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Frontman Chuck Haven says reasons for removal are unclear

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FARMINGTON — An eight-year-old video made by a Farmington metal band apparently has been caught up in a recent purge of controversial material by the website YouTube, although the group's leader is mystified about why.

Chuck Haven, the guitarist and lead singer for Signal 99, said he received a message last week from YouTube informing him the video for the band's song "Banner of Corpses" had been flagged for review and was determined to violate the site's guidelines. The company informed the group it was removing the video from its website.

Under the header "Video content restrictions," the message states, "Content glorifying or inciting violence against another person or group of people is not allowed. We also don't allow any content that encourages hatred of another person or group of people based on their membership in a protected group. We review educational, documentary, artistic, and scientific content on a case-by-case basis. Limited exceptions are made for content with sufficient and appropriate context and where the purpose of posting is clear."

The message also states if the recipient believes YouTube has made a mistake, the recipient can appeal the decision, and the company will take another look at the material.

Haven, who is Navajo, received the message after YouTube announced in a June 5 blog post it was banning material that promotes hateful or supremacist ideas. The post, which featured the headline, "Our ongoing work to tackle hate," said the company specifically was "prohibiting videos alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status. This would include, for example, videos that promote or glorify Nazi ideology, which is inherently discriminatory. Finally, we will remove content denying that well-documented violent events, like the Holocaust or the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, took place."

YouTube announced the policy change after drawing heavy criticism for its willingness to allow content by conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones and extremist groups to be carried on its platform.

Haven has no beef with YouTube's policy change. He simply doesn't understand why the video for "Banner of Corpses" has been targeted, especially since he strongly maintains the video doesn't violate the new standards and specifically features an anti-hate message.

"It's an educational video from my point of view," Haven said. "As an artist, I really felt like I was being censored. The video was nominated for a Native American Music Award for Best Music Video."

YouTube representatives did not respond to an email from The Daily Times seeking comment, although they did send a message on June 11 confirming receipt of the newspaper's query.

Though the policy change was announced last week, YouTube appears to be selectively enforcing its own standards. CNN reported June 11 that accounts belong to such individuals as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and white supremacist Richard Spencer were still on the platform.

A message in three acts

Haven said "Banner of Corpses," which he co-wrote with a Colorado psychic named Loudini, was recorded in 2011, and the video was created later that year. It's an especially important piece of work for Haven, who directed the project, because Tom Lord served as its executive director and Haven's brother Hank co-produced it. Both men have since died, and Chuck Haven considers the video part of their creative legacy.

Clocking in at a little more than three minutes, the video is split into three acts, the first of which deals with the genocide of Native Americans, explaining how individuals ranging from Christopher Columbus to Kit Carson contributed to the demise of 19 million indigenous people.

The video's second act addresses the rise of Nazi Germany and describes how Hitler was influenced by certain American writers and government decisions in his effort to rid his country of its Jewish residents and in his authorship of "Mein Kampf." That segment features historic images and footage of the Holocaust, and their graphic nature could be disturbing to some viewers.

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The third act cites the assault of a mentally disabled Navajo man by three white supremacists in Farmington in 2010, an incident in which the victim was branded with a swastika symbol. The video includes a message for viewers to "Burn the hate from the world" and features images of "Mein Kampf" and Hitler going up in flames. It ends with the message "End the hate" flashing on the screen.

"We knew we were kind of pushing the boundaries a little bit," Haven said of the group that worked on the video eight years ago, but he believed the project had a positive message and needed to be somewhat confrontational to get its point across.

"It's not a secret, if you do your research, that Hitler was influenced by a lot of things that happened in America," he said. "A lot of his favorite authors were American authors who wrote about experiments of breeding a pure race. He also studied how the U.S. government started rounding people up and putting them on reservations."

The video begins with a message advising readers, "History does and will repeat itself. Hate is also a learned trait. And sometimes the truth is too much to bear … "

"That's what the video is about," Haven said.

Who was offended?

How and why the video — which has been posted on YouTube for the past several years — came to be targeted for removal now is unknown to Haven. He's not sure if a viewer complained about it or if a company representative decided it was offensive.

He said he did receive a message from YouTube approximately a year ago advising him the video had had some restrictions placed on its availability, with viewers being required to answer a series of questions about their age and sensibilities before they could access it. Haven said he appealed the decision then, but that effort went nowhere.

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Then he got the message last week and learned the video had been removed. Even though the message from the company indicates it is possible for the recipient to appeal the decision, Haven it doesn’t explain how that process can be initiated.

He argued that the video in no way glorifies or incites violence against anyone, nor does it encourage hatred. In fact, its message plainly promotes the opposite of those ideas, he said.

But the backlash against the video doesn't exactly come as a surprise to him.

"When I released it, it was a different political environment in 2011," he said, noting the rise of alt-right groups in America over the past few years.

Signal 99 is no stranger to taking on social and political themes, and its most recent disc — 2017's "American Monster" addresses many of those issues head on. The group has seen its profile raised considerably in recent years with performances at numerous well-known venues and festivals, but the controversy over one of its videos is something Haven has never experienced before.

"It seemed like it wasn't a problem. All of a sudden, it's a problem now," he said.

Haven is grateful for the way the band's fans have rallied around the group. The video for "Banner of Corpses" is posted prominently on the Signal 99 website and its Facebook page, and has drawn considerable traffic since the controversy with YouTube emerged.

But Haven said only platforms such as YouTube offer his band the opportunity to reach a mass audience with its music.

"That's the kind of traffic you want to hit as an artist," he said. "This really puts a damper on us."

More concerning to him is the fact that he perceives YouTube's decision as an example of how American society is returning to some unfortunate habits.

"It reminds me of when I was growing up and history books taught it from a different viewpoint," he said. "I used to read about my own people in the past tense. It kind of feels like it's heading back in that direction."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or via email at measterling@daily-times.com.

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