The Vinlanders Social Club was formed in 2003 by a handful of former members and associates of a rogue racist skinhead group, the Outlaw Hammerskins. Publicly the Vinlanders appeared to be a coalition of independent state skinhead crews, but in reality the group functioned as a single entity. The Vinlanders relished a reputation for drinking, brawling and following a racist version of Odinism, a form of ancient paganism once practiced by Vikings.
In Its Own Words
“Our beliefs stem from being deprived of our individual freedoms and from our witnessing of the decline of western civilization. One of the most obvious and sometimes relevant symptoms of this decline is forced integration and the decline of our towns and neighborhoods based on racial make-up.”
-- Co-founder Brien James on the group’s website in 2007
“We will die fighting together for self-determination and self-respect in a world that has turned its back on natural law and common sense.”
-- Co-founder Brien James on the group’s website in 2007
“As an organization and a tribe we will do what we have always done. We will thwart and displace those who want to harm us, and protect and better those who support us.”
-- Co-founder Brien James on the group’s website in 2007
“I am ready for Valhalla or prison to do what is right. We are sick of the lies, tired of the BS, we are calling you out: either listen to the truth or fight for your lives for the lie.”
-- Co-founder Eric Fairburn in a message board post directed at rival Hammerskin Nation in 2003
Brien James, Eric “the Butcher” Fairburn, Bryon Widner, Nate Sliter and Donald Weirich were no strangers to the racist skinhead scene when they formed the Vinlanders Social Club in 2003. James, Widner and Sliter had been members of a skinhead faction called the Outlaw Hammerskins, and Fairburn and Weirich were “hang-arounds,” or associates of the group, before starting in 2002 the Hoosier State Skinheads, a group that operated out of Indiana and Illinois. They recruited members in Ohio to start a neighboring faction, the Ohio State Skinheads. Though outwardly it appeared the two groups were separate, in reality they functioned as a single organization. As more crews were created, they all became part of what came to be known as the Vinlanders Social Club.
According to a statement by James posted on the Vinlanders website in 2007, the group was created “because we were disappointed with the movement that we dedicated our young lives to.” James wrote that the Vinlanders “was to be something that was going to replace and surpass the old guard in the skinhead scene. Even by force if necessary.” The Vinlanders was formed in large part as a direct challenge to Hammerskin Nation, a coalition of Hammerskin crews that had dominated the racist skinhead scene for more than a decade.
The schism between the Hammerskins and Vinlanders was evident in October 2005, when a meeting of the National Skinhead Council was held on the Ohio property of a Blood & Honour/C18 member. Blood & Honour and C18 – short for Combat 18 – are affiliated racist skinhead groups that split off from Blood & Honour Worldwide in England. The Vinlanders aligned themselves with the American spinoffs, while Hammerskin Nation supported Blood & Honour Worldwide. More than a dozen white supremacist groups – mostly skinhead crews but also the Imperial Klans of America (IKA) and the neo-Nazi National Alliance – were in attendance, and by the close of business the coalition decided to call itself Council 28 (2 standing for B, representing Blood; and 8 for H, meaning Honour.) Conspicuously absent were any Hammerskins and groups allied with them, such as the Portland, Ore.-based, skinhead group Volksfront.
The next gathering of Council 28 was much more eventful than the first. The Vinlanders and their allies met on Memorial Day weekend 2006 at the annual Nordic Fest hate-rock festival held at the IKA compound in Kentucky. Fairburn and James posed for a photo, mocking Hammerskin Nation by holding its flag upside down.
When Steven Boswell, a member of the Missouri branch of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, spoke to the crowd at Nordic Fest, he said that the white supremacist movement couldn’t succeed “by belonging to a social club where all we do is drink and shoot the shit every Saturday night.” The Vinlanders, assuming the comment was directed at their social club, took offense. As soon as Boswell left the stage, they pummeled and kicked him repeatedly as his wife and 10-year-old daughter watched in horror. The assault buttressed the Vinlanders’ “take no prisoners” reputation among some in the movement, but many older white supremacists bemoaned the white-on-white violence.
Two months later, Fairburn published an open challenge to Hammerskin Nation for “30 versus 30 mutual combat on neutral ground.” The Vinlanders’ first choice for combat was “fists and boots,” said Fairburn, who also has used the name Eric Wolf. The secondary option: “Bricks, bats, knives, clubs and axes.” Victors in the battle would become “the undisputed leaders of the North American scene,” he added. The Hammerskins didn’t publicly respond, and no battle ensued. Nor was it clear whether Fairburn had issued the challenge on his own or on behalf of the Vinlanders.
By 2007, the Vinlanders had eight chapters in six states. Their affiliated skinhead crews began using the Vinlander name, so the Florida State Skins, for example, became the Florida Vinlanders. But a violent encounter in downtown Indianapolis in March of that year between Fairburn, fellow Vinlanders Tim Dumas and Josh Kern and an African-American man signaled a reversal in the group’s fortunes.
