By Graham Scala
It started with a name, one buried in the liner notes of Tau Cross’ third album, one that might have easily been overlooked had a German magazine not picked up on it. That name - Gerard Menuhin - belongs to a prominent proponent of Holocaust denial (as much as anyone subscribing to a belief system as fringe as that could be described as “prominent”) and, from what the liner notes suggested, a primary influence on singer Rob Miller. Miller’s work, both with Tau Cross and in his earlier career fronting legendary anarchopunk band Amebix - often focused on arcane subject matter but most fans assumed that, given the general political leanings of their milieu, his songs’ conceptual elements didn’t stray into the sketchy political territory sometimes favored by those with an interest in alternative history and the occult. Miller’s insertion of Menuhin’s name into the equation destroyed that assumption however.
It’s not that punk lacks an inclination towards conspiracy. A lot of older punks - especially those who, like Miller, felt marginalized by society early on - possess a disdain for what is perceived to be the official narratives of government and society and often seek an alternative. Sometimes they end up on the Howard Zinn path, but often (especially in the age of the rampant confirmation bias characterizing so much of the internet’s content) it leans more towards this sort of thing. Though Miller had his chance to explain himself away he opted not to really - though it’s doubtful he could’ve done so easily. It’s not like Menuhin is a David Icke figure who, though no stranger to antisemitism, also has a wealth of other conspiracy theories from which to draw inspiration. Menuhin seems to place most of his wingnut eggs solely in the basket of Holocaust denial. But while it may be difficult to explain away the affiliation without seeming at the very least sympathetic to fascism, Miller’s response - intimating that Germans arrested for Holocaust denial were political prisoners and recommending a twelve-hour documentary called “Europa: The Last Battle” which purports to tell the other side of the World War II story - helped his case exactly not at all.
Worse, he insisted anyone taking umbrage with his belief systems was guilty of “virtue signaling.” This particularly galling assertion acted as a not particularly subtle attempt at gaslighting that portrays anyone who may want to resist society’s slow creep towards authoritarianism as being interested solely in the social capital that comes from presenting one’s self as the most entlightened rather than the more likely answer that these people probably just think that the Holocaust was real and was, in fact, bad. If Miller were to be given the benefit of the doubt regarding his political affiliations - though arguments he deserves it are difficult to concoct, to say the least - his responses to critics did a poor job of offering any exoneration. He may not be an actual Nazi per se (Menuhin himself is of Jewish descent and would likely not be welcomed with open arms by full-fledged Nazis, despite a body of work which might be in line with their worldview), but the material he seeks to put forth into the world does actual Nazis no disservice.
Miller claims that the influence of writers like Menuhin came as he was attempting to “refine the material and ideas to some kind of overarching theory” - which is precisely the problem with this and most other conspiracy theories. Karl Popper once wrote that “a theory which explains everything explains nothing” and these attempts to neatly wrap the past’s messy machinations into a cohesive whole mutate a study of the past into an elaborate fiction in which actual events become contorted to fit a narrative far more convenient than any life will ever offer. The world is an inchoate blur of activity, as ephemeral as it is unstoppable, and in an era where traditional systems of assigning order to it fall increasingly out of favor, people find themselves grasping at anything that can make a confusing existence understandable. When the gyre widens and everything seems to be falling apart, ascribing some grand overarching conspiracy as the root cause comes far easier than examining the historical minutiae that propel everything forward. Conspiracy theories convey upon their believers some degree - however illusory - of control and allow them to feel as if they bear the noble burden of some weighty gnosis, granting them a place in the struggle against whatever it is they feel they’re opposing, if only by dint of possessing the knowledge.
