American skinheads appeared in the late 70s; American skinheads were part of the punk scene in America. By the mid to late 1970s the punk world provided a haven for young people who felt that they constituted a distinct generation. In England, skinheads have been part of the punk scene from its start, probably because skinheads predated punk in England. In America, there was not even a dormant skinhead movement to reinvigorate its association with punk, and so the skinhead development was slower, and engaged in by far fewer participants, than in England.
American skinheads: The Beginnings
But by the late 1970s American skinheads were part of the punk scene in America, operating more as individuals or loosely clusters of individuals than skinheads in England, who were members of quite specific gangs. Precisely how the style was transmitted to the United States – as opposed to the music shared by skinheads and punks – is difficult to pinpoint, although the question why was the style not imported before this time is possibly more to be wondered at.
Middle-class American youth travelling or going to school in England would have observed the local skinheads and been intrigued by them. Record album jackets showed skinheads in live performance audiences, tourists delighted in sending back to friends in the USA post cards bought in London showing skinheads sometimes grimacing wildly.
By 1981 a documentary about Los Angeles punk rock scene in the late 1970s showed skinheads mixing with other punks in concert crowd. This music film soon became a cult favorite. The film would reveal and might extend the skinheads’ small dominion, through supplying images of them action which could induce imitation. Most of elements of the skinhead way are shown in the film but not identified yet with the American skinheads themselves, who are fleeting and few in number.
Skinhead scene in USA in the time late 1970s and early 1980s seemed unformed, but skinheads are visible in the punk crowd.
American skinheads: Racist ideology
From the time of skinheads’ first real transplantation to America in the second half of the 1970s decade, the racist agenda that developed as part of skinhead ideology in England, spread unevenly as the skinhead style and music tastes drifted from city to city in USA, even as individual skinheads moved about, for example from Atalanta to Tampa. Throughout the 1980s decade there would continue to be skinheads connected to the punk or new wave music scene who were not avowed to racists. Around 1988, these American skinheads would openly declare war upon their racist, anti-minority compatriots. However, it is clear that some organized skinhead gangs in America in very early 1980s decade were aware of and subscribed to the grab-bag of xenophobic, nativist, racist, anti-Semitic, anti-gay, anti-welfare antagonisms bands such as Skrewdriver expressed in England, and in some instances tried to enforce, for example by appearing at National Front politic rallies. American skinheads could feel that they were linked to an international movement whose constituency subscribed to ideas the same as theirs, a scene far beyond local scene; they could declare their sense of belonging to this grater national and international scene by adopting the visual style of the movement.
The American skinheads did not have to adopt the ideology or behavior of the racist skinheads – Americans already possessed these. The young Americans did not need to learn to imitate the fascist manner of British skins, since plenty of examples existed for emulation on home scene, provided mainly by racist attitudes to black Americans in the 1960s and 1970s, sporadic outburst of anti-Semitism, and a long history of discriminatory or violent treatman of homosexuals. What the skinheads in USA need to learn ideologically or behaviorally they could learn at home or in their own communities.
By the mid-1980s American skinheads began developing links to various white supremacist groups such as the White Aryan Resistance, Aryan Nations, and factions of the Ku Klux Klan. Some of these links were initiated by skinheads while other links resulted from recruitment efforts among U.S. white supremacist groups, who, like the NF and BNP in England, viewed skinheads as a means to “energize” an otherwise aging movement. Network ties to the white supremacy movement provided skinheads with invaluable political socialization, including racist political literature, organizational affi liations, leadership training, and fi nancial resources. Before forging these ties, some skinhead gangs were racist, but not politically active.
American skinheads gangs
Many skinhead gangs are short-lived and have overlapping membership (e.g., sometimes a smaller skinhead clique will be completely compromised of members from other larger skinhead gangs). Most skinhead gangs are either organized at the state-level (e.g., West Virginia Skinheads), county and/or city level (e.g., Orange County Skins, Las Vegas Skins), or even neighborhood and/or school-based (e.g., Milwaukee Eastside Bullies). One of the few exceptions is the Hammerskin Nation (HSN) which is an international skinhead organization that was originally formed in Dallas, Texas, in 1988. Currently the HSN has fi ve regional chapters in the United States (e.g., Northern Hammers, Midland Hammers, etc.) and outside the United States an additional ten countries also have offi cial HSN chapters.
Aside from stylistic differences, American skinhead gangs also vary signifi cantly in their activities. Some skinheads are involved in an elaborate array of cyberspace practices including chat rooms, designing Web sites, and virtual gaming. Other American skinheads participate in the recently growing white power music scene where music shows are often coupled with festivals that are either organized by racist skinheads (e.g., the HSN’s Hammerfest) or that cater to racist skinheads (e.g., the Imperial Klans of America’s Nordic Fest). Not surprisingly, the white power music scene is strongest in areas where racist skinheads have maintained a strong presence over the years (e.g., southern California, Pennsylvania, and Portland, Oregon). Other skinheads focus their energy toward profi t-oriented criminal activity which may include manufacturing and distributing methamphetamine, home invasions, illegal gun sales, identity theft, and counterfeiting. In recent years the two largest racist skinhead gangs in southern California have been organized around profi t-motivated criminal activity as opposed to a political agenda. Between 1996 and 2000 the Nazi Low Riders (NLR) grew from 28 confi rmed members to over 1,500 members in California alone.
American Skinheads: Anti-racist groups
In the United States, anti-racist skinheads countered the neo-Nazi stereotype by forming organisations such as The Minneapolis Baldies, which started in 1986; Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP), which was founded in New York City in 1987 and then spread to other countries; and Anti-Racist Action (ARA), which was formed in the late 1980s by members of the Minneapolis Baldies and other activists.
American skinheads: Numbers
The number of skinheads in USA has never achieved anything like the concentrations or proportions of England’s skinheads population. As late as February 1988, the ADL estimated the total at 1000 or as an upper limit 1500. In October 1988, this estimate was raised 2000 and in June 1989 was lifted again to 3000. Numbers of skinheads in USA relatively small compared to English counterparts who in 1968 according to Ian Walker’s previously quoted report could assemble 4000 skinheads at one football match.
American skinheads: Media generalization
Publicity about American skinheads increased in the past decade but their growth in numbers has not been similarly impressive. Media interest escalated reflecting the public’s view of them as intriguing, fascinating inhabitants of American scene. They are young, violent, almost bizarre in appearance and racist. Skinheads espouse extreme prejudices which can be dramatically and meritoriously attacked. More and more in news stories and entertainment presentations they became targets of anger, a hate group who could make the public feel it was decent to hate, a hard to control force for vicious behavior viewed as bikers once were, when nearly all bikers were lumped together and imaged as Hell’s Angels.
Between 1988 and 1991, American skinheads were the subject of more than fifty national magazine articles, at least a dozen commissioned reports by anti-racist organizations, one FBI monograph, numerous television programs, and two Hollywood movies. The imagery from this extraordinary coverage is that skinheads in USA are an angry and demonic group shaven-head neo-Nazi who are often wild-eye followers of Satan.