Skinheads at Forty

Twenty years after their heyday, the anti-racist Baldies recount the rise and fall of a notorious Twin Cities scene

Dusk was descending as a dozen skinheads eyed their counterparts across Lagoon Avenue. The ragtag crew stood their ground, the rubber soles of their Doc Martens defiantly gripping asphalt.

Across the street stood a mirror image. They too had close-cropped hair, ample tattoos, and punk-rock piercings. But as they stood facing each other that day, a chasm much wider than a busy Uptown thoroughfare separated the crews.

The Baldies were "traditional skins," which is to say leftist, anti-racist militants. They devoted their days to stomping out fascism, often quite literally. Any neo-Nazi spotted on their turf in Uptown was promptly treated to a "boot party"—three or more skins kicking the offending party mercilessly with steel-toed Docs.

Left: Baldies pose for a City Pages cover in January 1990; right: The crew reunites 18 years later.
Kara LaLomia, Sean Smuda
Left: Baldies pose for a City Pages cover in January 1990; right: The crew reunites 18 years later.
Gator
Nick Vlcek
Gator

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See more photos from then and now in the SLIDESHOW with pictures by Sean Smuda, Kara LaLomia and Nick Vlcek. Also watch the AUDIO SLIDESHOW set to Symparip's "Skinhead Moonstomp."

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Their boot-wearing rivals across the way represented a totally different breed of skinhead, a subculture much more familiar to the general public: nationalistic, far-right neo-Nazis.

The Baldies marched toward their rivals. Just as they were about to clash, a girl's voice rang out.

"He's got a gun!"

Pandemonium ensued. Gator—the boisterous young co-founder of the anti-racist skins—dove behind a car and braced himself for gunshots. None came. Instead, an adjoining parking lot became the scene of vicious hand-to-hand combat. The skinheads swung Louisville sluggers and ax handles recklessly into faces and bodies. Teeth fell to the asphalt like pearls from torn necklaces. Blood splattered the collars of flight jackets.

The riot had lasted more than two minutes when the neo-Nazis relented. "Let's go!" one yelled, and they all jumped into a white pickup belonging to the guitarist of local white power band Mass Corruption.

As the racist crew sped down Lagoon, the Baldies pelted the pickup with rocks, sticks, and beer bottles, shattering a side window. The neo-Nazis covered their heads from the raining debris.

Gator searched the ground for a projectile and came across a cobblestone lying alongside the curb. When the vehicle was close enough for Gator to get a clean shot at it, he jumped into the middle of the road and hurled the brick through the front windshield. The pickup swerved, regained control, and sped off.

 

WITH HIS POINTY GOATEE, tattooed forearms, and a ratty pink Mohawk peeking out from behind his checkered beret, Gator, 38, still exudes a punk-rock vibe 20 years later. But ever since having kids—two sons and a daughter—he's refrained from attending any boot parties.

"As you get older, shit changes, and you look at the world differently," he says. "If I see a Nazi today, I'm like, 'I don't have time for this shit.' If I fought every racist I saw, I'd be punching dudes all day." He laughs, then adds, "But it was a very special time. It was a great thing to be a part of."

The Baldies began as a small, insular group of friends hanging out, drawn together by a shared love of oi! music—working-class punk rock with unpretentious, street-level lyrics. Many were straight-edge—no drugs or drink—and all harbored a deep distain for racists, particularly neo-Nazis.

In the spring of 1986, Gator and his buddies Hugh, Danny, and Little Tim sat in a south Minneapolis basement and kicked around names for their newly formed anti-racist skinhead crew.

"How about the Undertakers?" suggested Danny, a scrappy blond kid with coal-black eyes.

"No," the others protested. "Too metal."

The foursome bantered back and forth. They needed a moniker to differentiate them from British skinheads.

"What about the Baldies?"

The crew brought together kids from all different backgrounds (most of whom requested that their real names be withheld in this article). There was Joe Hawkins, a stocky lad with pale blue eyes, often ribbed by his mates for being a "mama's boy" due to his early curfew and general aversion to partying. Casanova Frankenstein was a prim, brown-eyed chap whose nickname reflected both his freewheeling antics and his suave way with the ladies. And, of course, Davey, a tall, lithe, black kid from Atlanta who trained as an amateur boxer and was generally regarded as the finest pugilist of the crew.

They took fashion cues from the original British skins: Dickies work pants, thin suspenders worn over Fred Perry polo shirts, and, most importantly, Doc Martens work boots. They spent their days hanging around Lake Street, tagging buildings, skateboarding, listening to music, and going to shows. They exchanged albums from bands such as the Redskins, the Cro-Mags, and Blind Approach, a St. Paul-based hardcore straight-edge band whose frenetic power chords provided a fitting soundtrack to the Baldies' wayward lifestyles.

"They'd all come to Uptown and raise hell," recalls now-retired MPD gang unit officer Mike Schoeben, who was assigned to keep an eye on the crew in the late '80s. "They'd do stupid stuff. There'd be assaults once in a while. They seemed to me to be bored kids looking for attention."

Their ranks swelled as assorted punk rockers, misfits, runaways, and young activists took notice of the fledgling crew and joined as "fresh cuts" (their term for newbies). A veritable scene was taking root in the heart of Uptown.

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