On Main Street, everyone has a story about the skinheads.
Shawna Sakal, whose family owns a surf shop, remembers the black store clerk harassed by young toughs. Curtis Maddox recalls the four meaty arms jerking out of a passing car in Hitler-style salutes.
Lance Lee, a salesclerk at Beachcomber’s Surf Shop, tells of the man who came in the other day to sell his surfboard.
“It had swastikas all over it,” Lee said. “We bought it, but we had to paint them over.”
The skinheads come out at night here, the strip of surf shops and cafes that stretches half a mile inland from the Huntington Beach Pier. Storekeepers and patrons say the groups of men with close-cropped hair and steel-toed boots and black-and-white suspenders are a regular sight, hanging on street corners and cruising in cars. There often aren’t many skinhead gang members--police say about 25 regularly roam the area--but they push and shove and growl so no one forgets.
After a knife attack on a Native American man last weekend, the people who shop and work on Main Street spoke about the tough-looking men who roam the sidewalks at night.
“I try not to look at them when I walk by,” said Michael Deboe, climbing out of the ocean after a day of surfing. “They’re here every night. They’re crazy.”
No one here seemed able to account for why the skinheads chose this corner of Huntington Beach--known for its glassy swells--as their nighttime haunt. Fewer still are willing to speculate on why a group of young men allegedly slashed a 20-year-old stranger nearly to death on the beach just down the street. Most of the time, the white supremacists who gather here are viewed not with fear but with contempt.
“They’re wannabe Nazis,” said Kyle Phillips, who was strolling down Main Street Tuesday afternoon.
Police arrested three men in the late-night stabbing: Erik Anderson, 20, and Shannon Martin, 23, both of Huntington Beach, and a 17-year-old male who police say is active in skinhead groups.
The victim was stabbed 27 times near a Huntington Beach lifeguard tower.
Martin was charged with conspiracy and being an accessory to the crime after he allegedly retrieved a hunting knife from a bush near the lifeguard tower, prosecutors said.
He appeared in court Tuesday with Anderson, a self-described klansman who is accused of repeatedly plunging the knife into a stranger with so much fury that he accidentally stabbed a friend in the eye, police said.
Moments before Saturday’s attack, police said, Anderson had approached the victim and asked if he believed in white power.
Everyone along Main Street had heard of Saturday’s stabbing, but few people agreed on the cause of the problem or how to solve it. Some said the skinheads are hurting business and should be chased out of town. Others said the stabbing was an isolated event that was being blown out of proportion by people who didn’t know the area. Others said the police and the media are overreacting.
Leslie Ecker of Beachcomber’s Surf Shop said he often sees skinheads outside his shop, but they are not a big problem.
“They don’t affect our business,” Ecker said. “The police have been on a personal vendetta.”
Said James Varona, who owns six shops along Main Street: “A lot of people shave their heads and that doesn’t mean they’re a skinhead.” If the media portrays the area as “full of skinheads,” customers will be scared away, he added.
Some merchants say the skinheads already frighten people away. They say the groups of young men stand in front of their shops and ward off potential customers. Rarely, they say, do the sullen young men actually come in and buy anything.
“Sometimes people won’t come in here if the skinheads are around,” said Brian Boyer, a clerk at Sakal’s Surfboards.