Skinheads

Extremist Groups: Information for Students. Volume 2. Detroit: Gale, 2006.

The Skinheads is a commonly used term for members of various groups that reportedly originated in Great Britain in the 1960s. All members of this movement have shaved heads, thus the name. Unlike other extremist organizations, the Skinheads are divided into numerous factions and units. As anti-racism experts suggest, the various groups are decentralized. In other words, there is no single group controlling or monitoring all the other groups that are part of the Skinhead movement. There are a few factions that are thought to be more powerful and influential than others.

History


The Skinhead phenomenon started in Great Britain, reportedly in the late 1960s. Members of this group have shaved heads, an attribute that was responsible for the name of the group. Published reports and analysts state that all members of this group were whites who came from lower-middle-class families in the United Kingdom. The group was thought to be formed in protest of the rising numbers of Asian immigrants and homosexuals in the country.

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a number of racist attacks against the non-white community, especially Asians. Subsequently, a number of smaller groups were formed. Other white youths also formed their own Skinhead units, in different parts of the country. Members of all these groups bore similar styles and physical appearances. However, according to a few experts, many youths during this time merely adopted the appearance of Skinheads, and were known for minor incidents of rioting and hooliganism, for no specific reason.

The hard rock culture, prevalent during the 1960s and 1970s, is also thought to have played a part in the growth of the various Skinhead groups. Members, allegedly, spread their message through rock bands that played "Oi," white power music. These are pro-white songs that have lyrics supporting racism and violence. Analysts and monitor groups assert that members of such bands also sport head styles and clothing similar to those used by the Skinheads.

In the 1980s, the Skinhead phenomenon started spreading to other countries and continents. Among these were Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States. The United States reportedly saw a steep rise in the number of Skinheads in the mid 1980s. This was matched by a growing number of racist and violent incidents in the country. Such trends were also reported from the other countries.

At this time, according to published reports, many new groups associating themselves with the Skinheads were also being formed. However, analysts and experts state that although the groups had similar objectives, their tactics and ideology differed significantly. The media reported a number of killings and other crimes allegedly carried out by various Skinhead factions. Consequently, most people termed all Skinhead groups as racist and violent. As thought by hate crime experts, certain Skinheads who did not agree with the violent tactics of other members formed their own organizations.

Most Skinhead groups could now be divided into two major categories: the neo-Nazis, or racist Skinheads, and the non-racist groups such as Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARPs), formed in New York in 1987; Anti-Racist Action (ARA), formed in 1988; and Red and Anarchist Skinheads (RASH), formed in 1993. These groups believed in anti-racism and were against the use of violence. Groups that were against homosexuality were also thought to be formed during this period.

According to reports, the neo-Nazi groups gained considerable prominence in the 1980s and 1990s. Many such factions claimed responsibilities for a number of hate crimes against African Americans, Asians, gays, and even anti-racist Skinheads. Among these groups, the most prominent sub-groups were the Hammerskins, the Redskins, the Anarchists, and the White Racialists.

Most hate crime analysts and experts assert that Hammerskin Nation, a Hammerskin group formed in Dallas, Texas, in the late 1980s, is the most ruthless, feared, and violent neo-Nazi Skinhead unit in the United States. Its members have reportedly organized and carried out various racist operations targeting non-whites in the country. The group is reportedly supported by some racist rock bands as well. The Hammerskin Nation claims to be a parent organization of a number of smaller Hammerskin groups located in the United States, as well as in other countries that have a predominantly white population (Germany, Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia and Russia.) Some of these smaller units are the Confederate Hammerskins, Eastern Hammerskins, the Northern Hammerskins, and the Arizona Hammerskins—all of these were reportedly formed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As of 2005, most of these groups are thought to be active and dangerous.

The Hammerskins and other neo-Nazi Skinhead organizations have allegedly organized and carried out operations and rallies in association with other prominent racist groups in the United States. These include the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nations, the White Aryan Resistance (WAR), and the World Church of the Creator. According to published reports, the neo-Nazi Skinheads between 1987 and 2000 killed at least forty-three people in the United States itself. Apart from this, there have been hundreds of other hate crime incidents reported in the United States.

