Oak Creek Wisconsin’s Gurdwara Shooting and the Influence of (Hate) Music

The horrific crime committed at a Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in which a gunman opened fire on worshippers, quickly emerged as a hate crime committed by a white supremacist who is the leader of a “hate-rock” band.  Interestingly, I haven’t seen much press speculating about the link between punk,heavy metal, violence, and white supremacy.  On the other hand, many commonly believe that rap music is tied to urban violence and misogyny.  Research done nearly twenty years ago showed that press coverage of black-identified rap music most frequently described it as dangerous to society, while press coverage of white-identified heavy metal music most frequently warned of the dangers to the consumers themselves (presumably, ‘our’ white children).  The case shows that when a crime is committed by a white man, as in the case of the gurdwara shootings, he does not serve to represent his race group (rightly so), even though the crime was highly racialized and linked to an ideology of white supremacy.

Still, lest readers think I believe more should be made of a link between heavy metal, punk, and white supremacist ideology, let me be clear that I feel certain that Wade Page and his kind of rock music is a very small slice of the diversity of heavy metal and punk music and its consumers.  The vast majority of music consumers don’t read much into lyrics.  In my book Balancing Acts, I surveyed and interviewed teenagers and found that most said the music they listen to (mostly hip-hop, in the urban schools I studied) says very little about who they are.  In fact, the most common response was that the music they listen to led people to misunderstand who they are and what they are really like.

The influence of cultural consumption on our behaviors is complex and difficult to assess.  In the case of extreme views and behaviors that are racialized, ideology probably comes first, and leads individuals to consume music associated with their views.  That is, the cultural scripts associated with, for example, white supremacist ideology, include consuming “hate rock”, rather than discovering “hate rock” and the lyrics influencing individuals to violence.