According to police reports and media accounts, as Dexter Lewis passed a sidewalk table occupied by the Vinlanders, he commented to Fairburn, “Nice tattoo.” It’s unclear which tattoo he meant, as Fairburn had quite a few, including the Vinlanders insignia inked atop his scalp and the word “Murder” etched across his neck. In any case, Fairburn didn’t take the remark as a compliment. “Nigger, don’t you dare stop,” he replied.
Lewis kept going. Within a few minutes, Fairburn, Dumas and Kern tracked him down at a nearby intersection, knocked him out and then continued to punch and kick him in the face and stomach after Lewis collapsed in a crosswalk. Undeterred by the large crowd of witnesses that had gathered, one of the Vinlanders allegedly yelled to a spectator who tried to stop the attack, “Back off or you’ll get a piece of this, too.” Another of the trio told a woman on a cell phone, “If you call 911, I’ll kill you.”
All three skins were arrested a short time later. In 2007, Dumas pleaded guilty to a felony charge of criminal recklessness and was sentenced to a year in prison. Kern pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery and received 60 days. Fairburn, the ringleader in the attack, was sentenced to five years in prison, with three years suspended.
Shackled and handcuffed, Fairburn did his best to sound contrite during his sentencing hearing, respectfully answering “Yes ma’am” and “No ma’am” to the black woman judge peering down on him from the bench. When she announced that she was barring him from associating with skinheads or any other white supremacists as a condition of his suspended sentence, Fairburn didn’t hesitate to renounce the Vinlanders in open court.
“I’m no longer a member of the Vinlanders and I no longer have any association or ties whatsoever with the Vinlanders Social Club or any other [racist] clubs or anything,” Fairburn said. “I haven’t been around those people in over a year. I’m 34 years old, and I’ve got too much going on in my life to waste any more of it. ... When I decided to get out, I grabbed as many people as I could and ran for the door. Anybody who I thought I could talk some sense into, I did, and a few quit along with me.”
In fact, several longtime members did quit, in some cases joining outlaw motorcycle gangs. Others were arrested on their own criminal charges.
In September 2007, Vinlanders co-founder James stated on the group’s website that the Vinlanders and Hammerskin Nation had negotiated a truce, ending a three-year feud. “Vinlanders and the Hammerskin Nation have been conducting meetings and parties on both sides have decided to declare peace,” he wrote. But the Hammerskins made no public acknowledgement of the purported truce or the negotiations that supposedly preceded it. To the contrary, Volksfront (VF) leader Randal Krager, whose group is allied with the Hammerskins, issued a press release claiming that neither VF nor any of its affiliates had or would “make any deals with persons who have attempted to harm or slander VF.”
James declared himself the leader of the Vinlanders, which entered a period of decline. He published a lengthy statement on the group’s website in 2007 saying that the group was going its own way in the “white racialist movement.” He added, “We have attempted to change this movement from within and have not succeeded. It is our opinion that a large number of the people involved in the greater movement are paid informants, social outcasts, and general losers in life.”
There was more violence to come from Vinlanders members. In 2009, Michael Parrish, a corrections officer in Monroe County, Penn., and, secretly, a probationary member of the Vinlanders, killed his live-in girlfriend and their 2-year-old son. His apartment was filled with Nazi memorabilia, including photos and DVDs depicting Adolf Hitler. In 2010, he pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder.
In September 2010, the Phoenix New Times reported that more than a dozen members or associates of the Vinlanders in that area had been arrested in the previous year, essentially wiping them out in Arizona. Two of the reputed members, Travis Ricci and Aaron Schmidt, were indicted for the drive-by shotgun slaying of a white woman walking at night with her African-American boyfriend. Another alleged Vinlander was arrested and charged with trying to intimidate a witness in Ricci and Schmidt’s case. In May 2011, Ricci was sentenced in another case to 22 years in state prison for bashing his girlfriend’s head into a wall at a party and stabbing the two men who came to her aid, one in the hand, the other in the neck.
After being released from prison in 2009 for his Indianapolis assault, Fairburn turned himself in to police in that city in September 2010 and confessed to the 2004 murder of a man in Springfield, Mo. The man, William McDaniel, was allegedly responsible for the drunken driving death of one of Fairburn’s friends. In June 2011 Fairburn was convicted of second-degree murder and is serving life in prison.
In June 2011, Bryon Widner was the focus of the MSNBC documentary “Erasing Hate,” which chronicled the excruciating series of treatments he received to remove the racist tattoos that covered his face and neck. Widner, who had left the movement in 2006, publicly renounced his white supremacist views.
In the summer of 2011, the Vinlanders held their first-ever white power concert, entitled “Plunder and Pillage,” which drew more than 50 racist skins to Ohio from around the country. Then, at a later concert James hung out with Richie Myers, head of the Florida faction of the Confederate Hammerskins, a sign that the truce declared four years earlier with the Hammerskins apparently was still in force.