These days, it’s difficult to punch a Nazi without getting bogged down in some sort of philosophical debate about whether or not it’s OK to punch Nazis. But back in the early days of hardcore punk, when neo-Nazi and skinhead factions started invading the scene, the conversation was a lot shorter. The general feeling towards these encroaching fascists was succinctly summarized in the Dead Kennedy’s song “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” Recently, GQ published an oral history on this issue, in which bands discuss how they and their fans reclaimed a scene that was once at risk of being overrun.
“Some of these guys were just lightweight followers and would only attack in groups, but a lot of them were genuine bad guys who were into Clockwork Orange-scale violence,” said Henry Rollins, describing the type of individuals that started showing up to Black Flag shows in the 1980s. These groups were known for disrupting shows, starting fights in the audience, or attacking the band directly if they felt they weren’t being supported. “It was no joke.”
Over the years, established punk clubs like City Gardens in Trenton, New Jersey, became the battlegrounds for a war between gangs of jackbooted thugs and the bands’ established anti-fascist fans who weren’t about to take any of this shit. But the Nazi punk phenomenon wasn’t just confined to the United States as bands were confronted with similar factions in Amsterdam, Estonia, and Australia.
“It mostly got policed by the rest of us. We all had our eyes on [skinheads], and if they hurt someone in the mosh pit, quickly we would drag them out and kick them out of the show,” said former Swans drummer Thor Harris, who knows a thing or two about punching Nazis.
Obviously, this oral history is written with the awareness that far-right, pro-fascist groups are making a comeback in America, and the desire to punch them in the face is strong. With that in mind, we end with some words of caution from Mr. Rollins: “Now, people should avoid physical confrontation. When I was young, it was a bloody nose, the occasional stabbing. Now it’s a gun under the car seat… Protesters must realize that a lot of these guys come prepared to goad you into a fight. They’re often more ready than you will ever be.”