Jello Biafra on ‘Nazi Punks’ and Hate Speech
The last time I saw Jello was at a concert in the People’s Temple in San Francisco, early 80’s.
I wrote that song in 1981, and at the time, it was aimed at people who were really violent on the dance floor; they didn’t call it mosh pits yet. It began to attract people showing up just to see if they could get in fights in the pit or jump off stage and punch people in the back of the head and run away. I noticed some of the really bad thugs were clearly not teenagers, they looked quite a bit older, which makes me wonder if they were really undercover cops.
People started asking me, “Are you down with this? Thing are changing, the audience is younger, hard core is coming up and it’s a more extreme form of punk,” and I liked that kind of music, but I thought if we’re gonna play this music, we need to distance ourselves from that side of the scene. The initial premise of the song was “You violent people at shows are acting like a bunch of Nazis,” and that was as far as it went. Then the real ideological Nazis began coming out of the closet.
They attacked Dead Kennedys shows after that. One time, a more hard-core version of (Britain’s) National Front showed up in tandem with the road crew of a band, and that connection always creeped me out. Punk is such an extreme form of music, the most extreme form of rock and roll ever invented, and it’s always attracted different kinds of extremes. So “Nazi Punks…” evolved in people’s minds into an anti-fascist, anti-Nazi anthem. I’ve noticed that the more that my current band, Jello Biafra & the Guantanamo School of Medicine, plays in countries where people have tangible memories of suffering under dictators — South America, the Balkans, Eastern Europe — the more people want to hear that song because it means something deeper to them than telling people not to start fights at punk shows.
The founder of Maximumrocknroll, who had the guts to take this stuff head-on early, pointed out that there were always idiots in the scene, and now they have an ideology. The punk music sound is one kind of music white supremacists are attracted to, but to blame the murder of a bunch of innocent people in the Milwaukee area on music itself is like blaming Ozzy Osbourne for some troubled kid killing themselves, or blaming the Bible for when a Christian supremacist kills someone.
There were shows and individuals who had been attacked by Nazi skinheads and that still goes on here and there, but the ideological ones haven’t shown up at any event of mine in years. The subculture may to some degree be organzied, but it’s much further underground than some of the people crying wolf at the Southern Poverty Law Center might want people to believe. I support all their work to counter white supremacists, but the biggest danger from white supremacists is in police departments now, racist officers looking for excuses to shoot people of color. That is the worst form of Nazism or organized racism going on in this country today.