Smile for the Devil
The catfights begin around minute 14, when girls at a rock club pull hair, throw awkward punches, yell unintelligible threats, brandish chairs, slap bystanders, and, eventually, yes, pull down a tube top. There follows on the television screen a boobs-and-butts montage filmed mostly at car shows, wet bikini contests, and the like before returning to more street fighting.
A young woman lies on her back in a parking lot as another grabs her by the hair and pummels her face. A friend, imploring the attacker to stop, begs, "She doesn't even know what's going on!"
The fight appears vicious and out of control. But watching the melee unfold on a DVD being played in a sparsely furnished Fort Lauderdale living room, a sturdy skinhead who calls himself Number One Diablo sees something else.
"That's just a type of friendship right there," he says, gesturing at the TV. "She didn't mean her no harm. That's just a love tap."
His voice betrays no sarcasm. The girl on the ground shrieks.
"She could have been stomping her in the face, hitting her with a weapon or something," Diablo continues coolly. "She was just punching her up."
Unfortunately, Diablo acknowledges, the love taps had left their mark. "She ended up pretty fucked up. What you have there basically is a broken nose," he says as the camera zooms in on her gory face. "It will require surgery to fix it; otherwise she's going to look boxer-style forever. I've had mine fixed three times. That's part of it."
The "it" he refers to is the South Florida skinhead and hardcore life, which Diablo has tried to capture on the DVD for the rest of the world. For several years, Diablo and a friend who goes by Doorag Dennis had taken a camera to music shows and other events, collecting footage of moshing, fistfights, and street crime. Dirty South: Street Brutality is packaged with a photograph of Diablo's silhouette on the box. Price for the 60-minute DVD: $18.
For this screening, a modest group has assembled: a sleepy-eyed skinhead named Luke, a thick and heavily tattooed skin who goes by Powder, an easygoing 20-year-old woman named Cheryl, and Diablo, whose moniker is tattooed in large gothic letters across his abdomen.
It's Tuesday, late, and they've just come from band practice. Diablo, 31, fronts a six-man hardcore group called Bolt Action that rehearses in an air-conditioned warehouse next to a salvage yard in Davie. They've made their way to Diablo's place, which is mostly empty after a longtime girlfriend recently moved out. An end table remains, a futon sporting a Skeletor throw pillow, and an entertainment center. Diablo has fired up the DVD on his PlayStation 2.
It begins with Diablo himself, shirtless, against a blank wall, warning viewers that they're about to see "fights, the aftermath of shootings, stabbings," and then a booming hip-hop soundtrack begins. The images flicker fast. Young men mill in a street, talking smack -- then the haymakers come, women scream at the men to stop, fighting bodies pile up.
Soon after, Diablo's friend Powder appears on-screen to provide a visual non sequitur to break up the mayhem. He drops trou, and on either side of polka-dotted thong underwear, tattoos -- one on each ass cheek -- you can make out the words EAT and SHIT.
For the most part, though, the video is one long assemblage of violence going down in the darkest corners of South Florida, especially West Palm Beach, where the bulk of the footage was shot. It's not a West Palm you'll recognize if you remain in your car from I-95 to the Intracoastal, a corridor on which the palatial Kravis Center showcases the likes of Sesame Street Live and Paul Anka and the $83 million convention center hosts antique shows. Instead, the video depicts one of the city's prime commercial and cultural sections, Clematis Street, at its after-hours worst. It also shows the fluorescent-lit sidewalks where gang members have been croaking each other at the rate of about one a month for the last year.
"The main concept of the movie," Diablo says, "is that nobody in this lifetime is above a beatdown. You say the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time and you're fucked up."
Again, no sarcasm. Diablo, martial arts trainer, two-time felon, part-time filmmaker, says his DVD is just a true portrayal of life, at least as he and his friends live it. A second video is in the works, but so is another felony prosecution against him. With the possibility that he could go away for a long time -- or find financial success peddling "punks gone wild" -- Diablo kindly offers a tour of the underground and his tangled psyche.
Diablo can only hope his video stirs up as much shit as a similar one did last year in Boston. A skinhead crew there that calls itself FSU, for Friends Stand United or Fuck Shit Up, put together a compilation of video mayhem and called it Boston Beatdown. Ass-kickings, concert melees, and post-fight home surgery are highlights, as are interviews with FSU members explaining their worldview. Says one skinhead: "I knew I was always going to be a fuck-up. I knew that I had no future, and I found a bunch of other kids that felt the same way as I do... It was about being united and destroying bullies."
