Whatever caused Wade Michael Page to massacre worshipers at a Wisconsin Sihk temple on Sunday may never be known. Still, says the Washington Post, for at least a decade, he had been steeped in a neo-Nazi “hate music” scene that espouses white power and racial superiority and occasionally promotes violent acts against people of other races and religions. The existence of this music subculture surprised many Americans, but law enforcement agencies and civil rights organizations that monitor hate groups have been paying attention to these groups and their followers since the genre began to emerge in the U.S. in the early 1980s. The Anti-Defamation League estimates 100 to 150 active or semi-active bands that perform and release such music.
Jill Garvey of the Center for New Community, a Chicago-based civil rights organization, worries that the Wisconsin shooting may spark renewed interest in hate rock bands. In 1999, the center launched Turn It Down, a campaign to counter white power music and its growing influence by educating communities about how to respond to the music and its followers. Such music is well within the tradition of protected free speech, says an expert in First Amendment law. The bar is high for finding hate speech unlawful, says Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. “That's true whether it is extremist Islam or pro-anarchist literature or the communist manifesto or extremist animal rights groups,” he says. “And it's true for extremist racists as well. Speech is protected unless it is intended to, and likely to, produce imminent violence or other illegal conduct.”