If you've never heard of Hammerskin Nation, it's fair to say the group coming to Portland this weekend for a three-day music festival to celebrate its 20th anniversary is about as racist as they get.
The group's website boasts Hammerskin Nation plans to host at least 100 people at an undisclosed Portland location for Hammerfest 2007 from Friday to Sunday, Oct. 5-7.
Hammerskin Nation didn't return WW 's email request for an interview, but a visit to hammerskins.net reveals that its members advocate "white power and the preservation of the white race." The group, which skinheads started 20 years ago in Dallas, Texas as the Confederate Hammerskins, concentrates its hatred on Jews and people of color, sexual minorities and, most recently, immigrants and people of Middle Eastern descent.
Portland's Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and Fascism, an activist group started last month in response to Hammerfest, places Hammerskin Nation in the "gray area" between a regular street gang and a political organization.
Despite its liberal reputation, Portland has had patches of support for white supremacy, spawning its own murderous white-power history with the 1988 bludgeoning death of Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw at the hands of skinheads, and leading to the establishment of its own white supremacist group in the mid 1990s—Volksfront.
Portland State University sociology prof Randy Blazak, chair of the Portland-based Coalition Against Hate Crimes, would be surprised if Volksfront's card-carrying members topped 50.
"They're probably getting smaller all the time," he says.
Blazak says Hammerskin Nation might have picked Portland for its event because groups like it have long looked to the region for the so-called "Northwest Imperative." The imperative is the two-decade-old idea started by the white supremacist group Aryan Nations that Oregon, Washington and Idaho will someday secede to create an autonomous Aryan homeland.
But the more likely practical reason, says Blazak, is that Volksfront invited them. Blazak says Hammerskin Nation and Volksfront are essentially the same organization. "They've been partnering up for a couple of years now," he adds.
Volksfront also didn't respond to WW 's email request for an interview.
Portland police are gearing up for Hammerfest '07, says police spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz, though he won't say what exactly their action plan is. But Schmautz does say police "will take appropriate action," including arrest if merited, if one of the groups "advocate a crime."
Four years ago, two men whom prosecutors believed were associated with Hammerskin Nation were convicted for attacking a black teenager before an underground rock concert in Hillsboro. The two men were sentenced to a year in prison.
This Saturday, Oct. 6, a rally in opposition to Hammerfest '07 will begin at 1 pm in Lents Park, on the corner of Southeast 92nd Avenue and Holgate Boulevard.
"In my mind, this isn't about direct opposition or response to these hate mongers," says Jonathan Shields with the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and Fascism, the group putting on the rally. "It's really about community building."
UPDATE: Read WWire for the Hammerfest location and new developments: http://www.wweek.com/wwire/?p=9511.
In 2005, the FBI reported 86 hate-crime incidents (based on motives of race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability) in the Portland area, and 137 in all of Oregon.