Those neo-Nazis attacked ‘other … religions’?

One of the nation’s top religion writers looked at the following Washington Post story that ran the other day and his/her head almost exploded after reading the lede.

So, put on your GetReligion-reader hat and take a look at this one, which ran under this headline: “Wade Michael Page was steeped in neo-Nazi ‘hate music’ movement.” And here is the top of the story, just to establish the context for the lede:

Whatever caused Wade Michael Page to massacre worshipers at a Wisconsin Sikh temple on Sunday may never be known. But this much is clear: For at least a decade, he had been steeped in a neo-Nazi “hate music” scene that espouses white power and racial superiority and occasionally promotes violent acts against people of other races and religions.

The existence of this music subculture surprised many Americans, but law enforcement agencies and civil rights organizations that monitor hate groups have been paying attention to these groups and their followers since the genre began to emerge in the United States in the early 1980s. The Anti-Defamation League estimates that there are approximately 100 to 150 active or semi-active bands that perform and release such music in the United States.

Aiming to energize followers and intimidate others, many of these bands boast names that favor shock over subtlety — Jew Slaughter, Grinded Nig, Angry Aryans, Ethnic Cleansing.

OK, did you spot the issue in the lede?

What we are facing is a simple matter of logic. Let’s look at the hot phrase, once again, in which we are told that Page was associated with the whole neo-Nazi rock scene that “espouses white power and racial superiority and occasionally promotes violent acts against people of other races and religions.”

So what did our religion-beat pro see in that (and I certainly agree with this criticism)?

Religions “other” than what? Is he implying that these folks are Christian? Does he mean other than Teutonic pagans? Inquiring minds want to know, but this story never elaborates on that lede, other than to mention anti-semitism.

In other words, the neo-Nazis have been known to commit violence against believers in religious faiths other than their own. Thus, the question: What is the faith of the neo-Nazi groups? What is the name of that faith? How is it described? Are they Pagans, evangelicals, ex-Catholics, liberal mainline Protestants or what?

The Post story never goes there and that is the problem. This leaves a large and dangerous hole in the report.

To be specific, this story is missing some very important facts. This is another case in which, to return to that Poynter.org diversity-and-ethics essay by Aly Colon (“Preying Presbyterians?“) that I quote so often, the editors have failed to produce a story that connects “faith to facts.”

As you may recall, Colon writes:

“As journalists, we choose words carefully and conscientiously. We select nouns and adjectives to advance the story. We connect dots. We make points. We clarify. We explain,” wrote Colon. “So when I see the word ‘Presbyterian,’ I expect an explanation somewhere in the story that tells me why I need to know that. I would expect the same if other terms were used, such as ‘Catholic,’ ‘Episcopalian,’ ‘Christian,’ ‘Hindu,’ ‘Jew,’ ‘Mormon,’ ‘Hindu,’ ‘Buddhist,’ ‘Muslim’ or ‘Pagan.’ “

In this case, the Post team did not use a label — other than the vague term “religion” — but set up a sequence of logic that implied one. Is the implication that the neo-Nazis are a religion in and of themselves? If so, that is something that needs to be shown, not assumed. Are the neo-Nazis a twisted version of another religion that they have, in practice, rejected? That would also need to be demonstrated — connecting the faith language (or this implication) to on-the-record facts.

Once again, what we are talking about is a process called “journalism.” This story failed to do the basics — about a subject raised in the lede.

In. The. Lede.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    Ouch. This is one case where knowing too much a Nazi religion had me glide right over the problem word without realizing that I probably understood the passage quite differently from its author.

  • JoeMerl

    A slight difference in phrasing—”promotes violent acts against people of other races and religious minorities,” for example—would have been better, if still leaving something of a hole.

