gets their attention? Not really, no, and possibly. I started listening to that kind of music in 1991 and a couple years later started listening to the Slayer album Seasons in the Abyss. I bought Divine Intervention in 1994 but didn’t like it until recently. In the last few years I have started listening to almost everything by Slayer for an average of about 1 hr. a day and I love it. Unfortunately I listen to it on YouTube and I don’t pay for it and for various reasons that’s not gonna change. But I AM now close to being a real fan. And if you look at thrash metal in general, I have been really into it since 1991. Some of my long-time favorite bands are more or less in that genre (Megadeth, Metallica, Nuclear Assault, Anthrax, Body Count, Suicidal Tendencies, and DRI).
Even with that I still doubt Slayer will listen to me, but maybe enough of their real fans will be convinced to do something and convince Slayer to do more. In any case I decided in 2008 that this issue(s) fascinated me and that if this effort were successful it would help the broad anti-hate movement make more progress.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t been an active fan of metal since roughly my mid- or late twenties (I was born in 1975). No concerts, a declining number of T-shirts that I have barely worn since 2005, etc. But I still listen to it a lot and I am concerned about the presence of racism in that scene (reflected in part by all the white faces in the audience and and on the stage). I think back to the Body Count song “There Goes the Neighborhood,” where Ice-T yells about that problem. Sure, it was in 1991 but in 2008 I looked around the internet some and got the strong impression there is still a problem with racism in metal. What can be done about the existence of racist thrash-metal fans? Well, a SMALL part of this problem I believe is/was the small but largely unchallenged presence of nazi skinheads- their presence by itself and also the effect that can have on young, impressionable minds attending such concerts. And this part of the problem should be relatively easy to address by making Nazi Skinheads unwelcome. Looking at the punk scene in the not-too-distant past, Black Flag and Fugazi would make it clear from the stage that Nazi skinheads weren’t welcome. More recently, there was an example of this at a punk show in CA. Although I don’t know the details, there was at some point in the last twenty years or so a feud between Slayer and Sepultura, with the latter criticizing Slayer about their attitude towards Nazi Skinheads at Slayer shows.
My problem with Slayer is that they need to take the struggle against racism seriously when racism rears it’s ugly head among their fans- I’m mostly thinking of their concerts, which attract a LOT of Nazi skinheads. Many Slayer fans would probably say that the band has nothing to do with that. Even if they do NOTHING to make Nazi Skinheads think they’re welcome, Slayer needs to do more to make it clear they’re UNwelcome.
As I have explained above and will explain below, I'm taking the unusual step of writing and publishing this because of the following combination: of reasons 1) nazi skinheads (not racists in general, but people who are very comfortable engaging in unjustified and bigoted violence) are very visible at Slayer concerts; 2) why isn't Slayer doing what other bands have done in a similar situation?; 3) solid evidence that at least in the past and to some degree today racist Slayer fans saw Slayer members as being fellow racists; 4) the cover of "Guilty of Being White" gives white people the wrong idea about anti-white racism; and 5) to settle the argument over whether or not Slayer ARE racist.
(At some point I should say that I found an online discussion among white supremacist fans of Slayer (on the Stormfront site here.) Most of them indicated that at some point in the past and/or during the discussion they believed slayer was a white power band)
And, they HAVE done a handful of things that have had or probably have had the effect of making nazi skinheads feel welcome. The smaller ones are:
1. A song called “Angel of Death” is about nazi death camp doctor, Joseph Mengele and has apparently been widely mis-interpreted (by both advocates and opponents of anti-Semitism) as being pro-Nazi.
2. Their official fan club (and a lot of unofficial fan stuff refers to this as well) is called the "Slatanic Wehrmacht." The Wehrmacht was the non-SS military of Nazi Germany.
3. Apparently in response to the criticism they received as a result of "Angel of Death," they temporarily adopted a symbol some have said is based on the Nazi "Eagle Atop Swastika." Jeff Hanneman sometimes appeared with (what might be called) Nazi “accessories” such as SS symbols on his guitar strap or a t-shirt with the symbol of the SS unit responsible for the Holocaust on it and possibly displayed other similar imagery.
There are a handful of small things and between 1 and six big things about Slayer that all combined make me certain they’re not racists or anti-semites:
1. For about 1-2 years they were signed to Def Jam, a record label primarily for rap music. The co-founder of that label, who is Jewish, produced most of their albums.
2. Tom Araya is from Chile and Dave Lombardo is from Cuba. I'm not sure that proves it, as much of Chile is White and 65% of Cuba is white. On a related note, 1-2 members may be Jewish.
3. Two members were briefly in a band with Rocky George (of Suicidal Tendencies fame).
4. One band member, at one point, had a Dead Kennedys sticker on his guitar (probably not a lot of racist DK fans out there).
