Antiracist Skinheads and the Birth of Anti-Racist Action: An Interview With Mic Crenshaw

"After a handful of fights it became clear that the white power guys were not just going to disappear and we had to organize to protect our friends and community," said Mic Crenshaw.

Antiracist Skinheads and the Birth of Anti-Racist Action: An Interview With Mic Crenshaw
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The following is an excerpt from the anthology No Pasarán! Dispatches from a World in Crisis, edited by Shane Burley. In this excerpt, Shane interviews political activist and educator Mic Crenshaw.

The militant antifascist movement that has exploded in the U.S. since 2015 has its roots in an earlier tradition that traces back to the 1980s. As young kids were trying to deal with the arrival of neo-Nazi and Klan-connected gangs in cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, and Portland, many of them pulled from the earlier British scene of multi-racial, antiracist skinhead crews, a working class subculture that bonded around music like Reggae, Ska, and, eventually, punk and hardcore. Early crews like the Baldies and Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP) pushed Nazis out of neighborhoods, bars, and venues where they were trying to make inroads, creating a fighting force that started the “where they go, we go” strategy of intervention. 

Where I live in Portland, Oregon, that was especially incendiary because of the absolute density of neo-Nazis patrolling the streets of the cities in the 1980s and 1990s: you could barely head to a park, a music venue, or a bar without seeing boots and braces. Many of those young people fighting back against neo-Nazi violence looked similar, shaved heads nad Doc Martens, and were organizing groups to stop the advance of racist groups into neighborhoods where the rest of us lived.

These antiracist skinhead groups started forming networks across the country, first as a confederation called the Syndicate, and eventually what would become Anti-Racist Action in the 1990s, the precursor to Antifa groups today. One of the earliest founders of the Baldies, one of the first antiracist skinhead crews, and Anti-Racist Action was Mic Crenshaw, a Black teenage skinhead who started pulling together a group of friends to fight back against racist gangs like the White Knights.

I talked to Mic Crenshaw, who continues to be a radical organizer, educator, and musician, about those early days, how they formed a movement that would steamroll over the decades, and what lessons we can take from his experiences then.

How did you first get involved in the skinhead scene? What attracted you to it?

 I was a teenage kid in high school. I had a lot of identity stuff going on, you know. We had moved from the South Side of Chicago, mostly Black areas, moving around a lot in the white suburban areas, the semi rural areas, by the time I moved to Minnesota in junior high. I didn’t really know how to fit in. So I kind of was drawn to misfits, kids who were smoking weed and listening to alternative music. 

I was getting exposed to the scene and I was going to shows that were alternative in the way people dressed, the way people behaved and interacted with each other. It didn’t look anything like what I was used to in the mainstream. 

I ended up with a problem with drugs so I wound up going to treatment. When I was in treatment, they were like, you need a new group of friends. You can’t hang out with your old user friends. So when I got out of treatment, I started going uptown, which is the neighborhood where all the hardcore punks and skins hung out. 

I would show up by myself, fascinated by people’s dress styles and really curious about how I could maybe be part of this. And in that environment, I met a couple guys who were these straight edge skinheads. And we started hanging together. We really just had a lot of chemistry. 

For me, it was a lifesaver. I found some guys who can have fun, who can skateboard, who can be ourselves. But they’re not getting high and drunk. And we were having just as much fun without the drugs and alcohol and not—that small clique of guys is what started the Baldies. 

A lot of the SHARPs (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) I talk to here in Portland have a similar story. That in their punk scene people started getting into hard drugs and they were looking for a better community.

The straight edge culture wasn’t like an overt political thing. They weren't going around proselytizing about the power of sobriety or anything like that. We  got together with about three or four other guys. And we would just trip around the city, doing stuff. And we had heard rumors about skinhead culture, and we were curious.

We talked a lot about movies like The Wanderers and The Warriors and the bald-headed gangs that were in those movies. And we’re wondering, are those guys supposed to be skinheads? Around that time, we got hold of this book called Skinhead by Nick Knight. And that was a really important point of reference for us because it was almost like a bible in terms of the fashion and the history of the skinhead subculture. 