If these conspiracy theories were solely delusion divorced entirely from reality, few would take any of it seriously, but many come frustratingly close to getting the point. Bankers, for instance, are a classic conspiracy theorist boogeyman. A variety of valid criticisms of the banking industry exist - from redlining to subprime mortgages to the IMF - but the ones most aggressively using “banker” as a pejorative aren’t often doing it in opposition to the ravages wrought by late capitalism, they do it because “banker” acts as a convenient dogwhistle for Jews. If their ire were shifted to the actual insidious elements of the banking industry their criticisms might be in the ballpark of reality rather than an excuse to trot out exhausted stereotypes. But history can be seen as one large Rorschach test, a mass of events to which every observer imposes their own order. Some people will always see a Star Of David when they stare at that blob, regardless of its lack of basis in fact, and this neatly packaged bundle of misrepresented history and millenia-old prejudices often ends up providing a far more comfortable cosmology than one that actually addresses the manifold tangible causes of the world’s strife.
While the inclusion of Menuhin’s name in Tau Cross’ album notes almost seems like an act of hubris, a display of how flagrantly such an influence could be flaunted with the presumption of impunity, it demonstrates something more pernicious - the ease with which Miller couched these concepts in other, more palatable ideas. His ability to weave together different strands of thought - from gnosticism and the occult to mythology and history - has proven a strong suit and a listener even moderately versed in the subject matter could find thought-provoking content in much of his back catalog. The inclusion of concepts like those proffered by Menuhin reach the listener housed in a Trojan horse of less noxious concepts, treating them all as if they possessed the same intellectual, historical, and moral weight.
Given the knowledge of Miller’s beliefs, a real possibility exists he may have been hinting at these ideas for a while. “Knights Of The Black Sun,” the closing song of Amebix’s 2011 comeback album Sonic Mass, provides one example. The titular black sun symbol, though used in some of the occult practices with which Miller has displayed an interest, also features prominently in the visual aesthetic of a variety of far-right groups, ranging from Heinrich Himmler’s Wewelsburg mosaic to the shields used by Vanguard America during the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville. The lyrics themselves focus primarily on desolate landscapes and dark, impressionist imagery until it reaches the line “from Dresden’s blazing skies / to the bloody wash of dawn / I saw the beast arise / and climb upon the throne.” The reference to Dresden may at first seem oddly specific for lyrics so otherwise abstract, but that one short line acts as a sort of Rosetta Stone to decipher the song’s deeper meaning.
The firebombing of Dresden - one of the later major offensive measures taken by the Allied forces in the second World War, undertaken only a few months prior to Germany’s surrender - has been utilized as a lynchpin for German far-right groups who have both exaggerated the death toll (approximately 25,000 people were killed, though reports directly after the war falsely claimed numbers between 200,000 and 500,000) and utilized the sheer magnitude of the devastation as an attempt to cast a negative light upon the Allied forces. Miller references Dresden in this song in much the same way he more recently referenced “Europa: The Last Battle” - as a shorthand method of conveying doubt as to whether the right side triumphed in that war. That he follows the Dresden reference with imagery of a bestial figure triumphantly ascending a throne after the devastation in question only serves to underscore this point.
“They are the wolves in sheep’s clothing / taking place at the back of the flock,” Miller snarls in Amebix’s 1986 song “Arise”, but given his choice of inspiration and the degree to which he kept it hidden from his bandmates, he has proven himself to be the one baring his fangs behind the backs of his kith and kin. His abuse of his bandmates’ reputations and his fans’ adulation only demonstrates that, in his desire to make some sense of the world, he sacrificed much of what makes the world worth living in - honest critical thinking, fellowship, and creativity untainted by the stark brutality of the sort of authoritarian worldviews abetted by the preponderance of ahistorical propaganda such as that with which he has been so enamored. Focusing on one largely unknown name dropped in the liner notes of one obscure band’s soon-to-be-unreleased album may seem like overkill, but ignoring this sort of thing marks the first step down the path to the sorts of atrocities we would do well not to forget. These abuses of human rights happen over and over because we refuse to call them by their name and, in doing so, allow what should be an immutable history to be eroded by the acidic streams off falcity that become forced into the field of acceptable discourse by those who would seek to gain a foothold in the world through the degradation of anyone they consider to be an “other.” It may be painful to do so, but if we are unwilling to confront these abuses of our trust and respect whenever they occur then whatever moral authority accrued by punk means little to nothing and a potentially transformative force becomes mere sound and fury, signifying nothing.
By Graham Scala