This article is part of our series 'Nice Song, What's It About?,' where we revisit old greats and go deep to get the stories behind them. To see the column's archive, click here.
Earlier this year Richard Spencer, a prominent figure in the "alt-right" movement, was punched in the face while giving an interview in Washington. Besides spawning a number of "punch a Nazi" memes, the whack opened a moral and practical debate as to whether force is ever justified in order to stop the racist far-right.
Propagandhi are long time proponents of Nazi punching and since forming in Manitoba in 1986, the Canadian punks have brought an emphatic anti-fascist message to their music. This was never so clearer than on "The Only Good Fascist Is A Very Dead Fascist", a track that appeared on their 1996 album Less Talk, More Rock.
Like most of Propagandhi's music there's a good dose of sarcasm and humour riding alongside the message in "The Only Good Fascist Is A Very Dead Fascist". As well as asking "Just what exactly are the great historical accomplishments of your race that make you proud to be white?" the song contains lines such as "You can wear my nuts on your Nazi chins" and ends with "Kill them all and let a Norse god sort 'em out."
Twenty-one years after the song's release we called Propagandi's Chris Hannah to get his update on Nazi punching.
Noisey: Is it ever ok to punch a Nazi?
Chris Hannah: Wow. (laughs) I don't know. Let's ask our grandparents and those who fought in World War Two. I think it needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis. There's all sorts of people who could be the subject of the punch. I remember an experience we had at the Dachau Memorial in Germany, where a kid, obviously dressed as a right wing nazi skinhead was running around with a swastika. I ran after him and was going to kill him and when I got to him I realise that he could be around 12. He was with a social worker, who had brought him to the camp to try and show him what Nazism did to Germany. The kid was trembling in fear. It wasn't just me it was my band mates too who had chased him down and were about to lay the boots into this person who had dared to wear a swastika at Dachau. The social worker pleaded that we leave him alone and I wasn't about to punch a kid, so there's an example that immediately muddies the waters.
We have to be careful about blanket endorsements of violence and I say that as someone who has been sucked in and found the allure of that redemptive violence before. That's not somewhere we want to go. Whatever violence we feel we have to engage in we have to be smart about it and we have to reflect about it and find out what our motives really are. There's a social media tendency to poo poo on anyone who asks the question does the violence always make sense. But then on the other hand I think there's a lot of other examples where we can't withdraw from street engagements that turn violent.
Do you remember writing "The Only Good Fascist Is A Very Dead Fascist"?
Yes, I remember it well. I remember the punk house in Winnipeg, I remember the dining room we set up to write it and then I remember being in the studio when we recorded it.
We were trying to work out how to end the song and I asked everyone if they thought "Kill them all and let a Norse god sort 'em out." would be a funny. Everyone burst out laughing and I thought, "OK we're done. This is the song." It was tongue in cheek though and serious. Partially because it was these frail 24-year-olds talking about fighting racists and I think these blanket endorsements of violence, it drives me crazy when it comes from people who have never been in a real fight. You have to have been in a fight to understand what it's like to be in a fight and how things can go, the level of fear and exhilaration.
The Dead Kennedy's wrote "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" as a response to racists infiltrating the San Fransisco punk scene in the early 80s. Were there many Nazis in the Winnipeg scene in the mid 90s?
Across Canada there was an organised subculture of Nazi skinheads and the Winnipeg scene where we played was dominated by skinheads. Part of the reason we started the band and wrote the songs we did was to defy those skinheads. But it was a weird scene, they would physically dominate a show but they weren't all necessary Nazis. They rode this line of, "Oh we listen to Screwdriver but not the racist records." There was so much of that 90s scene drama about the whole thing but the Nazis were very real.
Your current Prime Minister seems like a squeaky clean poster boy.
Our current Prime Minister is a PR success in terms of placating global liberalism, especially in comparison to someone like Trump. But at the same time a lot of it is just posturing and PR. The most critical issue Canada should be facing moving forward is its relationship with the indigenous community from whom we stole and cheated this land from.
A different kind of fascist?
Back then we were dealing with skinheads and Nazis infiltrating the music scene, whereas now, looking back I understand that to be almost trivial compared to the de facto white supremacist colonial/settler state we live in. We had some of that analysis back then but it's really only in recent years due to the resurgence of indigenous resistance movements in Canada and abroad and things like the Black Lives Matter movement. I'm 46-years old and I'm still waking up to the reality that we live in a true de facto white supremacy. The fascists are still there. They just dress differently.
Propagandhi's new album 'Victory Lap' is available Sept 29 on Epitaph.