We passed that book around, and we all started emulating what we saw in the book. For me, as a Black kid in a mostly white scene, it was really important that there were Black skinheads in that book. And it was really important that I found out that the roots of the skinhead subculture actually came from Jamaican immigrants. And so there was something for me to identify with in there. 

And that was the beginning of it. There  were seven of us. And I think we had maybe one summer of being kind of innocent—not innocent like ignorant, but just kids, you know? And right after that first summer or maybe even before that first summer was over, we heard about the White Knights. 

Was that the first time you came in contact with a white supremacist group? 

We were starting to see these guys on TV. They’re coming on the talk shows and being Nazi skinheads. And I think that was what fueled the rise of wannabe boneheads and what allowed the White Knights to actually pop up in our community and be a real presence. 

So when we confronted them, we all looked at each other like, “hell no, we’re not gonna stand for this.” And so we found them and confronted them. And that was my first encounter with an organized white supremacist group. 

How did you first encounter them? Like did you see them on the street? They were out in public and that kind of thing, and then you decided to go confront them? 

Now, Minneapolis at that time, South Minneapolis, there was a neighborhood called Uptown. It’s real, real different today. But back then, it was where the punk scene was central. If you weren’t at shows and record stores, you were Uptown. It was just about six square blocks.

And everybody, the punk kids, the goth kids, all the different cliques hung out up there. So these guys were guys that were part of our scene too. They had organized themselves, or had been organized by this Klansman who was also part of the scene, into a group. And they weren’t hard to find. 

I think I remember the first night we heard that they were in the area. I think they might have been coming from a party or something. Because we found them in the parking lot behind an apartment building. And they were all together. And somebody came and told us where they were. We grouped up, and we went and then we faced off. It was like a circle. We were on one side of the circle. We had our first conversation: “Hey, are you guys white power?”

They said yes, maybe even told us straight out that they were White Knights. We told them that you need to figure out how to denounce that shit. And if you can’t denounce it, the next time we see you, there’s gonna be a problem. We’re gonna basically fuck you up. 

And so that was the beginning of the conflict between us and them. A couple of them flipped immediately and started hanging with us and never looked back. There were a couple fence-sitters who tried to go back and forth and be cool with everybody. And then there was definitely a core group of those guys that stayed in the white power scene. 

Did you think of yourselves as activists?

I didn’t at that point. That’s what’s always kind of like interesting whenever we talk about this stuff to—I think there’s certain journalists and academics who, from their perspective, it’s a lot clearer of a trajectory or a connection between what we did and what looks like anti-fascist activism today. But to me, there was something way more organic in that we were just friends who identified that there was a group of problematic individuals in our scene. 

And so as friends, we said we’re gonna confront these guys. And we all had each other’s backs. That was the beginning of what became activism. And it was the beginning of us being politicized. But I think in the beginning we didn’t think of it as activism. We just thought of it as like, we gotta do this shit. 

How’d you start moving from just confronting them to actually pushing them out of the city?

It was the natural progression. “The next time we see you guys, if you’re still claiming white power, there’s gonna be a problem.” So that was a commitment to violence, right? We knew that’s what that meant for us and what it meant for them was that we were gonna fight. And once it became clear that we were gonna fight them, fights started to happen.

After a handful of fights it became clear that the white power guys were not just going to disappear and we had to organize to protect our friends and community. And I think that’s when we started asking these critical questions about who our allies were going to be.

The scene got divided. There were people who were gonna ride with them. And there were people who were gonna ride with us. There was a question about how we build support for what we were trying to do here. I think that’s when we realized we were actually becoming a political force. 

There was a spectrum of people who would align with us. There were these gang members that we knew that were either distant family or cousins or friends of ours from the community or high school or whatever and didn’t so much have a political consciousness but were like, fuck racism. And then there were these cats who were radical anarchists that were definitely reading theory and more intellectual about their politicized approach to activism. And building allegiances with those groups was the beginning of what ultimately became Anti-Racist Action.

How did you first start getting in contact with other skinhead groups, other anti-racist skinhead groups?

I think it was through the Scene Reports in Maximum Rocknroll and through people who were traveling. It was pretty common for somebody to jump in a van with one of the touring bands. A couple carloads of people would go to Chicago or one of the nearest big cities to see one of our favorite hardcore bands, like Agnostic Front. 

