Broke and unemployed from his job as a vinyl window installer, skinhead Ronald Lee Bray nonetheless preferred that a friend repay a debt, not with cash but with free cocktails. Why not? The July 6, 2006, evening at a Costa Mesa bar was an anniversary of sorts. One week earlier, Bray—a drug addict and petty thief with a long rap sheet—emerged from the Orange County Jail after a DUI arrest.
At the bar, Bray and his friend got wasted and then decided they weren't drunk enough. They walked to a 7-Eleven on Harbor Boulevard near Mesa Verde to purchase cigarettes and more booze. Bray later admitted that alcohol often triggered "blackouts" and, worse, anger "in my head."
Tommy (we're not using his full name) is a 28-year-old disabled African American who has been victimized repeatedly by white supremacists over the years. Once, they even stabbed him, causing a wound as emotional as it was physical. In hopes of avoiding the skinheads who roam Southern California, he'd moved to his current Costa Mesa neighborhood.
Sadly, his relocation was in vain. At a crosswalk near the 7-Eleven on Harbor, fate placed Tommy beside Bray, a 23-year-old 11th grade dropout.
"Are you ready to leave yet, nigger?" blurted Bray, whose prior stunts include stealing a tip jar from a pizza parlor, chronic vandalism, possession of 100 grams of marijuana and a drug-induced, high-speed car chase through Huntington Beach that qualifies for an episode of Cops.
"Go back to Compton," Bray added.
"I don't want any problems," replied Tommy, who attempted to flee in his wheelchair.
Bray—6-foot, two inches tall and 180 pounds—then spat in the black man's face and kicked him. The force of the blow almost knocked the handicapped man out of his wheelchair and into a utility pole. According to witnesses, Bray then yelled, "OC Skinheads, mother fucker!" before triumphantly entering the convenience store.
Tommy feared for his safety, a concern only heightened when Bray left the store and approached again.
"I thought I told you to leave, you fucking nigger," said Bray, who then spat a second time on the man before fleeing.
Stopped by police after a good Samaritan's 911 call, Bray explained that he thought he heard "someone" say, "Hey, fuck you," outside of the 7-Eleven. He admitted it wasn't Tommy, but he couldn't help that all "my rage then focused on the black guy and I said, 'Hey nigger, you need to go back to where you came from.'"
The crime drew the attention of prosecutor Scott Steiner, head of the district attorney's hate crimes unit. "This DA's office is not going to ignore or minimize hate crimes," said Steiner. "Some people claim these acts are little more than name calling. In fact, callous violence often follows and it turns a victim's life upside down."
But Bray tried to talk his way out of charges. Never mind his affiliation with a gang of racists, he said he wouldn't have committed a hate crime. He insisted he didn't remember kicking or spitting on Tommy. Any bigotry he exhibited could be blamed on alcohol. In fact, he volunteered that he's okay with interracial marriages—as long as the couples don't have children.
"My racism is phony," said Bray, who suggested his societal skills would be fine with a few counseling sessions.
* * *
Bray, now serving a 32-month prison sentence, isn't the type of character that the Anaheim-based Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) would ever acknowledge. In fact, the TVC recently attacked the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for its January report on the rise of extremist hate groups operating in Orange County, California and nationwide. The TVC issued a statement calling the ADL "experts at propaganda" who are masterminding a "deceitful effort" using the "KKK and skinheads."
"TVC's research into the incidence of 'hate crimes' has consistently shown that there is very little substance to the claims of such groups as the ADL," said Andrea Lafferty, the group's executive director. "[The ADL's extremist group report is] an orchestrated effort to manipulate public opinion into supporting passage of a draconian 'hate crime' bill."
But unlike the TVC, whose staff live off of the proceeds of a well-oiled anti-gay direct mail machine, the ADL report isn't mere political posturing. For example, the group detailed the increasing activism of the Public Enemy Number 1 Death Squad (PEN1). The 350-member white supremacist gang formed in Long Beach in 1986 and its forte includes murder, illegal weapons, narcotics—especially methamphetamines—forgery, identity theft and aggravated assaults.
For a glimpse at PEN1's violence, see the Weekly's 2006 feature on the savage torture and killing of a young man in Huntington Beach with a steel claw hammer. ["The Trials of Billy Joe, White Supremacist," Feb. 16, 2006.]
