John Daly tells Story of Being a Jew in a Racist Skinhead Group in Orlando
John Daly says he was forced to join a neo-Nazi skinhead gang. But once he was in, he liked it -- until his comrades found out he was a Jew.
When he was 16, John Daly engaged in perhaps the ultimate form of teenage rebellion for a Jew: he became a neo-Nazi skinhead.
It was the summer of 1989, and Daly was living with his family in Ocala, Fla. He was a part of a non-racist, traditional skinhead clique that he says was coerced to join a hardcore racist skinhead gang based in Orlando. A few months later, that gang became a part of American Front, a nationwide skinhead organization that operated hand-in-glove with White Aryan Resistance (WAR), the violent hate group led by notorious white supremacist Tom Metzger.
Running the streets of Ocala with "my own pack of human pit bulls," often in a T-shirt with human skulls forming a portrait of Hitler, Daly rose fast through the American Front ranks, and was soon promoted to North Florida officer, or regional leader. Whatever Daly's reasons for initially joining the racist gang, he began to relish the power trip and the taboo rush of being a Nazi skinhead leader. But all the while, he lived in quiet terror that his "Aryan brothers" would discover that he was a Jew in their midst. "The more I saw what these guys were capable of doing, the more I became concerned for my well-being," he said in a recent interview with the Intelligence Report. "Eventually, I realized that sooner or later it was going to come out that I was Jewish, and I started keeping a diary to help law enforcement track down my killers."
Daly's worst fears were realized in October 1990, when American Front officers learned his secret, then lured him to a late-night skinhead party in Daytona Beach. There, he was beaten down, stomped, and nearly drowned in knee-high surf by seven other skinheads. Based on information Daly provided, his attackers were caught and charged under Florida's then-new hate crimes law, which enhances penalties for violent crimes motivated by racial or religious bigotry. Two high-ranking American Front skinheads were convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The Florida Supreme Court upheld their convictions in a landmark decision that is still studied in law schools.
By cooperating with law enforcement, Daly hastened the decline of the American Front. The group had faded into obscurity by the mid-1990s, but has lately been resurging. Earlier this year, two Salt Lake City men in their early 20s pleaded guilty to randomly attacking a black man as part of an American Front initiation.
Now 32, John Daly lives in Israel, where he sells real estate and speaks fluent Hebrew. He learned the language after repeated death threats prompted him to emigrate in 1997. The Intelligence Report recently interviewed Daly about his experience living a double life as a Jewish Nazi skin.
INTELLIGENCE REPORT: How were you introduced to skinhead culture?
JOHN DALY: Ocala was a small town when I was a teenager. Country music was the rage, but I couldn't relate to it, and I wasn't a jock, so I was on the fringes of the teenage social scene. When I was 16, I started hanging out with a bunch of guys who were into the traditional skinhead culture. We were non-racist. We even had a black guy called "Black Joe" who was into the culture. Mostly, we'd just hang out and drink beer. Whenever the jocks and rednecks would harass the skateboarders we'd offer the skaters protection. But overall we were far more concerned with where the beer would be coming from than we were with anything political.
IR: So how did you go from being a non-racist to a neo-Nazi skin?
DALY: Two of my buddies went to this punk club in Orlando, where they met up with some hardcore racist skins from a gang called AYF, or Aryan Youth Front, and these AYF guys told them, more or less, "Join us or die." You have to understand that, at this time, there was a blood feud in Florida between racist and non-racist skinheads. There was a group out of Miami called the Grudge Skins, who were SHARPs [Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice], and they were basically assassinating members of the Social Outcast skins, which was a white power gang. The Grudge Skins were shooting them. It was gang warfare. Our skinhead group in Ocala was basically neutral, and we thought we were too small-time to attract either side's attention, but when the AYF Nazis came across my friends in Orlando, they saw an opportunity to claim Ocala as racist skinhead territory, and they took it. They terrorized my buddies into giving up the names and addresses of the other traditional skins in Ocala. So one day in May 1990, there was a knock at my front door, and when I opened it there were three hardcore guys in their Nazi skinhead regalia—jeans, Doc Martens [boots], swastikas, bomber jackets. They said they wanted me to take a ride with them.
IR: Did you go?
DALY: I was afraid that if I refused, they'd force their way into the house. And if they did that, they'd see the flag of Israel my parents had up, and the Hanukkah candelabra. My two younger brothers were inside, and I didn't want them to be in danger. So I went for the ride. We got into a blue Suzuki Samurai owned by one of the guys, Ritchie Myers, who would later become the Florida state leader of the American Front.
IR: What happened on the ride?
DALY: They took turns telling me little stories about mysterious things happening to guys who used to be in their gang but proved to be disloyal, like, "So-and-so stopped answering our phone calls, and he was mysteriously run over," or, "So-and-so stopped coming to parties and he mysteriously caught on fire." Then Ritchie put his hand out over the seat and said, "Welcome aboard."
IR: How did you respond?
DALY: I really couldn't say, "I'm Jewish, so thanks but no thanks," so I shook their hands and right then I became a member of the Aryan Youth Front. After this little initiation ceremony, they drove me to this old Nazi biker's house. He had Aryan Nations flags up, and a faded red swastika tattoo on his arm. He made a scary impression, and gave credence to their threats that they were going to be keeping an eye on me and would find me if I ever bailed. The message the biker delivered was, "We are everywhere."
IR: How did Aryan Youth Front become a division of the American Front?
DALY: The AYF hooked up with a guy named David Lynch, who was the eastern states commander for the American Front. [Lynch] was based out of Port St. Lucie down in South Florida. He was one of the five initial individuals who started the American Front on the west coast with Robert Heich, or "Nazi Bob," who was one of the three skinhead guys on the stage of the "Geraldo" show when Geraldo Rivera got his nose busted [in 1988]. In the summer of 1990, the American Front was really cooking in Florida, and they basically absorbed a lot of small outfits, including our gang in Ocala.