Professor Randy Blazak grew up in a “Klan town” outside of Atlanta, and had his fair share of run-ins with “racist skinheads.”
According to an interview from the The Oregonian, Blazak embedded himself with a group of skinheads in Orlando, Florida in 1988 for research purposes. He spent his youth growing up being the anti-skinhead and was targeted as a result. That’s when his fascination began with the group.
At one point, Blazak said he was watching TV with the Orlando skinheads when they saw the killing of Mulugeto Seraw at the hands of Portland skinheads.
“They were all thrilled,” he said, describing the Orlando skinheads. “They saw this as the turning of the tide. They saw it as a great heroic moment. I’m sure there are people who feel the same now about Jeremy Christian.”
Portland eventually became “Skinhead City,” according to Blazak. There were two communities of skinheads: The East Side White Pride, who claimed responsibility for the Seraw killing, and Volksfront, started in 1996.
Blazak spends most of his time today talking about the alt-right, which he called “the bastard stepchildren of the skinheads of the ’90s.” However, he called the Antifa “the bastard children” of the skinheads who remain anti-racists. Together they make up “a new chapter of an old feud,” he said.
He attributes the shift to the alt-right to the internet. Once, the movement met in physical locations but today they have a safe space on Reddit and 4Chan, “even Twitter,” he explained.
“They completely disappeared off the streets,” Blazak continued. “All of a sudden, my little skinheads, the people I’m charged to keep track of, were just gone gone gone. With the Trump campaign, they’ve come back on the streets.”
He said that it has certainly made it easier to research but more difficult “to see the scope of the phenomenon.” There’s no way of knowing the scope of those involved, however, because many could be lurking to observe or lurking supporters. Recent rallies have helped him get a better grasp on the size of the movement.
He said that Portland fosters people who live on the margins of culture.
“This is ‘Keep Portland Weird’ political science version. We like the people who aren’t identified with mainstream business as usual life, whether that’s in music or fashion or politics,” he continued, specifically citing anarchists and extremist libertarians.
He noted that there were many people of color in Portland who were not surprised about Jeremy Christian’s actions because it was simply a “violent manifestation of the things that happen every day in Portland.”
As a state, Oregon is working its way through the final days of being a “white man’s land,” he said. The history extends to The Oregon Land Donation Act where only whites were allowed to be settlers in the state. He explained that the history began there but continued into the Constitution in 1895, the takeover of the KKK in the 1920s, skinheads in the 1980s and gentrification in the 2000s.
That philosophy continues as many are sent to prison and continue to be radicalized, finding “protection prison gangs.” Many join racist prison gangs, he said, because it’s about doing whatever is needed to get the things needed from protection to goods and drugs.
Jeremy Christian came from that incarcerated culture and those who knew him said that he was a different person when he came out. “There is often this prison radicalization that happens,” he explained. Christian was a Bernie Sanders supporter but he was only a supporter insofar as he hated Hillary Clinton. His Facebook page was littered with pro-Nazi things, which Blazak explained is indicative of an “equal opportunity hater.”
“He’s a spinning whirling dervish who was lashing out in the world and he found a good place to do that in the alt-right,” he continued.
That prison culture follows many inmates on the outside and Blazak said the only real way to get away from it is to move far away. Moving is impossible for anyone on parole.
“I’ve worked with guys who have escaped that world and found themselves back in prison and had to explain why they weren’t loyal soldiers on the outside,” he said.
Things are changing, according to Blazak, thanks to efforts by elected leaders who take these incidents seriously. But progress is also being made by what he said are “resource ladies are giving us hope.” Many HR departments now possess an equality and diversity department that Blazak see as the kind of institutional change that is necessary.
While many see violence coming from extremists as an example of progress slipping backward, he Blazak sees long-term progress in youth, who are more likely to have friends of different races and live in a less segregated society. He thinks Americans are in a much better place.