They call themselves the Fourth Reich Skinheads, just a loose-knit bunch of fun-loving suburban white teen-agers who share a love of their ethnic heritage and a disdain for being harassed by minorities. "We don't hate everybody of a certain race," one 16-year-old girl from Huntington Beach explained. "We only hate certain ones."
The FBI last week publicly identified the skinheads as part of an alleged white supremacist conspiracy to attack African-Americans in Los Angeles and ignite a race war. The group's 20-year-old mentor, Christopher David Fisher, was among eight people arrested in the case.
But on Saturday, members of the Fourth Reich Skinheads branded the government's charges as absurd. They said they were enticed into participating in the alleged plot by an undercover FBI agent who resembled a movie star and a self-professed white racist reverend who looked like Santa Claus.
"They suckered us in," said Timothy Traster, 16, of Long Beach. "We're not out to hurt anybody."
Special Agent Charlie J. Parsons, who heads the FBI's Los Angeles field office, dismissed the skinheads' complaints of entrapment, saying such allegations are inevitable after undercover operations.
"Our undercover agents are instructed very carefully to not be the one initiating the idea," Parsons said. He added that the FBI has tapes of the defendants that will undermine the allegations of entrapment.
Nonetheless, sitting on the porch of Traster's parents' tidy duplex in Long Beach, four members of the Fourth Reich insisted that the government's case was unfounded and that Chris Fisher, a former Eagle Scout, was being made a scapegoat.
It was Fisher, the manager of a Subway sandwich shop in Long Beach, who was largely responsible for bringing the group together last year, they said.
Half a dozen of Fisher's friends--high school students from heavily minority neighborhoods in Long Beach and Orange County--shaved their heads and adopted the neo-Nazi uniform of black jackets and jump boots because "we got tired of being harassed because we were white," Traster said.
"Blacks screwed me over," he said. "They'd steal my s---. They'd borrow money and never pay me back. I got tired of it. They were proud of their race. Why couldn't I go around being proud of mine?"
The group adopted the name Fourth Reich Skinheads, according to member Matt (Turtle) Tuttle, 18, "to carry on the Third Reich," Adolf Hitler's reign of power before and during World War II.
"He may have been crazy, especially at the end there," Traster said of the German dictator, "but he was intelligent."
Described by friends as shy and gentle, Fisher and the others went to movies, built bonfires at the beach and hung out at McDonald's. They didn't go looking for trouble, members said--but did not shy away from it, either.
"There were occasional brawls, with Mexicans and Asians, mostly," Tuttle said, "but we didn't instigate the fights. We just stood up for what was right."
Among those Fourth Reich members interviewed Saturday, the gangly, bespectacled Tuttle, who works for a telemarketing firm in Long Beach, was perhaps the most strident. "If this were a perfect world," he said, "everybody would stay where they belonged. Black people have Africa."
Debi, a wholesome-looking 16-year-old from Huntington Beach who did not want her last name used or her photograph taken because it would "upset my mom," did not so roundly condemn blacks or Latinos. She did note, however, that "I hate all Asians because they come here and treat us like dirt."
Authorities say that eventually the group's ranks swelled to at least 18 members and perhaps as many as 50. Members interviewed Saturday said the number was closer to 30. To help spread the word and bolster its membership, the group bought a telephone answering machine and opened a "hot line."
"We'd put messages on the tape . . . for the white race," Tuttle said. One of the messages, he said, laughing, was a variation of an old holiday rhyme: " 'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the shack, not a creature was stirring, just a nigger smoking crack."
Among their callers was Tom Metzger, a former Southern California Klu Klux Klan leader who heads the racist White Aryan Resistance movement based in northern San Diego County.
"He told us we were doing a good job, but we never met with him or anything," Debi said.
A few months ago, another congratulatory message was left on the tape, this time from a caller who identified himself only as "Agent 88." The number 88 has significance in the white supremacist movement: H is the eighth letter of the alphabet. Two H's signify the allegiance "Heil, Hitler."
The caller, according to the skinheads, said he wanted to talk with Fisher and join forces.
Later, in person, "Agent 88" introduced himself as the Rev. Joe Allen. A short, stout man with a flowing white beard, long white hair and a penchant for gold jewelry, the skinheads described Allen as a dead ringer for Santa Claus.
According to records and sources, Allen was a longtime undercover federal informant.
Allen introduced his assistant--"Mike McCormick," who, the skinheads said, resembled the actor Patrick Swayze and was never without a cowboy hat and Western boots.
McCormick was an undercover FBI agent.
The two men invited the skinheads to visit Allen's Church of the Creator, located in a Newport Beach warehouse. The church, according to the skinheads, was festooned inside with Nazi flags and "white power" slogans, and had a whirlpool and weightlifting equipment. It was also loaded with heavy weaponry, including machine guns and a grenade launcher. There was a Corvette and a customized truck parked outside.
"They told us that all of the stuff would be at our disposal," Tuttle said, "if we did what they wanted us to do."
Some of the skinheads began exercising at the church. Each time, they said, Allen and McCormick would first make them sit on a couch and espouse white racist views.
"They wanted it all on (a hidden) camera," said Tony Fisch, 16, who said he attends Equal Partnership High School in Long Beach.
It was Allen and McCormick, the Fourth Reich members said, who first suggested and later encouraged them to attack blacks. They said they played along to please Allen and McCormick.
"They wanted us to do their dirty work," Traster said. "When (Fisher) decided he didn't want nothing more to do with it, that's when they (arrested) him."
Fisher is being held without bail by federal authorities.
Parsons of the FBI said Saturday that many of the conversations between Fourth Reich members and the undercover operatives were taped. That, Parsons said, will make it easy for a jury to decide whether the agent entrapped the suspects. In addition, federal agents say in their affidavits that Fisher and other Fourth Reich skinheads boasted of previous bomb attacks.
"They already knew how to build bombs, and they already had used them," one law enforcement source said.
The skinheads said they believe that Fisher's arrest will only lend strength in their effort to promote "white pride."
"We're standing tall," said Traster, who said he intends to transfer from Long Beach Polytechnic High School this year because minority students continually disrupt his studies.
As he spoke, his mother pursed her lips and wondered aloud about the direction of her son's life.
"When he came home and began talking about this Fourth Reich stuff, I said: 'Go read about the Third Reich,' " Dee Traster said. "What can you do? You don't fight fire with fire, because you just burn down the forest."