And it was during that kind of inter-scene activity, usually centered around music that you would meet people. You would party with people. And you would learn about what was happening in their cities. And there was a strong connection to Chicago because I was always going back and forth to Chicago, being as that’s where I was originally from. 

When I would go to Chicago to visit my family I would find the scene and go hang out. So I was hearing, listening, the word on the street was that there were Black skinheads in Chicago. There were some notorious Black skinheads. So I sought those guys out. 

And I found them. I met them. And I made a point of connecting our crews and staying in touch with them. And those relationships expanded and grew. And we became really close with SHOC, which was Skinheads of Chicago. 

Kieran Knutson, another founder of the Baldies and Anti-Racist Action, did a lot of work and he established connections with these guys in Lawrence, Kansas. There was a crew out of Milwaukee. There were guys in Madison, Indianapolis. So all these Midwestern cities came to Minneapolis for this syndicate meeting in like—shit, it was like ’87, ’88, I think. And it was the wintertime. 

And that was the hardcore fighting force. Like they were all hardcore anti-racist skinheads. Everybody touched down boots, had fight jackets, Doc Martens. And so, to me, there’s an important aspect of the skinhead culture that was at the core about violent confrontation and organized mutual aid. From that core, we built relationships with other people who weren’t necessarily skinheads. 

The Syndicate was a sort of federation of different skinhead crews coming together, how did they coordinate with you? Are they how you first landed in Portland?

There was a trip that was taken to Portland that was part of that outreach and mutual aid culture. It came to our attention that there was a really bad Nazi problem in Portland. A carload of three Baldies went out to Portland and helped fight Nazis over a number of days. 

And while they were out here, they met up with another Black skinhead from SHOC, Skinheads of Chicago, Malachi aka Mickey. And they really put in work. And that work was done to support the Portland SHARPs. From that moment on we were like blood brothers.

When I then came to Portland later, in 1990, I knew exactly who I was looking for. And they welcomed me with open arms. And so those relationships persist to this day because it was through those relationships that I knew I had family here. 

What were the gender dynamics like in the crew? How was sexism addressed?

We had such a male-dominated culture. Somebody was asking me the other day about why I don’t hang out in the crew scene anymore. And for many years now, I’ve distanced myself from that kind of activity. There’s a lot of reasons for it, but one of them is that honestly, there’s too many fucking dudes around all the time. It’s not a good balance. I don’t want to be in an environment where ninety percent of the people there are dudes. I like women, I like having relationships with women, platonic as well as romantic, and there’s always this tension when there’s only like four or five women around and there’s 30 dudes. There’s a lot of patriarchal possessive shit in the treatment of them. Is that someone's girlfriend? Will I get in a fight if I talk to her?

Some of the strongest women I know to this day were part of our scene. That scene forced them to be strong. Because they were surrounded by all this patriarchy all the time. 

But I think there were just a lot of limitations ultimately to being in such a male-dominated scene that I wanted to kind of move beyond. When we talk about patriarchy in our own crew, the women who were down with us, we loved each other, and they wanted to fight with us. Early on, the men were trying to go fight the fights and tell the women to not come along. And they were like—they put their foot down. They were like, fuck that. We’re going with you. Don’t be sexist. 

And so they started rolling with us, and we would all fight together. That’s the most concrete example of what the dynamic was that we just thought was normal but realized was problematic and then how that dynamic changed because the women put their foot down.

Once you formed the Syndicate, how did y’all start coordinating? Were people trying figure out where the largest concentration of white supremacist groups were to get people out to those cities?

People started talking on the phone, figuring out what was what by getting reports from others. Planned activities, a lot of shit revolved around shows. We would go to shows in other cities. I remember going to Agnostic Front. I think it was ’88, they were doing a big tour for their Live at CBGB’s album. 

When you travel from scene to scene like that, you meet people. And it’s a pretty tight bond you establish because you’re sharing this subculture that only so many people understand and commit to. And you’re finding out the comradery that’s available in the subculture is one where people will fight with you and stand by your side. And really tight bonds are formed then. So it’s almost like an extended family network that just kind of organically emerges from people interacting with each other. 

So you moved out to Portland in the early 1990s, had you already formed ARA by the time you got out here?

