Except for the pimple-faced neo-Nazis putting together Molotov cocktails, the alley was empty. It was too dark that February evening in east Phoenix to see the shaved head of the youngest, an awkward sixteen-year-old with freckles and tattoos. One tattoo especially would have stood out had there been more light: Taking up most of the nape of his neck was a pair of crossed hammers--the bizarre brand of the Arizona Hammer Skins, a local white-supremacist skinhead gang with ties to the Ku Klux Klan and the White Aryan Resistance near San Diego.

A row of middle-class condominiums with neatly fenced patios backed up to the alley. Inside the bedroom of one condo, an older couple slept. Suddenly there was a thud, and then an explosion. The old people woke up in terror to see flames leaping up in their patio, just outside their bedroom window.

To this day, the man, a 71-year-old cancer victim, and his 69-year-old wife are convinced they were spared incineration because the bomb hit the window screen and bounced away.

What astonishes them most, though, is that their attackers had fire-bombed the wrong condo.

The intended victim was "Fishbone," a seventeen-year-old skinhead from a rival gang. When the attack occurred, Fishbone was asleep in his mother's condo just a few doors down from the terrified old people.

The fire-bombing marked the beginning of a three-month, Valley-wide rampage of brutal crimes by a teenager named Jimmy Miller, Chandler and Phoenix police say. After the February fire-bombing, according to police testimony at a juvenile court hearing last month, Jimmy went after a rival skinhead named Warbaby. With friends helping him, Jimmy allegedly lured Warbaby out of his grandparents' home, beat him, kicked him and pinned him down. Then one of the skinheads sliced off Warbaby's tattoos with an X-acto knife.

Six days after the assault on Warbaby, Jimmy allegedly stalked Kaipo Stant, a fifteen-year-old rival gang member, and stole his boots, $100 Doc Martens steel-toes, a skinhead status symbol. Jimmy was packing a gun, Stant says.

Jimmy ended the crime spree in May, when with his friends he fire-bombed yet another apartment, the detectives testified. And this time he chose the right unit, where members of a rival MD120 Col 1, Depth P54.02 I9.03 gang called the Sharp Skins were sleeping. Fortunately, the two youths were awakened by the sound of their window shattering, and were able to race out of the apartment just before the room exploded in flame. This scenario was detailed in Maricopa County Juvenile Court earlier this month by investigators from the Phoenix Fire Department, Phoenix police and Chandler police. They were testifying at a hearing to determine whether sixteen-year-old Jimmy Miller, arrested this summer along with friends Case Colcord and Chris Bindulski, should be tried as an adult for the fire-bombing and other crimes.

None of the three will talk about their alleged involvement in the events police describe as gang warfare between the racist Hammer Skins and their nonracist rivals the Sharp Skins.

Although Jimmy is only sixteen, the crimes he is accused of are premeditated, and so brutal that Judge Barry Silverman ruled on September 7 that he should be tried as an adult.

Meet Jimmy Miller, accused criminal and proud white supremacist. At odds with his family, Jimmy was mysteriously attracted to steel-toe boots, violence and racist rock 'n' roll. Within the closed world of the Hammer Skins, this high school dropout finally achieved success, rising quickly to leadership within the group.

Why, exactly, did he choose to join a Nazi hate club instead of the soccer team? or the Dead Heads? The answer, in part, lies with a highly skilled pied piper of hate, a middle-aged television repairman and former KKK Grand Dragon from the San Diego area. His name is Tom Metzger.

The founder of the White Aryan Resistance, or WAR, Metzger is a white supremacist revolutionary who is accused of recruiting skinheads to act as front-line warriors for his cause. Chandler police say Metzger is the "main propaganda spreader" in the Valley's skinhead underworld, and they know that Metzger and his local skinhead apostles shot tin cans out in the desert in 1989. One of those apostles is a former skinhead compadre of Jimmy's.

In a way, Jimmy is fortunate. He's more fortunate than one disciple of Metzger, a young skinhead in Oregon serving a twenty-year prison term for beating an Ethiopian man to death. The victim's family is suing Metzger and his son John, contending Metzger's agents indoctrinated the Portland skinheads Col 3, Depth P54.10 I9.14 "When somebody asks why I dislike blacks, I throw back statistics, you know. Like they populate so much of our state and they populate this much of our prison system," he says, rocking back on his plastic chair in the jail visiting room.

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Terry Greene