Day Eighteen: Building Temples – On the Difference Between Hate Music and Pussy Riot (An Article Written on August 29th)

by Tom Noonan

 “Passion, total honesty, and naïveté are superior to the hypocrisy, mendacity, and false modesty that are used to disguise crime.”

– Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Ekaterina Samutsevich are seated in a glass box, a room known as “the aquarium”, in a Russian courtroom.  These three women, who collectively make up the art-punk band Pussy Riot, are awaiting the verdict in a case that will define how the Russian Regime responds to symbolic protest.

Six months before this scene, these three women staged a protest on the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.  Their plan was to dance on the altar wearing relatively tight clothing and balaclavas, which are pretty much home-made ski masks, while chanting the lyrics to their protest song, “Punk Prayer: Holy Mother, Chase Putin Away!”  While the protest lasted a mere 30 seconds before being shut down by cathedral officials, the footage from the demonstration became a very prevalent form of viral protest.

Three days after the video began making literal and figurative noise, the members of Pussy Riot were arrested on counts of hooliganism.  Their arrests were packaged as a response to blatant disrespect of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the political implications of the case were intentionally disregarded.

In the courtroom, the judge determined the case’s narrative, allowing the focus to fall to a level of religious desecration rather than the lofty, political aim the band had initially taken.  As the three women sit in their glass box, awaiting a decidedly unreasonable verdict, they smile and laugh at the proceedings, commenting on the absurdity in front of them without speaking a word.  They are on display, and they want to make sure it’s a memorable, if not meaningful, show.

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On August 5th, a Sunday, Wade Michael Page entered a Sikh Temple during Morning Prayer and open fired, leaving seven dead.  Page was met with resistance from Satwant Singh Kaleka, the President of the Temple, who attempted to fight Page off with a knife.  Page fired on the man five times.  When Mr. Kaleka did not back down, Page ran from the scene only to be met by police outside the Temple.  The authorities ended up taking Page’s life, but his destruction was permanent.

While the members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin mourned their losses, the question being asked at every media outlet in the country, a question that has been asked in the wake of the 60 mass murders that have taken place in this country since 1982, was, “Why?”  We are consistently fascinated with the people who commit these heinous acts of domestic but there seems to be little recourse when all the information comes forward.  There seems to be a public discomfort for dwelling in the miseries of others, and this may derive from our belief that talking about terrorists is the same as giving them power.

While this is a logical attitude, it doesn’t always hold up, especially when talking about Wade Page.  We need to allow ourselves to dwell in the sorrow in Wisconsin because there is too much to learn from it.  Wade Page was a domestic terrorist who was taught how to hate.  If we want to bring justice to what happened in Wisconsin, investigation into Page’s background must lead to a more serious dialogue on hate music.

In the coverage following the Wisconsin tragedy, Page’s background in the neo-Nazi music scene became the focus of many reports, intending to answer the “Why?” of the entire situation.  The premise was simple: disillusioned and mentally unstable white youth turns to hate group and massacres a group of people said group hates.  The story works because it is relatively comfortable, but this premise is based in a completely absurd sentiment that seems to be all too prevalent in our civil rights nomenclature.  This sentiment can be but both simply and bluntly as, “People have the freedom to hate.”

Before we can attempt to deconstruct the problematic perspective that statement creates, it is important to realize the context in which it was formed.  This sentiment came into the national discussion following questions on the legality of “hate music” such as the neo-Nazi metal Wade Page was involved with.  It is meant to describe a completely binding ideal that all forms of speech must be protected under the first amendment, even those that exist as an unfiltered manifestation of hate.  This catch-all tenet can no longer be reserved to the national subconscious, especially when it comes to music.

On his record “England Keep My Bones”, Frank Turner sings about the power of music and, more specifically, rock and roll.  He sings, “I still believe in the sound/That has the power/To raise a temple and tear it down.”  For Mr. Turner, music exists as a form of religion to those devout enough to follow.  It can spread ideas and ideals, but more importantly, it can create a community amongst like-minded people.  Though Turner’s lyrics wade a bit into the romanticism of music, he clearly recognizes the influence it can have on a person or a group of people.  By building a temple, music can also shut the rest of the world out.  This is exactly what happens in the temple of hate music.

In an interview with the Washington Post regarding the Wisconsin shooting, Byron Calvert, a white-power music producer, defended his brand of art saying, “If my art form is responsible for this shooting, how come no other art form is responsible in all of the other shootings?  The [black entertainers] are always rapping about killing white people, but no one complains about that.”  Despite being thinly veiled as a crusade against violent lyrics in hip-hop, Calvert’s comments reveal that the temple being built by hate music exists lacking any form of introspection.  The entire philosophy of the temple is that everyone else is to blame.  The sermons include anti-Semitic teachings as well as psalms about white-power “legends”.  This scene preys on troubled young white men looking for an outlet for their anger and disillusionment.  It cultivates that anger into hate, leaving its followers with a skewed, and decidedly amateurish, worldview.

This is where Wade Page comes in.  Before he found the neo-Nazi metal scene, Page was serving in the U.S. Army.  He was then honorably discharged with a demotion of rank after going AWOL.  Since Page already held some crude racist attitudes, he was an easy target for the temple of hate music.  After bouncing around the scene from band to band, Page finally formed his own group called End Apathy.  He began giving sermons regularly.

Page’s story up until the shooting is not an original, but a fairly common one.  His crude emotions were cultivated into concentrated hate, and what happened in Wisconsin was the fulfillment of his terrible narrative.  Allowing people the “right to hate” in a communal context is the same thing as allowing narratives similar to Page’s to be formed.  A large portion of the discussions on hate music focuses on the violence at shows; how people leave bloodied and battered.  This should be a footnote during a larger discussion of the doctrine being handed down at these concerts.  They exist as an extension of a communal commitment to avoid self-accountability.  Until this can be realized, a philosophy of misplaced hate will continue to cause violence.

In the end, we return to the cornerstone point that “People have the right to hate,” and must begin to realize that our own temple is crumbling.  This statement, which has consistently been used to curb uncomfortable debate, is decidedly problematic because it defines hate as an emotion when it should be more readily described as the beginning of a narrative headed towards violence.  We want there to be a line drawn between “I want to kill all Jews” and “I am going to kill this Jew named S—–, with this gun, at 8:00 PM tonight.”  We create this line because it is easier than beginning a dialogue; it shelters us from deep-rooted problems.  As a consistently self-affirming society, we have begun to avoid talk that, as a people, collectively, we might have gotten something wrong.  It is time to become introspective when talking about civil rights because a lack thereof allows this sore to fester.

On February 21st and August 5th, a group of three women and a man, respectively, all entered a house of worship planning to demonstrate their beliefs, all of which had been cultivated through their music.  On February 21st, everyone left the scene with his or her lives.  On August 5th, seven did not, and now it’s time to ask: Why?

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