Neo-Nazi Skinheads first appeared on America’s streets in the mid-eighties and have since shown substantial growth. From a membership of 1,000 to 1,500 in 12 states in early 1988, their ranks swelled to between 3,300 and 3,500 in 40 states by 1993. These numbers have held essentially steady since then.
The growth in membership has been paralleled by an extraordinary record of violence. American Skins have graduated from the use of boots, bats and knives to using firearms. Indeed, the relative availability of guns in the United States has made American Skins among the most dangerous and violent in the world. Only the German Skinheads have consistently matched their American counterparts in the frequency and ferocity of their attacks.
This propensity for extreme acts of violence is reflected in the dramatic rise in the number of murders committed by Skinheads in the United States. From December 1987 to June 1990, there were a total of six such killings; in the three years that followed, no fewer than 22 more took place; since June 1993, an additional nine homocides have occurred for an overall total of at least 37.
Most of the Skinheads’ murder victims have been members of minority groups: Hispanics, blacks, Asians, homosexuals and homeless persons. Some deaths have resulted from in-group violence, with Skinheads killing fellow gang members over, for instance, a pair of boots, a jacket, or some money. American Skinheads have also committed thousands of lesser crims: beatings, stabbings, shootings, thefts, synagogue desecrations and other forms of mayhem and intimidation.
There is no single national Skinhead organization in the United States. Instead, loosely linked networks of Skinhead gangs operate in scattered communities. The gangs frequently change names and network affiliations. Individual members are often highly mobile, with little to tie them to a particular location. It is not uncommon for a group to leave a city and resume activity in another locale after feeling pressure from law enforcement and the community.
Contrary to their claim to represent working-class youth, American Skinheads come from widely varying economic backgrounds. Their roots often lie not in economic decay but in domestic instability; a high proportion of American Skinheads come from broken homes or single-parent families. Their gangs – like other American youth gangs – often serve as surrogate families for their members. They frequently live in communal homes and apartments. Those who live with their families often do so under tense conditions; parents rarely approve of the Skinhead children’s views or way of life.
This kind of domestic discord was tragically illustrated in February of this year when two Skinhead brothers were accused of bludgeoning and stabbing to death their mother, father and younger brother in their home near Allentown, Pennsylvania. Following the murders, the two fled to Micdhigan to meet up with other Skins whom they had met at a Skinhead music concert. They have since been brought back to Pennsylvania, where they await trial. The teenage brothers, both over six feet tall and weighing more than 200 pounds, were immersed in neo-Nazi Skinhead culture and had Nazi symbols and slogans tattooed on their bodies and foreheads. The boys’ Nazi views were evidently at the center of an ongoing conflict with their parents, a religious couple who had struggled to turn the sons away from their hateful way of life, right up until the time of the murders.
The Skinhead Nazi ideology offers alienated youth self-esteem through the degradation of others. Their glorification of violence provides a sense of power; the pack mentality provides a sense of security.
American Skinheads pattern their dress on the original British model; combat boots or Doc Martins, thin suspenders and bomber jackets. Many are heavily tattooed with emblems of white supremacy and Nazism. While most still wear their hair closely cropped, some have taken to letting it grow in order to make themselves less conspicuous to law enforcement and the civilized public.
Some American Skinheads are known to use drugs (their anit-drug posturing notwithstanding), but virtually all are heavy beer drinkers. Typically, drinking binges precede hunts for purported “enemies.”
Soon after their initial appearance in America, the Skinheads began to hook up with more organized racists and anti-Semites. In 1985, a small group of Skins from Chicago, dressed in full regalia, appeared at a gathering of hate group activists at the farm of a former Michigan Ku Klux Klan leader. Back in Chicago, under the name “Romantic Violence,” they peddled tapes of the British Skinhead band Skrewdriver.
Marching with the Klan
Skinheads were soon marching in Klan demonstrations. At a January 1993 march in Pulaski, Tennessee (the birthplace of the KKK), about 100 Skinheads marched with Ku Kluxers, shouting anti-Jewish and white supremacist slogans.
As they outgrow the youthful Skinhead demeanor, some Skins actually join the KKK. Foremost among ex-Skinheads now in the Klan ranks is Shawn Slater. During the eighties, Slater was a well-known leader of the Denver Skins. In 1990, he began forging an alliance with the Klan. By 1992, Slater was leading a Klan rally in Denver. He and his followers subsequently switched affiliation from the Knights of the KKK to a more radical Klan faction.
The Skinheads have also linked up with such other old-line hate groups as the Aryan Nations, the Church of the Creator, and Tom Metzger‘s White Aryan Resistance (WAR). These older groups refer to the Skins as their “front-line warriors.”
