The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Skinhead International: Findings

Neo-Nazi Skinheads are bigotry's shock troops in much of today's world. They are street fighters for the xenophobia that has plagued so many nations. They thrive on violence, proclaiming hatred a virtue and criminal assaults as heroic. In Germany, they have mobilized against the Turks; in Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, the Gypsies; in Britain, the Asians' in France, the North Africans; in Brazil, the Northeasterners; in the United States, racial minorities and immigrants' and in all countries, homosexuals and those perennial "others," the Jews. In many places the targets include the homeless, drug addicts and others who are the down-and-out of society.

The neo-Nazi Skinhard movement is active in no fewer than 33 countries on six continents. It numbers some 70,000 youths worldwide, of whom half are hard-core activists and the rest supporters.

The countires where Skinheads are found in the greatest numbers are Germany (5,000), Hungary and the Czech Republic (more than 4,000 each), the United States (3,500), Poland (2,000), the United Kingdom and Brazil (1,500 each), Italy (1,000 to 1,500), and Sweden (over 1,000). France, Spain, Canada and the Netherlands each have at least 500 Skins. They are found in South Africa, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

The Skinhead movements in these various countries are extensively linked with each other. This "Skinhead International" is maintained through the travels abroad of popular Skinhard rock bands and their fans; the world-wide marketing of Skinhead paraphernalia and recordings; the sale and trading of publications known as "skinzines"; the wide exchange of propaganda materials and other correspondence; and, increasingly, the utilization of electronic communications - the Internet and computer bulletin board services.

In addition to links with their counterparts abroad, Skinheads in many countries have had domestic connections with neo-fascist political parties. Some such ties have been openly sought and acknowledged; others kept hidden from public view. Many right-wing parties value the youthful zealotry and muscle of the Skins, but are nervous about their unpredictable behavior. Thus, the connections vary considerably - some are overt, others covert, and they are subject to frequent change. The following are some of the far-right parties with which Skinhards have had links:

Belgium			Vlaams Blok
Czech Republic 		Republican Party
France			Parti Nationaliste Francais et Europeen (PNFE)
Germany			Free German Workers Party (FAP, now banned); 
                        German National Democratic Party
Hungary			Hungarian Interest Party
Italy			Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI)
Netherlands		Centrumdemocraten (CD);
                        Centrumpartij '86 (CP'86)
Poland			Polish National Community/Polish 
                        National Party (PWN/PSN)
Spain			Juntas Espanolas
Sweden			Sweden Democrats
United Kingdom 		British National Party
United States		Populist Party

Violence, Not Votes

Although willing to connect with these far-right parties, the Skinheads themselves reject the partliamentary road to power. Rather, they aim to achieve their goals by destabilizing society through the direct application of violence and intimidation. In those instances where the Skins have had major impact, it is largely because their views were shared by a broader segment of the population. With their Molotov cocktails and criews of "Foreigners out," they have expressed in extreme form what a segment of the population in many countries has been feeling.

Nowhere has this been more the case than in Germany. The euphoria brought on by the collapse of the East German regime and the re-unification of the country soon gave way to strains that revealed large numbers of people deeply shaken by the uncertainties they faced. The world witnessed in some German towns shocking displays of support for Skinhead arson attacks on the residencies of refugees and guest workers. While those who cheered Skin thuggery were far outnumbered by the masses of people who later engaged in vigils against the violence, the Skinheads could easily have perceived that they were acting out the inner wishes of many of their countrymen.

The German government's initial delay in effectively responding to the Skinhead threat no doubt contributed to the growth of the movement. Gains at the polls by far-right political parties, limited though they were, further emboldened the young racists. The Skins had become the shock troops of a malevolent anti-foreigner groundswell, and it has taken considerable effort on the part of German law enforcement and concerned members of the public to begin to curb the menace.

