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Episodes

× 1: Setting the Scene - Portland OR 2: The Murder of Mulugeta Seraw 3: Building Community Defense 4: The Minneapolis Baldies and Anti Racist Action 5: They Thought We Were Everywhere: the Portland ARA 6: House Defense 7: A Research Capacity: The Work of the CHD 8: SHARPer Times 9: The Story of Jon Bair 10: Less Booted, More Suited 11: Nothing is Final Bonus Episodes

Bonus Episode Seven Transcript

Bonus Episode: More Fighters


CELINA

This podcast contains lots of swearing and violence, occasional use of the N word and other content that some people may find disturbing or offensive.

MIC

This is a text I got from Iran: Listening to the podcast It Did Happen Here reopened old wounds. It opened wounds that I didn't really know where there. I barely made it through an entire episode and I burst into tears because they kept mentioning the date 1988. 1988 really struck me because it struck me how many years I have been fighting alone against the neo-nazis.

IRAN

I wasn't just fighting the Nazis, I was fighting the racist rednecks, too. I was actually fighting them three years before there was actually any trustworthy assistance. Well, I had three guys that I could trust that were Native American that would sometimes fight alongside me.

JACKSON

The beginning of my path to become an anti-racist skinhead was a combination of punk rock and skateboards, which I was into by the age of 12.

TOM

I was already going to all the shows in the '80s in Portland. When they first came up I was like this skater punk, went to dance clubs to meet girls you know, things like that. I came in, in around '89 with SHARP. My introduction to skinhead was SHARP. I was around and met those guys, they started explaining the culture and I moved out at a really young age. The family and the brotherhood you get out of the skinhead subculture, it really provided a place for me to belong and to be looked after.

PAN

After Mulugeta Seraw was murdered, it was all over the news. Images of like, skinheads was in the newspaper and hate 'em as you as, as you must, they fucking look tough. You know that look, boots, rolled up jeans, flak jacket, a Harrington, whatever. And I just remember like, sort of wishing that they weren't fucking peckerwoods. I wished that they weren't nazis because that would be something I would be into. Within a year, there it is. I lived in the Sunnyside neighborhood and Sunnyside was a really diverse neighborhood in the 80s. And it was really working class. So that's like, in between Hawthorne and like, Belmont in the low 30s. But I'm also Jewish and I have a deep hate for nazis and in the early ARA-SHARP days, for me I didn't even think of peckerwoods as people. That was my mentality. I didn't give a fuck what I did wrong because they weren't fucking people. It took me 'til my older days to kind of realize that they were people, too and that they're misled and that there's like a systemic cultural system that creates this. There's pity to be had for them but as a kid they were just my enemy. Skinhead, it, it just fit. I remember when SHARP first started here, I was at fucking skinhead house and Laurel Akin's song, "Skinhead" comes on and I was like, "what the fuck is this?" A track came on after that from the album, The Harder They Come, and I was like, "what the hell is this?" They're like, "this is reggae." I was like, "I know I grew up on it," 'cause my dad in the car as a kid was Linton Kwesi Johnson and the fucking Harder They Come soundtrack. So this was my childhood soundtrack.

MIC

Right Right, right.

PAN

I'm like, "this is skinhead?" It just all fit.

CELINA

In sharing the stories of this podcast the It Did Happen Here team carries respect for the people who came together 30 years ago to end the blatant terrorism that racist skinheads routinely broadcast throughout Portland in the 80s and 90s.

MIC

Portland's anti racist skinheads have not been well treated by the media, who have often shown only the most violent and headline worthy reflections of the culture just to sell news. Young skinheads found themselves exploited and portrayed as without values or conscience, indistinguishable from the racist they sought to destroy. Greater Portland believed the police reports which characterize the fighters as wayward youth caught up in gang conflicts.

CELINA

In this special bonus episode of It Did Happen Here, we bring you four voices of anti-racists who defended the streets and the people of Portland from racist scum. I'm Celina Flores,

MIC

and I'm Mic Crenshaw. First we'll hear a conversation between me, Jackson, and Iran. Jackson is a former SHARP--Skinhead Against Racial Prejudice, and Iran was an autistic street kid who was friends with all of the SHARPs and other anti-fascist and anti-racist youth. Then we'll hear from Tom and Pan, who started out as SHARPs before branching into other groups they'll describe.