WAR has provided ideological and tactical direction to large numbers of Skinheads who have heeded Metzger’s call for violence against minorities. This alliance reached its low when, on November 12, 1988, Mulugeta Seraw, a 27-year-old Ethiopian immigrant, was beaten to death by three members of the Skinhead gang East Side White Pride in Portland, Oregon. Investigation into the murder revealed links between the gang and WAR. The Skinheads were convicted of the killing and are currently serving long sentences. In a subsequent civil lawsuit brought by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of Seraw’s family, a jury determined that the Skinheads were incited to commit the crime by Metzger and his son, John. A $12.5 million judgement for Seraw’s family was awarded on October 22, 1990.
Despite his legal setback, Metzger continues to influence Skinheads both at home and abroad from his base in southern California. Swedish and Australian Skinhead gangs have adopted the WAR name or acronym. Domestically, Metzger continues to proffer guidance and inspiration through his publication and telephone hotline, and he targets Skinhead buyers with his mail-order sales of racist “oi” music and videotapes of Skin music festivals.
Like Metzger’s WAR, the Church of the Creator (COTC), a militant white supremacist and anti-Jewish group, has courted Skinheads since the 1980’s. Skinhead members of the COTC have been responsible for serious episodes of violence in Wisconsin, California, and Washington. More recently the “church” has splintered and become inactive in the U.S.
The Aryan Nations has for years hosted youth gatherings at its rural Idaho compound. These events, usually held in April to coincide with Hitler’s birthday, have attracted numerous Skinheads. The April 1995 weekend featured performances by Skin bands Bound for Glory, Christian Identity Skins, and Odin’s Law, a Canadian group.
Gary Lauck, of Lincoln, Nebraska, has made a 20-year career of furnishing Nazi propaganda to the world’s extremists, Skinheads mong them. For the last several years, Skinheads throughout Europe (especially Germany), Latin America and the United States have been a target audience for Lauck’s materials, which he produces in 12 languages. Lauck attempts to enlist Skinheads in his Nazi cause, asserting that they are “members of the great world-historical Aryan racial movement.” One issue of The New Order, the organ of Lauck’s NSDAP-AO (National Socialist German Workers Party – Overseas Organization), outlined his Action Program for Aryan Skinheads: Skinheads are realizing that they must primarily use their brains and apply their intelligence to outthink, outsmart, outplan, and outdo the racial enemy Jew System in the Race War.
Lauck was arrested in Denmark on March 20, 1995, pursuant to an international warrant issued by German authorities. If he is extradited to Germany, he faces charges of distributing illegal propaganda and Nazi symbols, incitement, encouraging racial hatred and belonging to a criminal group.
“God Forgive Me…”
American Skinheads have repeatedly acted out their racial warrior fantasies in acts of exceptional violence. In August 1990, in Houston, Texas, two 18-year-old Skinheads stomped a 15-year-old Vietnnamese boy to death. One of the killers testified at his trial that the victim’s last words were: “God forgive me for coming to this country. I’m so sorry.” In a June 1991 drive-by shotgun slaying in Arlington, Texas, three 16-year-old members of the Confederate Hammerskins killed a black man while he sat on the back of a truck with two white friends.
Skinheads belonging to the Aryan National Front (ANF) were responsible for two separate killings of homeless black men in Birmingham, Alabama. One was beaten to death under a downtown viaduct before dawn on Christmas Eve 1991. He had been clubbed with a baseball bat and kicked repeatedly with heavy boots. One of the Skinhead perpetrators was convicted by a jury; another pled guilty to the murder. The second Birmingham killing occurred on April 18, 1992, the night after about 75 Skinheads attended a rally in nearby Shelby County. Four ANF Skinheads were ultimately convicted of the fatal stabbing and were handed heavy sentences, in one case, life in prison.
Since 1989, when the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) established a Skinhead task force within its Civil Rights Division, DOJ has been effective in prosecuting the young hatemongers and in bringing national attention to the problem. Perhaps the most prominent such case took place in California in July 1993, when eight people were arrested by Federal authorities and charged with a variety of conspiracy offenses in connection with a plan to incite a race war by, among other things, bombing an African-American church, sending a letter-bomb to a rabbi, and assassinating several well-known African-American figures.
Among those involved in the plan were members of the Fourth Reich Skinheads gang. Two Fourth Reich Skins, Christopher David Fisher, 20, the Skinhead gang’s leader, and Carl Daniel Boese, 17, pleaded guilty and received prison terms of eight years and 57 months, respectively. Several other racists pleaded guilty to various weapons and conspiracy charges connected to the plot. Among these were a Skinhead, Geremy Rineman, and his girlfriend, Jill Scarborough, a Skinhead supporter. The couple had earlier been united in an Aryan “wedding” at an Oklahoma “Aryan Fest” in 1990.
