Two years ago, the violence-prone Vinlanders were one of the hottest racist skinhead gangs in America. Then they began to cool
Indianapolis, Ind. — It was judgment day for the Butcher.
Wearing a blood-red prisoner's jumpsuit, the co-founder of the Vinlanders Social Club, a once-mighty racist skinhead gang, sat in silence at a sentencing hearing while his attorney listed the jailhouse self-improvement courses that had been completed this year by Eric "The Butcher" Fairburn.
"Impulse control," the lawyer said. "Anger management. Coping skills. Values clarification."
That's quite a turnaround for Fairburn, 34, who's better known for specializing in drunkenness, self-aggrandizement, racial hatred and spontaneous violence. It was the latter tendency that landed him in a Marion County Superior Court room last August for sentencing after Fairburn pleaded guilty to felony battery for beating a black homeless man unconscious on a busy street in downtown Indianapolis.
It happened the night of March 26, 2007. Fairburn was drinking on the patio of an Irish pub along with two other Vinlanders, Tim Dumas and Josh Kern. They could have been toasting their gang's success. At the time, the Vinlanders Social Club (VSC) was riding high.
After bursting onto the U.S. skinhead scene in 2003, the VSC rapidly gained notice by hyping the image of a take-it-to-the-extreme crew of renegade skins. Carrying on the vendetta of its predecessor, the Outlaw Hammerskins, the VSC openly challenged the longstanding dominance of the Hammerskin Nation, an elitist league of regional skinhead crews. This brazen defiance, along with the VSC's wild partying, exotic "Odinist" rituals and penchant for brawling, ensured that by the time the Butcher and his buddies gathered to down a few pints in March 2007, the VSC was known far and wide in the white supremacist underworld, its ranks having swelled to the point that it had eight chapters in six states.
Now, almost two years later, the very same excesses that propelled VSC's ascendance are threatening to bring about its downfall. Criminal prosecutions, rumors of racial impurity, internal power squabbles and egos run amok are cutting into the gang's ranks and deflating its self-made myths.
Although it's impossible to pinpoint exactly when the VSC began to lose steam, the violence that transpired between the trio of beer-swilling Vinlanders and a homeless man named Dexter Lewis was emblematic of the gang's self-destructive streak — and the sorry pass to which it would eventually come.
According to police reports and media accounts, as Lewis passed the sidewalk table occupied by the Vinlanders, he commented to Fairburn, "Nice tattoo." It's unclear which tattoo Lewis meant, as Fairburn has quite a few, including the Vinlanders insignia inked atop his scalp and the word "Murder" etched across the side of his neck. In any case, Fairburn didn't take the remark as a compliment. "N-----, don't you dare stop," he replied.
Lewis kept going. But about 10 or 15 minutes later, Fairburn, Dumas and Kern tracked him down at a nearby intersection, knocked him out and then continued to punch and kick him in the face and stomach after Lewis collapsed in a crosswalk. Undeterred by the large crowd of witnesses that had gathered, one of the Vinlanders allegedly yelled to a spectator who tried to stop the attack, "Back off or you'll get a piece of this, too." Another of the trio told a woman on a cell phone, "If you call 911, I'll kill you."
All three skins were arrested a short time later. Earlier this year, Dumas pleaded guilty to a felony charge of criminal recklessness and was sentenced to a year in prison. Kern pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery and received 60 days. Fairburn, the ringleader in the attack, was sentenced to five years in prison, with three years suspended. Since he had already served 199 days in jail, the VSC leader will be eligible for release in late February 2009. (Though initially allowed to post bail after being arrested for the 2007 attack on Lewis, Fairburn was jailed in early 2008 on separate battery charges after he allegedly attacked his girlfriend's mother in Hancock County, Ind. He awaits trial in that case).
Shackled and handcuffed, Fairburn did his best to sound contrite during his sentencing hearing, respectfully answering "Yes ma'am" and "No ma'am" to the black woman judge peering down on him from the bench. When she announced that she was barring him from associating with skinheads or any other white supremacists as a condition of his suspended sentence, Fairburn didn't hesitate to renounce the VSC in open court.
