CLEVELAND — The music speaks for itself. Songs like “Total War” and “Operation Race War” are part of the soundtrack of the White Power and White Pride Movement.
Supporters say it’s white nationalism but others say it’s rage-fueled, racist ranting – better known as hate rock.
“We see ourselves as white civil rights activists,” said Jeff Schoep, commander in the National Socialist Movement and head of their record label NSM88Records.com. “We don’t like to use the word hate. We’re not a hate group.”
But others disagree.
Arno Michaelis says, “The music was absolutely essential to maintain the level of hate that is necessary to hurt people.”
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Stop the Hate Contest
Michaelis spent years engrossed in the music, the lifestyle and the violence.
His involvement began as a teenager.
Raised in Milwaukee in an emotionally violent home, he says the White Power Movement offered him an escape and outlet for his anger.
“To me it was the ultimate means of lashing out,” said Michaelis.
Although he was a gifted child he was determined to show people a different side.
“I set out to show people how horrible I was,” said Michaelis.
And by his own admission, he was good at it.
Michaelis first immersed himself in the punk rock scene and then the skinhead subculture where he proudly tattooed racist symbols on his body.
“The fact that the swastika repulsed people was the biggest attraction for me,” said Michaelis.
He was a founding member of what went on to become the largest racist skinhead organization on Earth, a Reverend of a self-declared Racial Holy War, and lead singer of the race-metal band Centurion, selling over 20,000 CDs of the most violent, hateful music ever made around the world.
“We said we were white men and white warriors, but really we were just drunken thugs,” said Michaelis.
And they left a trail of carnage with every beat.
“There’s a night where I broke a gay man’s face with my elbow because I was drunk,” admits Michaelis.
He would then justify each brutal blow on stage in front of screaming, hostile fans.
During one concert he bellowed, “We must secure the future of the white race for the children.”
But the future of one child, a beautiful little girl, would trigger a seismic shift, softening Michaelis’ heart and rocking him to his very core.
In 1992 he became a single father to a baby girl.
After years of losing friends to prison and death he knew it was time to get out and that he could no longer hurt others.
“It was real clear to me then if I didn’t change my ways, death or prison would take me from my daughter,” said Michaelis. “I think about my daughter and how much I love her and how I would feel if somebody hurt her, and I asked myself what did that kid’s parents feel when you got done with him?”
That was the 90’s but the music and violence continues today.
At the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood, Ohio there is a map of the United States with dozens of push pins marking known locations of hate groups and organizations.
Many are located in Ohio.
Jill Rembrandt, director of education at the museum, describes it as epidemic.
“It’s unbelievable that in 2013 we’re still dealing with intolerant people,” said Rembrandt.
And the anger comes with deadly consequences.
Aug. 5, 2012, a hate rock musician named Wade Michael Page murdered six people inside a Wisconsin Sikh Temple.
The rampage occurred not far from Arno Michaelis’ former stomping ground.
Although he did not know the white supremacist, he felt a tremendous sense of responsibility.
“I had paved the way and created the environment that created him,” said Michaelis.
However, current White Power Movement leaders disagree with Arno.
Commander Schoep doesn’t see a connection between the songs produced by the National Socialist Movement record label and any acts of violence.
“Obviously there have been certain members who have done certain things but you’re gonna have that in any political group,” said Schoep.
And when asked about the blood-thirsty lyrics and racial epithets used in many of the songs he said, “Yes there are some violent lyrics in some of the music, but with the artists you have to have freedom of expression.”
He says the songs are no more aggressive than those performed by some rap artists.
“Sure it can make people uncomfortable, maybe it should make people uncomfortable. There’s a lot of boiling anger and rage in the white community, especially young white guys,” said Schoep.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says the music is more underground now, but it’s also bigger than ever in the United States and overseas, especially in countries like Germany where hate speech is illegal.
They say it remains the number one way to bring people into the separatist movement, especially young people.
That concerns Jill Rembrandt.
She works to educate families about the dangers of the violent music and hatred that it produces.
Michaelis also works tirelessly, talking to students, speaking on panels and starting two organizations and websites, LifeAfterHate.org and MyLifeAfterHate.com.
He also published a book by the same title.
“It’s really a message for everyone, regardless of their age, that decisions you make and actions you take have consequences,” said Michaelis.
He hopes young people don’t make the same mistakes he made. He says the music and violence have lifelong repercussions.
“It absolutely still haunts me,” said Michaelis. “I hurt people very seriously with my own hands.”
It’s something he struggles with everyday, and that honesty about the violence has also made him very unpopular with former comrades.
Schoep said, “I do believe he’s a traitor because he flip-flopped from one side to the other and he should know better.”
But Michaelis has made peace with his past while cultivating a better future for other at risk kids.
As for his detractors, he offers them only kindness and compassion.
“The more often you practice kindness, the better you get at it and the more able you are to offer it to people who least deserve it who are actually the people who need it most,” said Michaelis.
Click here for the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage’s Stop the Hate Contest …