Others add to that theme, saying that it's only the deserving bullies -- white-power skins, for example -- that get ganged up on. Beating the crap out of other skinheads, the FSU members claim, is actually a sign that the scene is healthy.
Someone at the local NBC affiliate got a rough copy of the movie before it was released and ran a piece about it. The Fox station followed, and then the Boston Herald made it a Sunday cover story. In the Herald story, Boston police called for victims to step forward so charges could be pressed against their attackers. Filmmaker Ronin Morris, a 27-year-old law student, tells New Times that police also intimidated employees at stores carrying the video and photographed rock-club patrons looking for people who had appeared in the DVD. A second, more polished installment, Morris says, has sold more than 10,000 copies.
But if Diablo is hoping for a Boston Beatdown-like impact here, it was actually another notorious DVD that inspired him and his friends to put together their own chronicle of brawler life.
That would be Bumfights, an infamous Internet-peddled DVD in which filmmakers compiled footage of amateur fistfights and sicced the homeless on each other for pay, that convinced Diablo and Doorag to piece together their own home movies.
They'd been carrying around a camera for years, recording their nights out at concerts but also just playing witness to whatever was happening on the streets. At minute 8, for example, we see a body under a sheet on a roadway and blood pooling around it. It's apparently a hit-and-run victim. But that image is quickly supplanted by scenes from shows, with skinheads stomping to music, running into one another, flailing arms, butting heads, slinging elbows.
At minute 10, there's a series of shots from concerts that shows guys running off the front of a stage onto a packed crowd, making several strides before slipping out of view into human quicksand.
Headwalking, Diablo calls it. "We don't stage-dive any more, since other people co-opted our style of stage-diving," Diablo says. "Headwalking is a more aggressive form of dancing. You try to get out across as many people's heads as you can."
Then, sensing that this might not translate to viewers who don't go to concerts to be stepped on, he says, "Our dance scene, to put it to an outsider, is like undirected violence. It's 100 percent violence, but at the same time, it's not directed at any one person."
In other words, there's nothing personal in a broken nose or a bloody lip. And they draw the line at weapons, he says.
The Miami-born son of Cuban exiles, Diablo from an early age developed two complementary impulses: against authority and pro-violence.
When he was 5 years old, he says, the older boys in the neighborhood made him fight other small kids. But he also absorbed the counter-culture writings of Edgar Cayce and others from his mother's collection. He got his first punk tape, the Dead Kennedys, at age 12 and shaved his head in ninth grade. Thinking he was a tough little skinhead, he got closer to the hardcore scene until some guys jumped him, sucker-punched and bashed him into a horse trailer, blackening his eyes and breaking his nose. After that formative beating, he vowed to find allies to retaliate against his attackers and joined a group calling itself the Lauderdale Area Skinheads.
At 14, he ran away from home, managing to live a month as a day laborer in Fort Pierce before his mother and stepdad arrived with the police at his roach-infested apartment. He returned to school, got high, got drunk, fought while drunk, dropped out, went into rehab, returned to high school, made life hell for teachers, kicked classmates in the face while on acid, got expelled. He was so determined not to cower in the presence of his enemies, he once attended a keg party while packing a fire ax. Gradually, he channeled his pugilistic tendencies into slightly less-destructive pursuits, as he dedicated himself to martial arts and wrestling.
He's a natural talker, eloquent, with a great mind for facts and names, and he takes no shit. No surprise, then, that a few years ago he ascended to the higher ranks of a skinhead crew that calls itself Colorblind.
The name is no accident. Diablo and others who claim to be antiracist skinheads know that their appearance evokes neo-Nazi thugs, too many of whom make Florida their home. (According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Florida has more active white-power hate groups -- 43 -- than any other state.) To prove that they don't ascribe to white supremacist views, antiracist skins like Diablo say they feel an obligation to beat the tar out of Nazi skins who dare to show up at concerts. Diablo says that Colorblind is the dominant antiracist skin crew in South Florida and that their numbers keep the racist skins at bay.
"In the mid-'90s, there were a lot more white-power groups," says Doorag, Diablo's DVD partner. "They're cowards. They won't keep coming back."
Still, Diablo knows that outsiders don't make fine distinctions. "We're always going to be labeled as Nazis," he says. "That's never going to change. People think skinheads, Nazis; skinheads, KKK."
