Motley Crews: With Decline of Hammerskins, Independent Skinhead Groups Grow

Recruitment Commerce
According to the minutes of the meeting, the council members decided they would meet once a year in the future, and that any group "meeting the council criteria" would send two representatives. They also established a "uniform code of appearance and conduct" for "large scale public actions," and designated the neo-Nazi National Alliance as their official "political outlet."

The former Outlaw Hammerskins also reversed themselves on the issue of hate rock, according to the minutes, deciding by majority vote to "explore the option of holding events for the general public for profit." This was a major shift. Hammerskin Nation and Volksfront have a long history of organizing hate rock festivals to raise money and also of channeling hate rock CDs and neo-Nazi flags, shirts, pins, patches, and other paraphernalia to countries where such items are banned. But when the Outlaw Hammerskins broke away, they announced they would have nothing to do with the shady business of hate rock or recruitment commerce. With the exception of the Keystone State Skinheads, the council crews had all followed suit.

So what changed their minds?

Perhaps the hate rock company representatives who also attended the Council of 28 convinced the skinhead leaders there that if they would just put down their mead drinking horns and pick up their thinking caps, they could make serious money. "The Vinlanders have the backing of the hate rock record labels now, the labels are bringing money to the table," says Detective Browning.

White power music, after all, is a more lucrative underground trade in Europe than dealing in hashish, according to Interpol. The demand for American skinhead music is tremendous there both because there are far more skinheads and because it's illegal for hate rock bands to perform, record, or even rehearse in most European countries. So while skinheads in Europe for the most part consider their American counterparts to be drunken buffoons -- and with good reason -- they are dependent upon the disorganized crime of U.S. skinheads to supply them with merchandise they otherwise couldn't have.

For these reasons, U.S. skinheads wield huge influence overseas, especially in Germany and the former Soviet Union, where there are 30,000-50,000 skinheads in Moscow alone, according to Russian police. They terrorize and kill non-whites and Jews at a rate unimaginable in this country. In Russia, skinhead culture, much of it exported from the U.S., has brought death and destruction for a generation. (There is also some European influence on U.S. skinheads. For example, the Burnden County Hooligans, a New Jersey crew, consists entirely of Polish-speaking immigrants).

Skinhead criminal activity in the United States is still far less severe than in Moscow or, for that matter, Prague or Paris. But as independent crews continue to proliferate, and the ultra-violent skins of the Vinlanders and similar groups vie with the leftovers of Hammerskin Nation, it seems likely that skinhead activity here will grow, as it has recently after about a decade in remission.

So far, most of the serious violence has been contained within the white power world (for example, the vicious beating the Vinlanders gave a National Socialist Movement speaker and two of his comrades at this year's Nordic Fest). But as any gang cop knows, the most dangerous member of a street gang is not the "O.G." ("Original Gangster") with a well-established street reputation, but the newbie looking to do whatever it takes to make a name for himself and his gang. The skinhead scene in this country has become a land of the white power up-and-comers, each of them a human hand grenade, just looking for an excuse to pull their own pin.

Laurie Wood contributed to this report.