During that same summer of 1993, Skinheads in Washington State had aspirations similar to those of their California counterparts. Three Skinheads pleased guilty to Federal charges in connection with two bombings that were part of a plot to ignite a race war in Washington. One of the men threw a bomb into the Tacoma office of the NAACP, causing damage, but no injuries. The other Skins bombed a gay bar in Seattle. Federal investigators discovered that these acts were merely the prelude to a larger plan to bomb synagogues and civil rights organizations and to attack African-American rap artists. The Skins all had ties to the aforementioned neo-Nazi group, Church of the Creator.
More recently, in July 1994, four members of the Massachusetts-based New Dawn Hammerskins were indicted on Federal charges in connection with a conspiracy to intimidate and interfere with the rights of black and Jewish citizens. The leader of the Skinhead group, the only adult among the defendants, pled guilty and received 46 months imprisonment. Investigation into the case revealed that a longtime member of the Ku Klux Klan had attempted to dispose of evidence relevant to the prosecution. The Klansman, Roy Frankhauser of Reading, Pennsylvania, was convicted and sentenced to 25 months in prison.
American Skinheads do not confine themselves to ethnic hatred. They have been held responsible for several murders – and countless assaults – based on their hatred of homosexuals. Fatal Skinhead attacks on gays have occurred in New York City; San Diego; St. Louis; Salem, Oregon; and Reno, Nevada. Most recently, William Douglas Metz, 36, died after he suffered more than 20 stab wounds in a July 1994 attack in Reno. An informant told police that the attack was a “fag-bashing” by a Skinhead gang. A 21-year-old racist Skinhead pleaded guilty, adding that he had also wanted to carve a swastika on the victim’s body but did not have enough time. He received two life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Neo-Nazi Skinheads have killed their non-racist counterparts in gang brawls as well as in unprovoked attacks. In August 1990, a fight between racist and non-racist Skinhead factions in the parking lot of a Sacramento club resulted in the stabbing death of a SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) Skin by a racist member of the Sacramento Skins. In August 1992, two neo-Nazi Skinheads stabbed and bludgeoned to death a 17-year-old non-racist Skinhead of mixed Asian and white background, in Olympia, Washington.
When they cannot find living human beings to assault – or when their courage cannot rise to that level – American Skins have attacked the graves of the departed. A Skinhead and two accomplices were charged with the April 21, 1993, desecration of a Jewish cemetary in Everett, Massachusetts. In addition to overturning 100 tombstones and spray-painting swastikas, the vandals scrawled a birthday salute to Adolf Hitler on a nearby wall. The three were ultimately sentenced to two years imprisonment.
Other Jewish institutions have also been attacked. On March 20, 1994, two Skinheads shot several rounds from a high-powered semi-automatic rifle into the stained glass windows of a Eugene, Oregon, synagogue. The shooters were sentenced to terms of 54 and 57 months imprisonment.
American Skinheads have produced over the years a number of publications; some ran for only a few issues, others continue to circulate. Zines that have been published in the last few years include: Blood and Honor, out of Long Beach, California, an American spin-off of the British publication of the same name; National Socialist Skinhead, published in St. Paul, Minnesota; Iron Will and Skinhead Power, both from North Carolina; and The Berserker of Levitown, New York, more a newsletter than a full-fledged zine.
The zines focus on Skinhead music, but racist commentary is injected throughout each issue in editorials and interviews. Typical of the views espoused in these interviews are those of members of the band Das Reich: “We must expose the Zionist-controlled media and institutions to the rest of the White ‘sheeple’ in America… we would like to salute all the White Stormtroopers that are fighting daily for our struggle.” Another interview in Blood and Honor contained a call for readers to lend support to “P.O.W.s.” Among these so-called prisoners-of-war were David Lane and Gary Yarbrough, both currently serving long sentences for their role in the neo-Nazi terrorist group, The Order; and Matthew Hayhow, a Skinhead serving 25 years for armed robbery.
Resistance Records, a major producer of Skinhead music in Detroit, puts out a magazine that focuses on Skinhead music in the United States and Canada. It claims a circulation of “12,000 an growing.” The magazine’s publisher, George Burdi (a.k.a. George Eric Hawthorne), a Canadian, was convicted of aggravated assault for his part in a 1993 brawl in Ottawa with anti-racist demonstrators. [Transcription note: The charge was “assault causing bodily harm,” not aggravated assault. knm] Burdi publishes out of Detroit to avoid Canada’s laws against racist material. Typical of the magazine’s level of rhetoric is its critique of the film Schindler’s List: Just what we needed in these hard times, yet another movied about the Holy-Hoax…. Steven Spielberg directs this so-called “spell-binding drama” about you-know-what that has been hailed by critics as a “remarkable accomplishment.” The only thing “remarkable” about it is that after all these years, Hollywood is still churning out this garbage. This shit doesn’t even belong in our toilets.
