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Extremism  

Background

In March 1999, in Lancaster, California, two reputed members of the Nazi Low Riders (NLR), a vicious neo-Nazi skinhead prison and street gang, attacked an African-American Wal-Mart employee with a hammer. The two, Shaun Broderick and Christopher Crawford, were charged with attempted murder and two counts of assault. This was not an isolated incident -- NLR members have committed a number of violent racially motivated attacks in Lancaster.

Danny Edward Williams, another NLR member, was apparently on a mission to "rid the streets of Lancaster of African Americans," according to the Los Angeles Times. In April 1996, Williams and fellow NLR member Eric Lance Dillard used a baseball bat to beat a Black teen-ager on the streets of this municipality located in Los Angeles County. In July of the same year, Williams and Dillard attacked two African-American men, stabbing one of them several times in the back. In June 1998, Williams and Dillard received prison sentences for their role in the two attacks.

In 1996, NLR members also committed several crimes in the Orange County city of Costa Mesa. In one incident, teen-age NLR members Daniel Batoosing, Robert Harris, Kevin Camp, Matt Estrada and John Savino attacked a 12-year-old Hispanic male in a video arcade with a metal pipe and other deadly weapons. The five teens were eventually incarcerated, but the gang continues to have a presence in Costa Mesa and other parts of Orange County.

NLR members were involved in a number of brutal incidents in 1995 as well, including a machete attack on two Black teen-agers, the bludgeoning of a Black homeless man to death, and the firing of a weapon at a car occupied by African Americans.

A Growing Menace

Although the Nazi Low Riders originated in the California prison system and still derive much of their power from inside corrections facilities, the group has also become a vicious street gang in several areas in California.

The Nazi Low Riders first gained recognition as a street gang in Costa Mesa in the early 1990s. Since then, NLR street units have sprung up in other cities and areas throughout Southern California. More recently, NLR members, who are mostly in their teens and early 20s, have begun moving into Central and Northern California and are slowly traveling east when they are released on parole. Today, NLR is probably the fastest-growing white gang in California, and the group is already spilling beyond state lines. While the group is still considered to be in its formative stages, it is continually expanding. In 1996, there were only 28 confirmed NLR members. In 1998, that number had risen to 331, with an estimated additional 1,000 members.

The gang's explosive growth is a concern for several reasons. First, some members have been known to be heavily involved in the production and trade of methamphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant that promotes violent tendencies in users. Second, gang members have also developed a reputation for being ruthlessly violent. Finally, and perhaps most disturbing, the Nazi Low Riders are vicious white supremacists.

NLR members exhibit extremely violent criminal behavior both in prison and on the streets. They have developed a strong network within their own ranks and with other white power gangs. Unlike earlier loosely affiliated racist skinheads, NLR is organized and motivated by profit. Over the past seven years, NLR's tight criminal operations have helped to position it as the "gang of gangs" among white supremacists and a major force in the West Coast criminal world.

Hate-Filled Origins

While the gang's beginnings are uncertain, one fact is clear: the Nazi Low Riders trace their roots to the Aryan Brotherhood (AB), a notoriously violent white supremacist prison gang. John Stinson, an AB member, was instrumental in the formation of NLR. In the late 1970s or early 1980s, looking for people to act as middlemen for the AB's criminal operations, Stinson turned to young skinheads incarcerated by the California Youth Authority at the Preston facility and in Chino at the Youth Training School. At that point, NLR was just beginning to establish itself as a white gang for inmates, and AB was still the leading white gang in prisons. The term Nazi Low Riders is a perverse twist on the use of "low riders," a common slang phrase for Hispanic gang members.

With a limited membership, NLR led a quiet existence for several years and eluded the watchful eye of law enforcement until the early 1990s. By then, the California Department of Corrections had successfully disrupted and virtually suppressed AB activities. NLR's role as middlemen for AB's criminal operations allowed it to begin filling AB's shoes within the prison system, and gave NLR the opportunity to become the principal white gang within the prisons.

Several NLR members come from families with a gang history. It is not uncommon for an NLR member's father to have been a member of a motorcycle gang. Furthermore, many NLR members have grown up in families that preached intolerance and white supremacy.

Role of Racist Ideology

Although some observers argue that NLR's actions are based more on criminal motivation than racist ideology, both play an important role in the gang's profile. The two fundamental requirements for NLR membership are that an individual is a proven criminal and that he or she is willing to show loyalty to the white race. The gang's white power message has also become an integral factor in the violent acts members commit. As one NLR member said, "Hate is survival."

NLR members generally tend to focus their hatred on Blacks and "race traitors," defined as people who are involved in interracial relationships. They have also expressed hatred for Jews, Asians and other minorities. There appears to be an unusual paradox within the NLR ­ a few NLR members have Hispanic surnames and members who have Hispanic girlfriends or wives are accepted into the ranks. However, this is true only for Hispanics. Blacks and other non-whites are not tolerated. Some authorities have attributed this "alliance" between whites and Hispanics to a shared hatred of Blacks. Others have concluded that NLR opposes only Northern Californian Hispanics because of criminal gang rivalries. The alliance might also be explained by the fact that NLR members often live in primarily Latino neighborhoods where they are outnumbered. One former NLR member explained, "You must have at least half white blood but no Black blood."

The Look

Like most of those in gangs, NLR members have created a self-contained culture that includes graffiti, hand signals, tattoos, a dress code and language. Much of it is based on Nazi symbolism and icons but the exact symbols of the gang vary from place to place. For example, an NLR member in Huntington Beach might dress differently from one in Lancaster. Unlike other skinheads, Nazi

The "NLR" tattoo can be found on almost every part of a gang member's body, including the back of the head.
Low Riders do not adhere to specific rules on tattoos or dress, making immediate identification of gang members more difficult for law enforcement.

Although there is no single tattoo required of NLR members, symbols like the swastika, "SS" lightning bolts and other Nazi-related images, including pictures of Hitler, are widespread in the gang. Some NLR members prefer eagles, skulls and demons. Tattoos or patches with the numeral "88" (the eighth letter of the alphabet is H, hence 88 signifies "HH" or Heil Hitler) and "WP" (White Power) are also popular. Abbreviations representing white power phrases such as "WSU" (White Student Union) and "AYM" (Aryan Youth Movement) are common, as well.

In addition to Nazi and white power-related tattoos that have been popular among other white supremacist gang members, NLR has its own versions. A tattoo consisting of the letters "NLR" is quite common and often appears on the stomach, back and neck or in small letters above the eyebrows and on the knuckles. Some prefer the full words "Nazi Low Riders," often written in Old English script. For some, the runic alphabet (characters of any of several alphabets used by the Germanic peoples from about the third to the 13th centuries) is becoming a popular way of encoding a message about their white power gang affiliation. Recently, NLR members have been more reticent about admitting their NLR association, realizing that it can be a liability. Some have claimed that NLR signifies "never lose respect" or "no longer racist." Although most members tend to wear their tattoos proudly in visible places, some now opt for smaller, less conspicuous images in less visible spots.

With regard to dress, NLR members frequently wear white supremacist or Nazi paraphernalia such as T-shirts printed with a white power band logo, but they are becoming savvy enough to hide such clothes from law enforcement officials and the public.

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