Skinhead Violence on the Rise with Help from the Net, ADL Says
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Skinhead Violence on the Rise with Help from the Net, ADL Says

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Jacob Robida allegedly entered Puzzles Lounge in New Bedford, Mass., last week, asked a bartender if it was a gay bar, and then went on a rampage with a hatchet and a handgun that left three people injured. During the next several days, Robida, 18, would kill the woman with whom he was traveling along with a police officer, and lead law enforcement officials on a 16-mile chase that ended with Robida’s being shot to death by pursuing police.

Later, investigators searching Robida’s home reportedly found neo-Nazi literature among his possessions, along with anti-Jewish, anti-gay and anti-black posters.

Hate espoused by people like Robida is on the rise, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

“It continues to be part of a virus that we have not eliminated and it affects our society and therefore we need to keep tabs,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL.

The ADL’s Racist Skinhead Project — — launched this week, highlights the group’s ongoing monitoring of racist skinhead activity and reports a “significant and troubling” resurgence in such behavior in the United States.

The project, which tracks racist skinhead activity by state and region, finds that the number of these groups in America is on the rise, as is the number of violent hate crimes carried out by skinheads against Jews, blacks, Hispanics, gays, lesbians and immigrants.

Neo-Nazis are not necessarily skinheads, but many skinheads are members of neo-Nazi groups. Indeed, experts say, skinheads no longer necessarily have shaved heads or wear military-style boots. But this does not mean that they’ve moderated their message.

“The movement is becoming much more violent and much more organized,” said Paul Goldenberg, special adviser to the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe on extremism and hate crimes and national director of SCN, a Jewish security network. “We’re very worried about extremism on the outside — extremism within the borders of the United States has not gone away.”

The ADL report identifies 110 racist skinhead groups in America, most of which, it says, came into being during the past five years. It also notes that these groups often have short half-lives, forming, dividing and changing frequently.

Overall, racist skinheads — whose organizations, the report says, are loosely organized at best — have been involved in 83 criminal incidents over the last few years, ranging from minor crimes to 17 incidents that led to charges of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter.

In 2005, for example, a skinhead was convicted for plotting to firebomb a synagogue in Oklahoma City.

The report says the growth is due to several factors.

The Internet offers disaffected white youth a plethora of information on skinheads and neo-Nazis and allows them to connect easily with some of these groups on prevalent social networking sites.

Using the Internet, some of the larger U.S. groups have expanded to other countries.

Some of the groups that had traditionally been among the largest and most powerful have been hard hit by the arrests or death of leaders, opening the door to new groups.

The white power music industry, a centerpiece of racist skinhead subculture, has been growing.

“Hate music has really become a very, very essential highway for how these hate movements are reaching people internationally,” said Goldenberg, who formerly was New Jersey’s first chief of the Office of Bias Crimes and Community Relations. “They have taken music, which has been the message of love and peace, and have really given it a very vicious spin.”

Among those states being cited as having large, powerful or growing racist skinhead groups are California, Arizona, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Oregon and Washington.

Kenneth Stern, a specialist in anti-Semitism and extremism at the American Jewish Committee, agrees that racist skinheads continue to pose a problem in the United States.

Nevertheless, he said, the increase in the number of groups “is not necessarily a trouble sign.” If a big group splits into several smaller ones, he said, there has been no net gain for the movement.

In any case, Stern said, “Compared to what we’re seeing in Europe, the skinhead problem here is very, very mild to say the least.”

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