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A movement with many facets, the neo-Nazi skinheads have become a violent and dangerous force in thirty-three countries on six continents.
Shaved heads have become a fairly popular style for young men, so one must be cautious in labeling any fellow between the ages of thirteen and twenty-five as a neo-Nazi skinhead. While the shaven skull is no longer the obvious identifying characteristic of the skinhead, a list of common accouterments may complete a fairly accurate composite sketch: Nazi tattoos on their heads or bodies; combat boots, jeans, thin suspenders, bomber or flight jackets or Levi or Wrangler blue denim jackets with Nazi symbols.
The history of the movement goes back to the 1960s in London when the British people were experiencing an increasingly sharp demarcation between the working class and the middle class. Emulating the Beatles, so-called Mods grew their hair to mimic the rock group’s longish locks and wore the Carnaby Street clothing fancied by their idols. Those youth who couldn’t afford the Mod fashions of the middle and upper classes were contented to dress as their fathers had, with steel-toed boots, denim jeans, shirts, and suspenders.
By the mid-1960s the “gang mods” had evolved, with shorter hair and working-class clothes, personified by rock groups like the Who and the Kinks. Skinheads emerged in 1969, and the rock band Slade popularized the look. Boots were temporarily replaced with brogues, and the jeans and shirt and suspenders look gave way to slacks and sweaters. One could still have long hair and be a “smoothie” or a “suede-head,” but the tough attitude had to be maintained.
When punk rock became the music of the day in the early 1970s, young people looking for a way to shock the public buzzed their hair short or shaved it off altogether. Then, releasing the class tension that had been simmering for so long, they began initiating riots and brawls at soccer meets and other public gatherings.
Called “punk-skins” by the media, the racist political group National Front recruited members to participate in the harassment of racial minorities and immigrants. The true skinheads denied their involvement in such brutal acts, claiming that the National Front was enlisting street punks and shaving their heads to make them look like skinheads.
While this accusation of origin may be debated, since the movement began in England in the 1970s the skinheads have become a violent and dangerous force in thirty-three countries on six continents. In the United States alone, as many as forty-five murders of racial minorities and homosexuals have been attributed to skinheads during the last two decades.
Experts on the movement divide Skinheads into three main categories:
- Neo-Nazi skinheads, sometimes called “White Power,” who actively hate blacks, Jews, gays, and other minority groups.
- Skin Heads against Racial Prejudice (SHARP), a.k.a. Anti-Racist-Action (ARA) Skins. From the beginning of the movement, some skinheads did not become racists, and some actively oppose all kinds of race prejudice today.
- Traditional (trad), Trojan (after the record label), or “original” skins. The traditional skinheads identify with the original skinhead movement that emphasized working-class pride. They revere the spirit of ‘69 and the music and styles that were prevalent when the movement began.