The National Action Trial, Nazi Fetishism, and the Neo-folk Conundrum

Pictured: left, Adam Thomas in KKK robes holding his son and, right, Claudia Patatas and Thomas with their son, holding a Nazi flag. (Source: CNN)

The recent trial of Oxfordshire-based neo-Nazi couple Adam Thomas and Claudia Patatas, who were both found guilty of being members of the banned terrorist group National Action, has once again plunged the extreme right into the headlines in Britain. Patatas, 38, and Thomas, 22, have become easy targets for tabloid sensationalism. These are fanatics who conformed to the most cartoonish stereotypes of contemporary neo-Nazis that one could imagine. They named their baby Adolf, decorated their home with Nazi regalia and Swastika cushions, and occasionally dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes. Such clearly fetishistic behaviours may be easy to ridicule, but the arsenal of weapons the couple kept at home – including crossbows and machetes – should be evidence enough that cultic fascination with the trappings of the Third Reich could potentially lead to serious acts of violence.

Where should one draw the line between fetishisation and serious ideological affiliation with fascism? Do those who fetishise the symbolism of the extreme right have to be members of terrorist organisations like National Action in order to be considered threats to society? Is it possible for powerful obsessions with fascism to be entirely apolitical? Such questions seem particularly pertinent in the cultural realm, where exercises in what Saul Friedländer would call “Nazi kitsch” remain relatively common, even in the mainstream (take Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 film Inglorious Basterds as a case in point). Underground music culture, in particular, is worthy of examination in this light. Experts in analysing right-wing extremism have already devoted much attention to the rise of explicitly neo-fascist forms of music, such as the punk-based Blood & Honour movement. There is, however, at least as much (if not far more) to be said about underground music cultures that claim to be apolitical whilst providing a haven for artists with a noticeably fetishistic interest in fascist ideas and aesthetics.

That this is the case may appear especially true in light of revelations, made on a Tumblr blog entitled Harsh Reality (https://harsherreality.tumblr.com), that Patatas was a keen devotee of the neo-folk music scene. Neo-folk, a genre of contemporary folk music that arose out of post-punk and industrial cultures in Britain in the 1980s, provides a clear example. Dominated by artists singing about esoteric traditions and European history, neo-folk has long appeared a little too interested in fascism. Scholar Anton Shekhovtsov points, in particular, to neo-folk’s none-too-subtle fascination with the ideas of Julius Evola, the self-described “superfascist” and intellectual doyen of European neo-fascism. It is on this basis that Shekhovtsov suggests that some neo-folk acts offer a form of “metapolitical fascism”, and are attempting to generate support for radical right ideas through nominally apolitical cultural outputs.[1] Others defend neo-folk bands on the basis that their interests are purely fetishistic or philosophical.[2]

The case of the original (and perhaps definitive) neo-folk act Death in June, formed in London in 1981, is particularly relevant in the case of Patatas. Death in June, largely a solo project directed by Douglas Pearce, has never been openly political. The project’s aesthetic has, however, always been dominated by references to Nazism. Pearce continues to this day to wear a uniform clearly modelled on SS camouflage gear when playing live, and the Death in June website still proudly displays (as part of the band’s logo) a Totenkopf (or “death’s head”), very much like that used in SS insignia. Pearce has been accused of Holocaust denial through the title track to the 1995 album Rose Clouds of Holocaust, and Death in June’s 1987 album Brown Book even includes a cover of the “Horst Wessel Lied”, the official Nazi Party anthem. In Germany, these two records have seen Death in June run into problems with the law. It has been illegal to sell Rose Clouds of Holocaust to German minors since 2005, whilst the sale of Brown Book is illegal altogether. In statements and interviews over the course of his career, Pearce has veered between dismissing allegations that he is a fascist and courting such accusations by making controversial comments about the make-up of European society.

Whilst claims that Patatas is a close associate of Pearce – by contributing photography to some of Death in June’s more recent releases – are difficult to verify at this juncture, there is little doubting that Patatas is a fan. Screenshots taken from her personal Facebook page (and posted on the Harsh Reality Tumblr page) include a photograph of her beaming alongside Pearce, apparently after a 2012 Death in June gig in Camden. Tony Wakeford, a co-founder of Death in June who later – following a stint in the National Front that he supposedly regrets – started the neo-folk group Sol Invictus, is one of the commenters on the photograph. Patatas also appears to have been connected to several other neo-folk musicians on social media.

That Patatas has long been a devotee of their music, alongside her neo-Nazi allegiances, does not in any way mean that Death in June (or any other neo-folk act) can be proven to be supportive of radical right agendas. Patatas’ admiration for this style of music does, however, significantly indicate that the intent behind neo-folk is irrelevant when it comes to assessing its potential political impact. By fetishising fascism, as Death in June and numerous other neo-folk acts undoubtedly have, artists are, in a sense, keeping it alive. It is not hard to see how, for the likes of Patatas, who seemingly spent her daily life surrounded by Nazi symbols in an attempt to live out her political beliefs, neo-folk may come to represent a form of cultural validation for extremist views.

There is no easy solution here. Underground music cultures can certainly make more of an effort to police themselves in order to keep out extremists, but subcultures that thrive on ideas of transgression cannot simply be purged of controversial imagery. Equally, in 2018 – with the radical right reasserting itself more visibly than at any previous point in the post-war period – we must be mature enough to point out that ambiguous use of fascist imagery is not intelligent and is (at best) irresponsible.[3]

Mr Benjamin Bland is an Early Career  Researcher Fellow at CARR and a Doctoral candidate at Department of History, Royal Holloway, University of London. His profile can be found here.

© Benjamin Bland. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).

References

[1] Anton Shekhovtsov, “Apoliteic Music: Neofolk, Martial Industrial and ‘Metapolitical Fascism’”, Patterns of Prejudice vol. 43, no. 5 (2009), 431-57.

[2] See, for example: Andreas Diesel & Dieter Gerten, Looking for Europe: The History of Neofolk, trans. Markus Wolff (Zeltingen-Rachtig: Index Verlag, 2013).

[3] For more on this theme, see an ongoing series of essays published by The Quietus: http://thequietus.com/articles/25682-fascism-underground-music-racism-industrial-black-metal-noise/.

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