According to reports, since 2001, the number of groups in the United States affiliated with racist Skinheads has been on the rise. Between 2002 and 2003 alone, the number increased from eleven groups to twenty-two groups. Worldwide, there are many more. As of 2005, most reports estimate the total number of Skinhead members within the United States to several thousands. It is thought by analysts that more racist Skinhead groups have also been formed in the recent past. The most prominent of these is the White Power Liberation Front (WPLF).

The various anti-racist Skinhead organizations such as SHARP and RASH have also spread to other countries since early 1990. As of 2005, these organizations reportedly have several members in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, Australia, and Brazil.

It should be noted that to counter the hate crimes of Skinhead groups in the United States, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) formed, in 1989, the Skinhead Task Force as part of its Civil Rights Division. Ever since, this task force has prosecuted numerous youths (alleged members of Skinhead groups) on charges of murder, beatings, vandalism, and other crimes.

Philosophy and Tactics


The Skinheads are thought to be young white males ranging from 11-25 years. The main ideology of most Skinhead groups is white supremacy. A majority of Skinhead groups are racist and target their operations and activities at minorities, including blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Jews. Some Skinheads also target homosexuals. Skinheads reportedly follow Nazi ideologies, thus being commonly categorized as neo-Nazi groups.

Analysts speculate that the youths who joined various Skinhead groups in the 1970s and 1980s came from lower income families. The groups at the time also comprised of a number of school dropouts and other youths with seemingly violent behavior.

Since the mid 1990s and early 2000s, although such characteristics hold true for most members of racist Skinhead units, experts suggest that considerable groups have started seeing an influx of older white males (above thirty years of age), and even those who are educated with college degrees. The racist Skinheads claim to be superior and pride themselves in being white. Some analysts even assert that one of the reasons for the formation of such groups is that most Skinheads felt that minorities were given privileged treatment in certain areas.

The physical appearance and attire is similar among most, if not all, Skinhead factions. Skinheads usually have shaved heads, wear suspenders, jackets, and boots, in addition to having heavily tattooed bodies. Much of their clothing consists of numerous emblems, including the swastika and Celtic cross.

The Skinhead groups employ a number of tactics to spread their message. As thought by hate crime monitor groups and organizations, the most prominent medium Skinheads use is white power music. A large number of racist rock bands are associated with certain Skinhead units. For instance, the Hammerskin Nation allegedly sponsors numerous rock concerts that play white power music. The lyrics of all songs that form a part of such music are known to be violent and racially prejudiced. Monitor groups claim that these kinds of rock concerts are an easy way for Skinheads to attract and employ disgruntled white youths.

Most Skinhead factions are thought to use the Internet extensively for propagating their ideology. The more prominent organizations reportedly have web sites. They are also known to use online message boards and mailing lists (through email) as part of their overall campaign. In fact, according to hate crime experts, Skinheads have been using the Internet even before the World Wide Web was formed. They would use several Usenet Newsgroups (a worldwide network on newsgroups) to proclaim their philosophies. As reports would suggest, as of 2005, bigger organizations such as the Hammerskin Nation have their own publications.

The different mediums are supposedly also used to recruit new members. In addition, monitor groups allege that members are directly recruited from juvenile detention facilities. Hammerskin Nation is one group that allegedly recruits in this manner extensively. However, most Skinhead units are thought to be rather selective in their approach to recruiting. Leaders of some units have stated in public that they prefer "quality over quantity." New recruits reportedly undergo significant trial periods and are employed only if they can "prove" themselves.

Hate crime monitor groups argue that, often in the past, there has been internal fighting within Skinhead units. Members of various racist Skinhead factions are thought to have opposed certain tactics of their leaders. Subsequently, they have either left (forming their own units) or have been kicked out. The monitor groups suggest that such members are termed as "cowards" who have "not lived up to their oath." Such tactics, experts claim, again point to the fact that most Skinhead groups prefer "quality over quantity."

The racist, or neo-Nazi, Skinheads use violent tactics to assert their propaganda. This includes murders, beatings, harassment, and vandalism. Since 1970, racist Skinheads have been charged and/or convicted of several hundred murders and hate crimes around the world. Many of these are violent in nature. Hate crime monitor groups assert that a large number of killings by Skinheads are only because the other person is not white. For instance, in 1991, a few members of the Confederate Hammerskins claimed that after getting drunk they simply felt like "doing a drive by" and "shooting a black person." Many groups, especially the larger ones, have also organized anti-minority rallies and processions. Analysts claim that, in the past, a number of such rallies were held in cooperation with other white supremist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and White Aryan Resistance. Skinhead groups are also thought to receive funding from these organizations.

