All gangs and mafias have their own initiation rituals and modes of operations. The same is true of the two different gang cultures being studied here – the Crips and the neo-Nazis. In the autobiographical account of Monster – one of the leaders of the gang – we learn about the initiation rites, organizational structure, modus operandi, economic targets, treatment of rivalries, etc. The Crips is a predominantly black gang that hogged headlines during the post-war decades of the 1950s and 60s. In some ways the Crips represented a militant underground movement parallel to that of the Black Nationalist movement. While the Crips adopted some of the violent methods of the movement headed by Malcolm-X, it is not political in nature. So, despite its racial affiliation, the means and ends of the gang are largely anti-social. Likewise, in the film American History X, we are exposed to a dark underground cult of American society. Commonly referred to as ‘skin-heads’, the Neo-Nazis are the remnants of Hitler’s vicious Aryan supremacy movement. (Musto, 2001, p.41) It is interesting how the neo-Nazi movement came into being in America, which was totally isolated from Nazi propaganda during the Second World War.
In many ways, both the Crips and the Neo-Nazis are similar in their ruthlessness. They are both identified by the lack of scruples when it comes to targeting, assaulting and eliminating perceived opposition. Blood and violence are an everyday reality for these groups. In fact the moniker ‘Monster’ was the result of Shakur’s brutal, unrelenting assault on an opponent in a street clash. The victim was punched on the face with such ferocity and repetition that his face was permanently disfigured and he went into a coma. The Neo-Nazis are not far behind in terms of readiness for violence and brutality. (Dichiara & Chabot, 2003, p.23)
One area where the Neo-Nazis differ from Crips is the organization size and structure. Crips is a gang with limited members and their localities of operation are also restricted. The Neo-Nazis, on the other hand, are a widespread and ideological sub-culture. Even if their organization is not granted legitimacy by civil society, there is some form of hierarchy and structure. There are protocols to be followed and cult tenets to be adhered to. While one can debate about the veracity of their claims and the relevance of their motives, there is no lack of seriousness. The Neo-Nazis take pride in sacrificing for their cause and do not hesitate to endanger their lives for the same. The Crips, on the other hand, are not as strongly held by ideology or a shared set of beliefs. The prime mover of the gang is power-lust and quick monetary gain. As a result, defections and treasons are common place, leading to internal fissures within the gang. There is also a difference in the economic sustenance of Neo-Nazi organizations and the Crips. The latter is an economy onto itself. In fact the lure of making a quick buck is what motivates many individuals from the lower rung of society to join such gangs. (Hagedorn, 2008, p.86)
Loyalty is a fundamental quality for all members. If a Crips member switches over to the arch-rival gang of the Bloods or the Rolling 60s or the ETG, they are bound to suffer retaliation. Indeed traitors and betrayers are dealt with severely, in most cases leading to fatalities. Revenge and honor killings are a feature of both these set-ups. In fact every act of aggression is projected as revenge or avenging ‘honor’. Misogyny is a common theme in both the groups, though it is somewhat pronounced in Crips. Women are treated shabbily and masculinity is expressed through violence towards them. Neo-Nazis are not much better in this respect. (Dichiara & Chabot, 2003, p.29)
One aspect where the two groups are in sharp contrast is in the targets of their racial prejudice. The Neo-Nazis are a white supremacist group, whose ideology includes elements of militant nationalism, xenophobia, homophobia and anti-Semitism. They are identified by their tonsured heads and call themselves the Fourth Reich – following up from Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. Despite such a regressive socio-political agenda, the organization manages to thrive in several countries across the world. The Crips, on the other hand is a small entity confined to a metropolitan quarter. Even in terms of their politics, the neo-Nazis are at the far right of the political spectrum. The Crips, though not actively political can be located on the left. (Musto, 2001, p.49)
In the two documents perused for this essay we see how the characters of Kody and Derek epitomize what it means to be a Crip or a neo-Nazi. Their lives were very precarious, dramatic and eventful. Often pushing or breaking the limits of law, their indulgences, follies and indiscretions were theatrical and morally dubious at once. Their personal stories, however engaging and thrilling they may be for the audience, cannot be set as example for children. In many ways, they both represented the darkest facets of their respective organizations. Their biographies share the theme of how not to ruin one’s life.
Hence, what we have learnt through the study of Crips and Neo-Nazis is how volatile underground culture can be. The members of these groups lived each day as if it could be their last. While they make good material for adventure novels, their impact on real society is decidedly negative. But one cannot apportion blame on individuals who gravitate toward these groups, for it is victims of social injustice who end up joining these groups. Hence social policy makers, instead of taking a retributive attitude toward the social menace, will have to look at prevention and timely intervention. A constructive idea is to identify high risk children in schools and given proper guidance and support.
American History X, Produced by John Morrissey, Distributed by New Line Cinema in 1998.
Sanyika Shakur, Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member, published by Grove Atlantic Books in 1993
Hagedorn, John M. (2008), A World of Gangs: Armed Young Men and Gangsta Culture, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States:University of Minnesota Press
Musto, David F. (2001). “Opium, Cocaine and Marijuana in American History”. Scientific American 265 (1): 40–47.
Dichiara, A. And Chabot, R. (2003) ‘Gangs and the Contemporary Urban Struggle: An Unappreciated Aspect of Gangs’, in Gangs and Society: Alternative Perspectives. New York: Columbia University Press.