Corvallis residents must open their eyes and look for
signs that a hate group might be forming in the area, said former
skinhead Steven Stroud.
Shaved heads, bomber jackets, military-style boots with white or
red laces and white or red suspenders are popular among the groups
known as skinheads. But Stroud cautioned a crowd of at least 60 on
Thursday at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library not to judge
all young people who fit that description as members of a hate
Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice, or SHARPs, dress similarly,
but favor white and black checkered designs and tight polo
Residents should also learn to identify symbols of hate, he said,
which are listed on the website of the Jewish Anti-Defamation
The site lists acronyms like WPWW, or, "white pride worldwide,"
and number symbols such as signaling the Ku Klux Klan as "311," a
signal for the Ku Klux Klan -- the letter K is the 11th letter of
the alphabet -- and "88," a symbol popular with neo-Nazi groups
because H is the eighth letter and stands for "Heil Hitler."
"We need to accept our youth," Stroud said. "Offer them guidance,
teach them love and self-respect. If we don't, there's a hate group
out there that will open its arms to them."
Community Alliance for Diversity invited Stroud as part of its
forum series "Can We Talk," which meets once every other month to
discuss local issues. Community members held the first forum after
the September 11 terrorist attacks, fearing repercussions on
minority community members.
The organization also hosts six-week study groups to focus on
diversity issues affecting the community.
Stroud is co-founder of Oregon Spotlight, a non-profit
organization working to reach out to skinhead members in the
He's appeared on Oprah Winfrey's and Sally Jessy Raphael's
television shows, as well as "Good Morning America," The Discovery
Channel and MTV. Stroud works nights as a bouncer for bars in the
Portland area that are notorious for gang violence -- but he didn't
choose to move to Portland because he likes the roses.
"I moved to Portland because there's a lot of hate here," he
said. "There's a huge silent war going on and if people knew just
how big it was, they'd be scared to death."
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, at least eight
organized hate groups are operating in Oregon.
The center began monitoring hate groups in the United States in
response to the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1980s.
Its web site shows Maine and Vermont as the only states that
currently have no active groups. The site lists California, Texas
and Florida as having more than 40 active hate groups.
In Oregon, five of the eight reported groups are clustered in the
Portland area. The site also tracks hate groups operating in
Springfield, Salem and The Dalles.
Corvallis Police Captain Jon Sassaman said that the problem is
statewide. Although he knows of no organized hate groups operating
in Corvallis, Sassaman said individual incidents still occur and
that's why these forums are so important.
"These make sure that diversity is alive," he said. "And the
dialogue helps assure that people don't stop talking about it."
Stroud stresses discussion.
"Don't stay silent," he said. "Without talking, how can we fight
Fighting has long been a way of life for Stroud. He said his
mother abused him until age 13, when the state sent him to a group
home, the first of many. He lived intermittently on the streets of
Seattle, waiting behind McDonald's at closing time to feast on cold,
unsold fast food. During his adolescence on the streets, Stroud
suffered broken ribs, a shattered jaw, and a broken foot and hip.
"Life on the streets is cold and there are no hugs for you, no
pat on the backs," he said. "And there's no time to sit and cry
about it either. You don't know what I would have given for a hug.
Heck, I would have loved to even get yelled at."
In the homes and on the streets he met other boys like him:
angry, alone, white. He felt camaraderie with the other white kids
in a foster care system with more minority children than he had ever
been around. Together, he said, they "rolled gays in Freeway Park,"
meaning they stripped men they assumed were homosexuals, beat them
and stole their wallets. The police didn't react, Stroud said, and
he took their silence as approval, even encouragement. Loosely
affiliated with several white supremacy groups, he mostly acted
In one group home, he said, he tormented a Jewish boy named Todd,
writing swastikas on the bathroom mirror in soap day after day after
day. Then one day when he was 14, he smashed Todd's head through the
glass of a bus shelter, leaving him scarred for life.
Finally, at 16, Stroud was placed with foster parents who "loved
the hate right out of me," he said. Stroud began to see himself the
way they saw him. He began to like himself, and he began to
The same technique Stroud's foster parents used on him, he uses
today when he works with skinheads: separating the individual from
his actions, loving the person while transforming the actions. He
spends his days talking to school kids, college students, parents
and police about how to detect and fight the resurgence of racist
organizations in the United States.
Stroud urges communities to get involved, get interested, meet
their neighbors and not depend on the government for protection. He
explained that when the law gets involved and a member of a skinhead
group is sent to prison, he is likely to meet others like him and
come out of the system a more educated, and angrier, skinhead.
"You can't start by making a law against hate. Those laws have
not stopped a single hate crime," Stroud said. "What makes a
difference is when people take it into their own hearts and then it
can seep out into the community."
Katie Willson covers city news for The Daily Barometer.
She can be reached at 737-2231 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.