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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

Episode Five Transcript

Episode Five: They Thought We Were Everywhere: the Portland ARA


MIC

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.

CHINA

I was like a punk rocker you know, I wasn't, I never shaved my head. I mean, I had a mohawk, I wasn’t a skin. But you know, skins and punks were, we would kind of listen to some similar music. And there's a lot of transectionality between the two groups, you know, so I mean, I just would meet people, it wasn't any kind of formal thing, just because people knew me. They recognized me. Like I mentioned, I was probably one of the only black kids down there. There were a few of us, but I was the only black girl that I recall. So I think, I was also a target quite a bit because of who I was.

CELINA

That's China, the punk rocker we heard from in episodes 1 and 2.

CHINA

I remember actually hanging out with some of the skinheads when I was younger and them saying, like, the N word, and stuff, and I was kinda like, (*laughs ironically*). I didn't know what to say, I was like, 14, and they would be like, “oh, not you. Your nose isn't like that.” And then I remember thinking to myself, “who are they talking about, my dad?” And I started to get just that anger started to build up and be to the point where I was like, “no, you're not going to talk like this. You're not gonna put,” you know, I just, I mean, it was like a righteous rage, though. I don't feel bad about it. I'm like, hey, this was ridiculous.

JASON

There was a specific moment where everything changed and the killing of Mulugeta Seraw really, really charged things.

MIC

Jason’s another punk that we heard from in episode one, here reflecting on the sudden increase in local violence.

JASON

I remember being at Pine Street, I wanna say it was '88. Some kid had gotten his braces kicked through his lips and earlier in the night I was standing out front in between bands and I was 5'5" and 120 pounds, long hair, sitting up against the wall with a friend and I was approached by this very large white supremist and he wanted to recruit me and I said, you know, "I'm not interested." And he disappeared. Couple minutes later I look up and he's right back in front of me with his back to me. All a sudden he swung around and sliced my face open. My friend ran off and I grabbed my skateboard and all a sudden I was surrounded by twelve, fifteen decked out, ready to go people. I had gone to school with a woman that was in POWER.

CELINA

POWER was a racist skinhead crew that formed around the same time as East Side White Pride.

JASON

She recognized me, came over and got them to chill out and she talked me down, 'cause I didn't wanna back down. She was like, "you need to stop, otherwise they're all gonna attack you and it's gonna be bad.” A few other incidents happened that night. They beat up a few more people and a few of us tried to help. A couple other strangers came to my aid and stood by my side. People I'd never met. It seemed like it was getting to that point where it's do or die. We either have to figure something out or people just get picked off left and right.

CHINA

At first it was just a few of us kinda standing up against these nazis. I think a lot of people weren't necessarily agreeing with them, but they were scared to speak up against them because they presented this force like they were going to beat your ass or whatever, if you said anything.

MIC

You’re about to hear from Kelly Halliburton. Kelly grew up in the mid-80s Portland music scene, going to punk and metal shows. He was in several local anarcho-punk bands in this era, including RESIST and DEPRIVED, and more recently was the drummer in Pierced Arrows.

KELLY

There was this guy, Clinton and he, uh, he was a really big guy. And I remember seeing him squaring off with a crowd of nazi skinheads in front of the Pine Street after a show. That's when, the first times that I saw people actually fighting back. I think he got pretty beat up that night. But, at least it was someone on my side that was standing up to them. It was like, you'd found your team.

CELINA

As longtime community organizer and racial justice scholar Scot Nakagawa mentioned in episode two, historically, hate crimes have a limited effect, but not here. Mulugeta Seraw’s murder electrified the local neo-nazis, infusing them with power grounded and guided by newly organized politics from national hate groups. Their street presence increased both in numbers and in flagrant displays of hate insignia on their clothing. All kinds of people reported more frequent brazen attacks, and at the punk shows, the boneheads’ old stomping grounds, they doubled down. They turned out in bigger groups–with baseball bats and knives, ready for violence. But in response, local punks banded together. They had had enough.

MIC

Long simmering resentment and hatred toward neo-nazi boneheads finally came to a boil. After years of enduring attacks, lone teenagers like Jason and China, the punks under this increased pressure–began to show solidarity. They saw other people under attack, and came to their aid. They pushed back. The scene began to shift from Reagan-era nihilism to a broader understanding of unity in the name of reclaiming space from fascists and sticking up for each other. Kelly Haliburton talks about the turning point in the punk scene following Seraw’s murder:

KELLY

And so, what that incident did was it galvanized peoples' politics. It spurred this movement towards incorporating straightforward politics into the punk scene.

