In a shack in rural Alabama, a fat, middle-aged man named Bill Riccio watches a faded VHS tape with several teenage boys. All of them have shaved heads. Several of them have elaborate tattoos of swastikas and other racist symbols. When asked, the majority of them say that they come from broken homes with alcoholic fathers and little hope for the future. One of them says that he feels that Bill Riccio is his father. All of them agree, with Riccio, that almost all of the country’s problems can be linked to an international conspiracy that they call ZOG (that stands for Zionist Occupational Government). They have named their home “the War House.”
The movie that they are watching is Leni Riefenstahl’s The Triumph Of The Will. They all agree that they are impressed with an extremely intense drummer boy. They agree that he has his shit together. When Adolf Hitler appears and starts to speak, one of the boys says that Bill Riccio reminds him of Hitler. “Don’t compare me to that man,” Riccio says. “I am not worthy.”
Skinheads USA was a part of HBO’s America Undercover documentary film series. Camera crews followed Riccio and his Neo-Nazi followers around for months, following them as they drink beer, shout “white power!,” and forge an alliance with the local KKK. When they go out on the streets to pass out racist flyers, people argue with them and call them ignorant. The skinheads don’t give a shit. Instead, they savor being despised. It feeds into their persecution complex.
Skinheads USA is a portrait of pure evil. Bill Riccio is a predator who peddles hate while his followers are young men who, poorly educated and with no real prospects for the future, fell through the cracks of society and were easily gathered up by the forces of hate. Riccio provided them with both a home and scapegoats for all of their problems. (Years later, one of Riccio’s followers, from a jail cell where he was serving time for murder, said that Riccio provided drugs and alcohol while also abusing the younger boys sexually, a charge that will not surprise anyone who has seen Skinheads USA.) Towards the end of the documentary, when Riccio is arrested on weapons violations and sent to jail, his brainwashed followers are left directionless but no less dangerous. The documentary ends with one of Riccio’s lieutenants trying to fire up the remaining skinheads and chanting, “Heil Bill Riccio!”
In the 90s, when Skinheads USA used to regularly play on HBO and A&E, it was easy to laugh off Riccio and his followers. Today, we know better. If you are wondering how the Richard B. Spencers and the David Dukes of the world continue to find followers, Skinheads USA is a good place to start.