By the Skin of Their Heads 

Berbati's Avoids Skirmish Between Skinheads

Several different websites and a persistent rumor mill denote Portland and Denver as the home bases for the SkinHeads Against Racial Prejudice--(SHARPs), who, naturally, hate racism, have a rabid distaste for neo-Nazis, and don't mind violently tussling to prove their point. The direct evidence about the prevalence of the SHARPs is, at best, foggy. But over the past decade, there have been a few tangles between the handful of self-acclaimed SHARPs in Portland and their main foes--white supremacist skinheads. It is a rivalry that, at times, seems like a petty schoolyard grudge and, at other times, a clash of Biblical proportions.

Last Wednesday, the downtown club Berbati's Pan almost became the latest battleground for this conflict. Almost.

Thrasher Presents had scheduled a show at Berbati's with Boyd Rice--who is perhaps better known by his alias, Non. A pioneer in industrial Goth sound, Rice has never explicitly associated himself with neo-Nazis, but he has allowed an ambiguity to swirl around him. He had a long association with Charles Manson, and with Anton LaVey, the deceased leader of the "Church of Satan." The symbol for Non--a sideways Z with bold black lines--also bears a distinct resemblance to a Swastika.

Promoters and booking agents at Berbati's were swamped with complaints about the upcoming show. Some people had promised to protest and, more pressing, there were concerns about violence. Worried that Rice's fans may attract local SHARPs, Berbati's and Thrasher Presents decided it was best to cancel the show.

Even so, fans and distracters showed up. Bouncers claimed they confiscated more than a dozen concealed knives and switchblades.

"Although Berbati's Pan does not agree with Boyd Rice's views," explained Leah Eberhardt, a manager at the club, "we do believe in free speech, and music certainly is a means to this end. However, the end-all was to consider what type of situation we were possibly putting our employees in." Eberhard added, "skinheads, SHARPs and protesters potentially clashing on our premises is not the ideal situation to blindly take upon ourselves in the name of free speech."

Detective Brian Gross, who heads up the Anti-Bias Crimes Division within the police bureau, said that the police are aware of the SHARPs but do not view them as a persistent threat.

"They don't seem to be growing in numbers," said Gross. "[SHARPs] are not a monumental problem."

Even so, the incident--or non-incident, as it became--was a murmuring reminder the SHARPs are still kicking in Portland. A year ago, a neo-Nazi attempted to stab a SHARP at a local bar. Since then, there have been no documented fights between the two groups.

Gross added that the police view SHARPs as less of a problem than random hate crimes. In recent months, there has been a spate of muggings, mainly directed at gay men. Those crimes, Gross explained, were mostly carried out by teenagers being "sporadic and idiotic." Because groups like the neo-Nazis and SHARPs hold events and organizational meetings, Gross said they can easily keep tabs on their whereabouts. "Organized hate groups are more easy to monitor," he concluded.

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