Many of today's "youth groups" have been heavily influenced by the music scene.  Of all the movements, one in particular, Straight Edge, still maintains strong ties with the music world.

History

In the early 1980s, the punk rock movement was thriving.  This culture was entrenched in a self-destructive lifestyle.  The ideologies of the culture were communicated through the music.  In the Washington, D.C. area, circa 1981, a countermovement was started.  A punk rock band called Minor Threat, led by Ian McKaye, gave a name to the Straight Edge movement with a song by the same name.

The Straight Edge culture preached a lifestyle without drugs, alcohol, tobacco, premarital sex, racism, sexism and fascism.  The punk rock music style was used to spread the word.  As the new subculture's popularity increased it spread across the country quickly.  The Straight Edge subculture maintained the high energy and aggression of the punk movement without the drunken and drugged brawls.  Actually, the Straight Edge movement professed that not taking drugs or alcohol was a "cool" thing to do.  Initially, Straight Edgers avoided violence and were not a law enforcement problem.

Hardline

In the mid-1980s, the movement began to take on a different persona.  The East Coast was a center for change.  Bands like the Gorilla Biscuits, Bold and Wide Awake helped increase the popularity of the movement, but also helped develop the "us vs. them" attitude.  The Straight Edge movement was becoming intolerant of non-members.

In 1986, another facet to the Straight Edge movement developed.  The vegetarian and vegan ideology surfaced.  Vegan means abstaining from all animal-derived products.

In the summer of 1987 a band named Vegan Reich was formed.  All five members were entrenched in the Straight Edge movement and were also all avid animal liberation activists.  In fact, they used the band to promote their agenda of militant veganism and radical environmentalism.   Until this time, the movement was basically peaceful.  Straight Edge vegetarianism was rare and veganism unheard of.

In 1989, Vegan Reich developed the Hardline movement, separate but related to the Straight Edge subculture.  The band released a new album in 1990 called Hardline.  It outlined the new ideology and declared a war on all animal exploiters, "earth rapers" and drug users.  Surprisingly, almost overnight the Straight Edge vegan (Hardline) movement gained nationwide popularity.

By the early 1990s, the Hardline movement had gained sufficient momentum to become a problem for those who believed in the original Straight Edge philosophies.  In the mid-1990s, this separatism and violence entered the concert scene.  Straight Edgers began force their beliefs on non-Straight Edgers.  Fights and stabbings became more common at concerts.  The music lyrics were filled with rage and anger.

By 1994 violence became increasingly linked to the Straight Edge movement, especially at concert locations.

The Animal Liberation Front

Something unique happened during this time.  Straight Edgers and Hardline Straight Edgers who were exposed to animal rights information at concerts and on the Internet started to join the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), an underground organization that vehemently opposes human exploitation of animals.

Hardline Straight Edgers began creating their own local ALF groups, made up of three to 10 members, to act independently "on behalf of animals."  These individual cells, with no central leadership or structure, began to commit "direct action" terrorist acts against businesses that sold animal products.

The ALF, frequently associated with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), began in the 1970s, though its activities were rarely noted until the late 1980s.  Actions by the ALF increased during the 1990s, averaging one per day in the United States during 1999.

Another group that recruits Hardline Straight Edge members is the Earth Liberation Front (ELF).  This is a splinter group of the Earth First organization.  The ELF has tried to link eco issues with animal rights.  In 1994 the ELF and the ALF joined forces.

Probably the most memorable ELF action occurred in 1998 when ELF activists bombed the skin lift in Vail, Colo., causing an estimated $12 million in damages.  Direct actions by the ALF usually target research laboratories that conduct animal experimentation, "factory farms," and businesses that sell animal products or those tested on animals.  Weapons have included pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails.  Vandalism and graffiti are common.  Because the ALF cells are independent, the arrest of one group has little or no effect on the others. (Editor's note: ALF members maintain that while property damage is often part of an action, violence against people is not condoned.)[PAGEBREAK]

Skinhead Straight Edgers

Most Straight Edge members are non-racist.  However, since Straight Edge membership has acted as a recruitment pool for other extremist groups, it is no surprise that white-power-based groups have also successfully recruited from the Straight Edge membership.  Straight Edge racist skinheads have made their appearance, some becoming new members to the World Church of the Creator in 1998.  The World Church of the Creator made attempts to target Straight Edgers for membership by creating a Website that tied Straight Edge graphics and symbols in with racist ideologies.  It linked the idea of having a "pure body" to the concept of "racial purity."  The Website is no longer in existence.

Profile

Straight Edge members are typically Caucasian males between 12-21 years old.  Often, members are from middle and upper middle class families.  However, membership is not exclusively male.  Members tend to be more educated, more computer literate and able to access more modern technology than the average street gang member.  There are a number of Websites for the Straight Edge movement.

The Straight Edge look might include close-cropped haircuts or shaved heads, long sideburns, T-shirts with a large black "X" or "sXe" (Straight Edge symbols) or "XXX," (the Hardline symbol) or the words "Drug Free."  Sometimes, baggie-style punk rock or skater-style clothing is worn by members.  Body piercing or the wearing of heavy silver chains is seen.  These chains could be used as weapons.  Sometimes combat fatigues are worn, along with Doc Marten-style boots.

Today, there are more than 100 Straight Edge bands in the United States.  Music still continues to be a powerful recruitment and motivating tool.  New members are recruited both nationally and internationally because the Straight Edge movement is portrayed as an alternative to gang membership or the drug culture.

Some of the more popular bands are Earth Crisis, Integrity and Snapcase.  Their music is produced by the Victory Record label, which specializes in Straight Edge and Hardline music.

The Straight Edge movement seems to be entrenched in violence even though it did not start off that way.  Many of the young kids who get involved in Straight Edge move on to Hardline, ALF or racist skinhead membership and affiliation.  Be safe!

SPECIAL THANKS TO: Hedy Imoos, California Bureau of Investigation for their assistance in helping prepare this article.

Sources:

Arciaga, M. (1998) "Suburban Terrorists: The Animal Liberation Front and Straight Edge," 1998 Utah Gang Update Manual.  Salt Lake City, Utah: Salt Lake Area Gang Project.

Arciaga, M and Weber, M (1999) "Straight Edge: Then and Now," 1999 Utah Gang Update Manual.  Salt Lake City, Utah: Salt Lake Project Area Gang Project.

Al Valdez is an investigator with the Orange County (Calif.) District Attorney's Office and author of the book, Gangs.

0 Comments