Skip to main content Accessibility
The Intelligence Report is the SPLC's award-winning magazine. Subscribe here for a print copy.

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: Yes.

IR: Why?

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.

American Front Florida leader Ritchie Myers, a pal of Resistance Records chief Eric Gliebe, went to prison for trying to drown John Daly in the surf at Daytona Beach.

IR: What happened to Black Joe?

DALY: Black Joe started hanging out someplace else. He found new friends.

IR: What sort of criminal activity was your gang into?

DALY: It was mostly typical skinhead small-time stuff: stealing cigarettes, stealing beer, some vandalism, arson. The skins from Orlando were more serious about the violence than we were in Ocala. They'd come to check up on us every couple of weeks, and they'd tell us, "Yeah, we shot a Puerto Rican," or, "We ran over a black guy." I heard about a lot of murders, but I was never there when they were committed. I witnessed a lot of violence, but it was mostly skinhead-on-skinhead violence, where everybody would be drunk and somebody would say the wrong thing. Also, we'd go to local punk shows as a group, and anybody we decided we didn't like was fair game for a boot party. It was brutal. We used to beat somebody down and then sit around and drink beer and mimic the victim. We'd joke and laugh about how he crawled or whimpered.

IR: Why did you stay in the gang?

DALY: Part of it was fear of what would happen to me if I quit, and part of it was that I was 16 and not thinking clearly. I had gone from being this nerdy, bespectacled geek to being someone who, when I walked into a room, people cut a path. I commanded attention, and that was pretty cool. I liked it. I didn't want to give it up.

IR: What motivated the other Nazi skins in Ocala to stay in the gang?

DALY: Fear. Ignorance. A sense of power and belonging. When you're a skinhead, and you're recruiting, you look for guys who don't belong to any other social group. Now, when you first bring a guy in, you have to be careful. There's always one crazy skin in any gang who's always going on about, "Kill all the n------!" You have to keep the new guy away from that mentality at first. You have to ease them into the hate. So you ask him if he wants to hang out with some cool people, and you take him around, and let him see that your group commands respect, and then you start describing the dress, the style, the history, and then you start to give them excuses for their own social failures. What you do is systemically, night after night, over a period of time, you convince him that everything that's against him in life is not his fault, because of the ZOG [Zionist Occupational Government] conspiracy. And most of all, you give him a place to belong, because chances are he's not getting that sense of belonging at home. My parents were the only parents who were still together out of all the skinheads I knew. Everybody else came from a broken home.

IR: Did your parents have any idea you were a Nazi skin?

DALY: Yeah, they knew. My dad hated it but my mom told him if he pushed me too hard, I would go over to them totally. She felt the best thing to do was to show me love at home so the hate could never really take hold.

IR: How many American Front skinheads were there in Ocala?

DALY: There were only about 10 to 15 of us at any given time. But we felt like part of a much larger movement. The American Front leaders would steal long-distance cards and make calls all over the country directing American Front units to do this or that, like turning out to support a Klan rally. So we'd get a call and show up and there would be other American Front units there as well; we felt like part of a nationwide network. The links between the American Front and White Aryan Resistance at this point were very tight. [Tom] Metzger was publishing WAR [the name of his group's publication] in California, and we'd pick it up and pass it around for him. White Aryan Resistance was like our older brother, telling thugs how to put themselves together. They told us to get a local phone line that had no address, per se, that was just connected to an automated answering machine that played messages pre-prepared by Metzger. They taught us how to use a P.O. box to stay in touch with other gangs, and to change up the times when we got the mail, to dodge surveillance. And they taught us to never, ever talk to the cops. I caught on fast and the higher-up guys made me Ocala chapter leader and later the North Florida [regional] officer.

IR: Why did they choose you?

DALY: They saw I was someone who could think on my feet. I wasn't super-aggressive as a street fighter but I was very good at neutralizing a situation verbally. When the Orlando guys would come to Ocala, we'd be at the gas station and they'd start talking about pulling a "Gas and Go," and I'd tell them in no uncertain terms that I wasn't going to let skinheads corrupt themselves in my town by pulling any "n----- crimes." Then I'd give them gas money, because I was only one who had a job. The higher-ups respected that. On the other hand, they used to call me "Jew Daly" behind my back because I was always on the other skins about getting a job and making money.

IR: How did they find out you were Jewish?

DALY: David Lynch was cheating on his wife in Port St. Lucie with a skinhead girl from Ocala named Heather Arnold, who was the ex-wife of a buddy of mine who knew I was Jewish. He told her. For a while Heather kept the secret. But then Lynch dumped her, and when she left Port St. Lucie to come back to Ocala she stole a bunch of his stuff, like a typewriter and his Rolodex and a few Nazi knick-knacks.

Now, Heather had "American Front" tattooed on the back of her neck. And I got a call from Lynch, and he said, basically, "She's from your area, so you take care of this for us. We want our stuff back, and we want our tattoo back. Take if off her neck, and we don't care what you do with the rest of her." That was a turning point for me. I knew if I [did it], I'd never get out. So instead, I went to Heather and told her if she gave the stuff back, I'd try to help her out, and that otherwise she was going to meet Jesus. It was a threat, and a warning. Heather's reaction was to re-establish her loyalty and status with American Front by selling me out. She went to Orlando and informed on me to the unit there. A little time later, I was ordered to attend an officer's meeting in Daytona Beach, which turned out to be a trap.