CELINA

There was an understanding that remaining neutral in the presence of boneheads gave tacit approval to their existence. Mulugeta was not the first person in Portland killed by racists, but when punks found out that one of Mulugeta’s killers was a guy who sometimes took their door money for shows, and the other two were familiar faces in the scene, it made people see how close they were to the murderers. Ken Mieske was a vicious pretty boy who worked the door at the Pine Street Theatre; he was in a band with Kyle Brewster, who had been ironically voted prom king at Grant High School while harboring hateful ideology. Steve Strasser lived on the street. They were racists, they were bullying and intimidating–and they were punks.

MIC

A few minutes ago we heard China joke about the ‘transectionality’ between skins and punks; after Seraw’s murder that fluidity went away. The lines were drawn, and the organized anti-fascist ethos of the Portland punk scene was born. Welcome to the 5th episode of It Did Happen Here. I’m Mic Crenshaw...

CELINA

...and I’m Celina Flores. In this episode we find out what happened when anti-fascist punks teamed up and organized. Now, we’ll hear again from Jason:

JASON

There was a show at the Starry Night and this was right after Mulugeta Seraw was killed. CHD was handing out fliers. A guy gave me one and I was pretty psyched to get it. That same week, there was a show at the Pine Street. A bunch of the punks showed up, the spikey-haired crowd, people that I ended up getting to know pretty well. In fact, I knew a couple of them from high school and within a week, we had gotten a meeting together and decided that we were gonna fight back.

MIC

Here's China again:

CHINA

I think we had the first Anti-Racist Action and Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice meeting at a house in town, on Belmont Street. We were just kind of getting together talking about, what are we going to do about these Nazis, these skins that are causing problems.

MIC

This is Jorin, who you also met in episode one:

JORIN

The first meeting we ever had was at Karen's house on 17th and Belmont and a bunch of people showed up, some of whom became integral to organizing, and some of whom may not, not have been that involved at all in the long term. Someone presented information about the organizing that was happening in Minneapolis and Chicago, to Europe to some extent and had proposed that we do something there. For many of us the idea was initially just let's take our scene back. There's more of us than there are of them. And the reason that they've been walking all over us is because we haven't stuck together, we haven't done anything when this is happening.

JASON

The main topic of discussion was, "are we just gonna try and stand our ground as a troop, or are we actually gonna fight?" And that was a big, long argument for a long time. A lot of people did not feel comfortable with fighting or straight up attacking them, and a lot of people wanted to find alternate avenues for that. We said, "ok, that's great, but we're gonna be part of the Anti-Racist Action network, the action part of that says that we have decided we're going to fight them. And we're not gonna wait for them to beat someone up again, we're gonna attack them." So the group that agreed with that said, "ok, this is the first show we're gonna go to." We made a very serious presence and everybody showed up with bats and stood out front and we got the Pine Street to agree to not let any of them in. They could tell something was different when they showed up and there were a lot of people out front waiting. They kept driving around the block and seeing and it got a little sketchy when a few groups of them walked up and they'd see people going towards them and they'd take off. There was probably a couple scuffles in the blocks around it, mostly people like pulling up in their cars and trying to jump out to attack. They would get beaten back down and they'd jump back in their cars and tear off. That happened for three shows in a row and then they, for quite a while, they just quit coming. And we were pretty shocked that it happened that quickly. We expected this to go on for months and I think the three shows probably happened within a month and a half. There ended up being a few things outside of the shows, so then over the course of that year, it got more and more organized. The Minneapolis Baldies and Chicago ARA folks came out here and really helped us when we asked them to. They came out in '89 and in '90. And we decided that it wasn't enough to protect the shows, people at those shows. We wanted to push further.

CELINA

ARA had a commitment to direct confrontation and action. Because of its racist history and proliferation of local neo-nazi skinheads, Portland became a major node in ARA’s national network. So much so, that the national meetings of the ARA in 1990 and '91 were in Portland.

CHINA

I think when we got together and stood up as a force against them in their face, that was pretty powerful because it was a lot of showing up and fighting, like people jumping out of cars and throwing punches and gangland type of stuff. Driving around and we would see nazi skinheads, we'd jump out of the car, and we're like, “are you white pride? Are you white pride?” And we would start, like, swinging, you know. It really, it let them know that they weren't just going to get away with standing there, you know, with their little skinhead finger movements. So I think us, like, literally just in their face, standing up against them and being like, "hey, you're not gonna pick on people and you're not gonna get away with these things."

MIC

The coming together of ARA and the Coalition for Human Dignity was not mere happenstance; both groups made deliberate efforts to engage each other in solidarity. M. Treloar and Scot Nakagawa are activists we met in previous episodes; here they describe how the Coalition for Human Dignity and Anti Racist Action identified neo-nazi tactics in order to ultimately undermine them.