"I'm no longer a member of the Vinlanders and I no longer have any association or ties whatsoever with the Vinlanders Social Club or any other [racist] clubs or anything," Fairburn said. "I haven't been around those people in over a year. I'm 34 years old, and I've got too much going on in my life to waste any more of it... . When I decided to get out, I grabbed as many people as I could and ran for the door. Anybody who I thought I could talk some sense into, I did, and a few quit along with me."
Lending some credibility to Fairburn's claim that he led a skinhead exodus is the fact that several longtime VSC members have in fact quit the group in recent months, though their specific motivations for doing so have not been made public.
Others — in addition to Fairburn, Dumas and Kern — are in serious trouble with the law. VSC skins Jason "Junior" Gregg and Jon "Jean Claude" Carr were arrested in Ohio last February on charges of felonious assault and abduction for allegedly shooting at an undercover Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation agent in Thornville, Ohio, in 2006. They're currently jailed, awaiting trial.
The VSC was formed to be a leaderless brotherhood of fiercely independent skinhead warriors. The gang was successful at first because it was ruled by consensus rather than by a single leader. Because skinheads are rebellious by nature, the loose structure of the VSC appealed to members and potential members.
Recently, however, VSC co-founder Brien James has started declaring himself the leader of the pack. This is not good news for the Vinlanders. James is notorious in the skinhead movement for his gargantuan ego and his corresponding ham-handed attempts to wrest absolute control of any group he's involved with, inevitably sowing internal dissension and then ultimately quitting when he doesn't get his way. In the case of the VSC, as veteran members have quit in protest, James has reportedly replaced them with rag-tag, new recruits.
Throughout this year, the Intelligence Report has received E-mails from different individuals claiming both longstanding connections to the Vinlanders and inside knowledge about the gang. While the authenticity of these E-mails cannot be verified, their authors come across as knowledgeable in key areas, including their shared criticisms of Brien James.
"It seems Brien is unwilling to take responsibility for the present state of the Vinlanders and wishes to blame others for its continuing internal drama and legal problems," reads a February 2008 E-mail from "Vinlander Insider," who listed the embattled VSC leader's home telephone number. "Brien has proclaimed himself sole leader of the Vinlanders yet takes no responsibility for any of the present situation and difficulties. ... The Vinlanders went from an elite club to a collection of castaways and misfits that the founding members didn't want to be around."
Further adding to the gang's woes are the increasingly prevalent whispers in racist skinhead circles about an old rumor — the suspicion that several of the old-school VSC members have a bit too much melanin in their skin to meet the Aryan ideal. Accusations of mixed-blood heritage have dogged the gang since even before it officially formed. In 1999, Fairburn was denied membership in the Outlaw Hammerskins, a rowdy cadre of disaffected ex-Hammerskins, because of his relatively dark complexion and less-than-Nordic features. Outlaw Hammerskins leader Jeremy Robinson dubbed Fairburn "Brown Eric" after taking a good look at the future Vinlander and pronouncing him "too brown."
Fruits of the Vine
The Outlaw Hammerskins did, however, tolerate Fairburn as a "hangaround." In 2003, Fairburn and another hangaround, Donald "Popcorn" Weirich, banded together with three former members of the Outlaw Hammerskins — Brien James, Nathan Sliter and Bryon Widner — to form the Indiana-based Hoosier State Skinheads (HSS), the direct predecessor to the VSC.
In short order, the Indiana skins recruited counterparts in Ohio to start up the Ohio State Skinheads (OSS). Although its founders made a concerted effort to project the image of separate but allied crews, in reality the HSS and OSS were the same organization.
This deception continued on a larger scale as the gang that came to be known as the Vinlanders Social Club expanded its membership and geographic distribution. In public, the VSC appeared as a coalition of independent state crews. In private, though, it acted as a single entity.
Like the Outlaw Hammerskins before them, the Vinlanders recruited new members by cultivating a reputation as brash young lions pitting themselves against the established, old-guard Hammerskin Nation. Though James was a driving force behind this rebellious posturing, in August 2005 he pulled a sudden about-face by setting out to become the great skinhead unifier. Calling himself "an authorized spokesman and representative of the Vinlander Social Club as a whole," James posted "An Open Letter to the Hammerskin Nation."
