Photo by South Jersey SHARP Daniel Silvers, circa 1991
Blood pours from my nose as I stand on a downtown Portland street corner, arguing with antiracist skinheads about grammar.
"Why the FUCK did you have to hit me?" I implore the half-dozen halfwits half my age who surround me. "If you had a problem with me, why couldn't you TALK about it? Fuck, I'll spot any one of you 40 IQ points and still outargue you!"
"Dumbass—‘outargue' isn't a word," one of them smirks.
"It's in the DICTIONARY! It's one word! It's not even a HYPHENATE!" I scream.
I wipe my face. Both my palms are covered in my own blood. One of the muttonchopped Brit clones had sucker-punched me while I was in a nondefensive position.
I had been standing outside a nightclub's pizza window with my severely Jewish-looking Jew girlfriend when I first espied the six skins and a pair of skinettes eyeballing my Iron Cross necklace.
I identified them as the Rose City Bomber Boys, a rootin', tootin', pathologically antiracist skinhead crew who boast one Vietnamese member to deflect attention from the fact that the rest of them are the color of Ivory soap. They claim to no longer be affiliated with the Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice movement, yet I've never heard of them bum-rushing anyone for reasons other than nigger-hating or telling Jew jokes.
"What's with the Iron Cross?" one of the white boys had finally grilled me.
"It's a white thing," I said sarcastically. "Why don't you punch me for it?"
"That's fucked-up," he grunted.
"Yeah, man—you can make a name for yourself. My name is Jim Goad, and if you hit me, it'll be in every paper in the city."
"I'd like to be the guy who beats Jim Goad up," he said a microsecond before smashing my nose with his right fist.
As the blood started flowing, I looked down the street and saw a cop car about two blocks away. Unlike any of these young rebel skinheads, I'd been to prison and was on parole.
"What the fuck is your problem, anyway?" I ask as they swarm around me. "You all hate yourselves for being white?"
"I'm not white," one of the white boys says.
"Bitch, if you went to prison, I'll bet the brothers would think you're white."
My big-schnozzed girlfriend is screaming that she's Jewish and I'm not a Nazi and what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck?!?—a dozen years prior, she was the one who dropped a dime to the FBI, ratting out the Nazi skins who'd beaten an Ethiopian man to death with baseball bats—a crime from which lily-white Portland, the most Caucasian metro area in the USA, still feels the need to "heal" itself. In essence, she'd done more for the SHARP cause then they could ever do.
Still surrounded by a half-dozen short-haired mosquitoes, I now see clearly that my only option is to fight. I crack my assailant with an Earnie Shavers-style left hook, staggering him. I land three or four clean punches to his head, while all he can do is tear at my T-shirt like a bitch.
A cop car pulls up and we all scatter. All except the two skinettes, who lie to the police that it started when some assholes were shouting racist things.
I felt super-macho for days. A golfball-size lump formed on my left-hand middle finger, where I'd slammed his head.
"Goddamn, let me think twice before messing with you!" the club's security guard later laughed. "I've NEVER seen a left hook like that! You left a dent in that boy's head!"
Yes, sir. And I didn't feel guilty about it. I was furious. For all my alleged fascism, I'd NEVER harassed anyone based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, or fashion choices. It was a simple fucking IRON CROSS. And even if I'd been wearing a goddamned Flavor Flav swastika clock hanging down to my balls, it was NOBODY'S business to try and bully me about it.
A few days later, I see a wheelchair-bound black homeless man who'd witnessed the fight. "Why were those Nazis bothering you?" he asks me.
"They aren't Nazis," I tell him. "They thought I was a Nazi."
He's confused. As am I. As is the rest of the world.
I first heard of Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice in the early 90s. Defining themselves as the antidote to Nazi skins, they claim to be the "true" skinheads, reclaiming a tradition the racists had perverted. They operate from the assumption that it is possible—righteous, even—to beat someone into embracing racial tolerance. The SHARPies argue that you can't argue with Nazis—that Nazis only understand violence—and they have been proactive in routing white-power elements from the nearly all-white punk-rock scene.
But despite their name, you won't find SHARPs attacking members of the Nation of Islam, who clearly preach racial prejudice. No, their beef is entirely with white people—or, for the ones who believe race is only an ideological construct, with the IDEA of whiteness. Only whites can be racist, goes their thinking, so only whites deserve to have their noses broken for it—by other whites, of course, who aren't being patronizing to black people or Jews at all by acting as their surrogate Defense League.
