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A Culture of Violence and Denial

The havoc wreaked by white supremacist high school athletes is downplayed by an Arizona town's elders. Then a drug bust finds the teens acting as muscle for a former Mafia hit man.


GILBERT, Ariz. — It was there in the photos, had anyone thought to look.

A picture from a prom, where the theme was "Welcome to the Jungle," shows four beefy boys posing with hands chest high, fingers forming a white power salute in front of their ruffled tuxedo shirts. A snapshot, confiscated from a bulletin board in one young man's bedroom, reveals teenagers pointing their handguns at the camera lens.

It was there too, in the anabolic steroids stashed in closets, the guns hidden under false floors of cars, the white supremacist literature on dressers, the bare-knuckled fight club party in an empty backyard swimming pool, the way the young men surrounded their victims and barked like dogs before beating and stomping them.

Had anyone thought to look, they might have seen evidence of trouble in this hushed, upscale exurb southeast of Phoenix. They might have seen the early signs of racism and violence that are pitting many of its residents against each other. Due attention might have saved Gilbert and its schools--and the third of its residents who are Mormons--from a nasty dispute and lingering ill will.

The troubles began with an outbreak of white supremacy, which can be traced to a group, mostly athletes, at Highland High School. Police say the group was founded six or seven years ago by a student, Michael J. Papa, who was on the wrestling team. The group changed its name every year and eventually became the Devil Dogs. Part of the time, its members hung out at a local Taco Bell, a nexus for bullying and violence.

Few people were paying attention. Even now, some, including the school superintendent, minimize the magnitude of the problems. According to police, a number of violent incidents, including some at the Taco Bell, involved the Devil Dogs--but because witnesses failed to cooperate and victims refused to press charges, only a few could be prosecuted.

Many people did not begin to appreciate the full extent of what was happening until police busted a large drug ring earlier this year and said that former mob hit man Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano was involved--along with members of the Devil Dogs. Because of the drug bust, the group gained attention--indeed, infamy--throughout Gilbert and beyond.

So did past instances of their handiwork:

* A young man was held to the ground and kicked in the head while teenagers barked and yelled epithets. The victim suffered a depressed skull fracture. The damage required two surgeries. Police mentioned three Devil Dogs in their report, but so many people were involved that officers were not sure who inflicted the near-fatal blows. No charges were filed.

* Two men were beaten while their assailants yelled anti-gay and white power slogans. This time, three Devil Dogs were convicted. They told police the assault began after they watched an Ultimate Fighting Championship (no holds barred) competition on TV, got drunk and "went out to stomp on homos and pussies." According to court testimony, one of the teens, a linebacker on the Highland football team, bragged about the beating and showed off his bloody knuckles.

* At the time, the linebacker was on probation for an on-campus attack on another Highland student. He also had been involved in a Devil Dog assault on an Asian couple in which members yelled ethnic slurs and threatened to tip over the couple's boat on a Gilbert lake.

Then, in May of last year, the Devil Dogs were involved in one of the worst beatings in the history of Gilbert.

The victim was an 18-year-old named Jordan Jarvis. He had never heard of the Devil Dogs the night he and a buddy dropped off some friends at a party. After waiting outside, Jarvis went in to let one of the friends know that he and his buddy were leaving. A young woman confronted him and asked his name.

Jarvis told her.

She called for her boyfriend.

Police and witnesses give this account of what happened next: A group of young men ran to Jarvis and accused him of beating a friend of theirs. Jarvis said he didn't know what they were talking about. He went back outside to his friend's open Jeep, climbed inside and buckled his seat belt.

Devil Dogs and at least 50 other teenagers from the party surrounded the Jeep, according to police and the witnesses.

Jarvis, strapped in and unable to defend himself, was beaten, kicked and choked.

Young men yelled, "White power!" and barked--a signature sound of the Devil Dogs.

Blood seeped from Jarvis' head and nose.

When his buddy finally managed to get away, he drove Jarvis directly to a hospital. Jarvis had been beaten so badly that he was unrecognizable. His mother, Cheri, and her older son passed him in the emergency room without knowing him.

His head was too swollen for treatment that night, other than some stitches. He has since undergone surgery three times to, among other things, realign his nose, remove bone spurs at the base of his skull and scrape calcification from his eye sockets.

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