One of the two white nationalists arrested after a violent surprise attack by anti-racists in suburban Chicago has a long history of activism on the racist right and was suspected of having ties to several militias in the late 1990s. The other has a lengthy record of arrests on battery and drug charges and writes prolifically on a white nationalist Web forum.
Francis John Gilroy, 65, of West Palm Beach, Fla., was charged with unlawful possession of weapons by a felon after a melee that began when 18 masked intruders attacked a group of white nationalists, including Gilroy, who were meeting in a suburban Chicago restaurant last Saturday.
Longtime white supremacist and former Klan leader Don Black said on his radio show Monday that Gilroy was arrested for having a pistol in his truck. Gilroy has appeared on Black’s show – the “Don and Derek Black Show” – under the name “Father Francis.”
Gilroy, who goes by the name “Copperhead” on Stormfront, the white nationalist web forum where the Chicago meeting was promoted, was arrested in 1999 outside of West Palm Beach after refusing to cooperate with police when he was pulled over for failing to signal a turn. According to the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Gilroy wound up in jail because he wouldn’t provide a driver’s license. Broward County sheriff’s deputies then found several handguns, two assault rifles and 3,000 rounds of ammunition in his van. The Sun Sentinel also reported at the time that FBI agents seized documents related to groups called the Florida Patriots, the North Carolina Patriots and what deputies described as “several other active militia groups across the country.” While in the patrol car, Gilroy had to be put in a special restraint after he slipped his handcuffs under his legs from behind his back.
Gilroy apparently wasn’t the only one who brought a gun. Brandon Spiller, 29, told the TinleyParkPatch, a local newspaper, that he had a pistol in his vehicle but was not able to get to it during the attack. The newspapers showed pictures of Spiller in a bloody shirt, with a gash on his head and a swollen eye. “It’s almost as if it was a terrorist attack,” said Spiller, who was hospitalized and received eight staples in his head. He added that he “had no idea” why his group was targeted.
Also taken into custody after the attack was Steven Eugene Speers, 33, of Grand Forks, N.D., who was arrested on a warrant for possession of child pornography from Dallas County, Texas. Speers, who goes by the name “Steven the Viking” on Stormfront, has a long criminal history, with at least four arrests for battery between January 2000 and July 2005. He was released from prison in Florida in 2009 after serving two years for a felony battery conviction. He earlier was convicted in Texas for possessing marijuana.
On Oct. 15, 2011, Speers wrote on Stormfront that he needed legal help in a child custody struggle and didn’t have the “upfront money” to pay a lawyer. He wrote that the child’s mother had a restraining order against him that extended to his daughter. In a later, unrelated post, he extolled the virtues of nudity in a thread in which other posters criticized a young white woman for posing nude for a magazine feature called “Hot Homies.”
The Chicago meeting that was attacked – dubbed the 5th annual White Nationalist Economic Summit and Illinois White Nationalist Meet-and-Greet – was in the planning stage for months.
Shawn Thomas Vachet, 40, a former member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance and a moderator on Stormfront who writes there under the name “kayden,” posted invitations to the strategy session and urged supporters to attend. Vachet has drug-related convictions dating back more than 20 years. He has served time in prison and been arrested for a parole violation.
Vachet is also a big supporter and organizer for the so-called Upper Midwest Initiative, which is a plan to entice white Americans to move to five states in the Upper Midwest – South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska – and particularly to the Sioux Falls, S.D., area. As Vachet puts it, the group “helps kinfolk who want to make the move to the ‘Great White North.’” They should “move to an area that has more Whites (sic) than non-whites … and build racially conscious communities,” Vachet says in one Stormfront post.
In recent days, Vachet has faced criticism – and suspicion – from racists online for not attending the event he promoted. He has claimed his vehicle broke down about 90 miles outside of Chicago. On the White Reference forum, a commenter wrote: “I’ve heard something very strange, one of the top organizers of this thing was a guy who goes by the nickname “KAYDEN” over on Stormfront. He is also a honcho in the area NSM. He oddly DIDN’T SHOW UP for his own gathering. Anybody else smell a rat?”
The woman believed to have made the reservation for the luncheon meeting at the Ashford House restaurant identified herself as Beckie Williams to the local press. She goes by the name “sgathaich” on Stormfront. Williams is active in the Council of Conservative Citizens, a hate group formed from the old White Citizens Councils, the Southern white supremacist groups that fought against school desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s.
Mike Winston, co-owner of the Ashford House restaurant, told Hatewatch that Williams lied about the meeting’s purpose, saying it was for an Irish heritage group.
Anti-Racist Action took credit for the attack. About 18 masked attackers allegedly wielded bats and hammers, and threw chairs around, just as the lunch meeting got under way, said police in Tinley Park, Ill. Ten people were injured in the fracas, and five Indiana men were charged Monday for the attack.
Police say they’re still working to identify those who fled.