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Odyssey of a Skinhead : Gregory Withrow Revered Racist Life Until He Learned Truths About Hate and Love

June 14, 1989|NANCY WRIDE | Times Staff Writer

The association between Withrow and Metzger, considered by many experts to be the only "older" white supremacist willing to recruit and work with skinheads, has been documented on videotape, Hirschhaut said.

"He had a great deal of dealings with Tom Metzger--close and frequent communication," Hirschhaut added. "Metzger looked upon him as a key organizer and rising star in the WAR movement, and there was severe embarrassment when he dropped out of it."

Boozing and Drugging

Withrow said he also organized the Sacramento Area Skinheads, which he calls Sash. They did their share of boozing and drugging, kicking and stomping, which was dubbed "docking" after the name of the steel-toe, combat-style boots called Doc Martins.

But many of the events he participated in then are so despicable that Withrow will no longer talk about it.

Did he ever kill anyone? "No."

Did he hurt anyone? "Yes." Several people, he says, his head hanging low, fair and freckled hands reaching for his mustache again. "It's not like I kept a toll."

Were any of his victims permanently injured? "No. Everyone heals."

His gang of skins--young men who hated anybody but white Christians and had a taste for random and vicious attacks on the outnumbered and defenseless--used to "bash Japanese tourists" then rob them in San Francisco's Tenderloin district.

Personal Attraction

The skinheads' weapons of choice, he said, are "personals"--items including their combat boots, knives, straight-edge razors, baseball bats and "anything that allows you to get up close and personal while you are hurting or torturing someone."

In time, Withrow said, he earned a criminal record--brandishing a gun on a police officer, assault with a deadly weapon and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Records show he was arrested 23 times in 14 years in Sacramento County alone for those felonies as well as misdemeanor crimes like assault and battery, drug possession and drunk driving. He did jail time at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Facility in Elk Grove, officials there said.

That only slowed his activities in the hate movement, which culminated in July, 1986, at a national gathering of white supremacist leaders in Idaho, Withrow said.

Admittedly an extremist within an extreme movement, Withrow, as founder of the White Student Union, urged about 400 racists at the National Aryan Congress to pursue the "total genocide" of all non-Anglos "across the North American continent."

He said he received a standing ovation from the crowd, which shouted, "Sieg, Heil!" and other Nazi slogans.

Later the same month, however, Withrow's father died of cancer and alcoholism, and it would be his son's last summer of hate.

Withrow had fallen in love with a co-worker at a Sacramento card club, a waitress named Sylvia. She was an older woman whose rejection of white supremacist notions had already begun eroding his devotion to the only guiding principle he had known since he was a kindergartner. His love for her was now squeezing out everything else.

"I cared less and less about the racist movement, and I was getting bothered by other racists and gang members who were calling me and bugging me about responsibilities I was letting go on," Withrow said.

Sylvia, whose whereabouts are a mystery but whose name remains tattooed on Withrow's biceps, introduced him to his first Christmas, the notion of giving gifts, visiting the ocean.

Then, the following summer, Albert Withrow died. While viewing his father's body in the hospital, Withrow said he had an epiphany.

"I honored my father; when he died it hurt. But there was also a sense of relief. I was actually kind of feeling for the first time," Withrow said, his voice breaking. "I didn't know what to do for a long while without him.

"I had this thought that, 'Gee, maybe I don't have to carry this on anymore,' " Withrow said. "Then I thought, 'No, no, no, it's my duty. I must carry on my duty. Honor my family, my ancestors, my race, my nation!' I just kept forgetting to honor myself."

The internal struggle continued until, finally, Withrow said, he traveled south to Fallbrook and visited Metzger at his home.

Told of his interest in dropping out of the hate movement, Withrow said, Metzger was furious.

His son, John Metzger, also a white supremacist, appeared with Withrow in September, 1987, on the Phil Donahue show. There, Metzger told him he deserved to die for deserting his cause, Withrow claims.

Declined Comment

Tom Metzger did not return phone calls to discuss Withrow. John Metzger, reached at the family's Fallbrook home, also declined to comment on Withrow, saying only, "We aren't satisfied with your newspaper and some of the articles in it."

Tired of badgering from colleagues in the white supremacist front, Withrow said, he made his retirement from racism public, denouncing the hate movement on local television shows aired in Northern California.

On Aug. 8, 1987, one show, "Good Morning Bay Area," featured Withrow quitting racism for love.

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