I'm not the type for formal to-dos. The dress code kills me. Last time I wore a suit was for Methodist Sunday school, back before I'd had my first smoke.
I made an exception for the Anti-Defamation League of Arizona's Torch of Liberty Award Dinner, held recently at the Camelback Inn. Nah, I didn't don a tie. But I did sport a clean shirt, mainly because some folks I respect were attending, speechifying, or being honored.
Foremost among those speaking was Don Logan, former director of Scottsdale's Office of Diversity and Dialogue, who was targeted (allegedly) by white supremacist twin brothers Dennis and Daniel Mahon with a package bomb that exploded in his hands in 2004, seriously injuring him and others at his office.
Logan is an impressive man and an inspiring speaker. He refuses to accept the mantle of victim and has appeared in federal court to confront the duo accused by the U.S. Attorney's Office of attempting to foment racial discord on behalf of neo-Nazi Tom Metzger's white-power propaganda machine W.A.R., or White Aryan Resistance, which Metzger now refers to as The Insurgent.
Though the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was the lead investigative agency on the case, the ADL was instrumental in helping the ATF put the Mahons in handcuffs. Logan acknowledged as much that evening by explaining that it was only in June, when the charges were announced, that he understood the extent of the ADL's involvement in the Mahons' collar.
"I learned all types of things," Logan told the hundreds assembled, "including the work that the ADL had done. The ADL was there from the beginning, providing the support behind the scenes that was totally oblivious to me."
The nearly 100-year-old civil rights organization often provides critical intelligence to law enforcement so that cops can arrest violent racists, skinheads, and domestic terrorists. No wonder the unofficial theme of the evening was the partnership between local authorities and the ADL.
The dinner was actually a tribute to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona CEO Richard Boals, who garnered the evening's top plaudit. But the real star was Phoenix police Lieutenant Heston Silbert, present to receive the George Weisz-ADL Law Enforcement Award for his work heading up the department's Major Offender Bureau and Career Criminal Squad. The second unit specializes in going after street-level organized crime, particularly white-supremacist gangs such as the Aryan Brotherhood and Hammerskins.
ADL regional director Bill Straus noted in his introducing Silbert that Silbert's squad made 25 arrests of heinous criminals involved in neo-Nazi-ism and white nationalism in the past year.
"And they don't pick them up for jaywalking," joked Straus. "Charges range from murder and aggravated assault to armed robbery and illegal weapons violations."
Silbert, who has since moved on to other duties at the Phoenix PD, gave props to ADL investigators for aiding his men and singled out each member of his former squad in the audience for being the reason he was at the podium.
A quick review of one of their higher-profile busts, that of tattoo artist and neo-Nazi boot boy Chad Kerns, makes it clear what sort of villains Silbert and his men dealt with. Kerns, who is inked all over his body and face with white-supremacist imagery — including a portrait of Adolf Hitler over his heart — is doing a 10-year stint in the Arizona Department of Corrections for his part in two hate crimes perpetrated by him and members of a vicious wolf pack of racist skinheads.
Both assaults occurred in 2007, and police reports of the incidents read like something straight out of A Clockwork Orange or the screenplay for American History X. In March of that year, Kerns and four or five other skinheads wearing the standard red braces, black jackets, wife-beaters, and Doc Martens congregated inside the Rogue West bar at 35th and Northern avenues. They flipped each other sieg heils, talked about "white power," and asked one patron whether the establishment was a SHARP bar. SHARP stands for Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice, the scions of the original non-racist skinheads in England and the neo-Nazi skinheads' deadly enemies.
They were told it was not a SHARP bar, but eventually a Hispanic man entered the place wearing an anti-Nazi shirt with the motto "Keep your country clean" and a stick figure tossing a swastika in a trashcan. The skinheads spotted the shirt and swarmed over the man, pushing him, punching him, and smashing him over the head with a bar stool. The victim ran to the front door, was tripped, and fell outside, where he was kicked and punched 'til the Nazis sped away in their cars. The man ended up with a 2½-inch cut on his head from the unprovoked, cowardly attack.
Three months later, Kerns was involved in another assault, this one involving a black man and two of Kerns' skinhead pals, Doolin Onion and Jamie Lyon. Lyon and Onion approached the man in a Walgreens at 34th Avenue and Dunlap Road and called him a "fucking nigger" while passing by him, which provoked an argument that led to a confrontation outside the drugstore.