ARA had been in existence for a couple years before I left Minneapolis. 

How did ARA first start when you were organizing in Minneapolis? 

Coming off of the Syndicate meetings and also building allegiances with people who weren’t just hardcore anti-racist skinheads, it became apparent that there was a network that was bigger than the Baldies and that that network even extended beyond what the Syndicate, which was all hardcore skinhead crews—it exceeded the capacity of the Syndicate. We were trying to think of a name for that network. And I think Kieran suggested Anti-Racist Action. 

I remember the—I vaguely remember the discussion of us deciding, yeah, Anti-Racist Action is the name because we’re—we believe in direct action. And we’re not just gonna talk. We’re gonna take action. And so that was coined by the Minneapolis Baldies. 

And that name started to circulate. And then, you know, different kinds of branding and imagery started. You started to see that associated with different crews in different cities and states and stuff.

How was ARA gonna be different from the crews before? 

It encompassed activists from a broader spectrum of subcultures and even academics and people who might not even have been part of the hardcore scene but who wanted to do something. Somehow they got word about organizing direct action against fascists and wanted to do something about fascism and racism in their cities. And so those were the kind of people that were attracted to ARA in Minneapolis and other cities, in Portland too and wherever ARA was springing up. There were people who were traveling. 

Kieran did a lot of traveling. And so Detroit, Chicago, Toronto, to my understanding all those places were kind of seeded by some of the work he was doing and the roots he was putting down there. 

What were the first kind of campaigns that y’all started doing as ARA? 

So my work with ARA back in Minneapolis, it was about trying to find Nazis. Say we get word that they were having a show. A lot of the Nazis, their home, their base of operation, was across the river in St. Paul, a part of a white, working-class neighborhood in St. Paul. 

So we would find out about their activity, and we would go over there and confront them. We’d shut down their shows. Carloads of us would go to one of their shows or where they were gonna have an event. And we’d shut it down and be ready to fight. 

And they’d come to our shows, too. It was violence. Periodically, there would be times where there were just words exchanged like, like you guys need to get the fuck out of here and that would be enough for them to go.

The messy thing that started to happen in that scene, though, was that there were guys who organized themselves into a rival crew called Minneapolis Oi Boys. Minneapolis Oi Boys became our—the enemy that was in closest proximity to us in that we wound up actually fighting more than we fought the White Knights. Because eventually the White Knights stopped coming around because it was too much violence.

But some people started to persecute and hate the Baldies because they said we were fascist, because we took a principled, violent stance against racists, we also went hard against people who hung out with the racists. So there were these guys who would drink beer—young men, young women—with them. They’d drink and party with the Nazis. 

But they’d be like, “We’re not Nazis. We just drink and party with who we want. And you can’t control that. And if you guys try to pressure us, then you guys are fascists too.” And so they formed themselves into a crew, and we started fighting them. 

That level of violence and with that crew, the skinheads who were hanging with Nazis, being closer to us so we had to see them literally like every day, was part of what shaped my experiences. Things that started to emerge later, like people organizing to go to demonstrations and people doxing Nazis and that level of growth within ARA’s tactics, that started to emerge around the time I started trying to figure out how to distance myself from the street fighting and the violence. 

How central was the violence? Was it the center of the work, of how you thought about it? 

For me, it was the core. It was about relationships, my friendships, and the violence. And the violence was an extension of us trying to protect each other, protecting ourselves.

And that defined my daily life for a number of years. That level of commitment and lived experience is different than a lot of what anti-racist organizing looks like today. It was less heady, more blood and guts.

And it’s also more reactive. You’re responding to physical threats in your space and on a daily basis, and you’re walking around with a certain degree of PTSD and situational awareness that’s constant. It burned me out, it fucked me up.

I see the Proud Boys and all that shit today, I'm very aware of what it feels like to have a violent confrontation with people. And it’s not something I’m actually interested in. Because, for me, even though I’m anti-racist, and I’m an activist, and my work is still centered around anti-racist activism, the violence that defined my life in this culture was based on me defending my best friends, my best friends defending me. If they were coming down the street, I knew—based on their swagger and how they walked and their silhouettes, I knew who each one of those people were. So you could have a clearer picture of what you were getting yourself into and why you were doing it. And so to deal with an environment in which you’re dealing with assholes like the Proud Boys who—I don’t know where these guys are coming from, but I know they’re looking for a fight. 

