Expert: Ashford Attack was Case of 'Skinheads' Vs. 'Boneheads'
An expert who studies both groups involved in the Ashford House attack Saturday said the meeting was "advertised for months" on Neo-Nazi websites. The notion that diners weren't white supremacists is "absurd," he says.
Experts say there's nothing new about violent acts among radical leftists.
"The anti-racists have always been a violent group trying to find Neo-nazis and beat them up," said Mark Potok, senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center, or SPLC. "There has been a long history of these incidents. The difference is we've never seen one in a family restaurant on the south side of Chicago. That's really quite something."
The chosen venue was among Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki's initial conundrums, too, he said on Monday.
"One of my first thoughts, to be honest with you, was 'Why Tinley Park?'" he said. "If these groups really wanted to do something like this, why didn't they go find an empty parking lot somewhere where no one is around and have fun beating the crap out of each other? Leave our quiet village out of it."
About 15 assailants in a May 19 attack at the Ashford House restaurant were "partially masked," prosecutors said earlier this week. They wore black scarves, hooded sweatshirts and other facial coverings as they attacked a group of diners whom sources say had made a reservation.
The ARA website posted a response Saturday to Patch’s coverage of the mob-style attack, crediting it to their group of “anti-fascists." Potok, who has watched the ARA for several years, said that’s not typically how its members operate.
The SPLC is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hatred and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society, according to its mission statement. Potok doubles as the editor in chief of the center’s investigative magazine, The Intelligence Report.
"The (ARA) basically comes from the anti-racist skinhead movement of the 1980s," he said, noting that the movement was born in England. "The skinhead movement initially was neither racist, nor anti-racist. … It was kind of a working class movement of people who looked down on the middle class."
Those associated with the movement typically wore steel-toe boots and were exceptionally proud of their socioeconomic status, which was overwhelmingly comprised of laborers. They also shared similar interests, including their taste in music.
"The movement split, and very dramatically, evolved into two groups— anti-racist skinheads and racist skinheads," Potok continued. "In the very early 80s, the skinhead movement crossed the ocean and those separate groups came to the U.S. intact."
He said it's not uncommon for ARA 'skinheads' to accuse the racist skinheads of "hijacking” their movement.
"The Anti-racist Action members call the racist skinheads 'boneheads,'" Potok said.
The five defendants, three of whom are brothers, were charged each Monday with one count of felony mob action, aggravated battery and criminal damage to property.
Fundraising efforts to pay for their legal fees and the 10 percent or $97,500 required to spring them all from jail had reached $850 Thursday night—a value that hadn't budged since the day before.
Potok said Tuesday that in cases like this, anti-racists often consider themselves heroes.
"But the ARA, in my opinion, is not doing the world any good at all," he said. "This is not fighting racism in the least."
The “Tinley Park Five,” as they’ve been referred to in several forums, weren’t the only ones taken into custody that day.
Steven E. Speers, 33, of Grand Forks, N.D., was wanted on an active warrant out of Dallas County, Texas, for possession of child pornography. Francis John Gilroy Jr., 65, of West Palm Beach, Fla., was charged with unlawful possession of weapons by a felon.
According to a post in the SPLC forum, Hatewatch, Gilroy has ties to several racist militias that emerged in the late 1990s. Longtime white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan leader Don Black, who began the white nationalist online forum, StormFront, leads a radio show that Gilroy has appeared on under the name, "Father Francis," the post alleges. He's also referred to as "Copperhead" in StormFront posts, experts say.
According to Hatewatch:
(Gilroy) was arrested in 1999 outside of West Palm Beach after refusing to cooperate with police when he was pulled over for failing to signal a turn. According to the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Gilroy wound up in jail because he wouldn’t provide a driver’s license. Broward County sheriff’s deputies then found several handguns, two assault rifles and 3,000 rounds of ammunition in his van.
Speers, whose criminal background includes a felony battery conviction, is reportedly also active on StormFront, Potok said.
One of the victims, Brandon Spiller, denied to Patch that he is involved in any white supremacist movements. However, members of ARA allege that he is affiliated with the Council of Conservative Citizens, which describes cohabitation in terms of skin color.
"The claim that this gathering was not white supremacist is absurd," Potok said. "Those people are lying. Period. The reality of it is that this meeting was advertised for months and organized on two of the leading Neo-Nazi sites in the world."
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