Murdered in Las Vegas
Revolutionary Worker #969, August 16, 1998
We'll never forget Spit and Dan,
Killed in the desert by fascist hands
Lynn "Spit" Newborn grew up Black in Las Vegas. An active supporter of the Las Vegas Chapter of Anti-Racist Action (ARA), Spit was known and loved in the Las Vegas youth scene for standing up against the Nazis who prey on the anti-racist youth. His friend, Daniel Shersty, a white airman at Nellis Air Force Base--was also a supporter of the Las Vegas chapter of Anti-Racist Action, and together they ran with the Unity Skins, an anti-racist skinhead group. On the July 4 weekend the two friends were found dead in the desert--murdered execution-style. ARA members nationally suspect that the two were set up and murdered by Nazi skinheads--known as "boneheads" in the anti-racist skinhead scene. The police have not come up with any answers and the role of the authorities in the whole affair remains unclear. ARA has called for a protest in Las Vegas against the Nazis on August 29.
Members of ARA nationally are grieving for their murdered comrades, and they have been trying to piece together the story of how Spit and Dan were murdered. An ARA member in Columbus, Ohio, talked to the RW about the two men and what ARA members have learned so far about the murder.
"The chapter of ARA had opened in March. It was a young chapter and a lot of the kids involved were anti-racist skins--but by no means not all of them. There were like punkers--counter culturally nonaligned people involved. They had tried to organize a group there before called Anti-Racist Movement (A.R.M.), which they started a year ago. But it kind of fell apart because they didn't have a lot of political experience. Then they contacted us and they got affiliated and we started helping them out with organizing.
"One of the most vocal members of both groups...was this guy named Spit, Lynn Newborn. He's 25 and Black. He made his living as a body piercer. Dan Shersty was 19 and he was in the Air Force. He was also a skinhead and an airman assigned to duty at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada for the past couple of years. He was gonna serve out his tour there. He didn't hang out on base a lot--he hung out on the scene in Vegas a lot. He made friends in the local punk and skin community. These guys were also part of a skinhead only group called Las Vegas Unity Skins."
July 3 was the last time Spit and Dan were seen alive: "Two skinhead girls came into Spit's work. It wasn't his shop--three piercers worked there. He's not the owner but the owner says that he's the best employee he ever had and loved the guy to death. Spit was an outgoing and very well-loved guy and had a lot of personality.
"So these girls come in--and there had been escalating confrontations between our people and these racists--and one of them came in and got a piercing in her navel and then asked if he wanted to go to a party tonight, basically asking him out on a date. And he asks if he can bring his friend and then she brings a friend and she said sure. So he went back to the piercing shop at midnight."
A message was found on the answering machine at the shop where Spit worked--the voice of a young woman inviting him to meet her Friday night July 3.
"Spit and Dan were last seen when they left to go meet these girls. Dan was found the next day right by his car, shot and beaten and then Spit was found two days later around 150 yards from the car totally riddled with bullets. The car was way way out in the desert. So we don't know how they were gotten out into the desert but Dan was found right next to his car. When the police found Dan, they didn't find Spit for two days. I don't know why it took them two days to find him."
Neither woman has come forward and their identities are unknown.
A Fighter for the People
"Spit's funeral was huge--there were like 400 people there. Not everybody fit inside the funeral home. He was really really well-loved. The pastor said that he had never officiated a funeral that big. The funeral home was next to an airport, with planes flying overhead, with mid-day heat in the desert in Las Vegas, and it was during the heat wave when it was 115 degrees--and everybody stayed to the end. It was really moving and a lot of people got up and said what Spit meant to them.
"Spit was kind of sarcastic--he would wear a black flight jacket and black jeans in 100 degree weather and walk up to you and say, `Hot enough for you yet?' Spit had been a target of the Nazis for years. He was famous--he was the big anti-racist skinhead. He was the oldest one--he wasn't necessarily a leader in the military sense but everybody looked up to him on a lot of different levels. He was the kind of guy you'd loan your last two dollars to or young kids would go to him for advice and reinforcement. He was everybody's older brother. And the Nazi skinheads hated him for it and they hated him for being very anti-racist. Spit in a way didn't understand racism and why people just couldn't be cool and get along. For years he had been a symbol--this Black guy in boots and braces (suspenders)--what skinheads wear.
"It was really hard on his father cuz his father had lost another son to AIDS that year and his wife the year before to cancer. The father said he didn't know his son was so involved in politics and whatnot and was so glad that all these people were there. On top of his family, there were 400 people from the youth scene there. Everybody from the punk and ska community showed up, everybody. His father was really happy that people came out and that there were representatives from Columbus and Ann Arbor from ARA. He's really happy that we're gonna fight back. He wants to help us."
Execution in the Desert
The killing of Spit and Dan had all the earmarks of an execution-style murder. According to police Dan was badly beaten before being killed with a single shot to the side as he lay prone. According to press accounts, police speculate that Spit, who was riddled with bullets, may have been murdered attempting to escape.