There’s way more surveillance and criminalization and state support for whatever they’re doing today than there was when we were young. That’s just too many red flags. I gotta be able to work in a way where I’m influencing people’s consciousness. Because unless those dudes come up to me and threaten my life, I’m actually gonna stay the fuck away from that shit. 

What was your impression of the lay of the land in Portland when you got out here? 

The Nazis had retreated to the degree by the time I got here. It was so bad that my friends told me that basically anyone you saw that was a skinhead in a public space was a Nazi, they were everywhere. So when I got out here, the SHARPs had become dominant and the Nazis seemed to have retreated. And to the degree that there were Nazis in the scene, they weren’t stepping to me and making it apparent who they were. 

And I imagine some of that shit also had to do with the Mulugeta Seraw trial. The time I moved here was synonymous with that whole trial going on.There had been a series of ARA conferences and at the same time there was the lawsuit that bankrupted Tom Metzger and White Aryan Resistance (WAR).

For a lot in the white power scene, that was a loss that caused them to figure out ways to be even more underground. That would eventually re-emerge as the violent skinhead gang Volksfront, and other formations.

How did the cops treat the skinhead crews, the anti-racist skinhead crews? 

So that’s when I understood that we were a gang, not so much because—there was always a philosophical rift between those of us who wanted to present more gangster-like and those of us who wanted to present more activist-like. There was even a subtle undercurrent of racism, where like gangs were seen as something that Blacks and Latinos did, but we were somehow better than them. 

And when the Gang Task Force started to really surveil us and follow us around and show up every time there were more than two of us, that’s when I understood that we had been criminalized as such, regardless of what we wanted, our public image had been decided by the police. And I knew it had to do more with our political activity. Because we were able to observe that, even though there were gangs out here that were involved in the drug trade as their central operating principle, and we were just activists, but they were fucking with us way harder than they were fucking with them. And then you start to see that that’s how we’re characterized in the media as well and in the law enforcement briefings and so forth. 

When I moved to Portland, one of the first nights I went out drinking with the SHARPs, the Gang Task Force rolled up on us. And they had this routine.They took pictures of us. They said, “Anybody got any new tattoos?” It was almost like there was this comradery. They were super cool with us and took pictures of new tattoos. And they let us keep our beer. And they left us the fuck alone. 

And many years later, I got pulled over for basically breathing while Black. And there was a young, white cop who did not know what to do because he took my ID and ran it and then came back. He was like, “It says here you’re a skinhead gang member.” And I just laughed inside because he doesn’t know what to do with that information. It makes no—it makes no sense to him. 

Were you at any of those ARA conferences, those early ones? 

Yeah, I was at a 1990 one held at Portland State University. It was great because I got to see some of the homies from Chicago that were out here from SHOC. I got to meet some other guys from the Bay Area. 

The conference was regionally focused, mostly West Coast. You had all these guys from California up here. And then there were guys from Seattle. So I’m thinking that the regional networks were being strengthened. And the relationships in those networks were being strengthened. 

But like a lot of us, I didn’t go to a lot of the conference in terms of the sessions, info sessions or workshops, symposiums and all that. I was just kind of down there kicking it, catching up with people. So when I go to conferences, there’s like a couple of approaches. One is to sign up and be in every scheduled activity. And one is just kind of loosely flow with it and see who you bump into. So that was my level of participation in that. 

And I had some conflicts because I knew I wanted to make some shifts in my life, particularly away from violence. So I had put up a level of distance.

How did you start changing? How did you kind of shift your involvement when you got out here? 

I kept my involvement to social activity with the SHARPs. I would hang out at the houses and party with them. But I wasn’t trying to go out looking for Nazis with anybody. You know, a couple times I wound up in situations where we jumped out on people. 

I was really explicit about that with those guys. I’m trying to do something different. But it was heavy at the time. Somebody got killed out here. Jon Bair, another Baldies member, took that dude from neo-Nazi band Bound for Glory’s life. And I knew Bound for Glory. I was familiar with them because they used to be in a band called Mass Destruction back in my time in Minneapolis. And so we used to fight those guys. 