Diablo insists that to understand him, you have to go back to the roots of the skinhead movement in mid-to-late-'60s Britain. Influenced by the smart culture of the mods and the music and dress of black West Indian immigrants, known as rude boys, early skinhead culture grew up around dancehall reggae, celebrated the working class, and fueled violence at soccer matches. In the 1980s, skins in America identified with the same fuckyouism, by then intertwined with hardcore culture. While a faction metastasized into the white-power movement, other young people rejected the racists and formed their own movements -- notably the Anti-Racist Action Skins and Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice, with which Diablo and Doorag claim affiliation.
If Diablo has anything in common with white-power skins, other than the shaved head and a don't-fuck-with-me demeanor, it's an affinity for mythology and Nietzsche. But Diablo has omnivorous tastes. On a night he welcomed guests to his home, there sat on a small dining table a copy of the Bible and a copy of Hobbes' Leviathan with a bookmark at the beginning of chapter 43, titled "On what is necessary for a mans reception into the kingdome of heaven." Diablo showed off his modest collection of Star Wars comics and toys and the Marvel comics pinned along walls above posters of professional wrestlers and magazine covers depicting Eminem and Ben Franklin. In his bedroom were piled books from every corner of spirituality, from the Bhagavad-Gita to the Tao Te Ching and old Freemasons manuals. Over beers, talk turned to rap. "You want to hear some real pro-black shit?" he asked. He cued up a 1991 album by rapper Paris, who had on this particular track included a speech by Black Panther leader Huey Newton. "This is way beyond Public Enemy," he said, almost giddy.
The participants on the DVD make a point of distancing themselves from racist skins. In one scene, on a darkened street, a black hearse is shown parked in front of the now-closed Clematis Street club Spanky's. Out of the left side of the screen flies a cinder block that makes a frosty crater in the windshield.
"Holy crap, God punished them!" a voice says. "A brick just came out of the sky and hit the Nazi car! Poor fuckin' shitty Nazis!" The camera zooms in on swastika stickers on the hearse.
Diablo explains: "These jokers parked their motherfuckin' hearse in front of our club -- with swastikas on it. And we waited around the car until 4 or 5 in the morning. No one came to claim the car, for one reason or another. And a brick ended up going through the window. We took exception to those swastikas. To a lot of people, a swastika is not a big deal; it's like a 'fuck you.' Being part of the movement that we're part of, we're adamantly opposed to people displaying that symbol."
Three of Diablo's Bolt Action bandmates, however, admit that they find the racist/antiracist skinhead distinctions confusing. MC (and Colorblind member) T. Black, drummer Del Smith, and guitarist Dee Mulligan say it's hard keeping track of who's on which side, with some guys in the scene switching allegiances.
Says Mulligan, a mass of a man who wears a braided chain on his blue FUBU jersey: "It's too technical."
After midnight on a Friday, Bolt Action takes the stage at Churchill's Hideaway in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood, launching into an assault of hardcore thrash rock spiced with rapping. And how's this for a stage show: Without warning, Diablo leaps at T. Black feet-first, planting boot tips in his bandmate's chest. Diablo falls to the stage, suffering a grapefruit-sized bruise, and T. Black is blasted off it, flailing wildly as he falls to the floor, crashing onto some poor bastard who happens to be walking past. The two end up in a tangle by the bar. Then T. Black gathers himself and bounds back onto the stage.
He's taken worse shots. He once lost his sense of smell and half of his hearing when he fell out of a truck.
Diablo has had his own hard knocks. Though he's exceedingly candid about his early life, he declines to elaborate on the two times his violent ways landed him in Florida's prison system.
One late night, as he recounted events of the past decade, he explained: "You have some lapses in there, where maybe I haven't been around. That might account for some of those lapses; maybe I was on vacation. Yeah, definitely lapses in there."
Public records describe what he's reluctant to reveal. Documents, for example, give his actual name as Derek Funt but also list it as Derrick Riveron. A police report, meanwhile, suggests that he's also used the surnames Alvarez and Acosta.
In 1994, Diablo was at the Cellblock Lounge in Pompano Beach when a fight broke out. Accounts by witnesses varied, with some blaming Diablo for starting things, others saying he tried to make peace. A part-time bouncer, Raymond Loo, was hit over the head with a T-shirt full of pool balls. Later, police pulled Diablo over and became suspicious when they found him with an empty beer bottle and a blue number-two pool ball in his pocket. The officer wryly noted that Diablo wasn't "driving a pool table." For that fracas, he received probation.