5. Kerry King did some work with the Beastie Boys on their album “License to Ill.”
6. There are at least a few big things which are in this category and I’ll mention them further below.
The big thing they did that has encouraged racist Slayer fans is a song on an album they did which was mostly a bunch of punk covers. They did "Guilty Of Being White" by Minor Threat. As far as I can tell, when that was written Minor Threat were anti-racist and nowhere near as tainted by the sort of stuff I mention in the first category above. The vocalist who wrote the song was apparently inspired by being beaten by black kids at his mostly black school; apparently he had good reason to think (or maybe KNOW) that it was racist. Also, unlike with Slayer, I feel comfortable assuming that at Minor Threat shows and in interviews the vocalist, Ian MacKaye, made anti-racist statements (I'm basing this on the politics of another band he was with (Fugazi), on a report that during the Minor Threat era MacKaye was a big fan of Bad Brains and was close to Henry Rollins, and on a pro-SHARP (SkinHeads Against Racial Prejudice) video on YouTube that had music from 4 Minor Threat songs).
Slayer's version changed the last line from the song title to "Guilty of being right." It's not real clear, but they seem to have admitted that, although they were just trying to be controversial, it was supposed to be interpreted as racist. And based on an online discusson among racist Slayer fans on Stormfront, it WAS interpreted as racist by some racists.
Even without that lyrical twist at the end, there would still be a problem with this. I'll probably do another post on this later, but let me say, sure, there's anti-White racism. But it's safe to say there's tons more people who reflect one or another shade of white supremacy. Six years ago I looked at FBI figures on hate crimes for the preceding 10-15 years. At first I just looked at murders, then I looked at the numbers for hate crimes in general. I found that according to the FBI, for every anti-White incident, there were about six incidents motivated by white supremacy. I had heard that there are a lot of hate crimes unreported to the FBI, so I made it seven. I have had trouble figuring out what percentage of the population is White (this is complicated by the fact that I’m pretty sure there are a lot of white people classified as “Hispanic/Latino” and when I last looked at this it would have been the 2000 Census data), but I’d say around 75%, making people of color around 25%. I then did some math involving those figures, but I can’t remember what I did. I DID conclude that shades of white supremacy were about twice as common among white people as anti-white racism was among people of color (that is, if 50% of whites are racist, 25% of people of color are racist). I have since learned that the Department of Justice believes that for every hate crime that is included in the FBI’s figures, there are 20-30 more that aren’t. I don’t know how they came up with that, but it makes sense. There are two main reasons for believing this-
1) Many, MANY law enforcement agencies do not send hate crime figures to the FBI. Undoubtedly, such cities and towns and counties would be very racist, and there would be a lot of racist crimes;
2) There must be a HUGE number of homophobic crimes unreported partly because there are so many gay and bi-sexual people who are more or less still in the closet, and because you also take what I wrote in #1 above and change “racist” to “homophobic.”
3) Even in counties, towns and cities where hate crimes ARE reported to the FBI, many hate crimes are probably unreported to local law enforcement because of reasonable doubt that it will lead to an arrest- such reports almost never do.
I can’t remember how I did the math earlier, but it makes me think that racism is something like 10-20 times more common among white people than anti-White racism is among people of color. (I have mixed feelings about this, but I am right now defining racism as a belief- I am certainly not talking about how oppressed people are (the gap on that is more or less infinite, since the ways in which anti-white racism is exercised do not add up to white people being oppressed at all), just how widespread a belief is, compared to another belief, as indicated by actions that pretty much anyone, white or non-white, can take). When there isn't an appropriate amount of hostility towards white supremacy to balance it out, discussing anti-white racism can easily lead white people to think that anti-white racism is a greater problem than it is, which can lead a lot of white people to become racist.
There's also the racist twist of the lyrics and some of the other things I've mentioned. So, Slayer ought to do AT LEAST about 10 things of equal significance (to recording that song) to challenge white supremacy. As far as I can tell they have done at most 6 total (I’m counting stuff done before that Minor Threat cover, because it’s still out there and could contribute to making Nazi skinheads unwelcome).
The first big anti-Nazi thing is that Slayer recorded a song (a medley of three songs by The Exploited) called "Disorder" with Ice-T. Some of the lyrics were altered to apply to American politics in the early 1990s, and some of it was anti-racist. It's very clear that they're referring to the Rodney King Riots of 1992, when they sing "Injustice drives you crazy, it drove LA insane."
But it was on a soundtrack. There were probably MANY Slayer fans who didn't even hear about it, but did hear Slayer's cover of "Guilty of Being White" (that’s based on the Stormfront discussion I referred to above).
The second and third things are pretty minor. They did at least two tours with Suicidal Tendencies (a racially diverse band that’s more or less thrash metal).
The fourth anti-Nazi item is a song on the album “South of Heaven” called “Behind the Crooked Cross.” First, it’s about a soldier in Hitler’s army that is starting to feel disillusioned about what he’s involved with. I didn’t know it was an anti-fascist song until someone who was arguing with me about this post mentioned it. And I doubt that more than 5% of Slayer’s fans know it’s anti-fascist. The thing is, the “crooked cross” is another word for the swastika, but who knows that? (at one point I found a video on YouTube that had a lot of WWII imagery with that song playing, but I’m certain it’s a fan-video).
