Coronavirus has wiped out live music scenes around the world — but it's not always a bad thing. Among the cultural casualties of the pandemic is Europe’s neo-Nazi music scene, depriving the continent’s far-right networks of a significant income stream and an important recruiting ground.
Researchers who monitor the scene say that at least six major neo-Nazi festivals scheduled to be held since March have been cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic in Italy, Germany, Hungary, Ukraine, and Serbia. They include events like Fortress Europe, a two-night event in Kyiv, where experts say as many as 1,000 neo-Nazi music fans were expected to gather later this month to hear 12 acts from Germany, Italy, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.
The loss of such major festivals — as well countless other smaller concerts in Europe’s underground neo-Nazi music scene — is expected to have a significant disruptive impact on far-right networks. Besides being networking hubs for far-right extremists to meet, recruit and make plans, the concerts are a critical source of income for far-right extremists, according to experts.
“If you’re looking at the old-school neo-Nazis, then it’s the most important revenue stream for the scene,” Miro Dittrich, a researcher for the German far-right monitoring group Amadeu Antonio Foundation, told VICE News.
“A lot of money comes from these concerts and gets reinvested in the scene.”
Thorsten Hindrichs, a musicologist at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz who specializes in far-right music subcultures, said while the largely underground nature of the scene meant that researchers could only estimate its economic value, it was clearly substantial to the far-right. “They don’t have too many other opportunities to make money,” he said.
In Germany alone, the government estimated 35,000 people attended far-right concerts in 2018; Hindrichs figures that if each spent 40 euros on their night out, that would account for an industry worth 1.4 million euros ($1.54 million.)
Tickets for Fortress Europe, which Hindrichs said had previously drawn about 1,000 attendees, sold for $37, which alone would rake in tens of thousands of dollars before merchandise and other sales.
The festival, organized by the Kyiv-based music label Militant Zone and far-right clothing brand Svastone, has now been pushed back by over a year to June 2021 to feature the original lineup, including the Ukrainian “National Socialist black metal” band M8L8TH, the German “National Socialist hardcore” band Path of Resistance, and Bronson, an Italian hardcore band affiliated with the neo-fascist Casa Pound movement.
At Asgardsrei, a neo-Nazi festival organized by the same promoters and held at the same venue in December, concertgoers were captured on camera giving Nazi salutes, chanting “Sieg Heil,” and displaying white power symbols like the Nazi black sun and the Celtic cross, according to a Bellingcat investigation. (Fortress Europe organizers did not respond to a request for comment from VICE News.)
Experts say these events — many of which are clandestine affairs whose location is announced only on Telegram groups, and where mobile phones are banned — play an integral role in Europe’s extreme-right networks, ideologically as well as financially. As Europe’s far-right has become more assertive in recent years, the scale and production values of many events have grown, with some now incorporating mixed-martial arts tournaments to capitalize on the sport’s growing popularity among far-right extremists, said Dittrich.
“These concerts are hugely important for recruiting people, for far-right extremist groups to meet up, start gangs, talk about violent actions,” he said. “It’s one of their main offline spaces where they can meet others they know are ideologically on their side.”
The music and politics “go hand in hand,” said Hindrichs. “You rarely have a far-right musician who isn’t also an activist.”
Much of the money raised gets plowed back into far-right networks, to finance political material and organizing events, cover legal fees for extremists who fall afoul of the law, or even purchase property. Hindrichs said far-right extremists saw the success of such events as essential to their ability to build sustainable political networks; at a huge far-right concert attended by about 6,000 people in the German town of Themar in 2017, the far-right activist Axel Schlimper was filmed explaining to the crowd the importance of such events to their politics.
“Only our commercial success enables us to build up structures that function sustainably, and we have done this here,” he said on the video.
Hindrichs said that with live concerts impossible during lockdowns, many far-right acts have pivoted — like the broader music industry — to live-streamed online performances. In recent weeks, two members of Kategorie C — a veteran German far-right act associated with the hooligan scene — played a socially-distanced online concert. According to Hindrichs, their short set didn’t include their recent coronavirus-themed single, released in collaboration with other far-right artists, that begins with the lyrics “Crept out of a lab in Wuhan” and continues: “Mankind is in jail.”
“The lyrics are basically saying this is a perfect opportunity for the government to keep us under control even more,” explained Hindrichs.
He said while the artists might hope to generate extra merchandise sales through their online sets, they wouldn’t nearly make up for the lost revenue from live shows. “It’s mostly symbolic: ‘We’re still here, we’re still alive, even under lockdown we’re still making music and we’re still Nazis,’” said Hindrichs.
But while the pandemic is expected to hit the far-right scene hard in the short term, impacting its ability to fundraise, and network and recruit offline, neither expert expected the blow to be a fatal one. Dittrich said there were already indications the pandemic was having a radicalizing impact, with conspiracy theories flourishing and far-right-influenced anti-lockdown protests emerging in Germany, while economic hardship, on the rise amid the lockdowns, was a well-established factor in radicalization.
“This will hurt them, but it won’t destroy the networks,” Hindrichs said.
Cover: Concert-goers at the neo-Nazi "Shield and Sword" festival, held on the anniversary of Hitler’s birthday on April 21, 2018 in Ostritz, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)