Racist Groups Behind Growing Number Of Attacks

Skinheads Blamed For Attacks On Blacks, Gays, Homeless

News-5 WLWT, Ohio/September 21, 2010

Cincinnati - Two local attacks with one word common to both -- skinheads. Skinheads manufacture fear as if it was a craft, mixing intimidation and violence. What makes all this even more unsettling is that they're doing it right here in the Tri-State.

The most recent attack occurred in Covington in August. A resident who asked to remain unidentified said, "I've never felt like I've had to worry about my safety around here until recently."

The Covington community around MainStrasse has several gay bars and very little trouble. That's why people there were surprised when a man tattooed with Nazi swastikas, along with a couple of his friends, was charged with beating two women outside of a gay bar. Police said the attackers shouted anti-gay slurs in the process of knocking the women to the ground and hitting them.

Devlin Burke is the tattooed man accused of leading the attack. He's also charged with cutting a bystander who saw the attack and stopped to help the victims, sending that man to the hospital.

This is not Burke's first run-in with the law. In 2003, Burke was convicted of a hate crime in federal court. The victim then was an African-American family who lived across the street from Burke.

"I think of like an American terrorist, like he's an outlaw," said Maurice Powell, Burke's victim in 2003. "He's a danger, he's a threat to a lot of people."

Powell said he thought Burke was going to kill him, especially after he saw the personalized weapon used in the attack.

"They had their own baseball bats: Imperial Klans of America," Powell said.

Even now, his mother, Gloria Powell-Davis, is stunned by it all.

"I don't understand how you can come up like me and bleed like me, but you don't like me because (of) my skin color. That's crazy," Powell-Davis said.

Skinheads are also accused in the attack of John Johnson last April.

"They started beating me from behind, so I never had a chance," Johnson said.

Johnson is homeless. He was attacked while he slept. Among the accused was Riley Feller, a U.S. Army private at the time. Feller proclaimed his skinhead loyalty on his Myspace account.

Feller was wearing his military uniform when he attacked another man a couple of years earlier. That man didn't want to be identified but said, "It was very frightening, because I don't know what to do in that situation. I'm not trained in any of that."

Many skinheads end up in prison, where subculture groups, like white supremacists, recruit and entrench their members.

Vinko Kucinic with the Ohio Department of Corrections said skinheads are just one of many groups they call "Security Threat Groups," or STGs.

"Skinheads, like many other groups, have different beliefs and issues that they deal with. One of the beliefs is racial superiority," Kucinic said. "Some join for protection, power, even contraband."

About 16 percent of the Ohio prison population is made up of some STG, including gangs like Crips and Bloods. Hamilton County accounts for 9.4 percent of the prisoners in the system. That's about the share of members Hamilton County contributes to the STG population in prison as well

The Anti Defamation League tracks skinhead activity, along with other sub culture groups. Mark Pitcavage, who works with the ADL, said skinheads are a subculture that started in Great Britian in the late 1970s, and even included black members at the time. Pitcavage said skinheads initially focused on working class issues and identified themselves through their dress and music.

It wasn't until the late 1970s, Pitcavage said, that racist skinheads emerged, along with musical groups like Skrewdriver, who have been called the Beatles of white supremacist music. By the 1980s the movement hit the U.S., Pitcavage said.

Pitcavage said there are several different brands of skinheads now, of which most fit into three categories. The oldest are called traditional skinheads. The other two groups are the racist skinheads and anti-racist, which emerged as a reaction to the racist movement.

In the Tri-State, the most prevalent appears to be an anti-racist group called the SHARPS, an acronym for Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice.

Pitcavage said despite their differences, most of the groups have a propensity toward violence.

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