A Northeast Portland Record Label Lands on a National Hate-Group Registry

The Alberta Street company's top-selling product is the music of an alleged neo-Nazi band from England.

(Soleilmoon Recordings)

A record label headquartered on Northeast Portland's Alberta Street has been declared a racist organization by the nation's leading watchdog of white-supremacist and hate groups.

On Feb. 15, the Southern Poverty Law Center listed Soleilmoon Recordings among 25 new hate groups across the United States.

Owned and operated by Charles Powne, Soleilmoon is a nearly 30-year-old "boutique" label that sells what Powne calls "dark industrial ambient" music, mostly via mail order. Its mailing address is a post-office box located between brunch spot Helser's and Alberta Co-op Grocery.

And its top-selling product is the music of an alleged neo-Nazi band from England.

Powne says he's "mystified" by the hate-group listing. "The solution to bad speech is not to shut it down, but to overcome it with more speech," he says.

The designation revives concerns about the white-power movement in Oregon, which constitutes seven of state's 11 hate groups, according to the SPLC.

It also raises questions about creative freedom, free speech and guilt by association.

The election of President Donald Trump has emboldened white-nationalist groups across the U.S., and sharpened their opposition. The SPLC, based in Montgomery, Ala., tracks racist groups and hate attacks. It recorded 42 hate incidents in Oregon in the month following the Nov. 8 election.

But conservative critics have accused the SPLC of political overreach, and of demonizing unpopular speech. The group's release of new hate-group listings comes as college campuses and conservative organizations argue over how large a platform to afford racist provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos.

Soleilmoon Recordings sells MP3s, CDs, vinyl records and T-shirts of 123 artists, including Throbbing Gristle, the Legendary Pink Dots and Merzbow.

But it's music that critics have identified for years as neo-Nazi that pays the bills. Powne says Soleilmoon brings in more than $100,000 a year, and Death in June—the controversial, far-right project of British neo-fascist Douglas Pearce—is its top-selling artist.

Death in June plays San Francisco’s Elbo Room in 2014. (Allan Wan)

Death in June refers to the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, when Adolf Hitler ordered the murder of his political rivals within the Nazi Party. The band employs a wide range of fascist and Nazi imagery, such as wearing Waffen-SS uniforms onstage.

On Death in June's official website, Soleilmoon is listed as the band's official distributor. Death in June accounted for more than half the label's digital sales, and moved "a couple thousand" units last year.

The SPLC says Death in June is the main reason for Soleilmoon's hate-group listing.

"The label's owner makes such a concerted effort to promote and cast [Death in June] as, basically, the centerpiece of the label's project that we couldn't ignore it any longer," SPLC spokeswoman Rebecca Sturtevant wrote via email. "The label also sells acts like NON, which is Boyd Rice's experimental noise project."

Powne denies that Soleilmoon is racist, and says Pearce and Rice—whose icon is a half-swastika—are not racist either.

Powne adds that he "endorses" the SPLC, and says if he's guilty of anything, it's capitalism.

"I feel fortunate to be able to [run a music label], but I could be accused of compromising before the almighty dollar," he says. "It's just music and it's just money. I just go where the customers need me."

Last week's listing of Soleilmoon among 917 hate groups across the U.S. was part of the SPLC's annual census of extremist organizations. "2016 was an unprecedented year for hate," says Mark Potok, editor of the nonprofit's magazine, Intelligence Report.

The SPLC's analysis of 16 U.S. "racist music" groups described sales of racist music as a "primary conduit of money and young recruits to the radical right."

A cyclist passes in front of the Alberta Co-op Grocery in NE Portland. (Darryl James)

Northeast Alberta Street seems an unlikely spot for a white power group. It runs through the center of Portland's historically black neighborhoods, and has in recent years been the focus of frustration over how African-American residents were displaced by a wave of gourmet ice cream, spas and wine.

Powne, 55, has been selling Death in June's records for 12 years, he says. But he draws the line at more notorious acts like British skinhead band Skrewdriver.

"I used to have a record store here in Portland, the Ooze," Powne recalls. "I remember people came in and asked for Skrewdriver records, and I would send them away, and say, 'That's a racist band. I don't want anything to do with them, and I don't want you as a customer.'"

Soleilmoon's sole Portland-based artist is Daniel Menche, who identifies with the label's abstract electronic artists, like Merzbow—not Death in June or NON, whose music he calls "shit."

"[Soleilmoon is] one of the longest-running experimental labels in the world," Menche says. "It has major legacy to it. A hell of a lot of artists are on Soleilmoon that are fucking cool. These hot-button artists? That music's not good at all."

Menche disagrees that Powne's business supports the neo-Nazi movement. He says Powne donates "a hell of a lot" to National Public Radio and other progressive groups.

Powne sighs as he discusses the listing.

"God, it's just a very vexing problem," he says. "I don't want to feel like I'm a victim of the SPLC. I'm not happy about [the listing], but it's what they do, and it's their right."

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