Dozens of Midwestern skinheads gathered here Saturday for a weekend of meetings, marches and partying, all with the goal of fighting the racism and violence espoused by rival skinhead groups.
"We want to unite all the anti-racist skinheads," said Brandon Sanford of the Minneapolis Baldies, an intense 18-year-old who has "SKINHEAD" tattooed across the back of his shorn head."We're here to talk about what real skinheads are all about," he said. "We don't want the racist people to use the skinhead image as a recruiting tool."
Youths from Chicago, Milwaukee, Kansas, Nebraska and Ohio, most in the skinhead uniform of shaved heads, tattoos, boots and flight jackets, traveled to Minneapolis over the weekend, meeting on street corners and fast food restaurants in the city's Uptown section.
The talk was of music, old friendships and their fight against the racist skinheads in their areas.
"We're trying to organize so people know that being a skinhead is not about hating people," said Brian Lauer, a member of Brew City Skins, a Milwaukee group that formed to counter a group of racist skinheads in that city.
Lauer was among some 80 skinheads attending a strategy session at a local library on Saturday. There were plans for a march Sunday with other groups and a concert featuring local skinhead bands.
The past year has been filled with headlines of the violent, racist and anti-Semitic actions of some skinhead groups around the country.
An Ethiopian immigrant was killed in November by skinheads wielding baseball bats in Portland, Ore. Synagogues have been desecrated in Dallas, Chicago and San Diego. Skinheads were involved in a televised melee with blacks on the Geraldo Rivera show.
These skinheads spout a philosophy of white separatism and fascism. They talk of creating a white nation, wear Nazi swastikas and complain of a government controlled by "Zionists."
But in many cities they are opposed, often in street brawls, by other skinheads who say their racist activities are a perversion of the original philosophies of the skinhead movement, started by English working class youth who listened to Ska, a racially mixed music, and whose ranks included blacks.
"Being a skinhead means being hard working, being for yourself, having a pride in your country and pride in yourself. It doesn't matter what your color is," said Eli Simbura, an 18-year-old member of the Baldies whose cramped apartment served as a rallying place for the skinheads attending the weekend activities.
The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith saysthere may be as many as 2,000 racist skinheads in 21 states, and a check in several cities shows at least as many anti-racist skinheads. But an accurate estimate is difficult because skinheads often move from city to city.
Skinheads pride themselves in being violent in support of their ideas and their friendships.
"We are violent," Simbura said proudly. "We believe in direct action."