A man arrested after a stolen vehicle plowed into the Edson courthouse and anti-Semitic slurs were scrawled inside, is among countless musicians using the internet to spread hate, says an expert on extremism in Canada.
The internet has become a haven for white power music, said Barbara Perry, a professor in the faculty of social science and humanities at Ontario Tech University.
“They’re using music as a recruitment tool, to bring new people into the movement,” Perry said in an interview with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM.
“The lyrics become part of the conversation that they have with newcomers but the music is also very important for people already within the movement to enhance their sense of solidarity.”
On May 11, someone stole a vehicle from an Atco Electric compound in Edson, Alta., drove through a fence and then plowed through the Edson Provincial Building. Anti-Semitic slurs were found scrawled on the walls inside the building.
Kelvin Zawadiuk, 35, is charged with public incitement of hatred, breaking and entering, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, theft, mischief under $5,000 and failure to comply with a probation order.
But Zawadiuk is also a part-time rapper who performs under the name La Haine, which in French means “the hatred.” His music is readily available online and includes Nazi choruses and imagery. One song is called Zyklon B, which is the trade name of the cyanide-based pesticide used in the gas chambers at Auschwitz; that song includes excerpts from a speech by Adolf Hitler.
White supremacists who use music to spread their message have harnessed the power of the internet, Perry said.
YouTube, in particular, has become a haven for the hateful music, she said. Playlists with songs like White Power, Rock against Islam and Burn the Koran are easily found on the wildly popular video-sharing site.
Music videos as propaganda
These dark corners of the site, which Perry describes as the “YouTube of Hate,” are filled with explicitly violent messages against Jews, people of colour and white “race traitors.”
A 2016 study co-authored by Perry, titled You-Tubing White Power Music: An exploration of Hate Anthems Online, relied on a particular YouTube playlist as a case study.
The playlist, named Mix-Combat 18 – Terrommachine, included 27 hate-inspired anthems. Most of the videos had been viewed more than 100,000 times.
One song called, Pulling on the Boots, had a staggering 2.2 million views and was set to the backdrop of an official music video featuring images of hard-working, white men.
Online music channels act as an important echo chamber and propaganda tool for the extreme right, Perry said.
While white power music continues to exist on the fringes — silenced on mainstream media — the internet has given it a place to thrive. White supremacists have capitalized on the lack of regulation to ensure their hateful messages are heard, she said.
Crossing musical genres
So long as they have an internet connection, activists have a direct link to their “brethren,” Perry said.
“It empowers them. It gives them the sense that they’re part of something bigger because it is a global phenomenon. It’s not just restricted to Canada and North America.”
And not only does white power music cross geographical boundaries, it also crosses all musical genres.
“We went in thinking that it was largely metal music, that sort of head-banging, black metal. But we found about 10 different genres.”
During her ongoing research, Perry has identified more than a dozen different musical genres represented, including pop, folk, country, hip-hop as well as rap, which she describes as “one of the biggest surprises.”
“I think it’s ironic that a movement that is typically very anti-black and very racist would also then appropriate a cultural media associated with that community. But it is quite popular within the movement.
“I think it is an attempt to broaden the appeal, broaden the audience of the movement. It was a surprise to me and this music really highlights how virulent the music can be.”
Enforcing content policies
A spokesperson for YouTube said, since 2016, the playlist and the channel that forms the core of the study had already been removed from YouTube for a violation of its policies against hate speech.
The company also noted that it applies a “tougher treatment” to videos that are not in violation of their content policies, but which contain controversial extremist content. These videos are removed from recommendations and stripped of key features including comments, suggested videos and likes.
The company said it has worked hard to develop responsible guidelines that make clear what content is unacceptable on the platform and continues to test new technology to combat “emerging threats.”
“Hate speech and content that promotes violence have no place on YouTube,” reads an emailed statement.
“Many of the videos and channels mentioned in this study from 2016 have already been removed from YouTube for violations of our policies against hate speech.
“Over the last few years we have heavily invested in human review teams and smart technology that helps us quickly detect, review, and remove this type of content. While we have made progress, there is still more to do, and we are committed to improving our work on this issue.”
Perry said there is no “silver bullet” to counteract the online vitriol but stressed that websites need to be held accountable for the content they host.
“This sort of music needs to be reported. It really is blatantly homophobic, misogynistic. It calls for extermination, murder, physical and sexual violence, she said.
“It seems like it would be in violation of most community standards associated with social media.”