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Violent group spoils party for segment of music scene
Seattle Times staff reporter
They started out as the good guys, a loose-knit group of young men who acted as protectors of those who frequented Boston's often-raucous punk scene in the 1980s. Friends Stand United, as they called themselves, often did battle with neo-Nazi skinheads, who were known for instigating fights and beating kids who didn't agree with their racist agenda.
In Seattle two decades later, a local "chapter" of Friends Stand United (FSU) is gaining a reputation for beatings and intimidating behavior and is being blamed for driving a violent wedge into the city's hardcore music scene, a subculture that's existed here for years.
One club owner, who prides himself on running a safe venue, said that until a year ago hardcore shows were fun, peaceful gatherings.
"FSU has brought the scene to its knees, and that's why I 86'ed them," said Tracy Moody, owner of Studio Seven, an all-ages venue in the city's Sodo neighborhood. He barred FSU members from his club after bar patrons were assaulted in November.
Police are starting to take notice, too, blaming the group of young men for at least three assaults in recent months. On Feb. 25, officers arrested a handful of FSU members who were standing outside Studio Seven, most for carrying illegal weapons including brass knuckles, knives and a handgun.
From the FSU perspective, one member said the group is about brotherhood, respect and an understanding of hardcore's roots, which in the Northwest were often in rural, working-class neighborhoods where kids were forced to grow up fast and tough. He said the group tries to protect young people who go to hardcore shows.
The emergence of Seattle's FSU has brought angst to some in Seattle's larger music community. They worry the group's presence at all-ages hardcore shows could provoke a backlash nearly four years after the city repealed its Teen Dance Ordinance, which barred those over and under 21 from mixing at music venues.
"These guys aren't doing contract murders or running huge drugs. They're breaking the law on a small scale — intimidation and fights and things that are low on the police radar," said a 27-year-old man who has been going to hardcore shows for more than 10 years.
The man, like several others involved in Seattle's hardcore scene who were interviewed for this story, asked not to be named because of fear of retribution from FSU.
"They're not a menace to society," he said. "They're just a menace to the all-ages music community and anyone who crosses them."
Hardcore music, a subgenre of punk, is characterized by aggressive lyrics and fast, driving rhythms. Dancing is fast and chaotic, with flailing arms and legs often making contact with those nearby. The underlying message of the music is generally positive, fans say, encouraging independent thought, contribution to community and overcoming obstacles.
Seattle's hardcore scene is small, with a large show here drawing maybe 300 people. Those involved in hardcore say everyone knows each other, including the dozen or so FSU members who were part of the scene long before they started calling themselves "a crew," wearing "FSU" on their clothing and sporting tattoos affiliating themselves with the group.
Since its Boston days, FSU — which is also known by an expletive-laced name that means to mess things up — has established chapters in New York, Arizona, California and Washington.
In the past year, there have been at least two slayings with apparent links to FSU members. A 27-year-old FSU member was shot in Tucson, Ariz., in December, after FSU members were seen brandishing machetes, hammers and other weapons outside a youth club, according to the Arizona Daily Star. In Troy, N.Y., some FSU members were implicated in the beating death of a man in February 2005, though gang assault charges were dropped against three men in January, an Albany newspaper reported.
Here, things are tamer, though many inside the hardcore scene said they're worried FSU violence could escalate.
Many people close to the hardcore scene said Seattle FSU members never fight alone and have been known to beat people up over minor insults or negative comments about them on hardcore Internet message boards.
Change of plan
In January, a California band called Dangers came to Tacoma for a show. The band, which plays a song that apparently likens FSU to neo-Nazi skinheads, opted not to play after receiving what band members and show promoters interpreted as threats of violence from local FSU members, several people close to the hardcore scene said. The band later played to a smaller crowd at a private residence in Seattle, according to one person who was there.
FSU is "a fairly new phenomenon here and we're still in the beginning stages of figuring out what these guys are all about," Seattle police spokeswoman Debra Brown said.
In the Feb. 25 incident outside Studio Seven, a police sergeant on patrol spotted "Seattle FSU" emblazoned on the back of a man's leather jacket. The sergeant, who knew about the group and earlier complaints, initiated a search of about 25 men after someone dropped a set of brass knuckles, according to the police report. In addition to brass knuckles, the police pat-downs turned up knives, a bulletproof vest, pepper spray and a couple of handguns.
Four men were arrested; a fifth was taken to a precinct for questioning and released after it was determined that the bulletproof vest he was wearing was legal, according to the police report.
Last week, King County prosecutors charged one of the alleged FSU members, Jacob Vore, 23, of Shoreline, with drug and firearms violations. According to charging papers, Vore had 28 grams of cocaine, in addition to a semi-automatic handgun and a magazine clip — illegal because Vore is a convicted felon.
According to court documents, the three other men were charged in Seattle Municipal Court last week with unlawful use of weapons, a misdemeanor.
One of them, Zac Collins, 21, said most of the men who were searched aren't part of FSU, but are friends involved in the punk scene who belong to a group known as SHARP — Skin Heads Against Racial Prejudice. Collins, who joined Seattle FSU in summer 2003, said he didn't know it was illegal to carry a knife.
Brown, the police spokeswoman, said officers are aware of SHARP's presence in the city, but she couldn't comment on a connection between the two groups.
Collins disputed the notion that FSU is a gang of thugs, saying the group is a collection of friends who protect each other like family. He acknowledged that his "crew" gets into fights — and instigates them in some instances — but said FSU is committed to making sure the hardcore scene is safe, especially for younger teens.
A matter of economics
The schism that's occurring in the hardcore scene is at least partially due to economics, with a growing number of middle-class suburban kids getting involved in hardcore, he said. Many don't understand the etiquette or history of the scene, which has always had violent undercurrents, Collins said.
"I grew up in a trailer park with no money. A lot of guys in my crew, we grew up hard," said Collins, originally from a rural area near Bremerton. Kids who grew up in places like Bellevue or Redmond "had to deal with tennis practice — we had to deal with not getting beat up on the way home from the [school] bus," he said.
Though police have characterized FSU assaults as "random acts of violence," Collins said that's not the case. If FSU gets into a fight, there's always a reason, he said.
"We're civil people — we just don't beat people 'til we can't beat them anymore," he said. "If I fight them, I'm going to fight them 'til I think they got what they deserved."
But others worry that violence associated with FSU members could have a lasting impact beyond bruises and bloodied noses.
David Meinert, a former president of the Northwest chapter of the Recording Academy who manages the Seattle band Presidents of the United States of America, said FSU's propensity for violence "is a negative black mark" on Seattle's otherwise healthy hardcore scene. Meinert, who spent 10 years working to have the city's Teen Dance Ordinance rescinded, worries that FSU's reputation could prompt more police attention at all all-ages shows.
"I don't think anyone should get hysterical about this — there are all-ages shows every night of the week" without any problems, Meinert said. "Even though it's one show out of thousands and two or three people out of hundreds ... we don't want there to be a trend of violence at any show, especially all-ages shows, because we don't need the government to regulate these shows any more than they are."
Seattle Times news researchers Miyoko Wolf, David Turim and Gene Balk contributed to this report.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company