Term Paper: Domestic Terror the Hammerskin Nation

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Domestic Terror

The Hammerskin Nation, often known simply as the Hammerskins, is a white-supremacist hate group that originated in Dallas in the late 1980s, but now has spread to several states and countries. While recent power struggles have resulted in schisms within the Hammerskins, the group remains powerful and has a bloody history. But should the Hammerskins be considered a terrorist group?

Classifying the Hammerskins depends greatly on how one defines terrorism or a terrorist group. It has often been said that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, so we can not simply label all dissident organizations that use violent means as terrorist groups. To ensure that cultural differences are, to some degree, taken into account, we will use the consensus definition of terrorism put forward by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Web site: "Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby - in contrast to assassination - the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators."

While this definition is a bit cumbersome, it does provide us with some key benchmarks for determining whether a group is terrorist in nature. Using the UN definition, we can determine that a group is terrorist if it engages in repeated violent action for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, selecting victims based on opportunity or because those victims are symbolic.

By this standard, the Hammerskins can be considered a terrorist group because they have repeatedly used violence against symbolic targets (such as African-Americans or people of Jewish descent) to advance a political agenda of white supremacy.

Who are the Hammerskins?

The Hammerskins were founded in Dallas in 1988 by John Johnson and others, and for years they were considered the best organized of the many white-power skinhead groups across America (Lejtenyi, 2003). They established chapters in every region of the United States, even in Northeast areas such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which are not typically considered cradles of the white power movement. While this national organization may be amazing enough, the Hammerskins were actually able to start chapters overseas, and there have been Hammerskins affiliates in the Czech Republic, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Poland and a variety of other countries (Reynolds, 1999).

According to the Western Hammerskins Web site, the goal of the Hammerskins is to "spread the message of racialism through hosting pro-White events, supporting prisoners and living the honorable lifestyle of our Aryan ancestors." Aside from the characteristically shaved heads of the group, the most identifiable aspect of the Hammerskins is their logo, which is frequently tattooed on members' bodies. The Hammerskins' logo consists of two hammers crossed, a symbol that was used as part of a lark on fascism in the film adaptation of Pink Floyd's: The Wall (Lejtenyi, 2003). The various Hammerskins chapters may customize the logo with some sort of local flavor, but the hammers are always prominent, and the logos often will contain the initials HFFH, which represents the Hammerskins' motto, "Hammerskins forever, forever Hammerskins (Lejtenyi, 2003)."

The Hammerskins have historically been so well organized because they communicated a unified message, were careful about recruiting and were brought together by their taste in music (Reynolds, 1999). The Hammerskin Press was used by the group for years to spread its hate message and race philosophy to all Hammerskins affiliates. Unlike other skinhead groups, membership in the Hammerskins was a selective process that involved prolonged personal screening from current members (Reynolds, 1999). In short, the Hammerskins were careful to only extend membership to those who were fully committed to the cause. Finally, the Hammerskins continue to use concerts with popular white-power brands to recruit new members and bond the current membership.

It has been widely reported that the Hammerskins, like many white supremacist groups before them, suffered a schism at the turn of the century as various factions vied for power, and the end result was that some members broke away and formed their own groups. While the Hammerskins may not be at the strongest point they have enjoyed over their 20 years of existence, they do still have a national presence and various state and international affiliates are very much alive and operational. According to the group Web site, the Hammerskins are even planning a national rally for Memorial Day, 2007.

The Hammerskins have historically been lead by criminals (often violent criminals) and have actively recruited new members from hardcore juvenile prisons (Southern Poverty, 1999). It is, therefore, no surprise that the group has such a violent history. Members have been charged with a wide variety of crimes, and former group leader Jimmy Miller was convicted of a firebombing campaign and cutting a tattoo of the head of a fellow skinhead while Miller was head of the Arizona Hammerskins (Southern Poverty, 1999). This pattern of violence is the rule, and not the exception, when it comes to the Hammerskins. Other group leaders have initiated racially-motivated nail-bomb attacks and assaults against blacks and Latinos seeking to access public parks.

The fact that the Hammerskin organizational structure gives great autonomy to its regional factions helps to muddy the water when putting these crimes into perspective. If these crimes are not being directed by a central Hammerskin authority, can they be considered terrorist acts committed at the behest of the group, or are they simply the actions of over-zealous renegade members? As we consider a variety of crimes committed by Hammerskins members, it will become clear that while not every crime is a group-inspired crime, hate crimes are encouraged and celebrated enough by group leaders, such as Miller, that we can assume the acts are being committed at the group's behest and in furtherance of its agenda.

Evidence of terrorism

The most difficult part of classifying the Hammerskins as a terrorist group is connecting the actions of the members to the organization. Not every crime committed by a Hammerskin is necessarily connected to the group's political mission. Similarly, if a member of al Qaeda, which most agree is a terrorist group, was caught shoplifting or stealing a television, that crime is not necessarily an al Qaeda operation.

One good example of this phenomenon in Hammerskins history is the case of repeated felon Gary Dale Stanley, Jr. Of Kaufman, TX. Stanley, who had been in and out of jail for mostly theft charges, was convicted of a crime spree in late 2005 that consisted of a pair of carjackings and threats against potential witnesses (Gibbs, 2006). While the press reported that Stanley was an admitted member of the Hammerskins and had the group tattoos to prove it, police said his crimes were not in any way race-related - Stanley was simply looking for a quick buck (Gibbs, 2006). In this case, the fact that Stanley was a Hammerskin was purely incidental. His actions do not meet the standard of terrorism because the people he attacked were not symbolic or members of a target group, and the actions were not in furtherance of the Hammerskins' political cause of white power.

Other crimes by Hammerskins members do, however, fit the definition of terrorism. To restate, we can determine that a group is terrorist if it engages in repeated violent action for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, selecting victims based on opportunity or because those victims are symbolic. That the violence has been repeated shall become apparent. We also can see that the actions have been both criminal and political in nature, and that the victims (who tend to be people of color or from other minority groups) fit the description of being symbolic and targets of opportunity, as they have often simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The easiest way to make the case that the Hammerskins are a terrorist group is to focus on the actions of group leaders. When leaders are involved, we no longer can argue that the actions were committed by rogue members who misunderstood the Hammerskins message. Some of the original founders of the Hammerskins movement, Sean Christian Tarrant, Jon Lance Jordan, Michael Lewis Lawrence, Christopher Barry Greer, and Daniel Alvis Wood unleashed a crime wave in Dallas in 1988 that included beating several black and Latino residents who were enjoying a city park, and vandalizing Jewish temples and businesses (Washington Talk, 1989). These men are all widely reported to be considered heroes in the Hammerskins culture.

As was mentioned, Hammerskins leader Jimmy Miller was sent to jail for two years for a firebombing campaign and a violent assault that targeted anti-racist groups and a man of mixed race whom he allegedly referred to as a "mongrel" (Ten who, 2007). Miller was hardly shunned after serving two years of a five-year sentence - in fact, he continued to rise through the Hammerskins… [END OF PREVIEW]

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