Skinheads have been linked to at least 10 incidents of violence or vandalism over the last two years in Ventura County, during which time they have recruited school-age members with white-supremacist literature, county law enforcement officials said.
"There is a growing pattern," said Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury. "We're seeing recruitment activities in high schools, and also acquisition of deadlier weaponry. They're throughout the county."
The beating of a teen-age girl with a baseball bat, two stabbings, a firebombing and a cross-burning were cited by police, residents and a Jewish watchdog organization as examples of violence committed by members of Ventura County skinhead gangs since early 1988.
John R. Hatcher, head of Ventura County's NAACP, also has cited a series of racially motivated incidents and threatened last week to request a federal investigation in the wake of an Aug. 14 break-in at the home of a black teacher.
The incident left the teacher's Simi Valley house in shambles and defaced by racial epithets. Drawers and cabinets were overturned, dishes and appliances shattered; clothes, toys and other personal belongings were in piles throughout the house. Brown paint had been poured into a clothes dryer and piano.
Graffiti on Walls
A racial epithet was carved into the dining-room table, and graffiti was spray-painted onto interior walls, including swastikas and the word skinheads, police said.
The destruction at the teacher's house was the second apparent hate crime in Simi Valley in three months.
On May 29, swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans were spray-painted on the back wall of Temple Ner Tamid on Appleton Road, but police have not linked the incident to skinheads.
Simi Valley Sgt. Kenneth Tacke said that although the vandalized residence and synagogue are in central Simi Valley, they are not in the same neighborhood and have no apparent connection. Officials of the synagogue declined to discuss the case.
Another synagogue--Temple Beth Torah--was vandalized in Ventura last summer and fall by skinhead gang members, one of whom was convicted of felony burglary and vandalism and sentenced to six months in the county's juvenile detention facility, Colston Youth Center. A second suspect, comatose because of a car accident, has been unable to stand trial.
Rabbi Edward Kiner, of the synagogue, said that in the break-ins windows were smashed, anti-Semitic graffiti was spray-painted on walls, and a classroom was riddled with air-gun pellets.
Police said they were able to tie one of the incidents to two skinheads through fingerprints on rocks hurled through a window.
Ventura County authorities say they have leveled charges against several skinhead gang members--known for their shaved heads, military-style dress and neo-Nazi beliefs.
Michael Vernon Fields, 18, of Ojai is scheduled to appear in Ventura County Municipal Court today for a preliminary hearing on charges of attempting to bring a stolen .357-caliber magnum revolver into a courtroom July 26 while under the influence of cocaine.
Assistant Dist. Atty. Don Coleman said that when police searched Fields' home, they found racist literature and cartoons.
Other members of skinhead gangs have been convicted of a near-fatal stabbing, a beating with a rock and the vandalism of a synagogue over the last year in Ventura. An unsolved cross-burning in that city, which occurred in early 1988, is believed linked to skinheads, said Ventura Police Detective Jeffrey Killion.
Killion said skinhead activity in Ventura has diminished since a local leader, 19-year-old Scott Keith Porcho, was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced in March to three years in state prison. Porcho's victim, who was white, was attacked on a Ventura beach with a rock.
Still, Killion and other experts in hate crimes agree that skinheads should be taken seriously because they are believed to have ties to White Aryan Resistance, the white-supremacist group based in Fallbrook, Calif.
Recruitment literature distributed by skinheads in Ventura County schools and elsewhere in Southern California has been traced to that group, as well to the Pacific Palisades-based National Socialist White American Party, Killion said. The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith in Los Angeles concurred.
Betsy Rosenthal, an ADL attorney, said organizations such as White Aryan Resistance exploit youths who often join skinhead gangs in search of a sense of belonging.
Skinheads handed out literature and attempted to recruit members outside Camarillo schools last academic year, said Camarillo neighborhood activist Jessie Roybal, who is executive director of the Candaleria American Indian Council in Oxnard.
Roybal led residents of Camarillo's Calle Sirculo neighborhood in March in complaining to city officials and police about intimidation and the firebombing of a home, which she contended were carried out by skinheads.
She said her family has been the object of harassment by skinheads.
"Beer bottles are thrown at our house, obscenities are yelled at us; they've followed my daughter from the house to work. We've been called every name in the book," said Roybal, who is of American Indian ancestry and whose husband is Latino.
She blamed skinheads for two beatings last year--including one in which a skinhead gang member beat a teen-age girl with a baseball bat for quitting the group.
Steve Wetzel, the girl's stepfather, said the family did not press charges because of fear of retaliation.