Springboard for Hitler
It's Sept. 2, the day before Labor Day 2001, and inside the Shack, neo-Nazis are setting up band equipment and literature tables for another Sunday show of racist rock and recruitment.
Outside the Anaheim rock club, the scene is like the red-carpet runway at a Fascist Academy Awards. Reporters, placard-waving demonstrators and a stream of Nazis mingle at the club's entrance in north Anaheim.
Club staffers say they know nothing--or that they're preparing for a wedding reception. Co-owner John Terbay emerges to talk with reporters.
Terbay and his partner, Bob Gibson, are coming out of two years of denials to begin slowly acknowledging that their club has hosted a series of Nazi get-togethers.
The candor isn't complete. "I don't know what kind of bands are playing tonight," Terbay says.
Has he had White Power shows in the past?
"Yes, we've had them," he admits. "But I'm Lebanese. If I was supporting Nazis, my whole family would be out here." Terbay points to the 35 or so protestors waving signs ("NAZIS TO THE NUTHOUSE!" "HONK IF YOU HATE NAZIS!") and chanting ("NO NAZIS, NO KKK, NO FASCIST USA!"). The libertarians are out here, as is the Jewish Defense League.
And so are the Nazis, the Klan supporters and the skinheads. By 7 p.m., security is patting down customers at the front door. The fashion sense is what you'd expect--shaved heads, sleeve tattoos, tank tops or Skrewdriver T-shirts for the men, vaguely punk or Bettie Page looks for the women. A couple of guys arrive in uniforms--black pants, black neckties and white dress shirts with Confederate-flag patches on the shoulder (one pauses just before entering the Shack to give protestors the Heil Hitler salute). A woman with Tragic Kingdom-era Gwen Stefani blond hair, a white tank top and blue jeans rolled up at the cuffs pulls up in a Saturn, unloads a guitar case, glares at a protestor, and says, "If I wasn't pregnant, I'd kick your ass."
As darkness falls and the 8 p.m. show time nears, a muscled, tank-and-tats-sporting skinhead comes to the door to talk with reporters. His tattoos are pretty elaborate, but the SS emblems are unmistakable. He says his name is Tommy Romero (which may or may not be true--many of today's neo-Nazis are stingy with their last names) and says he's promoting tonight's show.
Romero says, "We have a right to free assembly and freedom of speech just like everybody else," that the Shack has hosted "from eight to 10 shows here, and there has been not one single incident," and that he represents the skinhead movement.
He hands out a statement titled "The Fascists Amongst Us." "It is difficult to imagine that at the dawn of the new millennium, censorship is rearing its ugly head once again," the statement reads. It goes on to complain that protestors outside the Shack are the real fascists, trying to stop neo-Nazis from exercising their right to peaceably assemble. "We will not allow ourselves, as freethinking individuals, to conform to their McCarthy-era style of Fascism. . . We've held many shows in the past without any incidents, and we will continue to do so."
Clandestine White Power shows aren't unheard of in Orange County. What's weird is that a commercial venue like the Shack would host one--or, rather, several since the club underwent an ownership change in February 1999.
Terbay and Gibson have offered evolving responses: (1) they have denied such shows ever took place; (2) they have said they are not sure White Power bands perform at their club because they're not much interested in the politics of their bands and can't understand the lyrics; and (3) they have said the shows have gone on, but hey, it's a free country, even for Nazis.
No. 3 is undoubtedly true, but it contradicts Nos. 1 and 2. And the Shack's fear of publicity raises questions about its commitment to No. 3, regarding which, let's say this: for two years, ending around the night of Sept. 2, the Shack's ownership worked assiduously to keep the Nazi shows top secret, staging most of them on unadvertised Sunday afternoons, referring to them as "private parties." Interviews with the Shack's owners, staff and representatives of anti-hate activist organizations make one thing clear: the shows were going on, but management didn't want the publicity.
And until recently, they succeeded in maintaining a low profile. Word that the Shack had become OC's Nuremberg-rally center got out just last month when an e-mail announcing an Aug. 19 Nazi fund-raiser fell into the hands of anti-racist groups. Mass-mailed by Blood & Honour and the Costa Mesa chapter of Women for Aryan Unity, the e-mail claimed the Shack would host supremacist bands Youngblood, Hate Crime and Warfare88 (H being the eighth letter of the alphabet, "88" is skinhead slang for "Heil Hitler"). The show would raise money for a compilation CD featuring like-minded pro-Nazi groups and, as the e-mail stated, "recruit all whites who are not already part of our great movement. Included with the CD will be literature and information to get these young white kids on the right track to discovering the truth." The e-mail suggested that people supporting the racist cause would be flying in from other states to attend.
LA-based Anti-Racist Action got hold of the e-mail and sent out a call to demonstrate, claiming that white supremacists have been showing up "at the Shack . . . for some months and laughing about the lack of opposition."
