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Huntington Beach: Skinhead Capital of the County? : Gangs: More young white supremacists involved in violent incidents seem to come from Surf City. But the nebulous nature of these groups makes keeping score tough.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two years ago, a skinhead arrested for beating a Chinese-American teen-ager in Fullerton told police that he and his white-power friends knew where to go in Orange County to meet up with other like-minded youths.

“Huntington Beach is the hotbed for skinheads,” said the 17-year-old boy, who was from San Dimas in east San Gabriel Valley.

Since the mid-1980s, Huntington Beach, famous for its surfing scene, has also been something of a magnet for skinheads. Its pier and downtown area have been gathering spots for young people whose shaved heads, swastika tattoos, steel-toed boots and racist philosophy mark them as “skins.”

In the last few years, skinheads from Huntington Beach have been linked to violent episodes both in and outside the city.

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In the most recent FBI crackdown on individuals linked to the skinheads, two of the eight people arrested had attended Marina High School in Huntington Beach, and several illegal guns were sold to undercover agents at a shooting range there. The Fourth Reich Skinheads, whose members allegedly planned to foment a race war by attacking prominent minority figures, held meetings in Huntington Beach.

“If you had to pick which city is most popular or prevalent with these people in Orange County, it’s definitely Huntington Beach,” said Gary S. Paer, a prosecutor in the Orange County district attorney’s gang unit.

As firmly as some officials believe Huntington Beach to be a skinhead gathering spot, they acknowledge there are no statistics to prove that it attracts more of the white supremacist youth than any other town. Leadership and membership are informal and constantly shifting, making accurate counts impossible.

A well-placed law enforcement source says federal officials have no evidence to indicate that there are more skinheads, or skinhead activity, in Orange County or Huntington Beach than anywhere else.

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Al Valdez, an investigator with the district attorney’s office gang unit, says he is not convinced that Huntington Beach attracts more skinheads than other cities in the county. Some of its reputation as a skinhead capital, he said, might arise from the fact that two Huntington Beach police officers--Sgt. R.K. Miller and detective Mike Mello--became interested in skinheads and developed more detailed information on the youths than have police in other cities.

Some dismiss with a sniff the idea that Huntington Beach is a home base for skinheads, saying white-supremacist gangs don’t claim turf like other gangs do, and that their most devoted members consider themselves part of a national movement, not a local group.

“We don’t have a skinhead problem,” said one Huntington Beach police officer who refused to give his name. “We got 200,000 people here. So what if a few are skinheads?”

But others say--and see--that there are more than just a few skinheads hanging around Surf City.

“It’s a popular gathering site, without a doubt,” said Mello, the Huntington Beach police detective who, with a sergeant, has been tracking skinhead activity. “It’s pretty easy to see at least eight or nine skinheads walking down Main Street any day of the week.”

Added Paer, the prosecutor: “You certainly see roaming bands of skinheads in Huntington Beach more often than you would in Mission Viejo.”

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But Mello said Huntington Beach would never rank as a major skinhead gathering place nationwide. Other cities and states, such as San Diego, San Francisco, Denver, Idaho and Washington state, have larger, more active skinhead populations, he said.

Even so, there are enough skinheads around Huntington Beach that the police know to keep a careful eye out each April 20, when the white gang members gather in friends’ homes or in parks to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday, Mello said.

The city developed a reputation as skinhead home base in the mid-1980s, Mello said, when skinheads, attracted by the city’s beach culture and fringe music scene, began to form gangs.

The skinheads fell in naturally with Huntington Beach punk rockers who were swept up in the American version of the “Oi” movement, a philosophy and music that originated with working-class white youth in Great Britain, Mello said. Oi (pronounced oy) followers had an “us-versus-them mentality” toward ethnic minorities, and the skinheads shared that view, Mello said.

But while that scene might have flourished in the late 1980s, some teens say it is now on the decline.

One skinhead, a Westminster 17-year-old who would give only his first name, Brian, said “skins” still like to roam downtown in their leather jackets and Doc Marten boots, or drink beer in Central Park, but their numbers seem to be dwindling. Huntington Beach was attractive to skinheads a few years ago because of its Anglo population--almost 80%, greater than many Orange County cities--and its flourishing punk music scene. But all that is changing, he said.

“The movement’s dying down in Huntington Beach,” Brian said. “It used to be a lot of white people, but now there are too many minorities coming in.”

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Brian’s girlfriend, Cindy, 17, who attended Fourth Reich Skins meetings in her hometown of Huntington Beach, said many skinheads are leaving Huntington Beach because they feel increasing hostility from people on the street and from police. She said a group of Latinos blackened her eyes at a gas station a few months ago when she answered, in response to their questions, that she was a white-power skinhead.

“Everywhere you go, you get persecuted for being a skinhead,” Cindy said.

She added that there are fewer punk music concerts than there used to be.

Nonetheless, Huntington Beach seems to crop up frequently as the site of skinhead activity or as the hometown of suspects in racially motivated violence. Jonathan Bernstein, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, which has studied skinhead gangs, said a review of the news shows that the city is a focal point for those racist, white groups.

A November, 1990 skinhead rally at Central Park to support Tom Metzger, leader of the White Aryan Resistance, degenerated into verbal insult-swapping with onlookers. Three skinheads from Huntington Beach beat a gay man in Laguna Beach in 1988. At Ocean View High in January, a swastika was burned into the grass and a Nazi flag was hung from the flagpole. Recently, 250 students from Edison High School received skinhead recruitment flyers at home.

City Councilwoman Linda Moulton-Patterson said a resident called her recently to report a brawl between skinheads and Vietnamese youth downtown. She said she is deeply disturbed by the string of incidents involving skinheads from Huntington Beach, and plans to ask police for a detailed, written report on the status of the skinhead movement in the city.

“I know we seem to have this image of having lots of skinheads,” said Moulton-Patterson. “It’s disgusting to me that any of them would come from our city. It can’t be tolerated. To think of these kids imitating Hitler just makes me sick.”

Brian and Cindy, for their part, say they believe Huntington Beach is past its prime as a skinhead hangout. As soon as they turn 18, Brian said, he and Cindy are heading for Washington state.

“There’s a movement up there,” Brian said.

Staff writer Jim Newton contributed to this story.


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