JACKSON

I wanted to go to see these bands I'd listened to on tapes and records, in person. However, going to punk rock shows was a dangerous endeavor in Portland because of the the amount of nazi skinheads that showed up to any show. They were very dominant of the punk rock scene. And, you know, in southeast Portland, we had Eastside White Pride, you know, I saw Eastside White Pride every day, and they were driving around in a in a black primer, Chevy Nova with "white power" in white spray painted on the side. And they had a spotlight mounted to the side. And they were just driving around with baseball bats. That was southeast Portland. There was something about the look that drew me. But for quite some time, I didn't think that it was accessible because I associated skinheads with white supremacy. And it wasn't until I met some anti-racist skinheads and I was told about the history and the roots of it that I realized that was something that I wanted to be. I started hanging out with skinheads and kind of learning more and more about it, and listening to oi and some ska music, and I was already into hardcore. And so it really made a lot of sense to me. I remember when I transitioned from being a long haired punk rocker to, to a skinhead. That first night after I shaved my head, I got jumped by some Bloods. They just thought I was a nazi. They knocked me unconscious.

MIC

Iran, you and I were talking recently, and you told me the story about how you got involved fighting boneheads.

IRAN

I was the most unlikely person to take up that fight, but I didn't know there was an any other option but to fight them, if they came at me. I grew up around the remnants of the Black Panther movement in Portland, even though my family wasn't a part of that, they would eat in my family's restaurant. I would listen and I thought, when confronted with a situation where someone was trying to beat me for my color, I had to fight. But that's not exactly how it started. Because I was a pacifist at first. The lack of protection from police. and the indifference of the people around me, drove me to be a fighter where I hadn't been one before.

JACKSON

There was one day, I think I was on my way to work. I saw Iran being confronted by these nazis and this one, he got in his face, and Iran grabbed him very simply by the head and the crotch and picked him up and, this is at Pioneer Square, threw him to the ground so hard that the bricks shook.

IRAN

I remember that happening. It was June 29. It was my birthday. And I was going to go see, Do The Right Thing at the Guild Theatre. It was a fight that I wasn't involved in. And as I walked by, it was a rare occasion where gangsters were fighting against nazis. And I was just gonna walk by and look and see what's gonna happen. This guy turned around, ran up in my face. His exact words were, "Martin Luther King was a faggot!" And he tried to take a swing at me and I grabbed him by his crotch and his throat and turn him upside down and bounced his head off the pavement. At that point, because I wasn't expecting to get in the situation, I wasn't mentally present to actually see what happened to him. I just know that after I bounce them off of his head, he was incapacitated.

JACKSON

He bounced back to his feet. He was unconscious, but he was on his feet for just a moment. It was the oddest thing. And then he collapsed, Iran left, and that was probably the first time I was Iran fight.

IRAN

Once I started fighting back, I would say things back to them, but they would be sort of wimpy. That would make them positive that they would have good results if they got out of their car and came up to me which always ended poorly for them even later on. After they didn't hear that as much they would still drive by and yell, "hey fag!" And so I would say, "yeah, you want to fuck?" They'd say, "what??" and they'd jump out of their car and that will be their mistake. And the nazis were no different. After a while, you know I even like started wearing a dress around downtown, just the bait them.

JACKSON

I remember that! [laughter]

MIC

In the interview that I did with Jackson and Iran, stories of Iran's street fighting prowess sounded so natural. War stories told between friends with years of perspective. But there was a deeper emotion and strategy to Iran's resistance that he revealed to me in a text exchange that I think is worth sharing. This is from Iran:

CELINA

In order to survive, I fought. Not only did I fight, but I won. It did not matter if it was one nazi or four. Each time I encountered them, the majority of them would end up unconscious on the ground. I enjoyed watching the confidence drain from their faces and turned a panic, it became sort of addictive. Later, this would bite me in the ass because the thing I enjoyed became the thing that haunted me. I moved back to Portland the following year and resumed my battles with the neo-nazis. I resumed them because the threat remained the same. And I also resumed them because I thought that that was what I was supposed to do. I thought it was my purpose. I thought resistance and fighting against oppression was what Black people did. I thought that if I didn't do this, I was letting down everyone who came before me and fought for my rights so far. I thought if I didn't stop them, or serve as a deterrent, they would feel free to go into my neighborhood, which was unprepared. I had to fight beyond my ability and beyond my strength. And I had to make it look easy. I wanted them to believe anytime they came into contact with a Black person, they stood no chance of winning.

