Culture  /  Oral History

Nazi Punks F**k Off

An oral history of how Black Flag, Bad Brains, and other hardcore acts reclaimed punk from white supremacists.

Deek Allen (singer, Oi Polloi): We started in 1981. We had trouble with Nazis from fairly early on, sadly.

Henry Rollins (singer, Black Flag): Some skinheads thought the punk rockers were weak or whatever, so they went to the shows to show them who the real men were.

Mike Watt (bassist, Minutemen): The first time Minutemen went overseas, Black Flag brought us over on tour. We're playing the Paradiso [in Amsterdam] in February 1983. These guys are all wearing green jackets and big boots and baldhead haircuts. With the sieg-heiling and the saluting. There must have been 20 of 'em... They started giving us the cheers and synchronized maneuvers. And we just kept playing. The way the Minutemen played was just like one big song, so they didn't really get stuff in there. We were kind of answering them with our songs.

Thor Harris (percussionist, Swans; creator, "How to Punch a Nazi" video): I remember being at shows like Scratch Acid, where skinheads would take over a mosh pit, which is generally a really friendly thing. If people fall down, other people will pick them up. And the skinheads would make it a not-friendly thing.

Rollins: Some of the punk rockers hit back, so that became a thing that went on for years. It was a mix of testosterone, Reagan, ignorance, anger, and youth. 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. It was no joke.