  • http://www.post-gazette.com Ann Rodgers

    I don’t think “religious minorities” would solve the problem because it implies that the neo-Nazis are part of the Christian majority. I’m no expert on the movement, but my understanding is that most neo-Nazis are Nordic pagans, so would themselves be a religious minority.
    Perhaps the phrase we wanted was “Jews and Muslims.” But I suspect that not knowing the shooter’s bias led to the inaccurately vague phrasing the reporter opted for. Given the lack of facts available, I think he should have left religion out of the lede but had a sentence below it saying something like, “He is known to have written derogatory songs about Jews and many neo-Nazis now rant against Muslims. It’s unknown if he attacked Oak Creek temple in order to kill Sikhs or whether, as has happened in other violent incidents, he mistook them for Muslims.”

  • Chris Atwood

    How about we just admit that religion had nothing to do with it? I know of no neo-Nazis who will cut blacks slack because they’re Christian. Does any one else? The only religious issue neo-Nazis care about is hating Jews, and even them they hate as a race, not as a religion. (No, “Messianic Jews” would not be welcome to sing along with Wade Michael Page’s hate lyrics.) Other than that religion is simply a proxy for race. Sikhs could take off their turbans, but until their skins gets white and their eyes blue, they’d still be targets.

  • sari

    n a neo-Nazi “hate music” scene that espouses white power and racial superiority and occasionally promotes violent acts against people of other races and religions.

    Why not substitute people of certain (or particular) for people of other? That would avoid the question of neo-Nazis’ religious beliefs (if any) altogether.

  • JoFro

    I’ve been reading how some on the internet have been referring to this killing as “Christian terrorism” – Im not sure why though?

    I know there are neo-Nazis like Christian Identity and the KKK that espuse Christian beliefs but this killer didnt seem to have any connections to those groups. His group seems to be into music and praising pagan Vikings and Nazis.

    Could Get Religion find something on that?

  • JWB

    A further complication is that I have the sense (without having spent enough time investigating icky websites to be able to quantify it) that *some* neo-Nazis are not particularly anti-Muslim and in fact view certain Muslims in a favorable light because of a common dislike for Jews, Israel, and the so-called “Zionist Occupation Government” of the U.S. If there’s anti-Sikh propaganda as such out there in this sort of fringe scene, I haven’t seen any journalists who’ve uncovered it yet. So you’d need to know more about exactly where this guy fit into a taxonomy of extremism/bigotry than it seems like we do to test the plausibility of any particular theory about why he might have chosen the victims he did, especially the mistook-them-for-Muslims theory. (For example, I saw one story claiming that while the guy was heavily tattooed, the early reports that he had some sort of 9-11 memorial tattoo had been mistaken.)

    Indeed, some subset of the original Nazis admired aspects of Indian culture (where of course the swastika came from) as “Aryan” and pagan and comparatively unaffected by “Semitic” influences (and not unrelatedly some modern advocates of “Hindutva” are polemically criticized by their ideological foes as being Nazi-like), but I don’t know whether or how that may carry over into current extremism in the U.S., and I don’t know that the originals had any specific views on Sikhism as opposed to (a probably fuzzy and romanticized view of certain aspects of) Hinduism. Someone out there on the internet dug up some pro-Sikh sentiments from the rather exotic character known as Savitri Devi (a French-born Greek-nationalist Nazi enthusiast who converted to Hinduism and supposedly believed Hitler to be an avatar of Vishnu), but I wouldn’t assume her view of the matter is representative. And to state the obvious, Hindus, Sikhs, etc. are not responsible for the beliefs or actions of such unsavory admirers.

  • John Pack Lambert

    The KKK are not neo-Nazis. That is not to say they are not evil, but we need to get our facts straight. Of course, I am not sure that a majority of neo-Nazis openly identify as Pagans, but I doubt many are devout Christians either.

    On the other hand, Nazis persecuted Jews on racial grounds. They tried to come up with a racial definition of who was a Jew. In the end it still had some religious basis. However conversion to Christianity or even Paganism would not have lessened their hate of the Jew.

  • kiwanda

    Other than the cross taking up Wade Michael Page’s upper arm, there are no clues whatever to his religious beliefs. While the role of Faith in the lives of athletes and politicians is continually underplayed by the media, there is absolutely no reason to consider the role of Faith in the Page’s life.


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