Ex-Skinhead Recalls Violent Past
As a teenager, Brian Patterson was on a fast track to hell. The product of a ruptured home and a racist father, Patterson in the late 1980s fell in with neo-Nazi skinheads, including a period in Alabama with notorious Aryan Youth Front leader Bill Riccio. When he was homeless, alone, angry and abusing drugs and booze at age 18, a mysterious stranger stepped into Patterson’s life and rescued him: a self-avowed black Muslim named Alfred. Several months after their encounter, the older man and the teenager parted ways — but the crossing of their paths made an indelible impression on Patterson, who has fully rejected racism and hate. Now 38, Patterson, who contacted the Intelligence Report because he felt the world needed to hear his story, still is haunted by the memory of a terrible crime he committed while in the thrall of hate. Several times as he spoke of his youth and the pain he caused, he repeated, “That’s something I’ll have to live with,” as if he were describing a sentence imposed by a court. Today, Patterson still is struggling to make a living and build a life — he is unemployed and living on the Mississippi Gulf coast — but he is at peace knowing his days of hate are behind him. He’d like to find Alfred and thank him — but no one knows what happened to Patterson’s dark angel.
I was born in Tupelo, Miss., and I lived there until I was 8 years old. This is Tupelo in the ’70s. My dad was racist, very racist. All of his friends and everybody that I was around was racist.
Was he a member of organizations or was it just racist talk?
He was in the Klan. So was my grandfather and pretty much everybody I grew up knowing. [My father] wasn’t mean to us, but he was violent. He liked to fight. One of my oldest memories is — I don’t know if, back then, they were Mexicans or if they were just Hispanics or what, but they had moved into an area that dad was living in and they got into a brawl. A knife fight. That’s one of my earliest memories.
You witnessed his violence, then?
Oh, yeah. I witnessed it. Then, of course, through the years, they’d get drunk and retell the story. I really don’t remember [my parents’] divorce, but I know that they were not together because [my mother] went on a date one time, and I have the memory of my dad beating the hell out of this guy, you know, right in front of us.
So violence was a part of life?
Yeah, it was routine. We were raised to be tough. Not to each other, but to outsiders and what [we] didn’t agree with. We were raised to do violence against it. Around age 9, me and my brother and my mother moved to Pensacola, Fla. Mama said she moved to get away from my father. My mother got remarried. This guy, my stepdad, was kind of violent towards us. I don’t know if you want to call it violent — he enjoyed discipline, put it that way.
So I wound up going back to Tupelo at 11. I went and lived with my father until I was 15. That’s where [the hate] really took root. During that time I really got indoctrinated. All of the kids in the area were indoctrinated into that way of thinking. We went to Klan rallies, and we loved it. We thought it was great. I mean, there’s this big group of family and friends. As teenagers, as kids, they’re not going to let us see the bad side of it.
These Klan rallies were just like campfire parties to you?
Exactly. I hate to compare it to kind of a youth program, but that’s really what it was. I think they took the idea from Hitler Youth-type shit, you know. Get them while they’re young.
Why did you leave Tupelo the second time?
Well, at 15, I went through what every teenager in the world probably goes through: rebellion. I started experimenting, doing a little drugs and drinking. My dad, he was real strict. I knew that mom was lenient, so I threw a fit until I got to go back to live with her. You see a pattern develop here, jumping back and forth. I wound up back in Florida, and from the time I got there, my step-dad and I don’t get along.
So I’m basically on the streets from 15 to 18. You got the punk rock scene and the skinhead scene and that’s where I wound up. I moved back and forth from Pensacola to Mobile, Ala. A couple of months here, a couple of months there, just drifting back and forth with the crowd. The skinhead scene was pretty big in Mobile. I don’t know if a lot of people know that, but we had National White Resistance and WAR, White Aryan Resistance. The Klan was real big there, too.
We’re talking about the late ’80s?