First, he noted, "there has been a longstanding division between members of certain crews ... most notably members of the Hoosier State Skinheads and members of the Hammerskin Nation." Then James announced that, speaking for the VSC and their allies, he was calling a "National Skinhead Council" meeting that would be held in Ohio in October of that year.
The prospect of skinhead unity inspired James to new rhetorical heights: "This council and a unified movement of skinheads was ... the dream of all of us at one time in our lives. ... If ANY REPRESENTATIVE from the Hammerskin Nation accepts this gesture from me and my brothers we can strike a blow the likes of which has never been dealt before. Two, maybe three thousand united skinheads in America. And tens of thousands more coming out of seclusion, retirement, or just being reawakened by a unified and organized front."
These grandiose visions of a skinhead army (with James, no doubt, serving as a general) were stoked by the VSC's having recently forged an alliance with one of the two rival splinter factions of Blood & Honour. Blood & Honour is a neo-Nazi network based on racist music and established in the 1980s in England by Ian Stuart Donaldson, the late lead singer of the iconic British hate rock band Skrewdriver.
Following Donaldson's death in 1993, Blood & Honour suffered a schism in its ranks that persists today, with the organization split into Blood & Honour/C18 and Blood & Honour Worldwide. (C18 refers to Combat 18, a group that broke away from the extreme-right British National Party and is known as the "armed wing" of Blood & Honour. In neo-Nazi numerology, the 1 in C18's name stands for A and the 8 for H, a reference to Adolf Hitler.) Both, of course, claim to be the "true" Blood & Honour. The VSC allied with the American wing of Blood & Honour/C18. Significantly, the Hammerskin Nation supports Blood & Honour Worldwide.
More Blood Than Honor
As advertised, the National Skinhead Council took place in October 2005. Blood & Honour/C18 member Kevin Kislingbury hosted the gathering on his property in Logan, Ohio. A Blood & Honour/C18 website touted the council as "a milestone event for the United States Racial Movement" with 17 groups represented: "Blood & Honour Ohio, Blood & Honour Texas, The Ohio State Skinheads, The Keystone State Skinheads, The News Jersey Skins, The Canyon State Skinheads, The Hoosier State Skinheads, The American Thule Society, The Maryland Skins, Label 56, The Hoosier State Skinheads, The IKA [Imperial Klans of America], White Rider Records [the IKA's music division], The National Alliance, NS88 Videos, ISD Records, and Resistance Records."
That statement was classic Vinlanders braggadocio. In truth, many of the attendees "represented" more than one group. For example, the single Maryland State Skinheads member who attended, Jason Tankersley, was credited by the Vinlanders' creative accounting method as representing both MSS and his own hate rock company, Label 56.
Even so, the gathering drew about 60-65 skinheads and other assorted neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen. Notably absent, though, were the Hammerskins. Neither they nor any of their allied skinhead crews, including the Portland, Ore., gang Volksfront, bothered to dispatch emissaries to the National Skinhead Council, which voted to name itself Council 28 (2 standing for B, representing Blood; and 8 for H, meaning Honour), before wrapping up the proceedings by sharing a drink of mead from an elaborately carved "drinking horn."
The second gathering of Council 28 ended in bloodshed. It was Memorial Day weekend, 2006. The Vinlanders and their allies congregated at the Dawson Springs, Ky., compound of the Imperial Klans of America to have a council meeting and then party at the IKA's annual Nordic Fest, a racist music festival.
After the Council 28 meeting concluded, the drinking began in earnest. It was May in Kentucky and the heat, combined with the alcohol and frequent technical problems with the sound system used for the Nordic Fest speeches, put the revelers on edge.
Then Steven Boswell, Missouri coordinator for the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi group, gave a speech that was not particularly well-received by the Nordic Fest crowd, which consisted mostly of members and allies of the Vinlander Social Club. Unlike some groups, Boswell said, the NSM wasn't just some "social club" that only cared about drinking.
The second that Boswell stepped off the stage, Fairburn and other enraged members of the VSC were on him like a pack of wolves, lashing him with kicks and punches as his wife and 10-year-old daughter looked on in horror. The following day, after fleeing the compound with his NSM colleagues in tow, Boswell posted photos of his bruised and lacerated face on the Internet.
