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Top "white power" music label prospers from Twin Cities home base
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A few sample CDs for bands promoted and distributed by St. Paul-based Panzerfaust Records. The band's catalog includes around 500 albums for more than 300 bands from around the world. (MPR Photo/Jeff Horwich)
The Twin Cities is one of the top music towns in the nation. But the same local scene that gave birth to Hüsker Dü, Prince, and the Jayhawks has also spawned one of the nation's biggest labels for "white power" music. Panzerfaust Records operates quietly from its home base in St. Paul, sending out racist CDs and merchandise for more than 300 bands. A look at one of Minnesota's lesser known exports.

St. Paul, Minn. — White power music doesn't have its own awards show, or an aisle in most record stores. But it's out there -- bands like Brutal Attack, Whitewash and Rebel Hell. Some songs celebrate white racial pride; others glorify beating and killing minorities; some call for a global war among the races.

The industry does not publicize sales figures, but the nation's 50 or so white power music labels will sell hundreds of thousands of CDs this year. St. Paul's Panzerfaust Records is one of the biggest of those labels -- the very biggest in terms of sales, according to the company itself.

The label is named after a Nazi antitank weapon. It arose in 1997 from an active Twin Cities skinhead music scene, centered around one nationally prominent band called Bound For Glory. (Listen to an MPR story from 10 years ago about the band.)

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Image Byron Calvert

As it grew, Panzerfaust literally helped put Minnesota on the map: The map of national hate groups put out by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The two men who run Panzerfaust make the center's list of 40 figures who are the future of what it calls "the radical right" -- a category that includes neo-Nazis, klansmen, and confederate pride groups.

One of those two men is Byron Calvert, who agreed to meet in a St. Paul park while his wife watched their three kids on the playground. "Calvert" is his middle name, and it's what he prefers to use; his given name is Bryant Cecchini. Calvert has been in and out of Minnesota since falling in with the skinhead scene here 16 years ago, at 17. Last year he left Panzerfaust's major competitor, West Virginia-based "Resistance Records", after a reported clash with its owners.

Calvert has a history as vivid as the tattoos and scars over his massive upper body, but that image belies what even his enemies say is a genuine talent for business.

What follows are the comments of Calvert along with those of Devin Burghart. Burghart runs "Turn It Down," an educational and marketing campaign against white power music.

(The audio version of this story contains multiple samples of music distributed by Panzerfaust.)

CALVERT: Panzerfaust is traditionally known as a skinhead label, as far as it's run by skinheads and is supported by people who have been skinheads for 10 or 15 years. It runs from country to folk to just traditional British working-class type music. We've got everything from the more openly, blatantly racist types of music to a lot of stuff that's more subtle.

These days the people that are moving into our circles are so musically talented. And there's literally thousands of what would be considered loosely pro-white or white power bands on the planet. There's Czech bands, Italian bands, you've got Valkyrian and you've got Saga -- female Swedish folk tunes.

BURGHART: Panzerfaust sells a multitude of different musical genres. That's part of the strategy. The strategy is to reach into different youth music subcultures and try to find a base. That's why they have such a wide variety of acts and artists, so they can appeal to a larger group.

Listening to this stuff 10 or 15 years ago, there has been a pretty marked change actually in terms of the quality of production, musicianship and in terms of the variety in which they market it. They're definitely learning the craft. Now it can't be easily dismissed as crappy punk rock.

CALVERT: Panzerfaust always had good customer relations. We turn around and send orders out the next day. They've always given away tons of free goodies to kids, if there's ever a question with an order, we resend it, that kind of stuff. I like to go to the library and read books on marketing.

There has been a pretty marked change actually in terms of the quality of production, musicianship and in terms of the variety in which they market it. They're definitely learning the craft.
- Devin Burghart, "Turn It Down"

Stickers and literature, we just jam as much stuff into a package as we can. And those kids, they know who in their school or their coworkers or family (would be interested), and they just spread the word for us.

It is growing. Like I said, we've got thousands of customers in over 40 different countries. As far as what we do on a daily basis, we don't really get into that. But I will say that over the last couple years it's probably doubled.

BURGHART: White power music has not only become the number one recruiting tool bringing people into the movement, it's also become a multimillion dollar a year international enterprise. Panzerfaust in particular spends most of their time funneling money back into the movement to fund concerts and events and literature.

CALVERT: We're probably the only genre of music I've heard of that really couldn't give two sh...couldn't give a damn if somebody came along and wanted to bootleg and download a million of our songs. It would just save use the time and trouble and hassle. I mean, it's going to get the music to more kids.

BURGHART: Many of the folks that helped found Panzerfaust were at one time or continue to be members of the Hammerskin Nation, which is a violent confederation of neo-Nazi skinheads around the country. They have a whole string of murders assaults and other crimes going back to the 1980s.

CALVERT: When you hear people say, "My gosh, you guys are associated with violence," that's just nuts. I can tell you that I have never, once, in my life, attacked anybody because of their race. I've never done it.

Obviously we don't suggest to kids that they listen to the CD and go out and do the stuff that's on the CD any more than the people that produced (the video game) Grand Theft Auto III are sued or held responsible for the rate of car thefts in the cities of America. My kid is four years old, he watches The Three Stooges and he hasn't yet poked out his brother's eye. You know what I mean?

BURGHART: We're talking about lyrics which include things like calls for violence against African Americans, gays and lesbians, Jewish folks and others in explicitly racist and anti-semitic terms. And it is some of the harshest, most vile language you can imagine.

CALVERT: The rap industry is a multibillion-dollar industry where they sing expressly about hurting white people. I don't see anybody calling them to question, asking them to justify "why."

BURGHART: We certainly agree that they've got a free speech right to sing whatever they want to sing. We also think it's also therefore important that those of us who are concerned about it, and there are many, use our first amendment rights to speak out against it.

CALVERT: Eminem and Kid Rock are not the only working-class white kids whose experience is a story that needs to be told, you know. There are a lot of other kids. Our customers here in Minnesota, if you saw them, you probably wouldn't know it. It's high school kids, girls in the suburbs.

I probably do over a hundred emails a day. And it's just nuts how many emails I get that are your average 14- or 15-year-old kid that came across us by doing an internet search, or because he saw a sticker or some friends of his told him about the label. And they go and they actually read the literature, they read the articles, they listen to the MP3s, they watch the videos, they listen to what we're saying, and it's like they just soak it up.

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