But on Aug. 19, there was no Nazi show, just a group of about 50 sign-waving anti-Nazi demonstrators, a TV camera crew, and a sizeable fleet of marked and unmarked Anaheim Police cars. There were no Nazis, skinheads, fascists, brownshirts, Klansmen or bigots--though the driver of an SUV sped past, waved an indistinguishable banner and shouted, "White power!"
A sign posted on the Shack's front door read, "Sorry for the inconvenience. The Shack would like everyone to know there is no show of any kind scheduled for Aug. 19, 2001, private or otherwise, and never was. We were not aware, nor can we control, what people put on the Web page." By late afternoon, someone had written on that sign, "The Shack supports Nazis."
In fact, the Shack was well aware that a White Power show had been scheduled for that day. Anaheim police say they called club management. Anti-racist activists say they did, too. Michael Novick of People Against Racist Terror says he spoke directly with a Shack owner who identified himself as Bob.
"He was real evasive," says Novick. "He said [the Shack's owners] couldn't be racists because he was married to a Mexican woman and his partner was Lebanese. He claimed that the show had been set up without their permission." When Novick asked Bob if the club had ever booked White Power shows, Bob pleaded ignorance, saying he doesn't understand the lyrics to most songs and that the bands he books are simply popular with the kids.
Until it was canceled, the Aug. 19 White Power fund-raiser was also all over racist websites. A July 29 posting on supremacist Tom Metzger's White Aryan Resistance website said Shack concertgoers should be wary: "Public gatherings are risky both physically and the fact that all such events are infiltrated heavily by Jew law enforcement both local and federal."
(Metzger himself was a special guest at the Shack during a June 24 White Power fest. According to one review of the show, OC-based rockabilly band Youngland dedicated their song "Thank God I'm a White Boy" to Metzger, who "couldn't resist running through the mosh pit with us and knocking into everybody for a few songs." He has also appeared at least one other time at a Shack White Power show).
Despite the calls and publicity, the Shack's denials continued until Sept. 2. Some Shack employees said Terbay and Gibson had often misled them. A freelance technician (who spoke on condition of anonymity) told the Weekly that one of the Shack's owners asked him months ago to work a Sunday White Power show but "didn't explain what the situation was and stuff. He was kind of evasive, but I took it anyway. When the show was going on, I remember a line of people in front of the stage who were Sieg Heiling. There were also KKK guys wearing white shirts with KKK emblems."
Another worker hired by the Shack (who also requested anonymity) was more turned off by the sight of children at the White Power shows. "There were kids, some who looked about 10 years old, up on the stage Sieg Heiling," he recalled. "That really made me cringe."
These days, Terbay and Gibson have dropped the denials. Now they say White Power shows are merely good business and evidence of their commitment to free speech. So why cancel the Aug. 19 show? "A band didn't make it," Terbay says. Or "one of the girls putting the 19th show on was recruiting, and we're not gonna make the Shack a recruiting place." What about the fact that reviews of shows dating back to 1999 suggest recruiting has been a regular feature of the Shack's White Power shows? Hasn't Terbay seen the literature tables inside his club? "Yeah," Terbay says, "I've seen literature there."
If you had to rattle off a list of current OC-area live-music clubs in less than 10 seconds (obvious answers: Chain Reaction, Gypsy Lounge, the Glass House, Din Din at the Bamboo Terrace, Lotus Lounge, Blue Cafe, DiPiazza's, Coach House, the Galaxy Concert Theatre, the Hub, Koo's Art Cafe, House of Blues, Sun Theatre, Tiki Bar, Club Mesa), the Shack probably wouldn't make the cut. It's almost hidden, located just north of the 91 freeway at 1160 Kraemer Blvd. in an unassuming Anaheim neighborhood of small-industry warehouses and business parks. And on its best-publicized nights, the place is alive with the sound of music for people who never quite got over the demise of radio stations KMET and KNAC. Before Terbay and Gibson took over in 1999, local bands played the club; since their takeover, the Shack has acquired a rep for hosting two kinds of bands: C-grade '80s hairspray acts tumbling deep into obscurity (think Bang Tango, LA Guns and Enuff Z'nuff) and campy tribute bands like the Atomic Punks, who specialize in David Lee Roth-era Van Halen.
And now Nazis. Even after the Aug. 19 debacle, even while they planned the Sept. 2 show, Gibson and Terbay denied knowledge of the White Power shows at the Shack. But counterevidence was mounting. Go to the website of West Virginia-based Resistance Records, which bills itself as "The soundtrack for white revolution." (The label is owned by William Pierce, author of the infamously racist novel The Turner Diaries, often regarded as seminal reading for Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh.) On that site, you'll find a review of a June 24 White Power show headlined by Brutal Attack. The review says the show took place "in Orange County, California, the Skinhead capitol [sic] of the world. The event was put on by American Front with the help of Vinland's Viking Security team. Resistance Records, Panzerfaust Records and Vinland Records all were present with merchandise tables set up. White kindred from all over the world came to witness what was possibly the greatest show the U.S. has ever seen."