Similarly, in the Czech Republic and Hungary, Skins have been viewed by some members of the community as their protectors because they attack Roma (Gypsies), a group that is popularly blamed for much of the crime. Roma and others regarded as aliens have found themselves surrounded by frenzied drunken Skinheads who maim them with crude weapons such as boots, bats, knives and iron rods. Certainly there is popular opposition to these attacks, but there is also some support, particularly if the attack follows an incident in which a Gypsy is blamed - rightly or wrongly - for a local crime.

U.S. Impact

By contrast, the danger posed by neo-Nazi Skinheads in the United States lies not in their public support, which is nil, but in their demonstrated willingness to kill and wreak havoc. They have been responsible for no fewer than 37 murders (of racial minorities, homosexuals, even other Skinheads), and wherever their gangs have surfaced, hate-motivated crime has invariably followed. Further, the Skinheads appeared on the American scene in the mid-eighties at a time when most racist and anti-Semitic groups, including the Ku Klux Klan and paramilitary neo-Naiz sects, were in decline. The new faces and raw energy of the Skinheads provided a shot in the arm for the organized hate movement in America.

In some countries, Skins have devised plans to spread terror through the use of sophisticated weapons rather than through riots and gang fights. In Sweden, for example, well-organized Skin gangs have constituted veritable terrorist organizations. They have raided arms depots, robbed banks and planted powerful explosives in an avowedly armed struggle to create their racist vision of Sweden's - and Europe's - future.

Ties to Other Thugs

The Skins often rely upon a ready reserve of other violence-prone youth as allies in their campaigns of intimidation and destruction. Chief among these are the football (soccer) hooligans, who have engaged in rioting in stadiums across Europe.* It is actually often difficult to distinguish between the Skins and hooligans, especially where the "hools" have taken on some of the characteristics of the Skins. Indeed, it often serves no purpose to distinguish between the two, as they operate similarly and at times in concert. Both Skins and hooligans can be found, for example, waving Nazi banners and chanting bigoted slogans at football matches.

A phenomenon similar to the relationship between Skinheads and soccer hooligans exists on the musical front. Through their music, some Skinhead rock bands have succeeded in attracting large non-Skinhead followings.

Apart from Skinheads and their near cousins among football hooligans and Skin music fans, there are young people in many of the countries in this survey that harbor similar bigoted attitudes and have demonstrated the capacity to act on them. Desecrations of Jewish cemetaries, for example, are as likely as not to have been committed by unaffiliated youths. But it must also be said that, judging by their handiwork, some of these freelance vandals take their cue from the Skins.

In sum, while it is nowhere a serious threat to the established order, the Skinhead movement has shown that it can inflict damage to the fabric of civil life. It engages in murderous assaults on innocent victims whose only crime is that they are different. It is an extreme expression of the xenophobia that today plagues a large portion of the world. It exerts a baleful influence on the ideas and behavior of young people in many countries.

Through multiple links with their counterparts abroad, the use of modern electronic communications equipment, close alliances with football hooligans, connections with extreme right-wing political parties, and the promotion of racist music, the Skinheads have clearly shown that they warrant serious public concern.

* In a parallel to non-racist Skinheads, there have long been soccer hooligans who take part in brawls without necessarily espousing an extremist ideology or indeed any ideology at all.

Work Cited

Anti-Defamation League. The Skinhead International: A Worldwide Survey of Neo-Nazi Skinheads. New York: Anti-Defamation League, 1995. Anti-Defamation League, 823 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017.

Disclaimer: not all skinheads are neo-nazis or white supremacists. There are many skinheads who are non- or anti-racist, and who come from a variety of different religious and cultural backgrounds. Nizkor recognizes their achievements in anti-racism: they are part of the traditional, non-racist skinhead subculture and are not the perpetrators of the hate crimes discussed here.

Unless otherwise specified, the word "skinhead" within these pages refers only to neo-Nazi and white supremacist skinheads, the perpetrators of hate crimes and participants in racist organizations. We cannot edit the body of the text above, because it was not written by Nizkor, and to change the wording would be fraudulent. Please keep in mind that not all skinheads are racist.

The original plaintext version of this file is available via ftp.

[ Index ]

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.