Three soldiers are among a group of skinheads accused of severely beating a homeless man with baseball bats and pipes in Cincinnati.
Police have charged two Iraq war veterans, Pvt. Riley Feller, 24, and Spc. Travis Condor, 25, with the felony assault of 52-year-old John Johnson at a homeless encampment earlier this month, according to news accounts. Feller is with the 16th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Knox in Kentucky, while Condor is a member of the 82nd Airborne Division stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
Michael Hesson, 24, who is not in the military, was arraigned Tuesday on the same charge. Authorities are looking for an unidentified fourth man, also believed to be a soldier. Johnson was treated overnight at a hospital for a head wound and other injuries suffered in the April 10 attack.
Cincinnati Detective Kip Dunagan told the Cincinnati’s TV station WKRC that the skinheads went looking for someone to assault. "'At one point, one of the suspects said, 'Let's go mess somebody up.' He used another word besides 'mess' but the other suspects said, 'That sounds like a good idea.' They got into a vehicle and they went specifically looking for a bum, as they call it.'"
Not all skinheads are racists, and it's unclear whether the men accused of attacking Johnson espoused white supremacist beliefs. WLWT, the NBC affiliate in Cincinnati, reported on its website that Hesson told investigators that "all four men had ties to possible white supremacist groups."
On Feller's publicly accessible MySpace page, which contains numerous links to skinhead-related music and video, he describes himself as “skinhead … enough said” and lists his occupation as “Army for now.” He was also wanted for misdemeanor assault, drunken driving and unauthorized license plate charges after he failed to show up for a July 2009 court date, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Several states (though not Ohio) now protect homeless people under their hate crime laws. Following a Senate vote earlier this week, Florida is expected to become the third state to allow for enhanced penalties for crimes motivated by bias toward the homeless. In recent years, the state has seen a rash of assaults, some of them fatal, targeting those living on the streets. Florida follows Maryland, Washington, D.C., and (in a more limited way) Maine in extending hate crime protections to the homeless.
The Cincinnati incident isn’t the only criminal case in recent weeks possibly involving extremists in the military. Last month, an active-duty soldier was implicated in an alleged plot to sell firearms and grenades to a white supremacist group. William Bolton, 31, stationed in Virginia, was identified in a federal indictment as a member of the Connecticut White Wolves, a white supremacist group now known as Battalion 14. He was charged with conspiring to rob a firearms manufacturer and of illegally selling a firearm. Bolton, who pleaded not guilty to both charges at his arraignment on April 5, faces up to 30 years in prison. Four other (non-military) men were also charged in the seven-count indictment, which alleged that another member of the White Wolves made three explosive grenades that he packed in a cardboard box marked with a hand-printed swastika. The grenades were delivered to an unidentified witness, who made a cash payment to the group’s leader, 29-year-old Kenneth Zrallack of Ansonia, Conn. As Zrallack and the witness shared a drink, Zrallack’s girlfriend prompted them to call out “88” — neo-Nazi code for HH, or “Heil Hitler.”
That arrest bolsters the SPLC’s earlier findings that racial extremists are infiltrating the military and that service members are being recruited by hate groups. Since 2006, the Southern Poverty Law Center has provided the military with extensive information about white supremacist activity in its ranks. In November, the Pentagon tightened its ban on extremist activity; the revised policy not only prohibits active participation in supremacist groups, but also forbids advocacy of supremacist doctrine and causes.