SKINHEADS IN AMERICA

No one can predict when the next hate crime will occur, but being informed can help law enforcement extinguish the terror in victims and communities throughout the nation


     When it comes to crimes, Browning says most skinheads do not use guns as their weapon of choice. "I've investigated one or two skinhead crimes where a gun was used, but they're usually using knives, bats or boots."

     Knowing about the characteristics of the skinheads also can help investigators understand who the suspects might be.

     "When you roll up and see a guy laying on the ground with his head three times what it should be, and there aren't any bullets or casings, you probably have what is called a 'boot party,' " Browning says.

     A boot party is when a victim is beaten to the ground as a group of skinheads repeatedly kick him with steel-toed boots.

     According to Browning, patrol officers are on the front lines of these kinds of crime investigations. Knowing what to expect and understanding the skinheads' mindset is important for first responders.

     The skinhead mindset, according to Browning, is completely different from the mindset of a typical gangster. "It's not about drugs and money. It's about race and politics; it's about religion," he says.

     Undercover investigations of skinheads or any hate crime groups can be a gamble. Browning says when he began his detective career, he was "lucky," because his investigations took place during a time when skinhead groups in Mesa were on the rise. Browning was basically an "unknown" in the skinhead community.

     "The trust and relationship was built at a very early stage of my undercover career," he says. "Because of the trust, I was able to do a lot of different things and was successful at getting into a lot of different groups."

     "You're never fully 100-percent covered," Browning says, noting the importance of being careful and keeping stories straight. "These guys are all nationally and internationally linked, so if you're undercover in Arizona, you're going to be hooking up with guys from all over the world.

     "If you get burned in Arizona, you're going to get burned in Florida."

Here to stay
     Browning says every police department needs to have a hate crime investigation unit in place. He also suggests departments have reliable sources of intelligence within their hate crimes unit. "The only advice I can give to agencies is to get your people going on it," he says. "Start studying up, start finding out who's in your area and what they're doing, and start gathering intelligence."

     Although skinheads are most recognizable, "It's not just a 'skinhead thing,' " Browning notes. "When you talk hate crimes, the Black Panthers are another hate organization who want the same things the skinheads do - they want to be separatists. They're not any different."

     "If people think these guys are going to go away, they're wrong," Browning says.

Background check
     With the Internet, more information is easily accessible. Various hate group leaders conduct elaborate background checks, polygraph tests and employment history checks to make sure new skinhead recruits are legitimate, says Browning. This makes infiltrating a group that much more difficult.

     "They're doing a lot of different checks," he says. "If you're undercover and not properly backstopped, there's really no point; you can't go on anymore."

     Browning says what concerns him most about hate crimes is that no one knows when it will happen, making it very difficult to predict.

     "The victims can be anybody. You don't have to be black or Jewish or Israeli," he explains. "It could be a white person who happens to be shorter than average or it could be someone with a limp."

     "Anybody who isn't a benefit to the white race is a potential victim," Browning says. Interracial couples are often involved in hate crimes, but surprisingly, the attack might not be on the person of color.

     "If you're a white female with a black or Mexican guy, the female is going to get beat down before the guy does," Browning says. "And if he's still around, he'll get his beating after they get done with her."

Conquering hate with knowledge
     Skinhead or other hate crime groups may go through changes in leadership or move to a new location, but as long as these groups exist, hate crimes will continue.

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