A New Jersey man who has built a career catering to hate said Monday that he will shutter his business in hope of finding "spiritual peace."
Steven Wiegand, one of the largest purveyors of white supremacist music and merchandise in the country, said he has thought for years about closing down his website but feels more urgency because he sees the pain it causes "average everyday people" in his Cherry Hill community.
"My main focus needs to be healing whatever is going on in myself and between any neighbors. I've spoken to a few. There are plenty of people who are upset, rightfully," Wiegand, who founded Micetrap Distribution more than 20 years ago, said Monday.
Wiegand has claimed a leading position in the world of white supremacist merchandise and, throughout the years and as recently as Wednesday, publicly showed no discomfort with that role.
That image cracked Sunday — days after the Inquirer and Daily News published a story about his business, and a week after clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va., left one woman dead — when Wiegand posted on his website that he no longer had the "passion and enthusiasm that made the business the success that it became."
"After the recent issues in Charlottesville, Va., it has forced me to take a long, deep look into myself," Wiegand wrote. "And after speaking with friends and neighbors, I can no longer be aligned with the violence [from all sides] that I have always been against."
Wiegand founded the business, which uses a Maple Shade post office box, in the mid-1990s. As competitors came and went, he grew. Devin Burghart, vice president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights and an expert on the white-power music industry, said Wiegand has been known for selling some of the most "hard-core, violent and racist music in the entire industry."
Among the items available in his store: Confederate and Nazi flags, a button bearing the image of a lynching and the phrase "Good Night Black Pride," and a vinyl record titled "Ethnic Cleansing: Hitler Was Right (More Dead Jews)."
Hate music is at the core of his business.
Many of the songs Wiegand sells do not have overtly racist titles, with the message more subtly coming through the lyrics. Other songs have a direct, hate-filled point. For example, the track "Gays Have Gotta Go," from a 1996 Midtown Bootboys album, begins, "Americans today should take a stand. Kick AIDS-spreading faggots out of our land. Diseased, dirty, perverted scum. Get them out of my land, they make me sick." The album is among Micetrap's best sellers.
The business long ago put Wiegand on the radar of the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists Micetrap as a hate group and at one time named Wiegand one of the 40 "leaders on the radical right" to watch.
Wiegand said last week and again Monday he has no connection to the white supremacist movement and does not espouse any of its beliefs. He said he understands why people wouldn't believe him.
"I can't keep saying, 'I'm not a bad person, I'm not a bad person,' when I keep selling this stuff," he said.
He said he first thought about closing down his business in the early 2000s when he lost a job at a gas station because of it. He said he kept going in part because he believed — and still does — in people's First Amendment right to buy the material he sells.
"It's always been, to me, I'm operating my business. Someone orders it. I put it in an envelope. And I send it," Wiegand said. "But at the point a Jewish community center is concerned or the guy down the street and his kids are worried, in this world with how charged up it is and all the violence, it's time to end it."
Wiegand said after the article was published, he saw individuals posting about his business on his township's Facebook page and talked to neighbors who he said are "really scared and afraid right now, and that hurts me."
"At this point, I can understand the Holocaust stuff is upsetting, or the other things," he said. "I just can't do it anymore."
As of Monday morning, Wiegand had pulled the plug on his online radio station, which streamed hate music 24 hours a day, often with links to buy the music. His online store is still active, and Wiegand said he will fulfill orders that come in before he shuts it down. But he said that will happen within days, after he figures out the technical aspects of closing down his credit card system and site, which has multiple other domains direct to it.
"It could be a couple hours," he said. "It could be a couple days."
He said he also needs to figure out his financial future, though that likely will take longer. Micetrap is Wiegand's full-time job. He said the site is more profitable than ever and in particular has seen a spike in sales in the last few weeks. He said one of his biggest questions is what to do with his merchandise, collected over more than 20 years. He said he doesn't want to sell it to a competitor because he would prefer to make a clean break.
"All of this violence going on, I don't want to contribute to it, I don't want to be connected to it. I don't want to be labeled as somebody that is a part of it," he said. "I don't have any inner peace."