Skinhead movement no longer what it once was, group says

Fort Worth Star-Telegram/October 31, 2009

The skinhead movement, which began in England in the early 1980s, began moving into the Dallas area in the mid-1980s, according to a national group that monitors such groups.

By the late 1980s, authorities had become so concerned about attacks by one group, the Confederate Hammerskins, on African-Americans, gays and lesbians, and synagogues that they investigated and prosecuted 17 Hammerskin leaders in 1990, said Mark Briskman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Convinced that sending the 17 leaders to federal prison had delivered a knockout blow to the Hammerskins, Briskman was stunned barely a year later when three teenagers with ties to the Hammerskins killed an Arlington black man.

"I was hoping and anticipating that we'd see a dramatic change after the 1990 trial," he said. "Then the Arlington incident comes along a year later. I obviously had real concerns that maybe [the convictions] had not had a major impact at all."

The judge in Christopher Brosky's 1993 trial for Donald Thomas' murder limited the evidence jurors heard about Brosky's ties to the Hammerskins.

However, after the jury sentenced Brosky to probation, community outrage led to a second trial. In part because the charges were different, the judge allowed evidence about the skinhead group and Brosky's - and his two co-defendants' - ties to it. Brosky was sentenced to 40 years in prison for engaging in organized criminal activity.

Thomas' killing was the last organized, racially motivated crime linked to the Confederate Hammerskins, Briskman said.

Although Hammerskin Nation, the umbrella group that includes the Dallas group, still has a Web site, it hasn't been updated since 2002, and messages sent to the e-mail address were not returned.

Several publications by the Anti-Defamation League and other civil-rights groups still list the Confederate Hammerskins as an active group.

One member brutally assaulted a man in a bar fight recently, but the victim was white, and the attack was not orchestrated by the group, Briskman said.

"Our impression is that they don't exist in an organized format," Briskman said. "It took a few more years for the 1990 prosecution to fully filter down to everybody in the movement.

"The Arlington incident may have been their last hurrah."

That's not to say that there are no more white supremacist groups or that the groups won't flourish again, Briskman said.

Three men convicted of killing James Byrd Jr. in Jasper by slashing his throat, beating him, dragging him behind a truck, then decapitating him weren't skinheads, but they had ties to the Ku Klux Klan, Briskman said. They had also been in prison, where many inmates are members of the Aryan Brotherhood, he said.

Internet chatter has indicated increases in what he terms right-wing domestic terrorism since the election of the first U.S. black president. But that has not been accompanied by a noticeable increase in hate crimes, he said.

"We have not seen a return to the heyday of the 1980s and 1990s," he said.

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