MIC

Here's Jackson again.

JACKSON

There was an incident early on, where Mark Newman, who brought SHARP up from LA, he had, I think it was with Egghead, ended up in [inaudible] to go to the hospital. Mark got a ride with a police officer. And the police officer looked at his arm because he had a crucified scan on his arm. And he asked him, "sre you a skinhead?" And Mark said, "yeah," and of course, the police officers assuming that he's a nazi. And the police officer said, "well, you know, what you guys don't realize is that at least half the police force is on your guys's side."

IRAN

Yeah, not only were the police on their side, Portland, especially '85, it, really up until Malugeta Seraw got killed, Portland was really indifferent to racism. Like, I'd be hanging out with people and they would say, "oh, yeah, I like you, you're better than other Black guys," and you know me, I would say, "how many other black guys you know?" "Well, you just like us, you know, there's niggers, and there's Black guys." And in the beginning, I wasn't like I am now where I always had something to say. I would be thrown for a loop and I would just spend less time around that person. If that person ran into a situation where they were in trouble, I'd let them stay in trouble. I was hanging out in a club called Scoochie's. And the reason why I went there in the first place was I saw a news story on TV about how the nightclub wasn't allowing Black people in. In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have been there. And it's the same thing that affected the hip-hop scene later on. When it started emerging in Portland, they started creating dress codes. Later on with the OLCC, and OLCC didn't have checks and balances. I don't know about how it is now. They could really come in and shut you down. And they did that in the 90s with a few places that were getting a Black crowd. One place downtown, and one place on Belmont that is now a grocery store, that was a restaurant that had dancing in it. So even in the 90s Portland was still pretty racist. And the system and Multnomah County and Portland in the state of Oregon. No matter if it's Democrat or Republican, they're still racist, they just hide behind a performative bubble to hide who they are. They can hide behind political correctness to say all the right things at the right times. But they're still they still are who they are.

CELINA

That was Iran talking, and here's Pan:

PAN

Ran was SHARP from probably '89 to '92 and then it just got to political, you know, we were sort of like, we used to make fun of the peckerwoods because they were just the foot soldiers of the right and we kind of became the foot soldiers of the left. We had to apologize a lot for violence, and we had to apologize a lot for doing what we thought was right. Like you get the question, "why do you fight Nazis?" and I mean, like, why wouldn't you?

MIC

Yeah.

PAN

What kind of a fucking question is that? And why do I need to validate that? I think we wanted to stop being asked. And then you know, like doing security for marches is cool, doing protests outside of homes and businesses where Nazis are working's cool, but like, I wanted to just beat 'em up. You know, I mean, like we used to run routes, we would drive routes like at nighttime looking for 'em because we knew roughly where they lived. We knew where their markets of choice were, you know, the 711 by their house or...

MIC

Yeah, I remember a couple times jumping out on folks with you guys.

PAN

Yeah, I had no tolerance.

MIC

Doing security and marches and protesting at nazi houses, these kind of public actions that SHARP engaged in with a ARA and the Coalition for Human Dignity brought some risk as it exposed the SHARPs to a higher scrutiny from the police. Here's Tom who was incarcerated when he was 18:

MIC

What did you go to prison for and how long were you in prison?

