THE US Justice Department and local law enforcement agencies are taking a new tack in a battle against white supremacist groups by seeking community-based support and testimony in a criminal investigation of ``skinhead'' activity here. The investigation, coordinated by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, kicked off in April with press releases going out from the Dallas County district attorney's office to community newspapers and organizations.
In the past, most civil rights prosecutions have resulted from behind-the-scenes investigations of often well-publicized illegal activities. In this case, in addition to inquiry into well-publicized incidents and individuals, public testimony is being sought from anyone who considers himself a possible victim of civil rights violation at the hands of ``skinheads,'' so-called for their close-cropped hair.
Although they pledge allegiance to no single organization or ideology, skinheads are known for their anti-Semitic, racist, and pro-Nazi beliefs.
The selection of the Dallas area for the skinhead investigation was ``dictated by events,'' says Justice Department spokeswoman Diane Burstion-Wade. Police in Dallas County have received reports of several dozen crimes linked to skinheads since 1987. Those incidents have included vandalism of a Jewish temple and community center, an Islamic mosque, and attacks on blacks and homosexuals.
Some law enforcement officials say the public profile of the investigation has already led to a decrease in skinhead activities and a dispersal of some groups. ``It's just a gut feeling I have,'' says Dallas Police Detective Truly Holmes, who is participating in the investigation. ``The main local group has been relatively quiet.''
That group, the Confederate Hammer Skins, has recently lost some of its leadership to convictions for robbery and other charges, while indications are that other members have recently moved away, Detective Holmes said. Last year, the Dallas group was thought to include about 50 members, he added.
The investigation will seek to determine any connection between Dallas groups and others in Texas and the Southwest.