Skinheads at Forty

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

 

ONE FRESH CUT was a young, square-jawed activist with steely blue eyes named Ciaran. Well-read and socially conscious, the 16-year-old sought to introduce a more explicit political bent to the crew's anti-fascist philosophy.

On a blustery day in the winter of '87, more than a dozen Baldies packed an Uptown Rocky Rococo's on Hennepin (now an Old Chicago pizzeria) to discuss how to broaden their influence.

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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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"We have to organize ourselves," stressed Ciaran, clad in a Public Enemy T-shirt. "We need to get non-skins involved, too—people who share our views, but aren't necessarily into our music and style."

"I got a cousin in the King's Posse," piped up Gator, referring to SLK Posse, a mostly black crew of hip-hop kids and graffiti artists. "We should get them involved."

"Yeah," agreed Ciaran. "And student activists, too."

"Okay," someone said. "What do we call it?"

Ciaran was aware of Anti-Fascist Action (AFA), which had formed in the U.K. just two years earlier. "How about Anti-Racist Action?" he suggested.

ARA incorporated strains of left-wing, anarchistic ideology, incorporating anti-sexist and anti-homophobic stances into its platform. When neo-Nazis spray-painted a swastika on the Washington Avenue Bridge, ARA joined forces with the University of Minnesota Black Law Student Association to organize a demonstration on the University end of the bridge. One of the BLSA officers was Keith Ellison, who would go on to become the first Muslim elected to U.S. Congress.

"I remember he and the rest of the BLSA were friendly with us," Ciaran laughs. "I think they were just intrigued because we were so young and because we were anti-racist skinheads, which was weird to them."

That summer, two carloads of Baldies followed Blind Approach on their tour to New York City. For two weeks, the crew acted as the Johnny Appleseeds of the ARA, planting the seeds of what would become a national movement. They cruised the streets of Chicago; Milwaukee; Allentown, Pennsylvania; and Rochester, New York, shouting the international skinhead greeting to any Doc Martens-wearing, close-cropped chap they passed.

"Oi!"

"Oi, yourself!"

By and large, the crews encountered by the Baldies were scattered and unorganized. "Some didn't even have names," recalls Ciaran. "After hearing about what we were doing with Anti-Racist Action, some decided to just call themselves 'ARA' and started their own chapters."

A franchise was born. Soon after, West Coast punk fanzine Maximum Rock n Roll took notice of ARA and featured the burgeoning organization in an article. ARA became an intercontinental phenomenon. Today, it boasts over 200 chapters worldwide, and is considered one of the most influential underground anti-fascist groups in the world.

The Baldies had gone national.

 

MEANWHILE, BACK ON THE HOME FRONT in St. Paul, concerns flared that neo-Nazism was taking hold in the local skinhead scene.

"At first it was just rumors," says Hawkins. "A lot of the guys we were hearing about being into white power were actually some guys who used to hang out with us."

One night, Gator was cruising with friends Chasiu, a slight Thai kid, and Mic Crenshaw, a brawny African American member of the Baldies who'd just moved to Minneapolis from the south side of Chicago. They pulled into an empty parking lot on Humboldt Avenue just off Lake Street where a party was supposedly taking place. But there was no party–just a half a dozen figures silhouetted against the darkening sky.

As Gator, Chasiu, and Crenshaw approached the scene, they heard a familiar voice ring out. It was Little Tim. He was in the face of Paul Haulis, a short, stocky skinhead whose weathered face suggested an age beyond its 20 years.

"Say it to them!" Little Tim shouted at Haulis and pointed to the two newly arrived non-white Baldies. "Say it to them!"

Haulis remained silent.

"What's going on?" asked Gator.

"This motherfucker's a Nazi!" said Little Tim. He turned back to Haulis. "Tell them what you were saying! Tell them!"

Haulis stayed silent.

"Is this true?" Gator asked.

More silence.

As the Baldies were preparing to leave, a hot-blooded member named Hugh ambled up to Haulis and spat in his face. "Fascist!" Hugh yelled.

It served as the opening salvo of a yearlong war. Haulis formed the White Knights, a crew of neo-Nazi skins, in a blue-collar neighborhood of East St. Paul.

"The White Knights were chumps," Gator says while shaking his head, still seething 20 year later. "We would talk to these guys until we were blue in the face about how full of shit they were, and they wouldn't understand. But if there was one thing these guys could understand, it was an ass-whuppin'."

On a bone-chilling, subzero day in the winter of '88, members of the Baldies' inner circle, including Gator, Davey, Crenshaw, and Casanova Frankenstein, entered the vestibule of the Uptown Theatre, hoping the warmth would restore feeling to their frostbitten hands. They had spent the afternoon wandering the neighborhood, their trademark wooden canes in tow. Unbeknownst to them, the White Knights had been watching.

As the four Baldies stepped out of the theater, they were greeted by nine White Knights, including an out-of-towner visiting from Washington, D.C.'s Hammerskin neo-Nazi chapter.

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