Late ’80s, early ’90s. By the time I was 18, I had burned bridges with my family. My family didn’t want anything to do with me. I had fallen in with a violent group of skinheads. There were things that I did that I’m not proud of and I’ll have to carry with me for the rest of my life. I never killed anybody; I never robbed a store or anything like that. But there was fighting. There was a lot of fighting, a lot of beatings.
Gang violence. Mostly gang confrontations. You could call them turf wars, I guess. You know, trying to keep blacks out of the neighborhoods that were predominantly white.
So it was white gang against non-white gang? Not between the white gangs?
Right. We tried to get along with the other white kids, and of course, indoctrinate them. There’s where I met Bill Riccio. There was a documentary on him. I helped him set up that camp that he had in Alabama. I was part of that group. [Editor’s note: Bill Riccio, a former Klan chaplain and neo-Nazi, was the head of a racist skinhead group called the Aryan Youth Front in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Riccio around that time set up a backwoods camp he called “the WAR House” — for White Aryan Resistance. It was equal parts skinhead recruiting station, clubhouse and crash pad. It was home base for Riccio’s “toy soldiers,” white teenaged boys, many of them runaways, whom he plied with beer while indoctrinating them in racial hatred and Hitler worship. In 1992, Riccio was the subject of an HBO documentary “Skinheads, U.S.A.” that detailed life inside the Aryan Youth Front.]
Did you personally do things that you now regret having done?
Just mainly fighting. Hurting people. Beating black kids. We would go into a black neighborhood, or a neighborhood that was being encroached upon by black gangs. If we attacked somebody in a certain area, they wouldn’t see it coming. We’d ambush them. We’d make sure not to take on too large a group. That way, they didn’t see who we were.
Doing that tends to hurt somebody pretty bad. And I did. On one occasion, I hurt somebody pretty bad. I cracked his head open pretty good. He never saw it coming.
Did you use a weapon?
It was the end of an axe handle. I mean, that’s something that I’ll have to live with, you know.
Do you still have memories of that? Does it come back to you sometimes?
I think about it all the time. Every time I see a young kid, I think about it. It’s not that I can’t live with it. It’s just — I mean, it’s a terrible thing to have to think about that you did to somebody. I’m not proud of it, but that’s something I have to live with.
Tell me about your time with Riccio.
He set up this camp in Alabama. He had these homeless kids, and they got indoctrinated into the skinhead thing. He had a little Nazi camp, or whatever, set up out there, and he was teaching them how to shoot guns and teaching them how to be little Nazi fuckers. We basically helped him do that. We helped him clean the place up and set it up so he could accommodate more people.
But then you found yourself alone. How did that happen?
I was in Pensacola one time and I got stuck there with some of my so-called friends — basically wound up by myself and stuck on Pensacola Beach. They left me there. I’m assuming we got into it, and they left me.
You had no transportation?
Right. I’m footin’ it. No money, no food. This goes on for a while. I’m just kind of drifting around and getting food stamps, whatnot, getting a little help downtown at the shelter. I was afraid to stay in the city because there I am, a racist sporting Doc Martens [boots, much favored by skinheads] and suspenders and dirty clothes and little Nazi patches. Man, I got out of the city. I went to the country. I went to where there were some woods. I wound up north of the city in the country area. I’m still in Pensacola, but I’m kind of on the outskirts.
Were the Nazi insignia on your clothing or did you have tattoos?
No, I don’t have any Nazi tattoos. It was just on my clothes. I had a little patch. You know the little armband? When I had people around, I liked to sport that. I thought I was big shit. I found out real quickly I wasn’t. When you’re all alone, you find out real quick what you’re made of.
Did you consider going back to your family?
By this time, I’m at the end of my rope. I had burned bridges with my family, I couldn’t go back to them. There were a lot of fights between my family and me and in my mind there was no going back.