So I knew that there were just too many intersections where I could’ve been central. And I was just trying to stay out of the way. And eventually, I got into music and activism and education in a different way. Because my consciousness still needed to be engaged with social activity. But just not centered on fighting like it had been back in Minneapolis. 

How were things changing for you? How did your consciousness on how you wanted to approach organizing change?

Eventually, I got back in the classroom. That was an important part of my development because it—the reason I started teaching—we all—a handful of Baldies went to an alternative high school. And there were some teachers that were pretty radical there. 

And they saw what we were doing on the streets, and they tried to intervene. And two of those teachers actually offered me a teaching job when I was a junior in high school. And they taught me how to create a curriculum that really examined the root causes of systems of oppression. And so while I was fighting on the streets with the Baldies at night, I was coming into the high school and teaching during the day. 

That was like part of the internal shift inside of me. I was meeting these older people from social justice movements, you know, these old revolutionaries. And they were like really giving me the types of props that I didn’t get anywhere else. 

They were like, “Yeah, it’s cool to go fight Nazis. How’s that going for you? You’re gonna be dead or in jail. But you gotta understand that these systems of oppression have root causes that are bigger than what the symptoms are that you’re trying to engage on the streets.” 

And so I started to get this type of recognition and validation in those circles that made me wanna study, that made me wanna read, and not just be reactive. And so when I came out to Portland, that was kind of simmering inside of me. And so I got back into the classroom.

I was trying to figure out how I can make political education part of the work that I do in the schools. And eventually, that’s when I met people who asked me to participate in some of this counter-recruitment work in high schools and meet people in different social justice activist circles out here. And so that’s how I got pulled back into the movement. 

There American Friends Service Committee, and Veterans for Peace were two of the lead organizations that I recall working together to do counter-recruitment, to let high school students know that they could opt out of having military recruiters have access to their test scores and their economic status, like whether they had single-parent families or not. So the recruiters would be targeting these marginalized kids, working-class kids, kids of color. And so we were going into these high schools and organizing and letting them know they didn’t—that they could fill out something to opt out of that, recruiters having access to their information. 

And during those times in the late 1990s is when I started to hear about Rose City Antifa. And my relationships are still good with Portland SHARP. And so I knew about shit that was going on, but didn’t want to be involved in the way I had been back in Minneapolis.

How do you all deal with the violence that you did deal with back then? How long did it stay with you? Does it still stay with you? 

That shit is still with me right now, man. I’m so glad that I have the street awareness that comes from that because I feel like it’s saved me in many situations. I think I’m able to carry myself with an air of like, don’t fuck with me, that prevents people from looking at me like a target.  That comes from all that shit. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything. 

It marks you, though. I still have a visceral gut feeling when I see what’s happening in the streets.

During the hundred days of protests that were happening in Portland in 2020, I would go down there. But I’m keeping a certain amount of distance and a certain amount of awareness when I’m in those spaces. I ended up being involved in housing and eviction defense work, and that comes from my experiences then too.

What do you wish young antifascist organizers would learn from your experience?

I don’t know if I could impart what I learned through experience. I remember older people trying to tell me, dude, they’re gonna—you’re gonna fuck up your life. You’re gonna be dead or in prison. 

But me just being young and full of heart and thinking I’m gonna do this because y’all ain’t doing shit, and this is the only thing that’s gonna make a difference. So I respect that drive that people have. And I would never shit on that or tell them they’re wrong for doing that because it takes that level of commitment for the enemy to think twice about what they’re doing. 

And we need people to be there making the enemy think twice. Because, otherwise, the enemy would be hurting and killing more people. If there weren’t people taking a militant stance. I’m happy that people are militant and courageous and standing in the way and being organized. I just want people to be mindful. And I think people are smart. It doesn’t take much to pay attention. 

I want people to be mindful about how dangerous it is, you know, and the way that, if you get hurt or if you get killed, and you’re part of this militant, anti-fascist, anti-racist organizing culture, there’s not gonna be any sympathy in the public or by the police. You’re not gonna be presented in a good light. And there’s not gonna be justice. 

Unless it’s done in such a flagrant way that they just have to prosecute somebody,, you could die out here, and that would just be the end of it.We live in an environment where the hate and the ignorance and the racist shit is further emboldened by economic conditions and by the demagogue who just lost the election. That whole culture is something that’s really deeply rooted in this country. 

