White supremacists murder anti-racist skinhead and friend
The 4th of July marks 20 years Dan Shersty and Lin Newborn lost their lives in their fight against white supremacy. In 1998 the two anti-racists action members were kidnapped and brutally murdered by neo-nazis for their struggle in the anti-racists struggle.
LAS VEGAS - A former "skinhead girl" now nearing middle-age, wearing sensible shoes and jailhouse shackles was the star witness in a federal courtroom here Wednesday, the first day of testimony in a racially charged double murder trial 16 years in the making.
Mandie Abels, who has the words "skinhead girl" tattooed across her back, was escorted by U. S. Marshals into courtroom 7C from a prison cell where she is serving a 15-year sentence for her role in what she called "a vile deed"—leading two anti-racist skinheads to their deaths in the desert just outside of Las Vegas.
In the early morning hours of July 4, 1998 Lin Newborn, 24, and Daniel Shersty, 21 were ambushed and shot to death, prosecutors say, by four white supremacists. "They despised what the victims stood for," federal prosecutor Patricia Sumner told the jury during opening arguments Wednesday.
The killings were a shocking escalation in the violent—but until then rarely deadly—nationwide conflict between racist skinheads and their anti-racist rivals. Newborn, who was black and worked at a popular Las Vegas body piercing shop, and Shersty, who was a white U.S Air Force airman stationed at the nearby Nellis Air Force Base, were leaders of a fledging group called Las Vegas Unity Skins.
After the killings and the funerals, the group dwindled away.
"I moved back to Illinois," a former Unity Skins member told the court. "I didn't feel comfortable here anymore. Two of my friends had been murdered. It finally sunk in that nobody is bullet proof."
One of the alleged gunmen now on trial is Ross Hack, Abels' former live-in boyfriend and "a proud neo-Nazi skinhead," the prosecutor said.
From the witness stand, Abels, 36, pointed across the courtroom and identified Hack as the mastermind of the ambush. Shortly after the murders, she testified, she and Hank fled to Germany, "because we didn't want to get caught and go to prison."
She returned to the United States six weeks later, though Hack stayed in Europe for several years before returning. Hack had traveled to Europe on an illegally obtained passport and, in 2009, started serving a three-year prison sentence for lying on his passport application. He was about to be released when he was arrested in 2012 along with his younger sister, Melissa, and Leland Jones for the murders of Newborn and Shersty.
Abels said Jones, who sat with Hack at the defense table, had also opened fired on the two unarmed anti-racists.
"Everybody was shooting," she said.
She testified that Ross Hack asked her and his sister Melissa to go to the body piercing shop where Newborn worked and lure him to the desert with the promise of a night of partying under the stars. Abels said Hack referred to Newborn as "that nigger."
Newborn, who everyone called "Spit", was supposed to be the only one to die that night. He stood out in the Vegas skinhead scene. Not just because he was a black man in the largely white subculture. He was also charismatic and popular, a leader, who played in a skinhead band. Ross Hack played drums in a white power band.
Shersty was not on the original hit list, Abels said. He just happened to be at the shop when the two young women walked in. Newborn asked if his buddy could come along.
Abels said when she told Hack that Shersty was coming, he coldly replied, "He's just going to have to get dealt with."
On the way out to the desert Newborn and Shersty in one car, Abels and Melissa Hack in another, the convoy stopped at a grocery store for two six packs of beer.
"What the defendants had planned," Sumner the prosecutor said, "was not a party but an ambush."
Melissa Hack pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the murders last spring and is also expected to testify against her brother and Jones.
Until Wednesday, only one of the four suspected desert gunmen, John "Polar Bear" Butler, had ever been tried for the murders. Butler, who was Melissa Hack's boyfriend at the time, was convicted in state court in 2000 and is now serving two life sentences. He too is expected to testify for the prosecution of Ross Hack and Leland Jones. The presiding judge, Philip Pro, said the trial could last four to six weeks.
Prosecutors say the fourth shooter that night was Daniel Hartung, a member of the Hammerskins, a racist and violent skinhead group. But Hartung was never changed in the case. He died in a car crash in 2012, the same year Hack, Jones and Melissa Hack were arrested and charged in federal court 14 years after the killings.
After Butler's conviction the other suspects "fell off the radar" of local authorities, prosecutor Sumner said. Then a few years ago, federal officials began reexamining the case, leading to the arrests in 2012 and ultimately to murder trial on Wednesday.
Newborn and Shersty were killed on federally owned land.
The ambush, Sumner said, had been hatched out during a series of meetings at Hack's house. The plan was for Hack and Jones to be waiting for the women and the Newborn and Shersty. Hack and Jones were supposed to be introduced by the women as their cousins. Each man had a pistol. Hartung, armed with a rifle, and Butler, carrying a shotgun, hid in the bushes.
As soon as the introductions were made the killing was to start.
That, the prosecutor said, is exactly what happened.
Jones allegedly shot Shersty, who fell to the ground, leaning against his car, pleading for his life before Hartung allegedly bashed him in the face with the butt of his rifle.
Ross Hack shot Newborn in the back of the head, but the bullet, the prosecutor said, did not penetrate his skull and he started fleeing, "desperately running for his life across the desert."
Butler chased after him. The shotgun roaring through the darkness as Melissa Hack shouted, "Shoot the nigger. Shoot the nigger."
Abels said the next day she and Ross Hack returned to the murder scene to retrieve shell casings and any other evidence. It was just getting light, she said, when they came upon Shersty's body where he fell.
