(en) Vegan Fascism?

Aaron (aaron@burn.ucsd.edu)
Wed, 24 Dec 1997 04:19:10 -0500

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Source: The FTP site of The Internet Anti-Fascist URL: <ftp://ftp.nyct.net/pub/users/tallpaul/publish/story/story030.txt>

Youths Swear Off All But Violence, Police Say

By ARLENE LEVINSON Associated Press 3 Dec 97

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The scar in Rich Webb's back is dark pink and puckered, a souvenir of the night in 1995 he was attacked by a crowd of Straight Edgers. They carved an X, the movement's signature, just above Webb's waist. The doctor said a knife must have been used to slice his flesh so cleanly.

They cut him for smoking pot.

Straight Edge could be every frightened parent's dream. A youth movement born in the underground punk rock scene of the early 1980s, its devotees swear off drugs, drink, smoking and casual sex. These are youngsters in revolt against the dangerous temptations of youth.

And thousands of Straight Edgers in this country generally confine themselves to attending punk rock concerts and trying to set an example of clean living.

That goes for Utah too. But here, the Straight Edge philosophy can also become a bludgeon. Beatings, brawls and vandalism by Straight Edge toughs are common, police say. They say Straight Edgers use chains, mace and clubs to enforce their abstinent lifestyle. It takes place in school yards, at concerts and shopping center parking lots.

"If they can't get you, you wake up in the morning, your car will be just pulverized, every window broken out," said Scott Magleby, a detective in the Salt Lake County sheriff's gang unit.

Some Straight Edgers have gone further, turning their intolerance on the fur, leather and fast-food trades. Firebombings and burglary in the past two years and in the name of rescuing animals are the work of current and one time Straight Edgers, authorities say.

=46rom Weber County to the north to the southern end of Salt Lake County, police see the intersection of Straight Edge and the animal rights movement: firebombings of a mink feed cooperative, a McDonald's restaurant and a Tandy Leather and Crafts Supply store; the near-arson of an animal trap business; minks "liberated" from two farms.

"I've become more and more bitter," said Terry Montgomery, owner of the trap business, a mom-and-pop enterprise. "I don't really care if they eat 20 heads of lettuce a day. But you can't force your ideas on people."

This activity is also getting attention from the FBI.

Bret Walton, a tall, sad-eyed 18-year-old, is one of three Straight Edgers caught trying to burn down Montgomery's store in March. He was the lookout as the others poured gasoline around the place. A night watchman asleep inside was aroused by the commotion and chased them away.

Sentenced to three years' probation after pleading guilty to arson conspiracy, Walton, a diesel mechanic from North Salt Lake, said it "was disappointing, it really was," that the attack failed.

"I don't know if it would have done any good if it had burned down," Walton said. "I realized the risk, but I felt I wasn't doing enough to help save animals."

Authorities say Straight Edgers like Walton are committing crimes in the name of Animal Liberation Front, a shadowy force that seeks to halt the use of animals for human purpose, whether in the research lab, the leather shoe or fur coat, the hamburger or fish fry. Even dairy products are under ALF assault.

"The FBI's domestic terrorism unit is active in this field," said John Russell, a Justice Department spokesman in Washington. Utah is one of two ALF hot spots under investigation, he said, declining to identify the other.

It all seems out of place in this wholesome slice of country between the Great Salt Lake and the Rocky Mountains' Wasatch Range, where the big preoccupation is the 2002 Winter Olympics.

But Salt Lake teens have their problems too, and "Straight Edge is giving them a feeling of security and support and identity," says Michelle Arciaga of the Salt Lake Area Gang Project.

"This is the neediest generation that America has ever seen."

The movement takes its name from a 1981 song, "Straight Edge," by Ian MacKaye of the Washington, D.C.-based band Minor Threat:

"I'm a person just like you But I've got better things to do Than sit around and smoke dope =8A I've got a straight edge ."

It fit an attitude among punk fans and gave the attitude a name. "Straight Edge " gained followings in Boston, New York and Southern California, and as far away as Poland and Australia. To highlight its wholesome credo, it adopted an X as its symbol, X being what music clubs stamp on the hands of patrons too young for alcohol.

The typical Utah Straight Edger is white, male and middle class, aged from early teens to early 20s, bearing the tattoos, shorn hair and pierced ear lobes of punkdom.

Those who know them say most Straight Edgers are law-abiding and peaceful. They have no leaders or formal membership. But because some adherents lash out with violence, local police label Straight Edge a gang. Straight Edgers reject the tag and say any fights are self- defense.

The problem is so serious that a Salt Lake City police detective, Brent Larsen, is assigned exclusively to Straight Edge-related crime.

"Don't get me wrong; there are some good kids in Straight Edge," Larsen said. He estimated the movement numbers 600 or 700 in the valley, about 200 of them violent while "50 or 60=8A do the firebombing."

Ms. Arciaga of the area gang project travels outside the state and hears similar stories. "It's not just a Salt Lake thing," she said. In Texas, Washington state and California "people have come and talked to me about troubles they're having with Straight Edgers."

