Gay neofacist’s band Death in June plays Atlanta

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We’d love to tell you that Death In June’s rare Atlanta concert on Tuesday at the Earl is simply a chance to see a pioneering industrial/neofolk group with an out-and-proud gay bandleader. But truth is, Death In June is frequently protested by fellow queers and other activists over frontman Douglas Pearce’s fondness for neofascism, racism and Nazi nostalgia.

Since Pearce (better known as “Douglas P.”) founded Death In June some 30 years ago in England, it has drawn admiration for its chilly, atmospheric tunes, and controversy for its fascist tastes. Those attitudes are obvious in the band’s logo – the Nazi SS’s skull-and-crossbones insignia – and its name, an allusion to the infamous “Night of the Long Knives” on June 30, 1934, when Hitler massacred scores of political enemies. Not to mention the swastika album covers.

Yet Death In June has sneaked its way into widespread respect from underground music buffs who assume that the fascist imagery is just a pose or flirtation, as meaningful as a stupid Nicki Minaj video. Cryptic lyrics and evasive interviews help the mystique-building – this is not a slogan-spewing white-power band – and so does the naïve assumption that a gay man by definition can’t be fascist because of the Nazis persecuted gays. The group’s Atlanta appearance has drawn no complaints, local promoter Damon Hare tells Project Q Atlanta.

But anti-fascist groups around the world – including queer activists in San Francisco last year – have protested, and sometimes successfully canceled, Death In June shows. They also got the German government to ban sales of two Death In June albums for using Nazi imagery, one with the queasy title “Rose Clouds of Holocaust.” In European political circles where burgeoning neofascism and the industrial/neofolk music scenes sometimes go hand-in-hand, Death In June is active and well-regarded, activists note. And they dig up some grotesque interview quotes from Pearce in more fascist-friendly publications, like this 1998 answer to whether he’s comfortable having fans who are Eurocentric racists:

“Depending upon their version of Eurocentric Racialism, then 9 times out of 10 I feel very comfortable with it. This is how it’s supposed to be. I would like to think the Klu [sic] Klux Klan version isn’t included in this. Eurocentrics goes beyond reactionary Christian, political militias. I believe in seizing the end of time, not being a passive part of it.”

Or this answer about whether he thinks race determines people’s personalities and culture:

“I prefer to suck white, uncircumcised cocks of a certain age, so I suppose that rules out quite a few races and religions in one huge act of sexual discrimination. However, that’s natural selection for you. It follows that, of course race is important to me!”

Supporters note that Death In June performed in Israel in recent years, as if that makes him automatically anti-racist. His scant comments indicate he, like many far-right politicians, views Israel as a quasi-European bastion against the immigrants and Muslims he really dislikes.

In mainstream interviews – like a recent one with Creative Loafing – Pearce simply refuses to give straight answers, often convincing the press he’s a mysterious provocateur rather than a dodgy fascist. Pearce declined a Project Q interview request, but we doubt we’d have better luck than Creative Loafing, who asked him about the anti-fascist protests only to hear an unintelligible metaphor about “yapping dogs.” He likes to pose as leaving things open to interpretation, as if using classic Nazi logos doesn’t demand an explanation.

Contrast this with Tony Wakeford, Death In June’s now-departed cofounder, who was never so slippery – or clever, as the case may be. Wakeford was an active member of Britain’s racist National Front party in Death In June’s early days, but more recently has publicly denounced fascism, racism and homophobia (though anti-fascist activists remain skeptical).

About that gay-Nazi thing

 

Pearce, meanwhile, does cute “mysterious” stuff like decorate the Death In June website with dueling photos of Nazis in uniform and a guy holding up a T-shirt from a recent German anti-neo-Nazi campaign. Oh, and an animated rainbow pride flag.

Yeah, about that gay-Nazi thing. Considering that a real Fourth Reich surely would kill him and much of his audience, why in the world is a gay musician embracing fascism? Turns out, Pearce is just as vague talking about his gayness as he is about his politics. He frequently says his sexuality is key to Death In June, but never says how. As he told Creative Loafing:

“[Being gay] adds to Death In June. It gives it a broader depth [sic]. Naturally you don’t have to be gay to like Death In June. But it does give it an extra edge. But heterosexuals are also welcome in the Death In June congregation—we try to be a broad church of acceptance.”

Fact is, as gay journalist Johann Hari once documented in the Huffington Post, gays have led many of Europe’s fascist movements all the way back to the Nazis. Ernst Röhm, a key architect of the Nazi Party, was openly, militantly gay and ran the Nazis paramilitary SA that way. He also happened to be a top target of the Night of the Long Knives, quite likely because his sexuality was becoming a political liability in homophobic Germany.

Death In June’s Nazi fascinations, Pearce said in a 1985 interview, come from “identification with or understanding of the leftist elements of the SA, which were purged or murdered by the SS.” He claims Röhm and others who died in June were plotting to overthrow Hitler, and fantasizes about a kinder, gentler, gay-friendly Nazism that might have been.

Nutty as that is, it’s easy to see the attraction that a super-macho, all-powerful organization could have on young gay guys in search of social support. That also explains another supposed mystery: How Pearce got his musical start in a Marxist punk band. Starting in 1977, he and Wakeford were in Crisis, which played anti-racism benefits and had an anti-neo-Nazi single called “Holocaust.” Always attracted by totalitarianism, Pearce moved easily from the left-wing version to the ultra-right.

Pearce once told an interviewer that he “naturally” wonders whether he would have joined Hitler’s Nazis if he’d been alive. In lieu of that, he frequently collaborates with known neofascists, from Wakeford to fellow industrial music pioneer Boyd Rice. If there’s something crucially gay to Death In June today, it’s the air of the closet that surrounds his shyness about publicly acknowledging his group’s political identity.

If you head to the Earl on Tuesday, you probably have nothing more to worry about than whether Odin-worshiping neofolk tunes are for you. (And maybe whether your ticket dollars will end up in some neofascist European campaign coffers.) You won’t hear racist rants or recruitment pitches from Death In June. But you also won’t be witness to some provocative musical mystery – just a confused guy playing beneath a Nazi SS banner, living out his twisted fantasy of a pink Nazism that wasn’t.

Death in June performs on Tuesday, Nov. 18 at the Earl.

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