As Hack searched for shells, Abels said she sat in the car, "freaking out" at the sight of the bloody body beginning to swell.
She screamed for Hack to get back in the car and the couple quickly drove away.
That same morning, Hack ordered his sister and Butler out to the desert to finish cleaning up the murder scene. They were spotted by three men riding ATVs and hurried away. The men also discovered Shersty's body and called police.
Newborn's body was discovered two days later about 150 yards across the sand and dirt where his desperate run for life ended with a shotgun blast.
Butler was arrested two weeks later, carrying one of the pistols used in what Sumner called "this ambush, this slaughter."
Ross Hack's lawyer, Michael Kennedy, told the jury in his opening remarks that the government made deals with Abels, Butler and Melissa Hack—a trio of drug abusing liars, who would say anything to reduce their prison sentences, he said. Kennedy said that Butler was a meth addict, a meth dealer and a meth enforcer, who, prior to the murders, had been a police informant for more than two years.
"He traded lives and information for his freedom every time he got into a jam," Kennedy said.
The lawyer said it was Butler and "his meth head accomplices"—Abels, Melissa Hack and Hartung—who actually committed the murders and that Ross Hack and Jones had nothing to do with it.
The government, Kennedy said, has moved Butler into witness protection and has also moved his wife, whom he married since his double murder conviction, to a location closer to him. Kennedy said Butler was desperate to get out of state prison and into federal custody because the Aryan Warriors prison gang had issued a hit on him.
"Obviously, he's doing this to get his freedom," Kennedy said, adding that Abels and Melissa Hack are also testifying to save themselves.
Abels has been in prison since May 14, 2012, shortly after reaching a quiet plea agreement with the federal government, which allowed her to plead guilty to conspiracy to murder and only receive a 15 year sentence.
On cross examination, Abels admitted to Kennedy that she had repeatedly lied to authorities over the years about the murders, always saying that neither she nor Hack had anything to do with what happened in the desert.
Kennedy asked her if she was trying to testify her way to less time in prison.
No, she said, adding, "The truth is going to get me less time, or the possibility. It's not guaranteed. The truth needed to come out."
This year, the TORCH Network is calling on antifascists everywhere to take back July 4th from this legacy of white supremacy and instead fight back against fascism and oppression in celebration and remembrance of Dan and Spit's life work. We urge you to join us in lifting up their names and making sure that their sacrifice isn't forgotten. Drop a banner, table at a show, host an anti-fascist reading group, provide outreach and support to oppressed communities, write letters to anti-racist prisoners, burn an American flag, put up anti-fascist posters, organize a solidarity demo, or take action against local fascists in Dan and Spit's names. The list goes on- get creative, get in the streets, and take action this July 4th! Dan and Spit may be gone, but we will continue to carry on this work without them. They will not be forgotten.
On July 4th, 1998, Dan Shersty and Spit Newborn were gunned down by neo-Nazis on the outskirts of Las Vegas. The pair were founding members of the local Anti-Racist Action Chapter and dedicated their lives to fighting white supremacy. They were lured into the desert and murdered by six known white supremacists- of the six, only three, Ross Hack, Leland Jones, and John "Polar Bear" Butler served prison time.
Spit was a father, a musician, and a constant fixture in the Las Vegas punk scene. He played in the short-lived band Life of Lies and worked as a piercer at Tribal Body Piercing. He was involved with the Las Vegas Unity Skins and the Nazi Terminator Skins before founding Las Vegas ARA. He was 25 years old when he died. Dan was a jazz musician, a recent high school graduate, and a U.S. Airforce serviceman who dreamed of one day going to college. He was 21 years old when he died. The two met at Tribal Body Piercing after Dan came in seeking a nose ring, having heard Spit was the best man for the job. They quickly became inseparable and created Las Vegas Anti-Racist Action in hopes of combatting the strong fascist presence in their city.
The two best friends took younger ARA members under their wing, went head to head with neo-Nazis in the local music scene, and disrupted white supremacist recruitment of youth in Las Vegas. Dan and Spit both knew the danger that came with their anti-racist organizing but continued undeterred. They came face to face with that danger numerous times- after giving a speech to a group of anti-racist skinheads, Spit's house was the target of a drive-by shooting. Mere months before their murder, the windows of Dan's car were smashed and the ARA leaflets inside it were shredded. Both received threatening calls and letters. None of this could shake them from their chosen path.
July 4th, 2018 marks 20 years since Dan and Spit lost their lives in the fight against white supremacy. In the past, neo-Nazis have celebrated the anniversary of their death. Exactly one year after their murder, racist skinheads in Nevada hosted a white power music festival in celebration of their killing. July 4th is of course also Independence Day, a holiday that glorifies American patriotism and the bloody history of colonization and oppression tied to this country's founding.
Please send us communiques detailing your solidarity actions to be compiled into a reportback after July 4th. You can email us at torchantifa(at)riseup(dot)net.
A poem by Spit, shortly before his death:
IDYLL KYLLJOI SPITX
COME AND TOUCH ME, GREAT FATHER... . DEATH!
Tis for you I Walk the Edge!
Tis for you I Cross the Line!
Tis for you Ive DIED Again.
Set me FREE FROM my hell
I don't want to FACE you!
You are here... but only for me now!
So now I've died!
Is this my hell?
Is this my hell?
Is this my hell?
The Fucking Angels ARE gone
I'm slane [sic] again
There's nothing here Except my shell,
my shell is sold to you Again
my shell is yours again,
touch me, but only to SET ME FREE!
I can't be slane [sic] anymore!
I can't be yours anymore
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