White Aryan resistance
THE SKINHEAD MOVEMENT
Beginning in the working-class neighborhoods of London’s East End in the 1960s, skinheads were initially an aggressively masculine youth subculture. Rejecting the peaceful counterculture movement and embracing the overall popularity of the later hardcore punk style combined with a non-political viewpoint, many of them were soon drawn into extreme nationalist and anti-immigrant ideologies and groups. The first wave of British skinheads was one of several working-class youth subcultures that helped the skinheads emerge in 1981 Los Angeles. In Southern California, most of the skinhead groups traced their roots to the punk music scene. L.A. marked the geographic point where violence took over the punk scene. Not all members of the punk and hardcore scene joined skinhead groups and not all skinheads directly followed the path of racism. Punk gangs often had multiple memberships without any formal organization, and focused mostly on showing off their masculinity, partying, and defending local territories. Many were involved in minor crimes such as vandalism, underage drinking, and petty theft. Shared interests expressed through style and music became increasingly anchored in race and local leaders from these organizations formed the first skinhead gang, the Northside Firm in late 1981 in Los Angeles County.
American Front, hate symbol
White Aryan Resistance (W.A.R.) hate symbol
By the mid-1980s, the skinhead subculture was changing and many skinhead gangs began to take a political turn. About this time, various white supremacist organizations began recruiting the skinheads. In the spring of 1984, at a house party in West Covina, a recruiter from Britain’s National Front Party and Bob Heick, the organizer of San Francisco’s American Front, encouraged local youths to organize a southern Californian-based American Front. Shortly thereafter, about twenty punks and skinheads in Los Angeles County began holding regular meetings as well as adopting uniforms to identify their new organizational affiliation. The Reich Skins, led by Michael Martin, a gang of about 50 members, were the largest active skinhead group in the San Fernando Valley. They were eventually absorbed into the larger group WAR Skins, directly affiliated with the White Aryan Resistance organization that operated throughout Los Angeles County. In 1989, Rosemont Junior High School in Glendale was a frequent scene of skinhead activity. In February 1989, a thirteen-year-old skinhead threatened his teacher with a loaded .357 Magnum after being refused permission to wear his White Power t-shirt for his yearbook photo. The student pleaded guilty to three felony and two misdemeanor charges. That same year a Rosemont administrator ejected a skinhead who was not a student at the school. The reprisal consisted of threatening phone calls and racist obscenities written on the door of the administrator’s office as well as on the classroom doors and students’ lockers.
TOM METZGER AND THE SKINHEAD ARMY
Tom Metzger moved to Southern California in 1961 after serving in the U.S. Army. He joined the KKK in 1975 and became the head of David Duke's Knights of the KKK in California. Metzger's branch of the Klan split with Duke's organization in 1980 to form the California Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Around the same time, Metzger worked with Greg Withrow to form a so-called White Student Union (WSU) in high schools and colleges on the West Coast as part of an outreach effort to youth which he called the Aryan Youth Movement. He then changed the name of his organization to White Aryan Resistance, or W.A.R. and began publishing a newsletter also called WAR.
In the first issue of WAR 1988, Michael Martin, the 18 year old leader of the San Fernando Valley skinhead group Reich Skins, wrote to thank Metzger "for your support and visits." Along with his publication, Metzger started a call-in telephone bulletin providing pre-recorded messages, followed by an internet bulletin board. The white power movement pioneered an early Internet social network connection with Liberty Net, a series of computer message boards used to share common ideologies, personal ads, meetings and targets for movement violence. White terrorist groups such as The Order committed robberies to fund the purchase of computers for fellow groups. KKK leaders such as Louis Beam provided training, teaching people how to effectively use the internet creating a coalition of united racist groups. Many groups began to share personnel, funding, and strategy. Metzger later developed a cable TV interview program called Race and Reason, featuring local skinheads including Michael Martin. In January of 1988, W.A.R. was running five phone lines in California. All of these communication tools were used to organize events and rallies, but the most widely used propaganda tool was the tried and true practice of papering communities with stickers and leaflets. Representatives of W.A.R. attended high school parties and put literature in students’ lockers in a targeted recruiting effort. They provided affiliated skinhead groups such as the “WAR Skins” with leaflets and stickers. The Aryan Youth Movement/White Student Union distributed publications in California schools, and skinhead groups blanketed various areas of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino Counties with their leaflets, notably including the Disneyland parking lot.
By the late 1980s, Metzger began appearing on television talk shows across the nation, often accompanied by affiliated skinhead groups. He was a guest on a number of talk show including the Oprah Winfrey Show, and his son John appeared on the Geraldo Rivera Show. This level of publicity encouraged local skinhead groups to see him as an important ally and a financial resource.
John Metzger on Gerarldo Rivera talk show taping, Nov. 3, 1988
In September of 1988, 19-year-old Dave Mazella, vice president of the Aryan Youth Movement, was charged with three other members by police in Salinas, California with battery and disturbing the peace for reportedly threatening to kill a teenager who had tried to talk a friend out of joining the WAR Skins. On November 13 of the same year, Mazella and three others assaulted and killed an Ethiopian man named Mulugeta Seraw in Portland, Oregon. Lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center sued Metzger and his son for 10 million dollars for inciting the violence. At the trial, Dave Mazzella testified about how the Metzgers instructed WAR members to commit violence against minorities. Tom and his son John Metzger were found civilly liable under the legal doctrine of vicarious liability. The jury returned the largest civil verdict in Oregon history at the time against Metzger. The verdict bankrupted Metzger and WAR, and over the next few decades Metzger found himself in occasional legal trouble, although he managed to escape any serious convictions or prison time. For the rest of his life, Metzger advocated for a much lower public profile for those in white nationalist circles, and died in November 2020.
Copyright notice: Any materials under copyright in this exhibit are covered by the Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act. Permission and preferred attribution were requested of all copyright holders.
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