Former Klansmen Tom Metzger and Bill Riccio Encourage Skinheads to Cooperate

Once, racist skinheads were regarded as too explosively violent to politicized. Two former Klansmen changed all that for good.

Bill Riccio

BILL RICCIO
"Send us your broken toys, and we'll fix them," Bill Riccio said to the camera.

It was 1992 and Riccio, then 35, was starring in the HBO documentary "Skinheads, U.S.A." that detailed life inside the Aryan Youth Front, a skinhead crew organized by Riccio and based in Birmingham, Ala. Though he was not connected to Metzger, Riccio had originally called his loyal band of racist misfits White Aryan Resistance. He changed the name to avoid confusion, but kept calling the backwoods shack he rented "the WAR House."

The WAR House was equal parts skinhead recruiting station, clubhouse, and crash pad. It was where Riccio, a former Klan chaplain, kept his toy soldiers, who were white teenaged boys, many of them runaways. He plied them with beer, and systemically indoctrinated them in racial hatred and his own special brand of neo-Confederate Hitler worship.

As Riccio explained in the documentary, his ultimate goal was to reclaim the South for pure Aryans. "Those nigger-loving race traitors can go move to San Francisco or somewhere else where they might feel more welcome among its large gay population," he said.

Though based in Birmingham, at the height of his influence, in mid-1992, Riccio was the de facto Nazi youth troop leader of a network of at least 70 skinheads in Alabama, Florida and Georgia. (Riccio worked closely with the Confederate Hammerskins.) Skinheads from as far away as York, Pa., made pilgrimages to the WAR House. By that time, Riccio had been convicted in 1979 of possessing a sawed-off shotgun, in 1981 of violating probation by illegally possessing a firearm, and in 1985, again, for illegal possession of a firearm, as well as marijuana.

While Metzger benefited from the media attention and the revenue generated by his skinhead outreach, Riccio seemed to simply adore being adored. He didn't profit from his skinhead followers -- the WAR House was funded by his small auto-parts business -- but he did enjoy their unconditional loyalty.

"I wish Bill would have been my biological father," one of the teenaged AYF skins says in the HBO documentary. "He is my father. He's all these youths' father, every single one of us."

Riccio worked hand-in-hand with Alabama Klan leader Roger Handley. In November 1991, they co-hosted a huge skinhead and Klan gathering on Handley's farm. The two co-organized a white power march by 150 skinheads and Klansmen through downtown Birmingham the following June. (When Handley was later brought up on sodomy charges involving a teenaged boy, Riccio defended him, dismissing the accusations as false and obviously part of a law enforcement conspiracy to defame the Klan.)

The lessons Riccio taught were not child's play. Skinheads under his sway committed at least two murders in Alabama. In one of those cases, three skins were arrested for beating and kicking a homeless man to death under a railroad trestle in April 1992, just hours after attending an Adolf Hitler birthday party at the WAR House. One of the killers, then 17-year-old Confederate Hammerskin Mark Lane, had written on his application that he wanted to join the movement "to benefit my race and help my brothers and sisters of the Aryan persuasion destroy all the scum and degenerates of our land."

Four months later, in August 1992, the WAR House was raided as part of multi-state sweep of white supremacist groups. Police found guns and grenades on Riccio's property, and arrested him again for illegal weapons possession.

After serving 15 months in federal prison on a conviction for that felony, Riccio moved back to the WAR House and renewed his devotion to the Klan, eventually becoming Imperial Kludd, or national chaplain, of the North Georgia White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Today, Riccio still occasionally shows up at Klan events with a detail of skinheads in tow, and some of the first generation of broken toys he wound up and turned loose, who are now in their mid-to-late 20s, remain active in the white supremacist movement.

As the judge who sentenced him in 1992 put it: "It is [Riccio's] apparent ability to organize and mobilize disenchanted young white males even to acts of violence that makes him dangerous."