TOM

Well, there was a big protest that I think CHD organized on Hawthorne in front of the house where a lot of nazis lived. I, I want to say it was like maybe 20th and a Hawthorne over by that 7/11. Randy Krieger who later became the founder of Volks Front and a bunch of other nazis were there. We did a rally there. Later that day, we went by there, we fucked to their fucking shit up, we threw shit through their windows, ahh, bricks and, and whatnot, and then we left. And then a few of us came back several hours later, the car got surrounded, they started blowing out our windows with sticks and stuff, hit two of my friends. One of them had to go to the hospital because he was split from the front of his forehead to the back of his head. And then we went back and there was another thing that happened. There were two people that ended up getting hit, one with a hammer and I think maybe another one with a pipe, that filed a complaint with the police. They were both female nazis. I don't know about the hammer. That all happened inside the 711 and I never went inside there, if that even happened, but I got pulled over driving away. I was 17. Then later on, I was arrested at the Tom Metzger trials and was subsequently charged with two counts of assault, too, which after a plea bargain landed me 16 months in the state prison system. I was 17 when it happened. I was 18 by the time I was tried, convicted and sentenced. To the best of my knowledge. I was the first anti-racist skinhead in Oregon to hit the prison system. That would have been in 1990. And within an hour of landing in Oregon State Correctional Institution, I was in the chow hall eating food. Kyle Brewster walked right up to my fucking table and was like, "are you Tom?" And I said, "yup." And he said, "get up. Those were my friends." I ended up grabbing him and people yelled, "cops," so we broke away. I would say within an hour, he had sent somebody into my cell this guy named Warren, who beat me pretty good. I was blood from my head to my waistline and soaked into my jeans, so that gives you like an idea how bad this dude beat my ass. I found out later that I was on the unit that housed most of the white supremacists because it said skinhead in my file. Luckily I was coached by my stepdad. He had done some time. And after I had a smoke I walked out to that guy who had just beat me's cell. And when I walked out on my cell, most of the unit they were beating on the on the railings, "death to the SHARP, death to the SHARP, death to the SHARP," hundreds people. I walked over to his sell all bloody and opened up the door and I was like, "come on out man." And he was like, "what"? and I put my fists up and I was like, "we're gonna get it. You're gonna finish it right now." After a little bit of back and forth, he's like, "look, dude, I already beat your ass." And I'm like, "well, you're gonna do it again, in front of everybody else." He's like, "nope, you got my respect, like you and I got no problem." Later I was, I didn't have a change of clothes yet. I hadn't even been in prison that long and the cops noticed I was bloody and they sent me to the hole and then they went, "oh, shit, like, we put this guy on the white power unit," and then they sent me to Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution. I know who I was when I went, walked into that prison. And I was determined to walk out that same person. I never denounced what I was, who I was, what I stood for. Everybody in every prison that I was at, they'd like, "oh, you're that SHARP," and I'm like, "yup." There was a guy, Shamli Hazleton that came in. He was a neo-nazi, and he was in there for stabbing a friend of mine. He walked up to me and was like, "Oh, you're that SHARP dude," And I'm like, "yup, are we gonna have a problem? Let's fucking get some." He didn't want some. Mostly I just tried to do my own time. I know. I was listening to John's episode and it was really interesting because towards the end of my stay at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, which is the same prison that he was at, I had a friend that was Latino that I played pinochle with, and he just backed me up. When Rude Brude ran up on me, and I jumped up off the weight pile and then like, all these Latinos, kinda came behind 'em and were like, "you're not doing this." That's how I got through the rest of my time, really. I can't be 100% but I'm pretty sure that the guys that helped me out were NorteƱos. I don't know if I'd have made it through without those guys. Ironically, on the other side of the prison, Steve Strasser was stealing his time but we never crossed paths. Steve Strasser was the third person convicted in the Mulugeta Seraw murder. That guy's been a ghost like, for my understand he did this time pretty quiet and add a prison he just disappeared. You know, it's about the time I got out of prison SHARP, it kind of wasn't really a thing anymore. People were just kind of independent. Baldies has a very early history. The original Baldies came from Minneapolis to Portland and gave us a lot of support. There was a Portland version of that starting up. And a lot of it was, for me it was because of the political praxis with the Baldies and the history of ARA, that I felt that SHARP never had back then for sure. They were like, most people were non political. There was a lot of different things that weren't as analyzed as through through the Baldie lens. You know, you've got racism but you also have sexism, homophobia, transphobia all the tenants of ARA and that made sense to me. So we started up the Baldies. I think they kind of started in a right before I got out of prison. I got out like late '91, early '92. The Portland version of the Baldies was a thing at least through '96.

