WASHINGTON — Christian Picciolini joined the white-power skinhead movement in 1987, when he was just 14 years old. With his friends, he started one of the first white-power hate bands in the country, White American Youth.
"The music was everything," said Picciolini, who's now 38. "It was the number one draw for me. It's the number one weapon that neo-Nazis have to draw in young people. It's a propaganda tool."
Picciolini left the movement after eight years, when his children were born. He'd decided that it was a "negative" influence and he didn't want them exposed to those beliefs. He's since co-founded Life After Hate, a nonprofit group that works to promote compassion and forgiveness.
The music "was violent, aggressive and inciting," Picciolini said. "That's sort of the M.O. It really hasn't changed very much."
White supremacist hate music, a small subculture of the white power movement, made its way into the spotlight this week because of Wade Michael Page, the Wisconsin man who shot and killed six people and wounded three at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee. Page was involved with multiple white power bands.
The music is akin to heavy metal and grunge punk, a loud, coarse type of rock with thunderous drumming, but with one major difference: The lyrics promote racism and violence against minorities.
Research has shown that hate music influences the way listeners treat the minority groups targeted in the songs. In a study by Heather LaMarre, an assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Minnesota, people who weren't white supremacists who were exposed to hate music at low volume for as little as seven minutes treated minority groups differently from the way they did before they listened to it.
The effect would be even stronger for somebody who intentionally listened to the music repeatedly, she said.
"They're getting confirmation that other people think and feel like them," LaMarre said. "It reinforces their belief system."