"The murder happened on July 4. Dan's body was taken back by his family to Florida and we haven't had any contact with his family.
"First, the police said it must be drug-related, but neither of them did drugs. Then it was `Spit shot Dan,' but, no, they were best friends. Then they came to realize it had to be Nazis. They keep claiming they are making progress but won't tell us what their progress is. They've been trying to tell us to shut up about it cause `it would make the bad guys go underground.'... They know that they're at least looking for two skinhead girls. They've made no arrests and we have no reports of the police questioning anybody. They keep saying we're making progress, we're making progress, but it's been a month and what is the substance of this progress?"
Class Struggle in Las Vegas
"In the Nazi scene, Las Vegas is like a way station between southern California and Arizona. There are about 300 neo-Nazis in Las Vegas. These 300 Nazi youth are quite visible. The Nazis there are hooked into the Orange County Nazis of southern California. So there is cross over and a fair amount of traveling in between these metropolitan areas. And Vegas is the kind of town where people don't ask a lot of questions and everybody is only staying for a little while. But there's a lot of positive, progressive aspects to struggle going on in Las Vegas. In the Hispanic community there has been a lot of struggle and a lot of union organizing, especially in the building trades and hotel workers union there.... There was a long strike against one hotel that was successful."
One ARA organizer in Las Vegas reported that the Nazi skinheads from Arizona and Orange County made frequent trips to Las Vegas and were known to be recruiting in the junior high schools. Tensions have been escalating between the Nazi skinheads and the anti-racist youth and the Nazi boneheads have perpetrated a series of vicious attacks.
"There had been a round of attacks by the Nazis prior to the murder of Spit and Dan. One anti-racist skin had been beaten pretty badly--physical therapy is starting to help him recover now. He's Latino and has a twin brother. He's pretty outspoken and if you're a skinhead of color that's a pretty big statement right there. That's who the Nazis target first."
According to a report on the web by Tom Burghardt, "Three weeks prior to the murders, Nevada State Senator Mike Schneider (D--Las Vegas) reported that after he heard gunshots in his neighborhood, he drove three blocks to investigate....When he arrived on the scene he saw an apartment riddled with bullet holes...`Some young Black guys at the apartment said it was [Nazi] skinheads who followed one youth home from a pizza place and started firing at them from a car,' Schneider told the Las Vegas Review Journal. The politician seemed surprised when the intended victims of a racist drive-by `started firing back' at their assailants."
Our Columbus ARA contact talked about reactionary logic behind the Nazi attacks and the Los Angeles--Las Vegas connection: "First they want to own the skinhead scene. Then they want to destroy the punk scene. After that then there's no street-level opposition to them. If they get us out of the way then it's open season on everybody else in town. They're pretty systematic. First, they want to get rid of any anti-racist skinheads who they see as their most militant opposition, their most sworn enemies.
"That's why ARA started in the '80s--to stop the Nazi attacks on the punk scene in Minneapolis. We grew as a political organization out of a street-level self-defense organization. There have been a number of other attacks like drive-by seig heilings--there's been a history of tension. This had gone on before people started affiliating with us, but once people started organizing, they decided in the Nazi movement that they wanted to fight to keep us out of Las Vegas. They have connections with exceedingly violent factions--southern California Nazis are nothing to sneeze at. Thirty of them got arrested for planning to blow up the NAACP headquarters in L.A. and had stockpiled guns. This is where Tom Metzger gets a lot of his strength from. The whole west coast axis draws a lot of strength from Los Angeles area Nazis."
"The Las Vegas ARA crew is the most multinational skinhead group I've ever seen, and the majority of the members are people of color. What got them killed is the fact that they're Black and white skinheads who were friends, who were together, who were vocal anti-racists. They would have been killed regardless of their involvement in ARA. They were involved in ARA and we will support our people.
"On August 29, we are going to meet in this park that has seen some racist graffiti in it before. We are going to have a rally followed by a march through a neighborhood where Nazis are known to live. We're going to put up 'Unwanted' flyers with pictures of prominent local Nazis and quotes from leaders of the groups that they are affiliated with so that all their neighbors know that they are living next door to a violent white supremacist. I want to make sure that when they go to the supermarket people look up and go, 'Oh my god, he's here!' and scoop up their kids and hold them closer. I want to shut these guys down and make it zero potential for organizing.
"I don't know how to make somebody not be a Nazi but I know how to make it so there won't be any new Nazis there. We want to make their lives as unglamorous as possible really quick and we've been putting forward a huge effort. We're coming from all over the country, from the midwest, the north and the south. We've invited every antifascist group to come. It could have been anybody in any group. This is the time for the whole movement to come together and work on this."
For more information about the march on August 29 in Las Vegas, call Columbus ARA at 614-424-9074. Car pools are being arranged.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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