Jonathan Pieslak

Academic Researcher and Composer

Radicalism & Music

In 2009, I began research exploring the varied roles of music in radical cultures. Radicalism and Music is a comparative study of the music cultures of four diverse radical groups: al-Qa’ida, the American racist skinheads, Christian-affiliated radicalism, and eco-animal rights militancy. The intention of this study is to offer an introductory documentation, examination, and interpretation of the varied functions of music within these distinct radical environments. 

My scholarship was supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship and culminated in a book published by Wesleyan University Press in November 2015. Among the specific groups addressed and notable highlights of this research, include:

  • al-Qa'ida, Liwa'a Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA), The Hammerskin Nation, The Creativity Movement (formerly "WCOTC"), Christian Identity, The Westboro Baptist Church, Kids in Ministry International (KIMI), Earth First!, Vegan Straight Edge (xVx)
  • Acquisition of 146 videos produced by al-Qa'ida and the Taliban from NW Pakistan and Afghanistan
  • Interview with a former member of Hizb ut-Tahrir
  • Attendance of racist skinhead shows
  • Interviews with members of the Westboro Baptist Church and attendance of WBC pickets
  • Interview correspondences with incarcerated members of the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front and attendance of radical environmental and animal-rights activism (REARA) shows
  • Interview correspondences with Matthew Hale, leader of the Creativity Movement, presently incarcerated for soliciting the murder of a U.S. District Judge
  • Examination of music in the lives and radical activism of: Arid Uka (Frankfurt Airport shooter), Khalid al-Awhali (Nairobi bombing), Wade Page (Sikh Temple murderer), Prussian Blue, Saga, Anders Breivik (Oslo killings), Matthew Hale, Paul Hill (Army of God murderer of an abortion doctor), Walter Bond (ALF arsonist), Brian Vaillancourt (ALF arsonist), Marie Mason (ELF arsonist), and others

                                                                       Read the Opening


Read an excerpt from Chapter 4 on Radical Environmental and Animal-Rights Activism (REARA), appearing in JEX, Journal EXIT - Deutschland. Zeitschrift fur Deradikalisierung und demokratische Kultur (2014)

Read excerpts from my interview correspondences with incarcerated ALF activist, Walter Bond, appearing in JEX, Journal EXIT - Deutschland. Zeitschrift fur Deradikalisierung und demokratische Kultur (2014)

Articles and press related to Radicalism & Music

  • Click here to read Jonathan's September 28, 2015 article in The Conversation, "For the Islamic State, music is the 'alcohol of the soul'."
  • Click here to listen to Jonathan's piece on terrorism and music for "The Academic Minute".
  • Pieslak quoted several times in an NK News article on youth indoctrination in North Korea.
  • Pieslak quoted in feature story, "The Ties That Bind Jihadists," in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  • Radicalism and Music book talks and signings at Kinokuniya Bookstore (NY, NY) and Labyrinth Bookstore (Princeton, NJ).

Radicalism & Music

Table of Contents



Chapter 1.  Al-Qa’ida Culture and Anashid              

  •      Prelude: A “Lone Wolf”
  •      Islam and Music
  •      History, the Jihad-Themed Text, and Musical Characteristics of Anashid
  •      An Alternate Understanding of Anashid  
  •      Jihad’s Musical Social Network
  •      Postlude: The Nairobi Bombing, and Anashid    

Chapter 2.  The Music of Racist Skinhead Culture              

  •      Prelude: Wade Page and St. Paddy’s Day with the Hammerskins
  •      A Background to the White-Power Movement, Racist Skinheads, and Their Music            
  •      The Roots of White-Power Rock
  •      The Hammerskin Nation and the Sounds of Racist Skinhead Community, Recruitment, and Violence    
  •      The Softer Side of White-Power Music 
  •      Anders Breivik and Musical Self-Programming            
  •      Postlude: Panzerfaust Records, and Operation Schoolyard USA    

Interlude.  Race Faiths and Music: The Intersection of White Supremacy and Christianity    

Chapter 3.  Christian-Affiliated Radicalism and Music            

  •      Prelude: The Westboro Baptist Church and Veteran’s Day 2012                     
  •      History, Ideology, and Emotional Radicalism of the Westboro Baptist Church              
  •      The Parody Songs of the Westboro Baptist Church
  •      Music and the “Extreme” of Christian Fundamentalism's Ministry to Children            
  •      The Sounds of Awakened Religious Consciousness
  •      Music and Indoctrination in Christian Fundamentalism            
  •      Postlude: Paul Hill’s Murder of Dr. John Britton and an “Awesome God”    

Chapter 4. The Music Culture of Radical Environmental and Animal-Rights Activism (REARA)                 

  •      Prelude: The Sounds of Radical-Left Revolution            
  •      Eco-Animal Rights Militancy, Terrorism, and Ideological Diversity             
  •      REARA’s Roots, Couching Violence in Humor, and Leaderless Resistance
  •      An Introduction to Earth First! Music
  •      Hardcore, Punk, and Vegan Straight Edge of REARA Music  
  •      Postlude: “I’m a Better Anarchist Than You”    

Chapter 5.  Understanding Music’s Roles in Radical Culture              

  •      Prelude: Lewis and Freud            
  •      Sounds, Words, and Propaganda            
  •      The How of Textual Influence            
  •      The Musical Texts of al-Qa’ida and Racist Skinhead Culture            
  •      The Musical Texts of REARA and Christian-Affiliated Radicalism
  •      Emotion and Music within Radical Culture            
  •      Postlude: A short time ago in a movie theatre close, close by…    


Appendix: Hardline Manifesto