Back in the day: David Lynch was one of five founders of the American Front, the neo-Nazi skinhead syndicate that swallowed up John Daly's 'traditional' skinhead crew. Daly says Lynch ordered him to remove a tattoo from an ex-girlfriend's neck.

IR: What happened?

DALY: Well, I'd worked all day, and I was scheduled to work a double shift the following day, so I was tired, but I couldn't refuse the order, so I drove a whole carload of skinheads to Daytona Beach, about 80 miles from where my parents lived. The meeting was held at a house on the beach that was rented by a guy named Fran Mercuri, who was the Florida state chairman for White Aryan Resistance. There were seven other guys at the meeting, and two girls. It was about one or two o'clock in the morning when I arrived. As soon as I got to the house I saw danger signs. First of all, they were trying to get me drunk. Even though skinheads typically don't need to be coerced to drink, that night everyone kept pushing beers into my hand, which they'd never done before. Another warning sign was that a guy named Robert Huttner, who later went to prison for my attempted murder, sort of took me aside and said, "You know, sometimes if you get into a fight it's just better to take the fall than it is to try to fight back." Also, as the night wore on, whenever I'd come into a room the conversation would stop. And then Ritchie [Myers] started pointing guns at me, because Mercuri had a number of firearms in the house. Mercuri would try to calm him down, but by this point Ritchie was loaded and scaring everyone that he would just start blasting. I had a strong sense that something bad was going to happen. At some point they all said "Let's go down to the beach," and I was thinking, "Cool, when we get down to the beach maybe I can ditch them."

But once we got down there, it began. One guy, Terry Lewis, punched me in the back of the head, and as soon as I turned to fight him somebody else shouted out "Now!" and the other six guys jumped in and from there it was just a boot party. I was beat down, knocked out, and dragged into the ocean. One guy tried to hold me under. He started walking away when he thought I'd drowned. Somebody else turned around and saw that I'd pulled myself into a sitting position, and they came back, and basically kicked me in the side of my head, which stood me up. Then they knocked me down again, and one of them was saying, "Die, Jew boy, die." One guy sat on my back while another pushed my head into the water by grabbing the back of my neck, and the last thing I remember clearly is inhaling salt water.

According to their later testimony, they hung out on the beach long enough to make sure I was dead by watching me float, and when they left me in the water one of them said, "Now we're in the web," meaning they could all get the spider-web tattoos indicating they'd killed somebody for the movement.

And that was the end of my involvement with the American Front. I was officially dismissed from service at the age of 17.

IR: Then what happened?

DALY: After breathing in salt water, the next thing I remember is sitting up on the beach, and a beach ranger drove by and thought I was drunk and kicked me off the beach. I got in my car and somehow drove myself back to a hospital in Ocala.

IR: How did you respond to questions from the police?

DALY: At first I was standoffish because I knew cops in Ocala who were white power and used to hang out with us. But then the skinheads started calling my hospital room to threaten me, and the police put a 24-hour guard on my room, and I decided the smart move was to help take these guys down. So I told the cops everything. They started investigating and tracking down my attackers and isolating them for questioning. And of course all these tough skinheads who were supposedly all about "White Power! White Unity!" when they were together couldn't turn on each other fast enough when they were separated. According to the code, you're never supposed to make a deal with ZOG, but several of my attackers took plea deals. But they acted hard-core in public. Ritchie Myers, when he was asked to raise his right hand in court, he gave the Hitler salute, and the district attorney cracked up. He said, "That guy cries in his cell trying to make a deal, but in court he acts like super Nazi."

IR: Why did you move to Israel?

DALY: Well, it took three or four years to finish all the court cases, and the whole time I was receiving death threats. I was heavily arming myself, and basically living in fear. The final motivator to leave came when I received a notice from the Department of Corrections in Florida that some of guys were getting ready to be released, and I received a threat to the effect of, "Nothing's going to happen to you until we're all out of jail, and then we're all coming for you." So I decided it was time to go. Now, in Israel, I feel much safer. I mean, there are suicide bombings, and rocket attacks on my city, but to me it's groovy, because in Israel the people who are trying to kill me are trying to kill me because I'm an Israeli, not because I'm John Daly. I'd rather be one of 100,000 targets than singled out. And I feel at home here.

IR: What do you regret most about your time with American Front?

DALY: To regret something means that you are still stuck in the moment of the mistake, not in trying to heal and move on. I've accepted the mistakes I made, grown from them, and now I do stuff like this, talking with you, in hopes that others can learn. I only think of the positives from that experience, and very rarely the negatives.

IR: What were the positives?

DALY: One of the big positives was helping bring down the American Front. Another positive is simply that I survived, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Surviving that attack on the beach absolutely changed my life. I started keeping kosher that same week, so every time I eat until the day I die I will not forget it's a miracle I'm alive, and I say "Thank you" to the Big Boss.