So I’m just wandering. I’m homeless and wandering at 18 years old. I got no food; I got no money; it’s cold. I got no winter clothes, no blanket. So I’m sleeping in this patch of woods by this lodge. There’s a lodge and a baseball field and a little concession stand. I’m like, “Okay, nobody’s going to see me here.” And honestly, I’m thinking, “I’m going to break in this place and find some food.” That’s why I bedded down there.
How close to the edge were you that night?
I was thinking heavy thoughts by that time, brother. I was thinking, “I’m going to do whatever it takes from this point on to feed myself and I’m cold, I’m hungry, I’m tired. The next motherfucker I come across is going to get it.” That’s pretty much what I was thinking. That was like the crossroads right there.
I wake up, and I smell food. And there’s a blanket on me. I look up, and I’m like, “What in the fuck is going on here?” I look up, and there’s this black guy over there. He’s not homeless, by the way. He’s got a fire built. This dude has done throwed a blanket on me. He sees my bald head. He sees my red suspenders and my red shoelaces in my boots and my Nazi patch. This dude sees this. He still goes back to his house and gets a blanket and some food and brings it back to me, covers me up with this blanket. Builds a fire and heats up some stew.
He’s a country-ass black dude, mind you, but he was a Muslim. He wasn’t a Black Muslim like the Black Panther Muslims. He was a real Muslim. I didn’t know this until later, of course. But I wake up and he’s sitting there cooking me something to eat.
Who was the man?
His name was Alfred. I don’t remember his last name. I think it was a typically Muslim name. You know how they change their names? I think that he had changed his last name.
He was determined to help me. He helped me build a little shelter and I stayed in that for a couple of months. He helped me out with food and gave me some clothes and I got rid of all that other shit. He tried to get me in on the Muslim thing, but I’ve never been real religious. I’m still not to this day.
But it wasn’t the religion that won me over; it was his kindness. It was the way this man helped me despite what I was. It probably saved my life. Had he not been there, there’s no telling what I would have done to put food in my stomach or to get money in my pocket. He saved my life. I know he changed my life. And, quite possibly, somebody else’s life, too.
Somebody that you didn’t beat up or take advantage of.
How long were you with Alfred?
I stayed there with him a couple of months. When winter broke and it got warmer, I wanted to get back in touch with my family and he helped me. I used his phone and his mailbox and stuff. He let me come around and work. He’d give me a few bucks. I piddled around on his little place there and worked enough to get a bus ticket to Mobile. My family had moved to Mobile at that time.
How did your life change?
I got a job and started going to school. I got my GED and went to college for about a year and a half. Of course, I still had a little problem with drugs at that time. But the racism, man, that was gone. I mean, it just melted it right away when I met that guy. It just changed my world.
Did you run into any of your old pals in Mobile?
Yeah. Once they knew I was in town, some of them found me. It was tense, because you don’t get out of those groups. They abandoned me, too, so the way I looked at it was, “Y’all turned your back on me. And there’s this guy I don’t even know, a black guy. He’s supposed to be my enemy and this dude is feeding me and taking care of me and showing me kindness, so y’all can just fuck off. You want to do something to me, bring it.”
I didn’t have any trouble with them physically, but there were a lot of threats, typical threats and empty threats. They’re some real paper tigers when it comes to dealing with one of their own. Skinheads are very violent. I’ve seen them hurt people. I’ve helped them hurt people and I’m ashamed of it. I really am. I’ll tell anybody. I’m not afraid to tell people that I did that because I’m living proof that it can be done and people need to know what to look out for. Keep your kids close and don’t let them fall into that trap because that’s who they’re after — little white kids that feel like they don’t belong to anything.
Postscript: Moose Lodge No. 557 in Pensacola, Fla., has a ball field alongside it where a concession stand once stood. A representative of the lodge told the Intelligence Report that he recalled a black handyman named Alfred who occasionally worked cutting grass and burning trash for the lodge. The lodge member said Alfred used to live in a house near the Lodge grounds, a structure that now houses a day care center. He said that no one has seen Alfred since about 2003. Further efforts to track down the man named Alfred were unsuccessful.