A dozen Straight Edgers are rattling Dayton, Ohio.

"We call them 'Hate Edgers,' " said Sgt. David Williams. In Dayton, a man was smacked in the head with a skateboard for smoking a cigarette.

"This particular group of people hating people who eat meat, hate gays as well," Williams noted. In this "strange twist of the `just say no' campaign," he said, some also proclaim ties to the Animal Liberation =46ront.

Jacob Kenison, 19, was raised in a solid Mormon family. Like all Mormons, he was taught to shun tobacco, caffeine and alcohol and to obey the law. He could take comfort in his faith's emphasis on family and church.

Yet it was the Straight Edgers who helped him cope with his fears at 14.

"I was scared of drugs. I heard they make you do weird things," Kenison said. Straight Edge, he said, "was a protection."

Now he is about to serve a 16-month prison term on a federal gun offense and awaits sentencing on a state arson charge to which he pleaded guilty.

A red jumpsuit hanging loose over his lanky 6-foot-2-inch frame, Kenison spoke in mid-November, hugging himself and swallowing nervously as he explained how he ended up in Salt Lake County Metro Jail.

He violated his parents' curfew and was thrown out of the house. At 16, he was expelled from school for assaulting another student. A witness told police he rapped a student on the head with spiked brass knuckles. His parents got him reinstated, but school couldn't hold him. Straight Edge did.

A freckled redhead, Kenison is festooned with tattoos: Chinese characters on his neck, a demon and a nude winged fairy dancing on his arm. He says "hardline" in red across his chest indicates he takes the most stringent Straight Edge line. That line, according to Kenison, is anti-sexist, anti racist, anti-abortion; sex is purely for having children, though marriage "doesn't really matter."

He is also a vegan, following a diet doctrine promoted by ardent animal rights activists. Vegans (pronounced VEE-gans), reject all animal products. They wear no leather, wool or silk. "I wouldn't eat refined sugar, white rice -- nothing bleached. No meat. No dairy. No honey," Kenison said.

At 18, he fell into a depression and had "worthless" tattooed inside his left arm. He felt he would never save the animal world; his car was wrecking the environment; visiting a doctor or dentist might entail benefiting from research on animals.

Even buying cotton clothes afflicts the helpless, in Kenison's view. "There's animals that live in the cotton plants -- some live in the shade. The main reason I'm vegan is, I felt bad."

In June 1995, a leather crafts store in Murray, south of Salt Lake City, was firebombed and destroyed. In February this year, Kenison was arrested. On Nov. 24 he pleaded guilty to taking part in the attack.

A month after his arrest he and friends bought an assault rifle for fellow Straight Edger Joshua Ellerman. Kenison admitted lying when he failed to state in the federal gun-purchase form that he was charged with a crime. He says he made an honest mistake.

Meanwhile, 19-year-old Ellerman is living with his mother, DeAnn Taylor, awaiting federal trial for the mink co-op bombing. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Ms. Taylor declined interviews for them both while the case is pending. Her elder son, Colby Ellerman, a former Straight Edge who turned 21 Thanksgiving Day, pleaded guilty to freeing minks. He too declined an interview.

"My son Joshua is not guilty," Ms. Taylor said. Both her sons, "are very, very good boys." As for Straight Edge, "there's a lot of good in it," she said.

Authorities say violence associated with animal rights is ebbing. One Straight Edger who took part in protests at fur stores said police surveillance -- picture-taking and constant questions -- is turning kids off. Some are letting their short hair grow out, to deflect attention.

Still, at hardcore punk rock concerts, Salt Lake police have picked up fliers like one that describes the proper fuel mixture to make a firebomb (add motor oil and get a "longer-lasting hotter flame.")

It's at such concerts that Dave Wilson seeks recruits for his cause, marrying the moralistic outlook of Straight Edge to his own animal rights campaign.

"Years down the road, people are going to view us as freedom fighters and saints for freeing these animals," said Wilson, who at 19 has dropped ambitions to become a fashion model to devote his life to animal rights. "We used to have black slaves. Now we have mink slaves or fox slaves or pig slaves."

Officially, he speaks for a Texas-based group called Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade, and issues statements claiming responsibility for attacks in the name of the Animal Liberation Front.

Straight Edge, having started by saying no to drugs and sex, and a fervent core having moved on to fighting for animal rights, now shows signs of turning against itself, according to police and failed firebomber Bret Walton.

"The kids who were for animal rights and Straight Edge, they were for each other," Walton said. "But now everybody hates each other and they get into fights. It seems like over nothing. And then tons of cops come." =1A

[Comment by Aaron: It's nice to see almost anybody -- even psychotic fascists -- attack and destroy businesses that seriously abuse animals. In this case, there's the added advantage that we don't have to shed any tears when the perpetrators wind up in jail. The real danger, though, is that they'll stop doing things that get them arrested and instead limit their violence to attacking pot smokers and other decent people.]

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