Some zines such as Aryan Revolutionary Front, published in Castro Valley, California, and White Order, out of Aurora, Colorado, are aimed at a more general neo-Nazi readership, but nonetheless promote Skinhead bands and events.
Bands that play hard-driving oi music and spout manifestors of hate and violence are a prominent part of the American Skinhead scene. Skinhead music festivals have been held in California, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Michigan and Wisconsin. As elsewhere across the globe, these festivals are hate-fests that often result in violence against the community and among the Skinheads themselves.
Resistance Records hosted one such festival on September 30, 1994, in Racine, Wisconsin. It was billed as a concert honoring the late Ian Stuart, lead vocalist of the British band Skrewdriver, who died in a car accident in 1993. The concert featured seven bands – Das Reich (from Wisconsin), Aggravated Assault (New Jersey), Berserkr [sic] (Oklahoma), Centurion (Wisconsin), Rahowa (Toronto), Bound for Glory (Minnesota) and the English band No Remorse – and attracted an audience of over 300. After the concert, Joe Rowan, lead singer of the Delaware Skinhead band Nordic Thunder, was killed in a skirmish with black youths in a Racine convenience store. Rowan was eulogized on the cover of Resistance magazine with lyrics from one of his own songs:
I know the truth and I know what is right,
To destroy the zionist way and keep my land White …
I’ve sworn to protect my people,
For that I’m crucified,
I live for my Race and for my Race I will die …
Bound for Glory is perhaps the most influential American Skinhead band. Led by Ed Wolbank, director of the neo-Nazi Northern Hammer Skins in St. Paul, Minnesota, the band has recorded for Resistance Records and the German Rock-O-Rama label, and has toured in Europe with Skrewdriver. A member of the band summarized the underlying message behind their music: “All of our music has a racial theme and that is 100% White.”
Detroit Skinheads boast an active music scene. Two local bands – Max Resist and the Hooligans, and Rival – performed frequently at the West Side Clubhouse in Detroit, which served as the hangout for the Detroit Skinhead gang, the West Side Boot Boys. Out-of-state bands also frequently played at the Clubhouse. Among those advertised to appear in a tribute concert to the slain Joe Rowan were Bound for Glory, Centurion, The Voice, Aggravated Assault and Shamrock. A recent flyer, however, announced the closing of the West Side Clubhouse, allegedly for reasons of “security”; it claimed that alternative venues would be found for future concerts “in the Detroit area and elsewhere.”
In sum, the United States faces a Skinhead problem that is no less serious that that of many other nations – and much more lethal than most. (Anti-Defamation League, 77-84)
1. In addition to the full-blown Skinheads there are at least an equal number of so-called “wanna-be’s,” youngsters who aspire to the status of regular Skinheads. The wanna-be’s mimic the dress and style of Skinheads, listen to their “oi” music, and share many of their prejudices. They are usually young people living in areas where there are no organized Skinhead gangs; alternatively, they remain outside the ranks of actual Skins because they are fearful of the consequences of “coming out.”
2. Federal law enforcement recently received a powerful weapon for ther arsenal: penalty enhancement for hate crimes. The 1994 crime law calls for increased penalties for federal crimes where the victim was selected “because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.” The Federal Government thus joins the 34 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have passed laws, many based on an ADL model, that provide for stepped-up penalties for bias-motivated crimes. Since Skinheads most frequently choose their victims based on a credo of hatred for certain groups, penalty enhancement laws should result in longer sentences for these thugs and help to reduce Skinhead terror in the community.
Anti-Defamation League. The Skinhead International: A Worldwide Survey of Neo-Nazi Skinheads. New York: Anti-Defamation League, 1995. Anti-Defamation League, 823 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017.
Disclaimer: not all skinheads are neo-nazis or white supremacists. There are many skinheads who are non- or anti-racist, and who come from a variety of different religious and cultural backgrounds. Nizkor recognizes their achievements in anti-racism: they are part of the traditional, non-racist skinhead subculture and are not the perpetrators of the hate crimes discussed here.
Unless otherwise specified, the word “skinhead” within these pages refers only to neo-Nazi and white supremacist skinheads, the perpetrators of hate crimes and participants in racist organizations. We cannot edit the body of the text above, because it was not written by Nizkor, and to change the wording would be fraudulent. Please keep in mind that not all skinheads are racist.