In 1997, Diablo was pulled over for speeding on Atlantic Boulevard and arrested for not having a valid license. According to the police report, two minutes after he was cuffed and placed in the back of the cruiser, Diablo hopped out on foot. Officers tracked him to some weeds, apprehended him, and pepper-sprayed him. For that, the skinhead also received probation, and in 2000, he was charged again for violating the terms of his parole by fighting. The probation violation landed him in state prison at the end of that year and for most of 2000, perhaps explaining why he says, almost demurely, "I'm retired from street fighting."
But not soon enough, apparently. In March of last year, a scuffle broke out at Hot Dog's Sports Pub in Lauderhill. In a deposition, owner Lawrence Leonard testified that someone he knows as John had jumped on a friend of Diablo's. Leonard tried to break it up when Diablo, apparently trying to kick John, accidentally hit his friend. Leonard got up to confront him. "When I turned around," he testified, "he had a beer bottle in his hand and a wild look in his eyes." He persuaded Diablo to put down the bottle; instead, Diablo grabbed a pool cue. Leonard persuaded him to put that down too. As Leonard went back to the scuffle on the floor, he saw Diablo deliver "a glancing blow, down the side of my head, my ear, my cheek, my jaw," and also hit him on the arm with a beer bottle.
Still, despite taking the blow, Leonard characterized it as a minor bar fight. "On a scale of one to ten, it was a two." And Leonard made clear in the deposition that he wasn't at all sure whether he was even the intended target of the blows, which he described as "all gone and fine in a couple of days."
It may not matter. The state attorney's office has filed notice to the court of its intention to treat Diablo as a repeat offender. The minimum sentence he will receive if he is convicted under that standard: five years.
"After the scene calmed," Leonard said, "he was in the back of the police car yelling at me that he didn't mean to, he didn't mean to.
"It was something you had to sort of see," the bar owner went on to note, "to understand."
The hell of it is, Diablo tries to give cops their due in his DVD. At minute 20, an officer pulls a guy off a curb and into the street, where he subdues the man with a kick to the arm.
"Ah, look at this: beautiful police procedure," Diablo says as he shows the video. "The police punch him and drop him down. Look -- anybody would have kicked him in the face. But instead of kicking him in the face, he keeps the hands up, one knee pressure, he observes for his buddy, makes sure his buddy is all right. That is 100 percent police procedure. You can't complain about that."
Throughout the video, faces of police officers have been blurred out to avoid any legal snarls, Diablo says. But he claims that he's heard from officers who wish their faces had been visible. He also believes that the video serves some sort of crime-fighting purpose by illuminating the level of violence on city streets.
To get the police perspective on that, New Times sent a copy of the DVD to Lt. Patrick Maney, who heads the violent crimes investigation unit of the West Palm Beach Police Department.
He is not a fan.
"Obviously, nobody was drug into a fight," he says. "But there were a couple of scenes in there where people said, 'I don't want to fight you; I don't want to hit you,' but your filmmakers are goading them and calling them pussies and stuff," Maney says. "Several of them, there's an out-and-out attack. You put a boot in somebody's face, that's a felony. That's deadly force."
But can't something be said for the footage, lurid though it is, of the random street crime -- the apparent hit-and-run, the shootings?
"Are you looking to find the good in this video?" Maney asks. "I don't really find the good from a police officer's standpoint, other than that it's not antipolice. But I don't believe it shows our young people, or the youth culture of today, in a very positive light. Maybe if it were to be viewed by a professor or a dean in a filmmaking institute or curriculum at a university, they might find a lot of positive things in it, because it is real, it is raw.
"I would much prefer that the opportunity to make such a video was not available, because that would mean that these kids were not going out and beating the crap out of each other for no reason."
At minute 43 begins the most compelling single story on Dirty South. At a show, a tall, heavyset Latino teenager with hair like a porcupine bounces against a bald, shirtless man moshing on the open floor. The teen takes a step back, reaches into his vest, and slides on a set of brass knuckles. Someone notices, and he gets jumped -- punched, grabbed, kneed in the head. As he walks to the parking lot across the street, with the courthouse in the background, four others jump him. "Come on, one on one!" someone yells. The kid gets kicked hard in the head. The gathered crowd finally dissipates -- "leave the kid alone!," someone yells -- and the voice behind the camera, recognizable as Diablo's, tries to make calm.