SCOT

With the rise of neo-nazi skinheads in Portland in particular, it became necessary to try to out-organize them at their projected base of support. So, specifically, what that meant was professional neo-nazis were deploying neo-nazi skinhead youth to organize and build base. One of the places they were doing that was the alternative music scene here in Portland. They would go into the scene, there were nazi bands, they would flier, they would terrorize people. They would polarize things in the scene, such that people who felt vulnerable often would join neo-nazi groups, because they were afraid. They were also very susceptible to the racist ideas that they represented, but you know, the primary lever was fear. So, in order to be able to counter that influence, we needed to get into the scene and do the same thing. So I mean, that meant doing things like walking around wearing “fight racism” t-shirts, and occasionally getting up on stage and making a speech, or throwing yourself into the mosh pit. We did do that. And that meant that there were times when neo-nazi skinheads would come after us. There were significant amounts of violence happening here. Stabbings, assaults. There was a instance in which a small group of neo-nazi skinheads attempted to break down the door of the office of the Coalition for Human Dignity with pickaxes. There was another incident in which it is reported by neighbors, that about 15 neo-nazis organized themselves in paramilitary fashion in order to attack the home of activists. This is the kind of thing that people were facing. And in those instances, we did defend ourselves. So, of course there was violence. Of course there was. There was no choice.

M. TRELOAR

ARA was going to the bouncers, and they were going to the bands and saying, "we need you to stop this. If they come in and they're flashing swastikas, if they come in and they're all dressed for a fight, we gotta stop 'em at the door." That was their organizing. It denied a public space for these boneheads, which is a term I'll use from now on to refer to all of these hundreds of neo-fascist skinheads who arose. Not the organized fascists, but the fifteen to twenty year old ones who were indigenous to Portland. We're gonna fight on this cultural front. Let's look at what Rock Against Racism did in England, steal from them, you know, why not. So, Coalition for Human Dignity organized a Rock Against Racism show that had hundreds of people show up and the bands took open anti-bonehead positions from the stage.

CELINA

And now, back to Jason:

JASON

We kept hearing that they would be out in Beaverton, beating people up at the mall, or recruiting at the homeless shelter or Kellogg Bowl and Milwaukie Bowl and starting shit at all these different places. And actually, at this point in time, upper Hawthorne had a huge presence. There were several different apartment buildings that were heavily populated, so we would go to those places and go to Beaverton, and go to Milwaukie, go, you know, all the places where we had run into folks before. So within that following year, they quit coming to the punk shows and they started going to metal shows. So, some of the bands, one of them in particular, Death Conspiracy, were very anti-racist and did not like what they saw going on and so they asked us, said, "hey, would you guys come to the shows, set up a table?" We did that. Set up a table inside. It was a huge metal show. Most of the bands were with us. They agreed with us. But some of them still didn't care and had friends that were nazis and a lot of nazis showed up to the show and came and confronted us. But a ton of people signed our mailing list and wanted to get involved. We made a lot of good connections. It really helped.

MIC

Here’s Jorin again:

JORIN

I actually was in high school the whole time we were doing this work. I did go to school. I worked at night, especially after we started actively organizing when we formed ARA, it was the kind of thing where it was not safe to walk down the street by ourselves. Some of the daytime talk shows that had portrayed racist skinheads on TV, had lead to an environment where a lot of people who are not involved in the punk scene saw no difference between punks and skinheads. So, being by myself with spiky hair and a studded leather jacket could get me beat up by people who had no involvement, who saw me as being a skinhead. Or, I could get beat up by the boneheads for being ARA.

CELINA

Patrick Mazza, the left wing music journalist we heard from in episode one, continued to provide coverage in the Portland hardcore scene’s fight against boneheads. Here he reads again from one of his columns from 1990:

PATRICK MAZZA

Within Portland’s youth culture a new resistance to racist skinheads is growing. A multi-racial network of young people known as Anti-Racist Action. Outside apartments where neo-nazi skinheads live, ARA can be seen demonstrated. At hardcore music shows where racist skins have done much of their recruiting, large groups from ARA now block their entry. When racists get in and sieg heil to the music, they are verbally confronted. When they still insist on preaching white power, ARA members escort them to the door. "It has never been that way before," ARA member Karen Cale said. While youth in the music scene have been trying to organize themselves against nazi skins since 3 skinheads murdered Ethiopian Mulugeta Seraw in November 1988, only in recent months has there been a consistent resistance. People are so sick of nazi skinheads!