"Public Enemy Number 1 has positioned itself as a white power criminal organization capable of operating both on the streets and in the prison yards as foot soldiers for older, more established white supremacist prison gangs such as the Aryan Brotherhood and Nazi Low Riders," said Kevin O'Grady, interim director of ADL's Orange County regional office.
Hogwash, says Lafferty, who—along with her father, the Rev. Lou Sheldon—likely fear that hate crime legislation might interfere with their fund-raising revenues. Of course, that possibility can't be spoken. Instead, Lafferty maintains that the ADL and its report is a front for homosexuals who want to "vilify the family."
* * *
On a Sunday afternoon in 2003, PEN1 member Chad Russell Studebaker—wearing his gang's trademark red shoe laces—bought a pizza at a Little Caesar's and didn't bother to stop when he left the parking lot for Beach Boulevard. His sudden appearance forced Stanton sheet metal worker Francisco Espinoza to swerve into another lane to avoid a collision. In a car that had a Nicaraguan flag decal on the rear bumper, Espinoza drove his wife, his infant daughter and the couple's seven-year-old. He passed Studebaker and gestured with his palms upward as if to ask, "Hey, what happened?" The gangster became enraged. He accelerated, swerved in front of Espinoza and slammed on his breaks.
Espinoza saw an afternoon that began with a pleasant family birthday party turn into a nightmare. Studebaker reached between his car seats, grabbed an object and then exited his car. Fearing there might be gunfire, Espinoza left his car to draw attention away from his family. According to police records, Studebaker held a sharp knife behind his right leg and then lunged at Espinoza's throat. The knife severed Espinoza's Star-of-David necklace, slammed into his throat and caused profuse bleeding.
"You cut me, you son of a bitch," said a dizzy Espinoza as he told his wife to call 911 and he chased Studebaker back to his car. The gangster who goes by the moniker "Trigger" then repeatedly slashed Espinoza's face with the knife. Studebaker sped off.
Holding a flap of skin in place, Espinoza managed to get back into his own car and gave chase. In a cul-de-sac, a trapped Studebaker slammed his car into Espinoza's Honda Accord, disabling both cars. A man saw the collision and called 911. As Espinoza waited for paramedics to treat potentially fatal gashes, his family cried; Studebaker—already a convicted felon with swastika, pro-Hitler and "Hate Inc." tattoos—smiled and mockingly waved goodbye. He fled on foot to Buena Park, where he stole a woman's car and drove to a PEN1 crash pad near Lake Elsinore.
And here's where the story turns ironic. Despite his hatred of Mexicans, Studebaker was plotting to avoid prosecution by relocating to, drum roll, Mexico when Riverside deputies arrested him. In an interview with authorities, he blamed the violence on Espinoza, whom he said had made a simple mistake. He'd disrespected him.
After emergency surgery, Espinoza lived. But he has a scar on his throat as a permanent reminder of his experience.
This month, the state court of appeal considered Studebaker's appeal of his conviction. Among other assertions, he'd claimed that Huntington Beach police detective John Van Holt, a gang expert, unfairly "maligned his character" during the trial. Holt had told the jury about Studebaker's criminal history and noted that Orange County hoodlums frequently use violence to enhance their status in the gang. Studebaker argued that, while he wants "Mexicans, Blacks and Jews" out of the country, he didn't use any racial epithets when he attacked Espinoza.
Presiding Justice David G. Sills as well as justices William F. Rylaarsdam and Richard M. Aronson weren't impressed.
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"This white racist gang has as its main focus 'street crime' and will unexpectedly and without warning lash out violently—especially to minorities—without saying anything or identifying themselves," the justices wrote. "Studebaker's assault on Espinoza was committed to enhance his standing in PEN1 and inflict injury on one he perceived as being inferior to him and not deserving of admission into his country."
Suggesting that society isn't going to tolerate street terrorism, the court okayed Studebaker's lengthy punishment. For at least the next 15 years, he'll reside in a California prison cell.
Back at the Traditional Values Coalition, reality is fleeting. Lafferty and Sheldon insist hate crimes are an invention of the political left. It's often "name calling," they say. "Nothing more."