The accompanying photos suggest it was a packed house that Sunday afternoon. Scowling, burly young Caucasian males with all-over body tats yelp into microphones. Angry white boys tussle with one another in the mosh pit. A band's guitarist picks away at a Gibson, on which "Orange County" is stenciled in old-English lettering. Most of the men in the crowd sport the standard skinhead uniform of closely-cropped Marine Corps hair, while the women appear attentive and rather shocking in their ordinariness; any one of them could be that sweet-smiling woman who checks your groceries at Albertson's or occupies that coveted office cubicle near the window.
But the greatest show ever? The photos are pretty typical concert shots--save for one in which several concertgoers salute Nazi style beneath a banner that clearly reads, THE SHACK.
The earliest evidence of a Shack White Power show is a review of a Dec. 18, 1999, show on the website of Youngland. Here, too, a photo of the band includes the Shack banner behind the stage.
But the review is more valuable because it provides at least one description of the Shack's evolution. Like most struggling acts, the review acknowledges, White Power bands have a tough time landing paying gigs; unlike most struggling acts, White Power bands have the additional burden of Adolf Hitler. For this reason, the review says, "What has to happen is plenty of logic and deception on the part of the bands to get on the stage." What sort of logic and deception? At this point, the review becomes a kind of Mein Kampf for the stage: "The way this show was booked was to frequent the club, make friends with the person booking shows, then call him up and say . . . 'Hey, Bro, I got a couple of bands that want to play; do you have any open shows?' On this occasion, the guy feel [sic] for it hook, line and sinker! He put all three bands on Saturday night as the headlining acts! . . . I think there was a look of concern on the promoters [sic] face when he saw 100 skinheads in his club."
But it's doubtful that look was really one of concern; Shack co-owners Gibson and Terbay say they will book just about anybody--as long as they behave themselves.
"We don't call them White Power bands, just rock bands," Gibson told the Weekly. "It's all just rock & roll. We don't cater to any specific group. I hire bands to entertain, not push their views. Our goal is to provide entertainment. We're accused of being racist. We're not racist. I don't put labels on people. You don't know what kinds of bands you got until they get here. We would say no to any group that causes problems."
And the White Power bands don't cause problems? "People are real respectful," he says. "We've had more compliments than complaints."
"We've been doing those kinds of bands for two years now," says Terbay. (He also says he has been present at every White Power gig the Shack has put on.) "We don't believe everything that the people who come into the Shack believe. But it's all about music. We give everybody a chance. We got black rap shows on Thursdays. We got an Oriental fraternity from UC Irvine come in. We never turn anybody away. It's all about business. We'll put on a show by anybody. Hell, I'd even give the people who protest us a show. And we're not racist. I'm full-bred Lebanese. I'm a brown man."
The local racist rock scene exists outside the Shack, of course. There's Radio White, the Orange-based, Internet music website that claims more than 100,000 hits. And there are such local bands as Extreme Hatred, whose Have A Nice Day album features a World War II-era photo of a German soldier shooting a man in the back of the head; superimposed on the soldier's head is a yellow smiley face. OC's Aggressive Force plays such hits as "It's Okay to Be White" and "OC Belongs to Me." And Youngland have this to say on their website: "OC is kind of unique because there are a lot of racialists here that aren't skinheads. We have supporters among the surfer, skater, rockabilly and punk scenes. Although most are not active in the movement, they are always willing to lend a helping fist in time of need."
White Power music is full of lyrics Joseph Goebbels would admire. "We hear the slogan 'White people awake, save our great race' twice per chorus, eight times in total throughout an entire song," wrote Resistance Records founder George Burdi of one track. "And if they play that tape five times a week and just listen to that one song, they're listening 40 times in one week, which means 160 times a month, and you do the math beyond that."
Whether Terbay and Gibson want to admit it, the Shack is now playing a major part in getting out the message. Because of the steady White Power gigs, Nazi/supremacist types have shown up regularly at the Shack on other, non-Nazi nights, giving the impression that outsiders aren't welcome. One young woman says she was at the Shack on a recent weekday night and "bolted out of there once I saw the kind of crowd that was hanging out."
Beyond the ethical problems, that might promise serious business trouble for the club.
"No club I know would ever book shows like that," says Chain Reaction booker Ron Martinez. "If nothing else, it's bad for business."
"They're going to have to face the fact that there's probably going to be an extensive boycott of the club," says Novick of People Against Racist Terror.
Abandoning denials for the higher cause of free speech and free markets, Terbay and Gibson offer no sign of surrender. Ditto for their skinheaded guests. The review of the June 24 Shack show ends with the ominous promise "Everyone in attendance seemed to understand how important it is for us to be able to leave behind our confrontational mindsets once in a while for us to come together with our people and celebrate the continuing success and growth of the White Racialist Movement. We look forward to the next show in OC."