The threat the far-right represents, is more profound than ever before. And I want people to understand that, when we stand up and get in the way, we’re fighting for our lives. And we might fucking die. 

We see what happened to that guy who was calling himself antifa, Michael Reinoehl. He was killed by a federal task force in Washington. So I think we’re gonna see more of that in the years to come. And we just gotta be diligent. Pay attention to your surroundings and know that there’s consequences for how we present in public right now.

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, there’s almost a passive-aggressive retaliatory thing from the police and how they do their jobs, where they’re gonna look the other way because they figure, that the Left wants to fuck over their livelihoods with that abolitionist talk. So they don’t care what happens to us. And where they might turn a blind eye to people assaulting us, they’re gonna over-criminalize us as well. They’re gonna over-prosecute us anytime we get caught doing shit on camera.

What was the relationship between, I guess, like SHARPs, Baldies, and like—I don’t know—like the Trojan skinhead crews, RCBB, and the kind of Left political folks? 

Yeah. There was tension. I think when I first came out here the Baldies were on a pedestal because of what had happened where some of these guys got support, material support. Baldies came out, put in work, established themselves as super hardcore street fighters who were fearless and effective. 

And so when I came to town, people were like, you’re a god. You know? You’re a fucking Minneapolis Baldie. You’re a Black skinhead. You’re Mic Crenshaw. And they kind of rolled out the red carpet. 

But because of that, there was s—immediately, there were a handful of guys who wanted to be Baldies instead of Portland SHARPs. And I think that there are people who felt that they were more like alpha males, (LAUGHING) who struggled with that. Because they were like, wait a minute. You know? Don’t go be—don’t go being something that was invented in Minneapolis. Be proud of being Portland. 

And so there was a split where some guys decided they wanted to start Portland United Baldies. And I remember that was tough for me because they were asking me. They were like, Mic, will you give us permission? And I didn’t want anything to do with it. I was like, I love y’all, but I’m not trying to be at the center of this shit. 

So I gave them contacts to old Minneapolis heads, and I said, talk to them. So they got permission. Those guys are my best friends, you know? And they started the Portland United Baldies. But some of the Portland SHARPs were like, fuck that. How are you guys gonna do that? And they started Rose City Bovver Boys. 

And now everybody’s cool. But for a while there, those guys were beefing with each other, you know? And it wasn’t cool. And I tried to stay out of that. I tried to be like, you guys are all my friends. I love you all. And I’ma stay out the way. You know? 

You know, one of the—I think the biggest discussion I hear now between like anti-fascist folks is what they think is most effective: these really big mass actions, these big kind of coalition things, versus these kind of tight-knit, small groups. I guess a skinhead crew would be one version of it. Rose City Antifa might be another version of it. Everyone knows each other, vetted to get in, takes a while to do work. Whenever you’re looking back, not only do you have that time, but you have like 30 years of experience on top of that. Like what do you think is most effective for confronting these far right groups? 

There’s a lot of debates about what type of organizing approach is best for confronting the far-right, small tight knit groups or large mass movements. What do you think are the most effective approaches?

At this point, my values change. You change a lot, having kids, having a mortgage, waking up early in the morning Monday through Friday. But in the end this organizing is about relationships, if you can see each other as family that is stronger than flimsy relationships. But one of the things that pulled me out of some parts of the Left was seeing people being destructive, tearing each other down and policing each other based on who could be more politically correct or identity-based orietnations. A lot of people, especially among a lot of white people, definitely needed to work on the destructive ideas about things like gender that were showing up in Left spaces. But these disagreements were happening more and more among people who didn’t actually bleed in the streets together, who had less investment in each other. A lot of this felt really white because the people wrapped up in these internal fights on the Left were not Black folks, were not people of color. So you can’t have the level of response that we used to have if you are not connected to people personally, more than just ideas.

And those bonds are like through thick and thin. And if you’re one of my people, I’m gonna ride for you, and you’re gonna ride for me. 

And that is what—after all the years of activism and work, that’s the shit that’s still there. And that’s not something you can just sell to somebody. That comes from commitment and struggle and time and love.