However, not all Skinhead groups are racist. A large number of Skinheads have in the past formed their own organizations that reportedly oppose racist Skinheads. These organizations (such as SHARP, ARA, and RASH) are thought to be anti-racists. According to monitor groups, such anti-racist Skinheads also organize their own rally with the mission of propagating ideologies of anti-racism. Reports suggest that there have been clashes between the anti-racist and neo-Nazi Skinheads. However, none of these are considered significant.

In the past, Skinheads have also reportedly targeted homosexuals. Analysts claim that certain Skinhead factions consider homosexuals to be "equal" with non-whites, even though the homosexual may be white. Alternatively, reports suggest that there are also Gay Skinheads—groups that consist of homosexuals seemingly formed to oppose anti-gay Skinheads.

Other Perspectives


The acts of violence carried out by various racist Skinhead groups have been condemned the world over. Governments, civil rights organizations, hate crime experts, and analysts have been vocal about the tactics and ideology of these groups.

The Anti Defamation League (ADL), one of the prominent organizations fighting hate crimes and hate groups, carried out a survey titled "The Skinhead International: A Worldwide Survey of Neo-Nazi Skinheads," in 1995. The purpose of the survey, according to the ADL, was to assess the threat posed by racist Skinhead groups around the world. After the release of this survey, the then-director of ADL, Abraham H. Foxman, stated "It is unbelievable that three generations after the Holocaust, we still hear the deadly march of Nazi thugs around the world. Cruel history has taught us that we dare not ignore the first sounds of jackboots. The violent and racist Skinhead movement must be countered by government, law enforcement and all decent people."

Foxman continued: "Of great concern is the extent to which disparate neo-Nazi Skinhead groups are globally linked. Through technology and travel, neo-Nazi Skinheads are able to share and promote their ideology beyond borders. They are linked by the travels of popular Skinhead rock bands, the worldwide marketing of Skinhead paraphernalia and music, the sale and trading of publications known as skinzines, and the use of computer bulletin boards and the Internet."

The U.S. Department of Justice that formed a special task force to deal with the crimes carried out by the Skinheads has also made strong statements against the group. In 2002, after eight members of Montana Skinheads were sentenced for civil right crimes, Ralph F. Boyd, Jr., Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, stated: "These convictions and sentences send a strong message that acts of violence based on race and national origin have no place in our society. The Justice Department will continue to vigorously pursue and prosecute those who commit crimes because of the color of a person's skin."

During the National Conference of Editorial Writers, held in Washington D.C., in April 2005, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was asked to comment on an incident that involved members of a certain Skinhead group beating up an African-American diplomat in Ukraine. In response, Rice stated: "It's a very ugly incident. It is not an unknown fact about Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, that this kind of behavior by skinheads, particularly against people of color, has been a problem in the past. This is an area of the world I know really well both as a specialist and as a person of color, and so I'm very aware of these problems."

On the other hand, members of most racist Skinhead groups are thought to be highly committed to their cause. Jimmy Matchette, one of the leaders of Hammerskin Nation, in a statement to other members of the group said, "Being a Hammerskin is the distinct feeling of being set apart from the entire planet. And of knowing we will conquer & overcome all obstacles to achieve our goals and accomplish our great work, knowing that if we fail, all is lost forever and the west will perish." He adds: "Even though I am locked down in a maximum security federal penitentiary, I wouldn't [have] traded the opportunity for all the gold in the world. You my true comrades hold all the glory of victory at your fingertips. We really are the most notorious White power Skinhead group in the entire World!"

Summary


The Skinhead movement that reportedly started in the 1960s, in the United Kingdom has, as of 2005, spread to many countries across most continents. Various Skinhead factions have been held responsible for several hate crimes, including murders against minorities, including blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. Members of the racist Skinhead groups are thought to be young white males, mostly from lower income families. Most of these groups are known to borrow their ideology from the Nazis.

Governments around the world have formed task forces to combat the operations of these groups. Alternatively, a number of anti-racist Skinhead groups have also been formed since the late 1980s. These groups aim at opposing their racist counterparts.