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Las Vegas Unity Skins, Other Neo-Nazi Skinhead Groups Growing More Organized

The Independence Day murders of antiracists Daniel Shersty and Lin Newborn in the Las Vegas desert, execution-style, signal a change in Skinhead violence.

To all appearances, the Independence Day murders of Daniel Shersty and Lin Newborn in the Las Vegas desert were far from typical Skinhead killings. This double murder had all the hallmarks of an execution.

Shersty and Newborn, well-known members of the Las Vegas Unity Skins who had had many run-ins with racist neo-Nazi skins, were not killed in some beer-fueled, Skinhead bar brawl. Friends say that the victims were deliberately lured to the desert by two white women affiliated with racist skins.

Shersty, a white 21-year-old stationed at an Air Force base, was shot dead next to his car. Newborn, a 25-year-old black man working at a tattoo parlor, was murdered some 200 yards away, apparently as he tried to flee.

A neo-Nazi Skinhead, John Butler, has been arrested in the murders, and authorities are investigating a possible greater conspiracy. Butler, 26, reportedly had connections with the larger neo-Nazi scene and Utah Skinhead leader Johnny Bangerter (see Utah Skinhead Leader Jailed), who once lived in Las Vegas. Officials believe that Shersty and Newborn were killed in a racist Skinhead plot to eliminate non-racist Skinhead critics.

Since the inception of the American racist Skinhead scene some 15 years ago, there has been a sea change in the nature of the crimes it produces. What began as a wave of spontaneous acts of violence — often erupting at the music shows that were once the prime venues of Skinheads — has escalated over the years, finally reaching the level of well-planned murders.

While there are many exceptions, the overall trend in Skinhead violence has been one of increasingly organized crime.

Originally, Skinhead violence usually occurred during encounters between racist and non-racist skins in the "mosh pits," areas just in front of musical stages where wild dancing and drinking often devolved into slugfests. By the late 1980s, however, there was an increasing number of killings, sometimes involving victims that racist Skinheads viewed as their enemies.

In Las Vegas, Skinheads involved in Satanism murdered a convenience store clerk. In Washington D.C., an 18-year-old skin beat a gay man to death with a baseball bat. In Denver, a Skinhead robbed a hair stylist and then shot him dead. In Pittsburgh, another racist skin murdered a social worker who worked with the blind.

In 1988, one of the first Skinhead murders connected to an organized hate group made headlines across the nation. Skinheads affiliated with White Aryan Resistance, a neo-Nazi group run by Tom Metzger that is based in California, beat an Ethiopian student in Portland, Ore., to death with a baseball bat.

Although the attack was triggered by a chance encounter on the streets, it showed the increasing influence of established hate groups on young, already violent street thugs. Southern Poverty Law Center attorneys sued the group and its leaders and won a $12.5 million verdict for the family of the victim.

In July 1993, the leader of the Fourth Reich Skinheads was a central figure in an unsuccessful plot to blow up the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles and spray its 8,500-member congregation with machine-gun fire. The plan also called for attacks on Rodney King, black celebrities and Jewish targets.

In the mid-1990s, racist Skinheads were involved in two major revolutionary racist groups. Three Skinheads were members of the deadly Kehoe gang — two of them falling victim to their own comrades-in-arms — and another three were convicted in connection with the bank-robbing, white supremacist Aryan Republican Army (see Kehoe Republic).

Late last year, Matthaus Jaehnig, a Denver Skinhead, led police on a wild car chase after being surprised while he burglarized a home. When he was cornered, Jaehnig was willing to do something no Skinhead had yet done in this country — murder a police officer. Jaehnig then committed suicide.

Investigators believe that Jaehnig may have been involved in a larger criminal enterprise, marketing hard drugs and trafficking in heavy weapons — like the machine gun he used in the murder.

Earlier this year, Skinhead Daniel Rick, 20, pleaded guilty to weapons charges in connection with a plot to blow up the Southern Poverty Law Center and murder its co-founder, Morris Dees. Police believe that he was involved in a ring that was selling fully automatic weapons to fund the cause of white supremacist revolution.

With the killing of Shersty and Newborn, these kinds of plots may have reached a new plateau — a successful assassination conspiracy aimed at furthering the Skinhead white supremacist agenda.