Skinheads at Forty

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

"What's up, guys," one of them said balefully.

"What, you wanna get your asses kicked again?" challenged Davey.

The White Knights exchanged confident looks. They had the numbers advantage and they knew it.

Casanova Frankenstein and the gang today
Sean Smuda
Casanova Frankenstein and the gang today

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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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Meanwhile, Crenshaw was eyeing the Hammerskin. Seeing an opening, he leaped at him. The two fell to the frozen pavement, wrestling for position.

Members from both crews turned into a mass of limbs and fists

Well aware of their comrade's fighting prowess, the Baldies shouted, "One-on-one! Let them go one-on-one!" The Knights agreed. "One-on-one!" they yelled. "One-on-one."

Crenshaw gained position and started working over his adversary, delivering close-fisted blows to the skull. Looking to save his friend from a savage pummeling, one of the Knights lunged for Crenshaw. Seeing this, Davey cross-checked him with his cane and sent his target flying between two cars parked along the curb.

Suddenly, a flash of sizzling pain shot through Davey's head and into his neck. He'd been hit in the back of the head with a railroad spike. Trying to ward off unconsciousness, he wheeled around just in time to see his friend Danny deliver a crushing punch to his assailant's jaw. The railroad spike fell to the ground, followed shortly thereafter by its owner.

Danny and Davey turned their attention back to Crenshaw, 10 feet away, now being booted by two Knights. Davey hustled over and pushed one White Knight out of the way. Gripping the cane with both hands, he delivered a blow to the other's head ("It felt and sounded like a really good line drive," he recalls.)

Meanwhile, the Knight who had originally lunged for Crenshaw was attempting to get up and run away, but he was unable to find his traction on the icy sidewalk. Davey and Crenshaw cornered him in an alley next to Annie's Parlor (now Chino Latino) on Hennepin. Davey pinned him to the wall with his cane across the Knight's chest. Gator, Danny, and Casanova Frankenstein formed a semi-circle around Crenshaw and Davey, keeping watchful eyes on the rest of the Knights, who stood by helplessly and watched.

"I thought you wanted to go one-on-one," growled Crenshaw to the pinned Knight, who looked frantically for assistance. Seeing none, he tried to kick Davey in the groin. Davey tightened the cane against his chest.

"Crush him," said Gator.

Crenshaw unleashed a hailstorm of punches to his face, which came to resemble a crushed box of jelly donuts, a cloudy mix of mucus and blood.

Sirens began to wail. "Shit! Let's go!" The Baldies fled. No arrests were made.

 

THEIR SUCCESSFUL BATTLES against the White Knights quickly turned the Baldies into legends within the local punk scene. On January 24, 1990, they were introduced to the Twin Cities at large when City Pages featured the crew on the cover. In the photo, a serenely self-assured Gator perches front and center, a half-dozen or so of his comrades lurking behind him.

The accompanying article, headlined "The Lost Boys," captured the Baldies' youthful idealism. They railed against "the system." They lambasted cops. They ridiculed yuppies. Most notably, they defended themselves against the most frequent censure waged against them: that they were petty thugs who rationalized hooliganism.

"There's a place and time for violence and it has to be righteous," Hawkins told reporter Meleah Maynard. "But I don't want normal people to be afraid of me. They've got nothing to fear from me. Except for Nazis, I give everybody respect that gives me respect."

"Fighting racism is righteous," added Gator. "We don't condone violence unless it's righteous."

Yet as their name grew—by 1990, nearly 100 people identified themselves as Baldies—it became harder and harder to maintain a cohesive message and keep behavior in check.

"Guys who really didn't understand the underlying message and ideals started joining up," says Danny, looking back on it with 38-year-old eyes. "They just thought it looked cool. And some of them just wanted to fuck people up."

Also, the Baldies' reputation as invincible badasses made them frequent targets of non-aligned skins looking to make a name for themselves.

"A lot of guys just wanted to test their mettle," says Hawkins "And what better way to do it than to take down the Baldies?"

A group called the Minneapolis Oi! Boys (MOB) arose as a consortium of non-aligned skins and punk rockers. While generally apolitical, MOB adhered to a nationalistic, right-leaning philosophy. Unlike the East St. Paul-based White Knights before them, MOB was operating on the Baldies' turf.

"A lot of MOB were even former members of the White Knights," says Gator. "And some of them were dudes who didn't want to become white power, but were still sympathetic to it. And some guys just wanted to belong."

When some Baldies spotted a MOB kid walking along Hennepin near Lagoon wearing a T-shirt featuring Screwdriver—a British white power band—Casanova Frankenstein approached the young Oi! boy and confronted him. The day ended without violence and was quickly forgotten.

But three days later, as Ciaran walked out of class at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, he noticed four MOB members waiting for him. He gleaned from their menacing faces that they had it in for him. Payback. "I still don't know how they knew to find me there at that exact time," he says.

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