CELINA

While we mostly hear about the SHARPs, there have been several explicitly anti-racist skinhead groups in Portland. We've talked about the Portland Baldies. There was also SCAR--Skinheads Committed Against Racism, PUB--Portland United Boot Boys, and the Rose City Bovver Boys. Pan who will hear from next came up in SHARP and later went on to help found the Rose City Bovver Boys, or as he calls them, Rose City.

PAN

I was kind of the younger kid in the background just observing and then Banks got killed and I moved to LA and I got a whole different orientation down in LA of gang life. And you know when I came back, and we started Rose City, it was just straight gang life.

MIC

Pan's mention of gang life reflect the changes in the anti-racist skinhead scene. The feeling that SHARP had become too political. Skinhead music, clothes, anti-racism, and camaraderie where for many former SHARPs, impossible to separate from the ethos. Rose City Bovver Boys and other formations were rooted in being a skinhead first, taking pride in skinheads' anti-racist history and culture and taking pride in being working class.

PAN

Skinheads the most multicultural subculture that's ever been, it's all over the world. It's in Indonesia. It's in South America, the largest scene's in Mexico. It pulls from, from things that anybody from any like working class background can relate to. I mean, it doesn't matter if you're from Jamaica or from England or from Scotland or from New York or from Chicago from Portland, we can relate and then it combines cultural flavors. I mean like from Jamaica like, the Mods and the Rude Boys and combining all this it's like, it's like Star Trek. [laughter]

MIC

They're on some suede head Rudy shit.

PAN

It's just so fucking sus, man. It's like, and then you know, Rude Boys are hard as hell, man, they're like straight up gangsters. And that was political too, they were like foot soldiers for like politicians and as well as drug lords.

MIC

That's how we get arranged in the hierarchy. In the hierarchy of patriarchy and capitalism and feudalism, these are all age old systems that are in our blood. You know, just like we passed down trauma and other things from generation to generation, we've learned how to be how we are and skinhead is one of those things you know. It's, it's a warrior class of the proletariat that takes pride in itself, that's based on codes rather than money.

PAN

The part of the subculture that I identify with is originals, not traditional, not Oi Boys, hardcore kids, not [inaudible], none of that. I gravitate towards originals, which are the people that were around in the late '60s early '70s. The reality is Jamaican music is, is the soundtrack to skinhead. Jamaican music is based upon American music; soul and R&B and blues, right. And northern soul which is big in the scene.

MIC

The northern soul is a genre of soul music...

PAN

...got popular Northern England. A lot of northern soul are the b-sides to the popular tracks. They got popular in northern social clubs and dance halls. So that's why it got called northern soul. And, you know, I'm not trying to be a snob by saying that all the roots of skinhead are based in America because that would be folly and it's not true.

MIC

It's a full circle thing.

PAN

I mean, that was sort of what Rose City was about was fucking, dressing sharp and kicking ass. Like, we wanted to be hard as nails, but the best dressed. And it also has the whole essence of just what we are. I mean, like, part of being anti-racist is living anti-racist, you know, it's not just beaten up, racist. It's about how, setting an example. For me living that lifestyle, have that impact.

MIC

Here's Tom again, reflecting on his long personal history and how it compares to today's struggle:

TOM

I see people coming together over the past, you know, four years on a level that people came together in this town, back that '89, 1990 era. It's the same enemy, it looks different. But to see the solidarity, and, and the way that people have been coming together to fight that is giving me some hope. People largely are doing it in a fairly smart way in comparison. I mean, you know, the way we did it back then it was pretty gritty. There's been an evolution of trying to fight smarter and more strategically. But the problem now is not a neo-nazi street gang is much is like a more institutional and systemic enemy. They've got the street aspects like the Proud Boys, which, while they're dangerous, they're not anything like the people that we fought in the '80s and '90s, right. They're not the Kyle Brewster's and in the Randy Kragers. Those dudes would fight. They'd kill ya. They'd shoot at you. I mean, I haven't been shot at in the last four years, but '89 through '96, I don't even know if I can count how many times I've been shot at. And if I think about, like, I was listening to one of the earlier podcast episodes about the pick axe at the Matrix. I was there that night, and that was terrifying. Yeah, I think I was 17 and they were beating on that door with pickaxes. And I don't remember how many were down there. But that was a steel door and then a flight of stairs to the top. And it was just echoing through the building. Those guys that we fought back then they were big. They were tough. A lot of them had done prison time and they were all about the violence. You've got these more covert groups like the Base and Atomwaffen Division and those guys definitely mean arm and we look at reemergences of people like Kyle Brewster who popped back up in Portland again recently. The timing is so wild for a guy like that to just pop out. Why did he pick now? That dude's dangerous as hell. You also gotta wonder who the government picked up right? And like, put 'em out there. Our government has a long history of that.