The SHARPs believe it's horrible to harass people for their skin color but MANDATORY to bully them over their alleged beliefs. A terrible thing to exterminate racial "scum" but a sacred duty to wipe out ideological "scum." Their antifascist rhetoric is amusingly fascistic. SMASH the Nazis with the Fist of Solidarity! LYNCH the racist scum! Don't let the sun set on you in THIS town, Nazi!
In Portland—once known as skinhead capital of the U.S.—SHARPs staged several strategic battles with racist skin gangs such as East Side White Pride. In 1993, Eric Banks, singer for white-power band Bound for Glory, was shot dead on the P-town streets by SHARP associates.
Banks's murder didn't get nearly as much publicity as the Nazis' baseball-bat bludgeoning of the Ethiopian, because as we all know, human lives are NOT equal, and the life of a white, male American Nazi is CLEARLY not worth as much as an Ethiopian immigrant's. We all know this to be a fact, so let's not even GO there.
In Portland, the antiracist skins were perhaps a little TOO successful in their mission. I moved here in '94. Ten years later, to my touristy disappointment, I've yet to see a single Nazi skinhead anywhere in town.
And because there are no real Nazis left, the SHARPs had to broadly expand their definition of what constitutes a Nazi in order to justify their existence.
Greasers, since they embraced a style from the segregation era, became prime targets for lopsided SHARPie beatdowns. So did skateboarders who wore the Independent logo with its evil Iron Cross. Really, anyone who made eye contact with them and didn't cower—or whatever intrepid soul dared question their thuggish Stalinist tactics—became an automatic Nazi worthy of a pummeling.
I've heard one story after the next of the Rose City boys smashing pint glasses in faces, holding a knife to a girl's throat, kicking a kid in the face when he was already down, and beating the brains out of a skinny German teen because he wasn't ashamed of being German.
And despite all the violence, and regardless of their loudly barked anticop stance, what's queer is that they hardly ever get arrested. Some have murmured that they must have friends in high places, sympathetic string pullers willing to allow just about any act of antiracist hooliganism so long as Portland's streets are kept Nazi-free.
See, it's like this—although they pose as street warriors bravely fighting a racist society, the truth is that SHARPs operate with society's overwhelming sympathy—all the news outlets, all the courts, all but a paltry handful of psychopathic racist nutjobs are APPALLED by Nazis to the point where they believe murder is too good for 'em.
In 2004, you risk very little by saying you hate Nazis. It's such a popular stance, it borders on cowardly.
The bottom line is that SHARPs enjoy the homoerotic rush of boys bonding together through crisp uniforms and manly blood oaths, of sublimating their Rosicrucian cumlust through the orgiastic ritual of joining together and attacking another male's body.
Nothing wrong with that, really.
What's despicable is that they just can't come out and admit it. Instead, they hide behind the risk-free shield of anti-racism, the last refuge of scoundrels.
A few days after my initial run-in with the anti-Nazis—also, ironically, a few days after a white-power website accused me of being a Jew lover and a race traitor—a representative of the Rose City skins meets with me and explains that his gang has no beef with me—it was merely a personal thing between me and the sucker-puncher, who had read my work and decided I was a "sick" individual who needed to be killed. Sucker-punch boy had told his homies I'd written about how I enjoyed "beating the Jew" out of my wife.
"That's ludicrous!" I say, resentful that I even have to explain myself. "I'll give you my books—you can see for yourself. I've never written anything remotely like that. My book The Redneck Manifesto is the most nonracist book in the world—it argues that class, not race, is what's important."
"I don't want to read your stuff," he says, almost wary that it might rub off on him. "All you had to do was take off that Iron Cross, and everything would have been OK."
"But that's just the point—nobody appointed you the police. Fuck, you guys dress all British, and that's the most racist nation in history! It wasn't the Americans who enslaved Africa and colonized India and China. And while we're on the topic, I'm Irish, and frankly, I'm a little offended by your UK fetish. But the difference between me and you is that I don't dictate what you should wear. So who's the real asshole here? Who's the real fascist? Again, if any of you have a problem with me, I'm always available for a debate. I love to argue ideas."
"Some things are NOT open for debate," he says ominously. "WE were the ones who put the shackles on the black man's ankles, and WE were the ones who brought them here."
