One youth wears a plaid wool shirt and a small clenched fist that dangles from a chain pinned to one ear. Another has a butch haircut and half a dozen crosses around his neck. A third wears baggy shorts and a white T-shirt.
A little cholo, a little punk, a little surfer. Offbeat, mildly intimidating. When they want to be really intimidating, they switch to all punk.
The boys belong to a gang, but not the usual gang. It's made up of white kids who grew up in suburban homes. Now in their teens, they're turning an unexplained anger on their neighborhoods in the form of vandalism, graffiti and street violence.
These three have gathered on the steps outside North Hollywood High School, the center of their turf, to talk about it.
Attacks on People
They call the gang Fight for Freedom, or FFF. No one knows exactly what that means except that it comes from the name of a defunct musical group and has something to do with fighting authority and doing whatever you feel like. It is said to reflect the philosophy "If it feels good, do it."
What they like to do most, the three youths say, is take drugs and get crazy.
When they're crazy, they say, they beat up people on the streets, attack homosexuals in North Hollywood Park, rumble with other punk groups in Hollywood and Burbank and go to parties where they sometimes smash up the place.
They call them "bring your own sledgehammer" parties.
"I went to this one party and sliced up this girl's water bed," says the one with the earring.
The hourlong recitation of their adventures takes on a legendary tone: In street fights they have subdued rivals as diverse as the nearby Burbank Punk Organization to the east and the football team of Notre Dame High School to the west, they say.
Because they have cars, their turf extends beyond the San Fernando Valley. They spend a lot of time in Hollywood, where other white punk groups hang out into the early hours. They have enemies as distant as La Mirada.
They are allies with some of the Valley's Chicano gangs--the Mexican-Americans who call themselves cholos-- and allies with a Hollywood gang called Los Angeles Death Squad, but enemies of other white and Chicano gangs.
They brag that they are the biggest and most powerful of the dozens of white gangs now springing up with names like Mother Malicious and Mickey Mouse Club.
They like the feeling of flirting with physical harm.
"I keep a loaded gun in my bedroom 365 days a year," the one with the crosses says. "I'd say everybody in FFF owns a gun. What's going to keep BPO from driving by and shooting up the house? You don't want somebody hurting your mom for something you did."
Lore is New, Baffling
Much of this lore is new and baffling to the authorities whose job it is to keep track of gangs and try to control them. At best, they can only guess where white gangs came from, where they are headed and how serious a threat they pose. What little evidence has turned up about the groups suggests their actual adventures have been nowhere near as terrible as their lore would have it.
But it is also generally agreed that something new and potentially dangerous is happening in the world of gangs.
At one time in Los Angeles, gang violence was the sphere of Chicanos. Later, in the 1970s, violent black street gangs emerged, presumably spawned by poverty, frustration and links to prison gangs.
Now, with no obvious roots in ethnic alienation, poverty or tradition, gang culture is sprouting up in the predominantly white and economically healthy neighborhoods of the southern Valley, from Burbank to Woodland Hills.
The white gangs are not simple copies of their predecessors.
Their origins are in punk rock and heavy-metal rock. In part, these groups bear the stamp of the Satanism, Nazism and nihilism found in much of that music.
A Fight for Freedom member's sketch that was confiscated by police, for example, shows a swastika crossed out, a pistol shooting a bullet through a detached head and a punk rocker choking someone so hard the skull pops out of its skin.
That's pure punk-rock fare, the experts say. But what concerns them about the new Valley gangs is that they also reflect traditional street gang influences.
Gregory Bodenhamer, a former Orange County probation officer, has made a study of punk rock and heavy-metal music through the program Back in Control, which he started to help parents regain control of incorrigible children. Bodenhamer said the Valley's FFF gang emerged about four or five years ago like dozens of other punk rock groups.
'Throwing Out a Gauntlet'
But most punk rock groups don't become gangs, he said.