Accounts of the hair-trigger violence in such a public setting proliferated rapidly throughout white supremacist Web forums. While the attack enhanced the VSC's standing among skinheads, who tend to ridicule the NSM, many older white supremacists decried the white-on-white violence. "The Vinlanders have done nothing but one thing and that is proving that they are nothing but a bunch of N----- in white skin," wrote NSM Cpl. Christina Drake, Boswell's wife.
Boots or Axes
Two months after the Nordic Fest beat-down, in July 2006, Fairburn sought to further add to the VSC's swashbuckling reputation by publishing an open challenge to Hammerskin Nation for "30 versus 30 mutual combat on neutral ground."
"In the spirit of our revered ancestors, pagan and christian alike, we wish to make terms of battle," Fairburn declared. "We offer fists and boots as the first offer. Bricks, bats, knives, clubs and axes are our second offer. We will accept either terms and offer both genuinely and will honor your decision to either. We wish the neutral host to keep guns outta the fight and check the combatants before entering the field."
The victors, Fairburn wrote, would become "the undisputed leaders of the North American scene." He set a deadline of Sept. 14, 2006, or about a month before Hammerfest, the yearly Hammerskin rock festival, was scheduled to take place in Detroit. The Hammerskins did not publicly reply. No battle was ever arranged or took place, and it was unclear whether Fairburn was actually speaking for the Vinlanders or merely issuing an empty challenge that he couldn't have backed up under any circumstances.
Because Fairburn spent so much time online, claiming to be speaking for the VSC, outsiders often misperceived him to be the de facto head of the gang, or at least one of its leaders. In reality, Fairburn was lower on the VSC totem pole. Chronically unemployed and virtually homeless when he didn't have a girlfriend, Fairburn had a hard time managing himself, let alone running herd on a bunch of drunken thugs.
Six months after Fairburn dared the Hammerskins to meet for a final battle on what he termed, with characteristic dramatic flourish, a "field of honor," the VSC was clearly on the decline, with Fairburn, Dumas and Kern facing felony charges and James raising hackles with his dictatorial tendencies, and the VSC was on the decline.
Once again assuming the role of wise peacemaker, James in September 2007 cast himself opposite Fairburn in a skinhead version of "good cop/bad cop" by announcing a truce. Boldly titled "A New Era," a post on the VSC website proclaimed that James was "proud to announce that after nearly a decade of conflict and division, the Vinlanders and the Hammerskin Nation have been conducting meetings and parties on both sides have decided to declare peace. ... It is over. No longer will anyone feel like they have to choose sides, and no one in this country should feel like they are not welcome amongst their own, because of a rivalry that very few care about, and even fewer understand."
But the Hammerskins made no public acknowledgement of the purported truce or the negotiations that supposedly preceded it. To the contrary, Volksfront (VF) leader Randal Krager issued a press release claiming that neither VF nor any of its affiliates had or would "make any deals with persons who have attempted to harm or slander VF."
In the months since James offered the olive branch, Hammerskin activity, especially that of the Confederate Hammerskins faction, has been on the upswing around the country, while that of the once-vaunted VSC is waning.
Fairburn is out of the scene. Not only did he publicly renounce the Vinlanders at his sentencing hearing, but he's also facing another assault prosecution for allegedly beating his girlfriend's mother.
Although the phone at the VSC "headquarters" on English Avenue in Indianapolis is still registered to Dumas, he and Kern are both under strict court orders not to associate with the Vinlanders.
Meanwhile, the gang's website is badly out of date. Its "FAQ" page has Fairburn, on a page headlined "A few questions and answers from the Butcher," detailing the VSC's righteousness in terms that are quite ironic in retrospect, considering his current legal status.
"This club comes first in our lives because from this fraternal order, all good things come to our folks and families," the Butcher wrote. "We believe in practicing our Freedom of Association and the ability to do so without being monitored, labeled, classified and filed by the misinformed law enforcement community."
But it's not the cops who are on the wrong track.
As "Vinlander Insider" put it: "The Vinlanders Social Club struggles to maintain legitimacy and a foothold in the North American racist skinhead circles ... Brien James, we thank you for destroying the Vinlanders."