“And By God My Name Be Vengeance”
“The skinhead path leaves a trail of broken trust, lost comrades, and a little love and a lot of betrayal along the way. [...] For the very unfortunate ones it ends behind bars for one reason or another. For these people there is no chance to ever make something of life. And while the "fresh cuts" out there will be gone in a few months or a few years, [those in prison] will still be looking through bars and thinking about what's become ancient history to everyone else."
-excerpt from a letter to New Times from Samuel Compton, one of two skinheads facing capital murder charges in the October 16, 2002, beating death of Cole Bailey Jr.
In most cities in the US, the Nazi skinhead scene has dwindled away. Like all fads, the shaved-headed, combat boot-wearingly look fell out of fashion, to be replaced by new forms of political thuggery (for example, black bloc anarchism). A notable exception would seems to Phoenix, Arizona, where until recently the ultra-violent skinhead crew Unit 88 continued to keep the tradition of goose-stepping idiocy alive. There are three individuals whose personal stories tell the tale of the rise and fall of Unit 88. Their experiences illustrate the devastating effects that the skinhead lifestyle can have not just on the participants themselves, but on anyone unfortunate enough to cross paths with them.
Josh Fiedler was the primary architect of Unit 88, and its undisputed leader. The other skinheads in his crew treated him with an admiration that bordered on worship. Like many political extremists, he seemed oddly concerned with convincing the general public that they had nothing to fear from his followers. Considering the group of losers he was working with, he certainly had his work cut out for him:
Unattractive appearances aside, Unit 88’s violent actions did enough to keep public opinion firmly negative. Along with drug-running and home invasions, Unit 88 skinheads were responsible for several murders, the most egregious being that of Cole Bailey Jr. Bailey had the bad luck to be standing outside of a pool hall that several Unit 88 members had just been kicked out of. Focusing their rage on him, the skinheads beat twenty-year old Bailey (who was white) until his skull was crushed. The killers were all arrested shortly thereafter, and are currently awaiting trial. Fiedler himself was eventually arrested after a particularly brutal home invasion, and will likely do hard time.
The man most directly responsible for destroying the Unit 88 crew was Matt Browning, a cop who spent years integrating himself into the skinhead culture in Arizona. His ten years of fieldwork paid off: Of the group’s 37 active members and affiliates, 18 are currently either in jail or awaiting trial on a variety of charges. Browning’s story illustrates how incredibly dangerous undercover police work can be, and well as how effective it sometimes is. It’s only unfortunate that Browning and the other cops working the case couldn’t get the evidence together to make arrests until after people had been killed.
Which brings us to Cole Bailey Sr. His son was the young man who was stomped to death outside of a pool hall in Phoenix. Consumed with an understandable grief and rage, he began to publicly threaten his son’s killers, and then all Unit 88 members. Referring to his gun as the “Skinhead Slayer”, he swore to exact a revenge on those responsible for his loss. It’s hard to tell how much of this was grandstanding: Bailey has signed on to allow for a film version of his story. Considering how incredibly dangerous the people he is calling out are, I would personally say that that I take him at his word. Seeing as that all of the people implicated in his son’s killing are in jail, as are most of the other key Unit 88 members, Bailey may never get the chance to enact his vendetta. Then again, about twenty years from now a former skinhead in Arizona may step out of prison and see a somewhat unhinged man waiting for him. One can only hope.