MIC

Again, Jason:

JASON

After three shows of getting stood up to, they quit coming to the shows. They didn't have the intimidation. They didn't have the power. They didn't have the ability to just walk in ten deep and push everybody around and then beat up anyone who stepped out of line. As soon as it was a fair fight, they were gone! They disappeared. There were three hundred of them in the Portland area in 1990, but they were all hiding out in Beaverton, out in Milwaukie, out in southeast. There were ten of us that were engaging them on a daily basis, and sometimes multiple different places on the same day. Five of us would get in a car, we'd drive to Beaverton, beat up a couple guys at the mall, and then we'd drive to Clackamas and beat up a couple people out there. They thought we were everywhere. They thought there were tons of us. It was just the same five guys! [laughs] Not just guys. There were several women, too.

CHINA

There was some people that kind of came and were doing some organizing, I think they were maybe with the Coalition for Human Dignity. And there was this place over on the east side called Matrix, that they kinda had a headquarters, they were keeping track of different white supremist groups, they were kinda tracking them. So, some of the, these people came to town, we had a couple of meetings. So there were a couple of people that came and started talking to us, and I felt like some of them may have had a, you know, everyone has their agenda, may have had like a socialist agenda, which is not necessarily offensive, but somebody somewhere had made an effort to reach out to us on the front lines that were actually fighting.

CELINA

One of the people who reached out to China and her friends was Jonathan Mozzochi, who we met in episode three.

JONATHAN MOZZOCHI

In the early years, the Coalition for Human Dignity, late 80’s, early 90’s, we began to work with street level anti-racist groups, in particular Anti-Racist Action and Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice. So, their work was primarily organized around protecting the alternative music scene and their neighborhoods from infiltration and organizing on the part of racist skinheads and their more professional sponsors like Tom Metzger and the White Aryan Resistance, Aryan Nations, outfits like that. We worked pretty close with them originally out of an office located at 333 SE 3rd. It was a radical, left-wing collective and the earliest CHD files were compiled there. In the early days we lived in the offices, quite a few of us. There were radical environmentalists, anti-gentrification activists, pretty broad collective there. Our work with Anti-Racist Action and Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice started out of there. There was music venues like the Pine Street Theater and Satyricon. We worked with ARA folks to protect those scenes that became sites of conflict between anti-racists and racist skinheads.

MIC

We’ll end this episode with a final word from Jason about the deep ties and active coalition building between many groups in Portland at that time, especially the Coalition for Human Dignity and Anti-Racist Action.

JASON

People from CHD made an effort to come to several of those early ARA meetings. They made themselves available. They were honest and up-front about consequences, about what things looked like, and what the risks are. They were really, really helpful, but also supportive, and those things work both ways where people were invited to their meetings and then through coalition building there, I think it was '91 or '90, everybody worked together to throw the biggest march and rally Portland had ever seen. We almost got Public Enemy to play it [laughs], but they gave us a shout out on the radio. It was huge what were were able to do and we would have larger meetings where people from each of these groups, Leonard Peltier support groups, Radical Women, Lesbian Community Project, all these groups would be in the same meetings to talk about the churches that got attacked, bricks thrown through their windows, or what happened to the people that got beat up over here out in the outskirts. So, what's going on here. So we would all come together, talk about all this stuff, and work on it and, and this is cool, too, ARA we threw a couple benefit shows. One of them was for Leonard Peltier's Support Group. We did a big thing Bradley Angle House. Raised a few bucks and then got raided by the cops. But it meant something. It showed that we were serious, we were gonna put our money where our mouth was, and then go out and fight nazis the next night.

ERIN

Thanks for listening to Episode Five of It Did Happen Here. There are show notes with links, transcripts, and other relevant content at our website : ItDidHappenHerePodcast.com. You can also listen to the podcast on the KBOO website, and on Apple podcasts, where you can leave a review and help other people find out that this podcast exists. This episode, interviews were by Barbara Bernstein, Celina Flores, Ender Black, Erin Yanke, and Mic Crenshaw and your hosts were Celina Flores and Mic Crenshaw. This podcast is produced by Celina, Mic, and me, Erin Yanke. Our next episode is called House Defense. You'll hear about how the boneheads attacked a few houses, and the community's efforts to protect the houses and the residents. Music in this episode is by Anitek from the Free Music Archive (FMA), Dead Conspiracy, and Chumbawamba - "Here’s To The Rest Of Our Lives." Thanks to the bands for the music, thanks to the participants for sharing their stories and experiences, and thanks to the Marla Davis Fund, KBOO Community Radio, and to the rest of our production team: Icky A, Julie Perini, and Moe Bowstern, and thank you for listening.