RIVERSIDE — Four local members of what is described as the nation's largest racist skinhead group have been indicted by a grand jury in the attempted murder of an African American man, authorities said Tuesday.
The unprovoked assault with a bottle and a knife was "one of the most egregious incidents of racial violence that has occurred in Riverside County," said Dist. Atty. Grover Trask.
The victim, a 23-year-old resident of Murrieta in southern Riverside County, was taunted with racial slurs, chased, struck on the head with a beer bottle and slashed with a knife, prosecutors alleged. The victim was treated for wounds to his back and head, and is recovering.
The attack occurred March 17, during an impromptu spring break gathering of about 150 young people in an open field east of Temecula. Investigators said the victim was apparently singled out by skinheads in the group because of his race, and was attacked in full view of witnesses who failed to stop it.
The four suspects are members of Western Hammerskins, said Assistant Dist. Atty. Randy Tagami. That gang, with members in California and Arizona, is affiliated with a worldwide organization, Hammerskin Nation, of violent white supremacists and skinheads, authorities allege.
"Hammerskin Nation is the best organized, most widely dispersed and most dangerous skinhead group known in the United States," said Mark Potok, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., which tracks hate groups.
The Riverside County indictment, filed Monday, came after a five-month investigation by the local Sheriff's Department and the FBI, officials said.
Each suspect was charged with one count of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Each count includes the special allegations of being a member of a criminal street gang and perpetrating a hate crime, Tagami said. Convictions carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
One of the suspects, Travis George Miskam, 20, of Hemet, was arraigned Monday and pleaded not guilty. The arraignment was continued to next week for two other defendants: Daniel Glen Butler, 20, and Alan Thomas Yantis, 19, both of Temecula. Each is being held on $250,000 bail.
An arrest warrant was issued for the fourth defendant, Gregory Allan McDaniel, 19, of Temecula.
An attorney for Yantis declined to comment on the case, and the other two were represented temporarily by court-appointed lawyers.
In addition, authorities are considering filing criminal charges against two juveniles connected to the attack, Tagami said.
The involvement of juveniles in racial attacks fits a pattern associated with the skinhead organization, said Potok, of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In recent years, Hammerskin Nation has grown to nearly 1,000 members in the United States and an additional 2,000 members in Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, Australia and New Zealand.
The group was founded by teenagers and young adults around Dallas about 10 years ago, Potok said, then spread to the South, the upper Midwest and the Southwest. In the early 1990s, its membership arched across both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans; last year, its members staged a worldwide gathering in Budapest, Potok said.
Its members are known for committing violence not only against minorities but among themselves as well, Potok said. "Violence is such a part of the skinhead culture," he said. "You need to prove that you can mix it up in a bar."
Some members of its early leadership have been convicted of hate crimes, served prison time and are now back out on the streets, he said. Leaders have tapped adult prisons and juvenile correctional facilities to recruit members, he said.
Their presence in Southern California has been tracked by FBI, the U.S. attorney's office and local county prosecutors. "They are extensive and they have a significant presence in Southern California," said Mike Gennaco, an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles specializing in civil rights.
Monday's indictment was the first involving known members of the organization in Riverside County, said Tagami.
"We've prosecuted hate crimes in the past involving individuals who may have been associated with the group," Tagami said. "But this is the first time we've had a group of individuals who purposely hunted down somebody because of his race. This is the first situation connected to a group of people whose sole reason for existence is to hate and to commit an offense like this."