Many of my friends told me later that night that was the first time they’d actually seen a Nazi in person. I wish I could say the same. I recall seeing them skulking around at underground punk shows in DC as a teen. Playing a show in Boulder in the early 00’s, some bonehead-fuck started sieg heiling on our dance floor. It was frightening. Over the years, the Denver punk community has been plagued by contingents of racist/fascist/nationalist thugs who cause violence at shows and spew hate but that behavior had seemed to ebb until recently.
Now, emboldened by Trump bringing racism and xenophobia to the forefront of American politics, these fools seem to think that they can crawl out from under their rocks and reveal themselves freely. Luckily, Denver sent them packing from the Subhumans/PEARS show the other night in a triumphant display of unity that would make Operation Ivy proud.
From accounts I’ve read online, tension began with confrontations between fans in the front pit area and a trio of very large dudes who were getting violent, throwing Nazi salutes and spewing racial epithets at people of color in the crowd. My awareness of the situation started when, while thoroughly enjoying PEARS’ set, they brushed by me to stand off to the side, remove their shirts, and flex their muscles. Though not realizing the true extent of their terrible nature, I still thought to myself, “This means some serious trouble.” At that point, I just figured they were a group of large idiots going to settle some pit beef. Only once they walked back by me did I see their swastika and “88” tattoos (since H is the 8th letter of the alphabet, Nazis use 88 to mean “Heil Hitler”). Upon noticing their flagrant display of ignorant imagery as they continued to violently terrorize the dance floor for a few more songs (resulting in a concussion for one patron and stitches for another), the entire crowd erupted.
I was right by a security guard and told him that they needed to get those guys out, and fast: either they were gonna hurt someone or someone would try to hurt them. Then, a valiant fan jumped on stage during a song, danced for the last couple seconds and then grabbed the mic to begin a chant of “Nazi Punks, Fuck Off” that soon deafeningly echoed throughout the venue. PEARS, now aware of the situation, asked security to make them leave.
While all this was going on, it turns out myself and FtLP photographer Dawn Wilson were right next to one of the Nazi’s girlfriends. She turned to us to yell that “this is America and who are you to tell them they can’t be here?” Now, I’m no patriot, but I told her that, historically, America has a real problem with Nazis and that I’m sorry she knows such shitty people but her and her Nazi friends are not welcome at any punk show in Denver. Thankfully, Denver punks, you proved my statement right. She also tried to give me the “freedom of speech” argument and I had to remind her that, while they have a right to spew vile nonsense and cover themselves in symbols of hate, we have the same equal right to tell them to fuck off and leave.
At this point, I’d like to thank the Bluebird’s security staff for managing to get them out and confronting the risk of doing so. This situation could’ve lead to a huge brawl and it’s a testament to both their actions and the complete will of the crowd that we were able to collectively eject them from the show.
Full video of the PEARS set and the ensuing conflict can be seen HERE (problems start around 20 minutes in).
For as toxic as the atmosphere was during all of this, the energy immediately following the skinheads’ ejection was the exact opposite. PEARS (although cut short by the interruption) finished strong with “Breakfast” and “Green Star,” eliciting a most joyous mosh pit from those who now felt free to celebrate the music as they’d intended. Subhumans followed by opening their set with a statement that Denver won’t be remembered as a Nazi town but as the city that thoroughly trounced these idiots through unity and non-violent rejection of their presence that completely shut down all of the aggression these boneheads were trying to incite.
However, for as proud as I am of our community for acting as one, the fear and disgust I feel is equally palpable. What can we possibly do to keep these dangerous bigots out of our scene? I have a couple suggestions:
First, we make sure our music scenes know who these fools are. So far, two of the three men from the Bluebird show have been identified. The alleged ringleader is Paul Robert Graham (currently on parole and a registered sex offender) and another alleged member is Ed Lif Nelson, a self-proclaimed member of the Soldiers of Odin (a European anti-refugee group).
I urge all venues around the country to share info within their respective scenes and 86 people like this when they’re encountered.
Speaking of venues, it is also up to venues to make sure that they’re not giving a place for racist punk/oi/metal bands to play. Just recently in New York, a neo-nazi Oi festival was scheduled, shut down after night one, then relocated for night two. Both venues claimed to not realize what had been scheduled. Side note: the NYC Oi Fest also included Denver band Total Annihilation who recently caught flack from an anti-fascist group.
I know that sometimes it’s common for talent buyers to have someone email them and basically say, “Hey, I have a lineup for a show. You host us/take your cut and we’ll play.” It’s also apparently common practice, especially for RAC (Rock Against Communism) shows, to book a couple bands that seem legit and then fill in the rest of the slots last minute to try and fly under the radar. However, in this day and age, it is unacceptable for a venue to not give even a cursory glance at who they work with. I know they get hundreds of inquiries per day, but the wondrous magic of the Internet allows them to make sure they approve of the music that serves as the face of their establishment. It’s up to them to protect both their patrons and their reputation.
Lastly, it’s up to us as a community to continue to reject the notions of racism/nationalism/xenophobia that these morons espouse and sympathizers protect. It takes a lot of guts to stand up to (often humongous) people who are aching for violent confrontation. I’d like to thank the people in the front rows for not backing down from intimidating thugs in their midst. I’d like to thank the kid who got on stage to call them out from the microphone, even though he risked being ejected from the show or becoming a target. I’d like to thank the bands for reinforcing that punk rock is a collective space for all people and that the very ideas these people hold go directly against the inclusive ideals held by so many of us. Mostly, I’d like to thank the crowd for understanding that removing these toxic people from the show was more important than simply having a good time.
Sure, fighting Nazis always seems like a good idea in the moment when your blood is boiling at the sight of them, but these idiots aren’t worth going to jail for and martyring them with a beat down only reaffirms their notions of persecution. Our refrain of “Nazi punks, fuck off” and a sea of waved middle fingers will do more to bruise these assholes than a boot to the face ever could.
If you’d like to view the joyous side of the show, you can check out our photo gallery of Subhumans, PEARS, The Rotten Blue Menace and In Loo HERE, courtesy of FtLP photographer Dawn Wilson.