I don't know how old this cat was, but I sure as fuck wasn't alive when all that shit went down. And I'm not going to swallow a guilt trip for crimes I didn't commit. Guess that makes me an automatic Nazi, huh?
Nearly a year later, I'm invited to a friend's bar to introduce another friend's band when nine or so Rose City boys show up and begin vibing the room. A couple of them bump into me on purpose.
Normally neurotic and skittish, but a fearless lion in the face of danger, I walk straight up to them and ask what's up.
"You're a piece of shit," says their leader, a balding, short-but-thick man in his 30s. He claims to be Jewish and wears a Star of David necklace which—surprisingly, since I'm supposed to be a Nazi—I don't demand that he remove.
"Oh, I'm a piece of shit?" I say. "So, I'm scum? So, I'm worthless? So, I need to be exterminated? Funny, that's how Nazis used to look at Jews."
"You're a sad man," he says, getting nose-to-nose.
"Sometimes I'm happy, sometimes I'm sad."
"I know who I am," he announces with dumb pride.
"I know who I am, too," I counter, "and I don't need to be surrounded by nine guys to prove it."
"You're a nobody," he tells me, his uncomprehending, beady eyes flaring with anger.
"I'm known around the world," I say. "You're only known by your road dogs and maybe a dozen other people in this town."
"You can't even argue with me on a logistical level," he proclaims.
"You're a moron and can't even use words properly," I tell him.
Unable to argue, he head-butts me. But it doesn't hurt. It doesn't even break the skin. I have the hardest head on earth.
I'm still on parole. I'm not going to fight nine guys. I'm not going back to prison over some clowns who can't even articulate why they hate me.
The Armenian bar owner asks Jewskin why he head-butted me.
"He doesn't like black people," the Jewskin lies.
"Well, I'm a sand nigger," says the bar owner. "Are you going to hit me, too?"
Yes. The bar erupts into a brawl. I leave before the cops arrive.
The Portland police consider the Rose City skins to be Oregon's second-largest gang. Their "logistical" leader is suspected by police to be the primary shooter in one homicide and an accomplice in several attempted homicides. In 1992, he beat a 16-year-old alleged Nazi kid into a coma, causing permanent brain damage (in the kid—not sure what caused the assailant's obvious brain damage).
A few months later, I see fat, bald Jewskin and two of his henchmen outside another downtown Portland club. A manic-depressive, black cowboy date-rapist had tipped them off to my presence there. When I spot the Jewskin, I tell my friends to go inside.
"Hey, Goad, you don't like me and I don't like you," he says, walking up to me.
"Yeah, that about sums it up."
He sucker-punches me. A clean shot to the temple. I've been hit a lot harder. He has a rep as a badass, but maybe he's losing his touch.
"You know I'm on parole and I'm not going to risk fighting on the streets again," I tell him. "But I will fight you in a boxing ring—just as long as I get to debate you first and prove to the world what a MORON you are."
"I'm not too good on the lyrical skills," he says, admitting that perhaps he's stupid, "but let's go around the corner and I'll show you what I got."
"Again—I'm not going to get busted because of you. For some weird reason, the cops don't arrest you guys. But I'll fight you in a boxing ring as long as I get to fight you with words first."
And that's when I saw a familiar look in his eyes.
Blind, dumb, animal hatred. The hatred of fools. The hatred of subhumans.
You can't fight hatred with more hatred. And you can't fight Nazis by acting like a Nazi. It just turns the whole world into Nazis.
I'm off parole now, so the game has changed. I'm not nearly as hesitant to defend myself should the need arise.
I've been beat up dozens of times. No big deal. But if you beat me up, what does that prove? That might is right? That's a Nazi idea, G.
My politics? I'm a Goad Supremacist. I've had my ass kicked, but I've never lost an argument. So if you're fighting over ideas—if you're really something more than dumb thugs—why can't you act like men and DISCUSS those ideas? Send me your brightest mind—your sharpest SHARP—and watch me turn him into a monkey. I don't hate Jews or blacks, but I hate hypocrites. I hate people who hide behind a "good" cause to do their dirty work.
I want to know what we're fighting for. If it's free speech, then I'll fight. If it's the right to think and wear whatever I want, then I'll fight for that, too. I just won't fight for Hitler. My new Jewish girlfriend wouldn't approve.