"The back of his head looks like a wet melon," Diablo says watching the footage. "That's what happens to you, especially when you've got a Hiawatha haircut." And the story came with a happy ending, he says: The guy ended up joining a crew. "This actually boosted him up. I got respect for him. He never backed down."
The victim himself, Carlos Carreras, was 16 years old at the time the footage was shot. He tells New Times he was drunk. He slipped on the brass knuckles when a skinhead started to give him trouble. After that, it was "just me on the floor, a lot of people punching and kicking me."
Now 18, the Hialeah punk rocker says he still goes to shows but hasn't encountered problems since.
"They're like a pack of wolves," he says of the hardcore crowd. "Skinheads, I guess they see one of their friends fighting and they think it's an excuse to beat the shit out of another person. I've seen them beat other people up, and it's kind of wrong. But to each their own. I guess they like to do that shit, but it's not really cool."
It turns out, Carreras got off easy. In another segment of the video, another fight victim is getting a much worse beating. He's been felled by a skinny guy named Matt, who is socking his limp head. Then Matt swings a black boot into the guy's face.
"Now that broke his jaw," Diablo says as he watches the DVD. "He had his jaw wired shut for a month after that."
Then there's a cut to another haggard-looking face: big ears, no hair, dark spots on the skin. A voice asks: "What's going on, Billy. How are you today? I see you've got two black eyes. So what's up?"
From his chair, Diablo says: "There's Dirty Billy after many years of training. Instead of an 18-year-old punk rocker, he looks like a 36-year-old crackhead. You wonder what hanging out with us for two years on the scene does to you."
But Billy, who in person does look much the worse for wear, admits that pummeling others has a deep attraction for him.
"I really enjoy fighting," he says one night on Clematis Street, his right forearm wrapped in a thick white cast. The 18-year-old is about five-foot-seven and weighs all of about 140 pounds. "Fighting is a lot more fun than anything else I've ever done. Even the people I don't like that I fight, there's a bond there. When you fight a guy, you can't help but want to shake his hand afterwards."
He started on the scene when he was about 13, he says. As the smaller man in most fights, he gets fairly pounded, as he has often in the 60 to 70 fights he's been in since. "I've lost a lot more than I've won," he says. The violence rarely gets out of hand (though the time he saw some guys stomping someone's head against the nearby train tracks has stuck with him) and, he assures, isn't random. If someone pushes a smaller kid at a show or tries to pick a fight, there will be 20 guys there to set matters straight. Another sure way to get your ass kicked is to hand out white-power literature, as he saw some guys doing at a club in Boynton Beach a few years ago. "They got beat the fuck up pretty bad," he recalls. "Nobody is going to get attacked for no reason."
He has a year of school remaining at Royal Palm Beach High School. Then, the Marines. "I figure if I'm going to fight," he says, "I might as well get paid for it."
The video continues, this time with fighting in a driveway. Diablo critiques: "That guy on the right, he's losing his confidence. He's never read his Nietzsche books. He doesn't know anything about the will to power and the will to conquer and the will to the end."
Another show, this one in Central Florida. A kid near the back of the room tries headwalking to the stage, but by the time he falls to the guitarist's feet, the hired security guys are all over him, grabbing him by the drawers and manhandling him out the door. A kid leaps off the stage at the guards. "Stop, stop, stop, stop, fuckin' stop," someone in the band says. The music has ceased. A small brawl breaks out -- kids, guards, shrieks, arms, torsos, skin. A hand lands on a guard's face. After enough yelling and grappling, the guards back down. The crowd cheers in triumph.
"Here you have a beautiful situation taking place in front of everybody's eyes. These are the kids, the youth... rebelling against the authorities that are put there to protect the club, not to protect the kids," Diablo says, sounding satisfied.
When the video ends, Diablo leans back on his futon, against the Skeletor throw pillow, as the credits roll.
"There you have it," he says as he laces his fingers behind his bald head. "In my estimation, the greatest film yet to be made by human beings. A brilliant exposé on the demise of the American society and nuclear family." He pops another Guinness and retires to the back porch, where he speaks in hushed tones -- it's well after midnight, and he has neighbors -- about his hopes for the music scene. Yes, it's violent, he admits. But he doesn't want youngsters to feel threatened at shows.
He would like to democratize the hardcore scene, so that anyone who wants to can buy a Colorblind T-shirt just to keep people from fucking with them, because people will know Diablo and his boys have their back. Mostly, he wants them to feel like he feels. He wants them not to be afraid, if they don't want to be.
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