In Oct. 2012 I wrote the following: “I'm not sure why this took so long, but I finally figured I could do some internet searches to get some solid idea of how many Slayer fans know what the song is about. I did a google advanced search for the phrase "crooked cross is another term for swastika" and the word "Slayer." There were only two results- one was this post, one was a discussion on Irish Indymedia where I and a Slayer fan went at it, and s/he told me about the song. I did another (Google Advanced) search for "crooked cross is another word for swastika" and the word "Slayer." Nothing came up with that phrase, but there were 10 results with all those words: A) A wikipedia page about the swastika, which at this point doesn't contain the word "Slayer"; B) A page on what probably is a sort of high-traffic heavy metal site, a page on Slayer; C) Basically the same thing; D) a blogpost which doesn't do much more than explain that the crooked cross is the swastika, and briefly discusses the Slayer song; E) An anti-fascist discussion forum post about this issue where the only person to mention this song is me; F) This post I'm typing right now; G) A music site I imagine has a lot of traffic, it says little or nothing that explicitly identfies the song as anti-Nazi; I got distracted and forgot to check the last three, and now they don't show up in the search anymore, but they didn't look like they touched on this song. I did another (Google Advanced) search, with ""crooked cross is the swastika" and "slayer." There were three results: A) A page with the lyrics for the song and a brief discussion about them, identifying them as anti-Nazi; B) the same web-site, and a very brief anti-Nazi description of the lyrics; C) This blog post.”
Because of that (and in general the lyrics aren't quite as explicit as "Guilty of Being White"), I’m being generous by counting that song as a whole anti-Nazi item. Although their lyrics are even less clearly anti-fascist, anti-Nazi items 5 and 6 are the songs “Angel of Death” and “SS-3.” (there are so many things about Slayer that can only mean they’re anti-Nazi that I’m assuming that these unclear lyrics were intended to be anti-Nazi or at worst were written to be neutral descriptions of horrible things (as far as I can tell, MANY Slayer songs are like that))
Slayer, I imagine, might not be around much longer. They should do some stuff to compensate for the damage they've done (see the Stormfront discussion). They could do explicitly anti-racist songs, more collaborations with rappers (especially those who are people of color), do benefit concerts for anti-racist organizations, make explicit, detailed anti-racist statements that go well beyond simple denials of racism (if they're so inclined, maybe, denouncing the Confederate flag) do more tours with groups that are mostly/completely people of color, etc.
I found myself thinking as I re-typed this in 2015 that the earlier discussion on Stormfront might have dis-illusioned most of the racist Slayer fans who speak English (I know of a recent discussion in a Spanish and Portugese part of that site about Slayer being Nazis). But I read several recent discussions about Slayer on that site and hardly anything was said about the band not being Nazis, and there were a few things said going the other way. So it seems that it’s still a problem- the anti-racist movement could really benefit (in different ways) from Slayer acting as you would expect violence-friendly, outspoken people who oppose racism to act when Nazi skinheads show up at their concerts.
I'd also like to say that if it were JUST a small amount of controversial imagery and their lyrics occassionally made it very clear they're anti-racist, that'd be fine. I haven't thrown myself into their stuff yet, but I am pretty sure that most Sacred Reich lyrics are anti-racist (certainly "One Nation," and "Blue Suit, Brownshirt" are). I've got no problem with their name, especially because it's hilarious considering the politics in their lyrics.
But I believe that what I have written about above means that lots of young white Slayer fans have seen and maybe DO and WILL see a thumbs up from Slayer when it comes to racism and that might possibly lead them to even get involved with Nazi skinheads.
As far as I can tell, they've done 6 things to make that less likely, and at the VERY least they need to do 10, so at least four more.
UPDATE 4/24/15 I just learned that a video album by Slayer (Soundtrack to the Apocalypse) includes "Disorder." So now they are three items short of the minimum of 10 (I doubt that more than a minority of Slayer fans have actually seen that video album). The video album was released in 2003, and as I wrote in the above, in recent discussions on Stormfront the Nazis STILL believe Slayer is more or less in their corner.
Some of my sources for some of the more controversial claims:
Slayer's page on Wikipedia, and related pages for specific band members, songs, albums (I've looked at TONS of stuff on Wikipedia and have yet to find one thing that I know is inacurate, and a lot of what I've looked at includes info I was already aware of)
Slayer and Nazi Skinheads- well known that the latter love the former (multiple sources, just do a search on it)
Minor Threat and related Wikipedia pages
In general, I doubt anyone will seriously question the facts I've presented. I'm sure plenty of Slayer fans will disagree with my analysis, I'm pretty sure the facts are not in dispute.