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York street fighting between neo-Nazis, anti-racists leads to 25 arrests

Sunday, January 13, 2002

By Dennis B. Roddy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

YORK, Pa. -- Neo-Nazi skinheads and anti-racist anarchists fought in the streets yesterday in this central Pennsylvania city still feeling the aftermath of deadly race riots 32 years ago.

One anti-racist was run down when a skinhead, cornered in an alleyway, tried to barrel his way through a mob of counter-demonstrators. The white, Ford pickup truck carried the young man on its fender for almost 20 feet before he landed in an alley.

Police in York, Pa., break up a fight between neo-Nazi skinheads and anti-racist anarchists yesterday. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

More PG photos from York.

"I wasn't killed," said the young man, as police helped him into an ambulance. "I was lucky." He declined to give his name.

Police said he was taken to a hospital, where his condition was unavailable.

Police said 25 people were arrested, most for disorderly conduct, during a day of street attacks that began shortly after 9 a.m. as the city geared up for a speech by the leaders of several white supremacist groups.

"They're using York city as a fighting ground," said state police Maj. Henry Oleyniczak.

Police said 17 of those arrested were out-of-state residents and included the driver of the pickup truck. Guns were confiscated from two neo-Nazis.

The day began with random attacks on vehicles with decals or plates suggesting membership in far-right groups and escalated after a series of fistfights between skinheads and counter demonstrators.

"Obviously, the answer is to confront them," said Jerry Bellow, a leader with Columbus, Ohio-based Anti-Racist Action, one of several groups that turned out to battle the white supremacists. "We're gonna make it as hard as possible."

Bellow's group, accompanied by members of the Black Bloc, a coalition of anarchist organizations, including the Boston-based Barricada Collective, roamed the streets in the hours leading up to a speech by Matthew Hale, leader of the racist World Church of the Creator.

A member of Hale's group, Michael Cook, a 32-year-old York County man, had rented a room at the city's library for a noontime speech. Hale, in turn, invited several other extremist groups, including the Aryan Nations and National Alliance, to attend.

Yesterday's showdown followed a series of arrests last year growing out of the 1969 race riots that claimed the lives of a visiting South Carolina woman and a York police officer.

Among those arrested in connection with the shooting death of Lillie Belle Allen, who was killed during the riots, was York's mayor, Charles Robertson. Robertson stepped down from office last Monday after deciding not to seek re-election.

"I do feel welcome in York," Hale told a group of 80 inside the library. "I dispute the notion that we're somehow outsiders in any way."

Nazi skinhead groups from several cities, including members of the Eastern Hammerskins in Baltimore, turned out. As Hale spoke inside the library, the two sides clashed repeatedly.

"This is what I want to do the rest of my life. My ancestors fought for this flag," said Shane Seilhamer, a leader of the Baltimore chapter of the Eastern Hammerskins who was waving a Nazi flag and trading taunts with counter-demonstrators on the opposite side of the street.

Seilhamer is a former member of a Blair County skinhead group and was once active in Western Pennsylvania Klan groups. Seilhamer was one of dozens of skinheads who stood across the street from a line of angry anti-racist protesters. A phalanx of helmeted riot police and a squad of state troopers on horseback lined the middle of South Queen Street, around the corner from the library.

Earlier in the day, anarchists had attacked passing pickup trucks emblazoned with confederate flag plates and decals from the National Alliance.

Police had kept each side at bay most of the day until a group of skinheads and anarchists traded blows in an alleyway off Queen Street. The trouble escalated when other protesters ran up the street and a fight began in a parking lot, where skinheads had parked their vehicles. The windows and windshield on one pickup truck, decorated with far-right symbols, was smashed by a member of the Black Bloc, and sporadic fighting erupted.

From there, the anti-racist groups split into smaller units that peeled off from the parking lot and onto nearby Duke Street, where the confrontation climaxed with the demonstrator being struck by the pickup truck and injured. Several fights broke out following the incident, and police took away a number of the anti-racist demonstrators and eventually had to escort the skinheads nearly a mile on foot, under armed guard, so they could leave town.

By that point, Hale had long since been taken by police escort from the library, and the anti-racist groups never got near him.

The day was a test for John Brenner, who was sworn in Monday as York's new mayor. He praised police and, asked if he planned to send the bill for the day's overtime to Hale, said simply, "I'd like to."

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