CELINA

Again, this is Pan:

PAN

I feel like too, with the violence that we did as kids, we were the snowplow. And after us came the people that could actually create real change. With the nazis that were around, nobody could do anything because they were in fear all the time. And I know that like, when the Baldies first came out, one of the big lessons that I learned was that we don't have to apologize for like beating up the nazis. You don't debate the subject. We don't go, "well, have you ever thought about not being white pride?" No. Just fucking smash you. Skinhead's not who I am, it's part of who I am.

MIC

That's right. That's right. There are other, you're a father.

PAN

That's the number one thing I am. If I was anything, I'd be a father above all.

MIC

Is your son skinhead?

PAN

No.

MIC

Does he does he want to be or do you want him to be?

PAN

Sometimes he wants to be, I don't want him to be. You know, I want him to have a different life. I mean, I want him to have an easier life. I want him to fall in love and grow old and have no financial worries and have kids and be happy. I don't want him to live the life I've lived. My life's been hard. You know, you're always on your toes, you're always watching your back. When you get to go to school when your life is like that? When you get to fall in love or get a career, you know? I've managed. I went fishing in Alaska and that was a big education for me, taught me a lot and set me up with a foundation. You know, that's helped me for a good 20 years.

MIC

Here's Iran again:

IRAN

I feel like if my grandchildren have to face the same things that I faced, that you faced, that Jackson has faced, I think that everything that I pushed back against was a failure. It should end and now. There's no logical reason for the things that are in place right now. That things that people didn't want to see until Trump became president, but were always there. The way that they've treated Black people, and in the past and in present, and in the future, have they treated people of color, you know, what, with the, the Asian Exclusion Act. There's all these exclusion acts they talk about, they don't, but they don't really talk about all of them, you know. People from India, the men could come but women couldn't come and stuff like that. Thankfully, now we have the Immigration Act of 1965, I think, with the momentum that came from the Civil Rights Movement that stopped people from being able to have true exclusion acts. Although, you know, it's still there. And so, I just don't want my great-, or my great, great grandchildren to be dealing with the same nonsense that I'm dealing with, or you're dealing with, or anybody of color in this country is dealing with.

CELINA

This is Tom again:

TOM

I'm really worried with the inauguration of Biden, that more liberal minded folks are going to be like, "we won," and just dip out. Let's not forget, you know, the previous administration put people in cages as well. Just because the Democrats in office and Trump is gone, it doesn't mean that the fights over. The Democrats are not the friends to the people, either. We need to be mobilizing community defense for marginalized peoples that are going to be targeted by, by these right wing extremists. Even if they go underground, they're not gonna stop. They didn't stop last time they went underground. The researchers you know, we need to continue that research because that, that's more important than whacking somebody on head right? Like, the research and exposure of who these people are, is what gets, gets the job done more than anything. Dedicated anti-fascists are gonna have to dig in and continue fighting.

ERIN

Thanks for listening to this bonus episode of It Did Happen Here. There are transcripts, show notes with links, and other relevant content at our website, itdidhappenherepodcast.com. You can also listen to the podcast on the KBOO website, KBOO.fm, on Spotify, Stitcher, and Apple Podcasts. Interviews in this episode were conducted by Mic Crenshaw and your hosts were Celina Flores and Mic Crenshaw. This podcast is produced by Celina, Mic, and me, Erin Yanke. Music in this episode is by Godspeed You Black Emperor. Thanks to them, and thanks to the Marla Davis Fund, KBOO Community Radio and the rest of our production team, Icky A, Julie Perini, and Moe Bowstern. And thank you for listening.