We spoke with the Baltimore band Bestial Evil about the drama that ensued when they fired their drummer Evan Phillips last week. We don’t know what happens next now that they brought him back.
UPDATE (6/22/2016): Shawn Wright contacted us to say that he wasn’t “a onetime antifa activist” but still remains so. We have changed the article to reflect this.
A Baltimore metal band is trying to pick up the pieces after firing a band member after it was learned that they were associates of a White Supremacist group based in Lynchburg, Virginia, only to bring him back again days later after he cut his ties with them.
Bestial Evil, a band that has been around for three years, originally announced that they were firing drummer Evan Phillips after it was learned that he was associating with the Wolves of Vinland, a neo-fascist group that adheres to a form of racist heathenry. “Evan Phillips is no longer in our group,” the band Bestial Evil originally said in a June 14 message on their Facebook page. “We are sorry for anyone we let down on upcoming shows. We are regrouping and we are far from over. Bestial Evil will return this year stronger than before.”
Eventually the posting was truncated to omit the announcement that Phillips wasn’t in the band, and on June 19, they announced that Phillips returned. “We would like to welcome Evan back, the post read. “He quit the wolves of vinland Bestial Evil Returns!”
The Lynchburg-based Wolves of Vinland – also known simply as the Wolves – is a White Supremacist group that was started over a decade ago by brothers Paul and Matthias Waggener, the latter of whom has described the group as an “Odinic Wolfcult”. Their support base have ranged from persons such as author Jack Donovan and Youth for Western Civilization’s Kevin DeAnna and Devin Saucier to various circles of the neo-Fascist scene. One member, Maurice “Hjalti” Michaely pled guilty in 2012 to attempting to set fire to the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, a 135-year-old Black church in Gainesville, VA, costing $1 million in damages. Michaely served two years in prison. Paul Waggener also once posted pictures of himself in a historical Lynchburg graveyard in a section where African Americans were buried, using their gravestones as weights.
The One People’s Project- associated blog Fools of Vinland monitors and reports on the Wolves.
“Evan’s not a White Nationalist, not a racist, and he’s not a Nazi. I know that for certain,” Bestial Evil’s lead singer Shawn Wright, who says he has been involved in anti-fascist work, told One People’s Project prior to bringing Phillips back into the band. “What I don’t understand, and a lot of people don’t understand is why he got involved with this group. And that’s something that I don’t know at the time what he was thinking, but it is something that I know he regrets wholeheartedly now because of what is going on.
“He’s not into sketchy shit at all, Wright continued. “He did all of this stuff as, like his Norse/Pagan perspectives, his whole Viking thing that him and a few other people I know including people not in the Wolves are into. None of them are racist at all.”
Phillips, however has been deeply associated with not just the Wolves but with other area neo-fascist groups. Earlier this year, another band he plays with, an Irish folk band called ShamRouges performed at the annual St. Patrick’s Day event sponsored by Baltimore-based Label 56, a White Power distribution outlet run by members of the Maryland “Skinheads”. Phillips also plays with another metal band called Vørgum, who last year released a live album of them performing at the Wolves of Vinland compound. He reportedly still performs with the band today under the name “Ulfhamr”.
Phillips told One People’s Project that had been involved with the Wolves for three years, getting into them through mutual interests in music, physical regiment and people being different and living on the outside rejecting technology and other things that would be seen as distractions. He said there were a number of people involved that had far right leanings but they never brought those ideals into any group meetings. Overall, he says the group focused moreso on other things that politics. “Those guys, they had an impact on me,” he said. “It was what it was but there’s other people in my life like my band that I have to stick up for and protect and I can’t be associated with stuff like that anymore.”
Phillips says he also did physical training along with other Wolves at the Exile Fitness Center in Rosedale, MD which where MDS associate and Label 56 founder Jason Tankersley ran Absolute Combat Sports from, and although it is no longer in existence, also still trains there. It was there that he was reportedly asked by MDS associate Rick Haught if the ShamRouges could play the St. Patrick’s Day Party the group held April 2. “I honestly did not know what it was and it ended up being that,” he said. “They just asked ‘Do you want to do this post-St. Patrick’s Day gig,’ and I asked the guys and said, ‘Do you want to do this?’ and they ‘Sure, why not?’ and it ended up being that.”
Another Bestial Evil member, Jacob Ripley also came under fire because he too was involved with the Wolves, even wearing a prospect patch for a brief time. In a post on his Facebook page, he says that he is not a racist nor does he judge people by gender, race or heritage. “I subscribe to the Asatru religion (among Hinduism and atheistic satanism), and have been involved with various groups, including the Wolves, through my exploration of fringe spirituality. I learn what I can from different organizations until I learn of an obstacle that breaks my moral code, just as I did with the Wolves. At this point I stand alone, with no ties to any group other than the small hand full of friends I trust.”
Much of this does not sit well with a former member of the band, Kevin Rucker who left the band last month, mostly because the issue of Phillips’ association with the Wolves had been coming up since the very beginning. “We played a show in Virginia that was at a place called the RiffHouse Pub and it was nothing but Wolves there, which also happened to mean that there was nothing but White people there.” he said. “The one other person of color there was another Black dude from one of the other bands that played that night. The only thing he said to us – he came us and asked us, ‘How do you feel about this Wolves situation?’ How’d we felt about it. I thought that was interesting.”
Phillips’ associations became an underlying current for the band, with more and more evidence that they were particularly problematic, even while Phillips denied they were a racist organization and that he held racist beliefs. The final straw for Rucker was an argument on Facebook with Phillips just after Bestial Evil played this year’s Maryland Deathfest, and Rucker posted his disgust at seeing a lot of fans wearing Nazi and racist tattoos. A week later Phillips, who routinely posts rants against political correctness and other things deemed liberal, made a post about how people always post “the same boring rhetoric” about social issues that Rucker took issue with in light of his concerns. “I kind of made a snarky comment,” he said. “I said, ‘Hey, must be nice being able to see social issues as boring!’ and he said ‘Yes, yes it is.’”
When a few of Phillips’ neo-Nazi friends entered the back-and-forth in with likes to the comments, Rucker says he was thrown by that. The exchange continued with Rucker calling Phillips out for being friends with neo-Nazis and at that point Phillips reportedly asked him, “Why are you even in this group?” Rucker replied by saying he will leave the band.
“In that process, I was trying to convince myself that I was overreacting, that it wasn’t as serious as I was making it, then through a lot of work and research and Googling and doing all that stuff, within about fifteen minutes, I found out that (the Wolves) got labeled as a hate group,” he said. “That’s when finally was like I can’t be silent about this anymore. I gotta tell someone about this.”
It remains to be seen if Bestial Evil will be able to continue with this current controversy, particularly with Phillips returning to the band after he said he cut all ties to the Wolves, even to the point that he removed any patches of his garments related to them. Wright, who according to Rucker would like him to return to the band as well, maintains that Phillips was ultimately brainwashed by the group which he feels preys on naïve people as potential recruits, and that his time in the Wolves should not reflect who Wright believes he is. “I think that group a really bad group and I think that that group deserves to not exist,” he said.