Nazis not welcome
White supremacists sour benefit show at the Zephyr
It was near the end of local band Sleeve’s set at the Zephyr Lounge on July 7, and the mosh pit was getting rowdy. A group of tall, muscular men with shaved heads—either shirtless or wearing white sleeveless muscle shirts—half-ran, half-danced in a meandering circle, jostling each other and bouncing off the perimeter of the crowd.
This is not unusual for a show at a Reno bar. But when the set ended, the flailing bodies in the pit snapped to attention and showed their appreciation for the band in an unusual way: with right arms raised in the Nazi salute and choruses of “Seig heil! Seig heil!” Then, as the group exited the Zephyr Lounge, one man spit on one of the promoters of the show.
Soon after, a police helicopter appeared and circled over the Zephyr, shining a huge spotlight on the patrons hanging out behind the bar. The surprised people began yelling cheerfully at the helicopter, some waving, some flashing the classic rock ‘n’ roll hand signal, some even flipping the chopper off.
Seemingly all at once, a half-dozen police cars appeared from both directions on Holcomb Avenue, creating a wide semicircle around the Zephyr.
Sgt. Marty Wright of the Reno Police Department said the group of skinheads, who had been lingering with other patrons outside the Zephyr, walked toward the officers and did not stop when they were told to return to the sidewalk. One of them had to be wrestled to the ground by officers from the RPD gang unit.
“Four were known skinhead gang members,” Wright said. “They were chanting ‘white power.’ When they do that, we can’t arrest them. But when they come up on us after we tell them to stop, that’s when it turns into an arrestable offense.”
Wright said six men were arrested for charges ranging from obstructing justice to resisting arrest to jaywalking, and a couple of the men had outstanding warrants. Wright contemplated shutting down the event, a benefit for United Blood Services, but Zephyr employees convinced the police that the event could go on now that the skinheads were removed.
“Initially, we were going to shut this thing down,” Wright said. “A couple of employees told us the reason we were called is because they were scared.”
According to Tolerance.org—a Web project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a national civil rights organization—there were two active Neo-Nazi groups in Reno and one in Carson City in 2000. In the Seattle area—where the skinheads were supposedly from—there were two active chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, one Neo-Nazi group and three “Christian identity” groups, known for their anti-Semitic beliefs.
Though active hate groups in the West are not nearly as widespread as those in the Southern and Eastern United States, there are 29 in California alone. “Hate groups” are defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center as those that “have beliefs or practices that attack or denigrate an entire class of people, typically for their beliefs or immutable characteristics.”
Monet Vincent, a Zephyr employee who was checking IDs during the benefit, said the group of men totaled about 12 earlier in the night. They told her they were visiting from Seattle.
“We were sitting and talking to them, and they were cool, so we told them we don’t care what they think as long as they’re respectful,” Vincent said. “They told us they were just there to listen to the bands.”
But as the night progressed, Vincent said, the men grew increasingly rowdy, often grabbing the microphone off the stage to yell “white power!”
“Someone was going to get hurt, and it wasn’t going to be any of them,” she said. “They started talking about whose jaw they were going to break next. I don’t get paid enough for that.”
Vincent said the men became increasingly aggressive toward employees and patrons.
“Even all the employees were too scared to approach them,” Vincent said. “They aren’t small—those guys are hardcore, straight fucking Nazis. We decided at that point to call the non-emergency [police] number.”
Vincent said about 20 minutes after the call, the employees decided to call 911 to tell the police that the situation had gotten worse. She said the police arrived very soon after the second call.
“Everybody dealt with it well," Vincent said. "That’s about the only time I’ve ever wanted to see the RPD."