Former skinhead describes patrols

Billings Gazette/October 26, 2001
By Tom Howard

In order to win favor from his skinhead associates, Thomas Edelman used to prowl Billings parks, beating and terrorizing members of ethnic minorities.

Red suspenders and red boot laces - prized trademarks of the Montana Front Working Class Skinheads - were his reward for the acts of violence.

Edelman was a participant in a skinhead organization's "Park Patrol" that chased and yelled racial slurs at three Pioneer Park visitors - all members of minority groups - 15 months ago.

But in the months prior to the Park Patrol, Edelman earned recognition within the Montana Front Working Class Skinheads by beating a Native American at Riverfront Park, by harassing and pointing a gun at a black man at Pioneer Park and by chasing a black man near Terry Park.

Edelman testified in U.S. District Court Wednesday against his former skinhead associates in a civil rights trial stemming from the attack in Pioneer Park July 29, 2000. Edelman is one of two key witnesses for the prosecution. The trial, before U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull, entered its third day Wednesday and is expected to continue throughout the week.

On trial are Sean Allen, 29, Eric Dixon, 23, Jeremiah Skidmore, 24, Jason Potter, 28, Ryan Flaherty, 24, and Michael Flom, 26. The men were charged by federal indictment last August with one count each of conspiring to violate the civil rights of racial and religious minorities. All but Skidmore also were charged with three counts of violating the federally protected civil rights of racial minorities in the Pioneer Park attack. Each crime carries a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Edelman has already pleaded guilty for his involvement in the Pioneer Park attack, and he acknowledged that he could receive a lighter sentence because of his cooperation with prosecutors.

He said the idea of chasing minorities came up during a barbecue at Allen's house the night of the attack.

"I remember Sean saying it's time to do a Park Patrol," Edelman said, adding that others at the barbecue seemed to be excited about the idea.

Edelman said he understood the purpose of the patrol was to rid the park of racial minorities.

Edelman was one of several people who grabbed sticks and chains, piled into a pickup and drove to Pioneer Park. Small groups were dropped off at each corner of the park.

Two white children playing in the park weren't harassed, Edelman said. But the group accosted and chased three minorities sitting at a picnic table, he said.

"We came out of the trees and chased them out of the park," Edelman said.

"We told them, 'You're going to die. We're going to get you, prairie nigger,'" Edelman said, believing that the victims were Native Americans.

One of the victims ran into a house and reported the attack to the police.

Edelman said Allen and Dixon, both leaders in the skinhead group, didn't participate in the attack. But both were upset with the outcome.

"Sean said it was a horrible thing to go and not catch and beat them," Edelman said. "Eric was sort of chewing us out for not catching them. He said we should have chased them down the street."

Under questioning from U.S. Justice Department attorney Mark Blumberg, Edelman admitted that he lied about his name and provided other false information to police.

According to a written policy, members of the group are ordered to lie to police in order to protect other members, Edelman said.

"When did you decide to stop lying?" Blumberg asked.

"When I quit the crew," in October 2000, Edelman said.

Edelman said he began associating with members of the skinhead group during early 2000. He said Allen and Dixon repeatedly suggested ways that he could earn red suspenders and bootlaces by beating minorities.

Edelman said the MFWCS traveled to the Aryan Nations compound in Idaho during July 2000. Jurors viewed photographs of the Billings contingent, including several of the defendants, posed in front of a giant swastika. The Billings group also received favorable recognition from Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler, Edelman said.

"They praised us for being the most uniform crew there," he said, describing their dress of black fatigue pants, white T-shirts, red suspenders and black boots with red laces.

Sitting in the courtroom Wednesday, the six defendants looked like average guys.

But beneath the long-sleeved, collared shirts, ties they're wearing during their trial in U.S. District Court, the defendants' bodies are adorned with dozens of tattoos conveying a message of hate: swastikas, and SS lightning bolts modeled after insignia used by Nazi Germany's secret. Dozens of photographs of the defendants' tattoos were entered into evidence.

The word "Skinhead" stretches across the small of Allen's back in inch-high Gothic letters.

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