Skin of a Different Color (Willamette Week: October 10, 2007)

Skin Of A Different Color

Not every skinhead in Portland this weekend was a white supremacist.

 PROTEST WITH ANDRE: Andre “Aggro” is a skinhead who protested the racist Hammerfest skins last weekend.
IMAGE: Mary Christmas

A rally Saturday to protest Hammerfest 2007 may have surprised some folks not expecting to see young men with shaved heads, combat boots and bomber jackets among the 150 people protesting the white-supremacist skinhead punk music festival.

But those skins at Lents Park in Southeast Portland weren’t the kind associated with white power. Rather, they were Portland-based anti-racists who identify with the old-school skinhead movement that traces its roots to Jamaican rude boy and mod culture in late-’60s Britain.

Linton, a local resident who declined to disclose his last name out of safety concerns, says skinhead culture was originally “a working-class movement, and it still is.” A 38-year-old carpenter and father of two, Linton says he was drawn to anti-racism through the punk scene.

“If you were a white kid in the scene in the mid-’80s, you got the crap kicked out of you if you said no to white power,” he says. “When the anti-racists came together, we were tired of getting beat up and tired of them trying to recruit us.”

Anti-racist skinheads say it’s hard to pinpoint how many of their ranks live in the Portland area. But they say they keep the white nationalist movement (see “Skin Cancer,” WW , Oct. 3, 2007) in check.

For example, they are the first line of defense when neo-Nazis are spotted at bars like Outlaws and Devil’s Point. Linton says many of the anti-racists themselves work as bouncers, and that they know every bouncer in town: “If someone tries to show up, we get a call.”

Andre, a baby-faced 19-year-old blond guy who uses the last name Aggro, wants people to learn the rude-boy roots of skinhead culture, and the difference between a skin and a Nazi.

“That’s why we call them boneheads, because they think anyone who’s not a Nazi is a poser,” he says. “But they don’t even know where they came from.”

He should know. After being raised “in a broken home” in Milwaukie, Andre joined up with one of the area’s largest white-power groups, Volksfront, when he was 13. He says the music and the sense of belonging drew him. “I always questioned the racism, but went along with it because if you didn’t, you were an outcast,” he says.

At 16, he met anti-racist skinheads who inspired him to switch camps.

After Saturday’s anti-racist rally, a crew of about 60 people drove two miles, caravan-style, to leaflet the Southeast Portland neighborhood of Volksfront founder Randall Krager. With actions like that and the Hammerfest gathering at the Sherwood Elks Lodge successfully shut down, it appears that Portland wants racist skins to pack up and go home. The only problem? This is their home.

“They’ll continue to try to make this area their stronghold,” Linton says with a sigh. “But there’s always going to be a resistance, and the resistance will only get stronger the more they make themselves visible.”

FACTS: Read about the Hammerfest event,how it got shut down and reports of clashes between racist and non-racist skins.The Volksfront logo is a white inverted triton with the letter VF emblazoned in black.

This Is England , a movie about clashing racist and non-racist skinheads, plays at Living Room Theaters.

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