Chapter One: Give me Anarchy or give me Luxury!
"We're white punks on dope, Mom & Dad live in Hollywood" Fee Waybill tried to warn us about the phenomena of restless, rich white punks spoiling for trouble. "Hang myself when I get enough rope, Can't clean up, though I know I should" The Tubes were on to something with "White Punks on Dope", their "absurd anthem of wretched excess"
"I go crazy 'cause my folks are so fucking rich" The San Fernando Valley, like most things around Los Angeles was built on a grand illusion. Home for the affluent or a place where everyday life could play out like a scene from "The Slums of Beverly Hills." Single parents with their kids in tow, dodging landlords and bill collectors. "Have to score when I get that rich white punk itch."
Contrary to the myth not everyone in the Valley was rich. However, the offspring of hourly wage workers from split homes, did come into contact with the uber rich. "Spent my cash on every high I could find" Pulled from one school or another, private or public, a generation was growing up without proper supervision. "Wasted time in every school in L.A." It was a ticking time bomb, not that anyone took the time to notice.
All that was needed was an idea or a fad to draw all these wayward teens together. The first seeds were planted in 1976. Black Flag is credited with starting the hardcore punk movement. Formed by guitarist Greg Ginn in Hermosa Beach, Black Flag caught the attention of the Valley's white kids. The band's (actually the entire hardcore scene) message was one of anti-authoritarian, non- conformist self reliance.
It resonated loudly through the Valley, there was now something to believe in. The L.A. hardcore scene stayed clear of the stereotypical punk attire, favoring instead a dressed down look. "We looked like the kid who worked at the gas station or sub shop" one hardcore punk follower proudly explained. (Henry Rollins would often perform wearing baggy shorts and nothing else)
In 1981, having gone through several lead singers, Black Flag brought in Henry Rollins. This totally changed the group's dynamic, or as Greg Ginn explained: "We couldn't do songs with a sense of humor anymore." Initially bands in the hardcore scene had a goofy DIY punk ethic, intense but fun. However by 1981, the Straight Edge movement and radical offshoots such as Elgin James and Friends Stand United (FSU, which can also mean Fuck Shit Up!) had the potential to harsh any high.
In 1982, 23 year old Joseph Gamsky or Joe Hunt as he came to call himself, was busy recruiting the sons of rich Los Angeles families into an investment group he called The Billionaire Boys Club (The BBC) While it wasn't a gang, it was easy to see how one could mistake them for one. And, they would prove to be as ruthless and murderous as most gang bangers.
Unlike the other rich kids who traveled in the same orbit, Joe Hunt wasn't into rebellion. A natural grifter, he had a knack for enticing investors into his fraudulent commodities investment firm. Hunt was running a classic Ponzi scheme, siphoning off investor's money to splurge on club members. Joe Hunt wasn't about dressing down, he carefully cultivated a sharp appearance in order to lure in new members.
In this manner he managed to attract in a few wealthy sons of the "elite" including Reza Eslaminia. Reza's father was an Iranian who had fled the Shah's regime. According to Reza he was worth 35 million dollars. Ron Levin was one of those land sharks that Los Angeles is known for. A veteran con artist he wasted little time in swindling $4 million from The BBC. Levin then turned up missing in 1984, presumably murdered by Joe Hunt and BBC security director/thug Jim Pittman.
Under the strain Joe Hunt's strongest criminal trait, his suggestive powers proved insufficient to maintain loyalty. Investigators quickly closed in and arrested everyone involved with The BBC. Ultimately, Joe Hunt was convicted of killing Ron Levin (it was rumored that he was still alive and several sighting were reported as late as 1988) Jim Pittman was never convicted of Levin's murder, but he did plead to being an accessory after the fact. Reza Eslaminia and Arben Dosti were first convicted of killing Hedayat Eslaminia and then had their convictions overturned.
Acting as his own defense, Joe Hunt was acquitted in Hedayat Eslaminia's death, although he did receive life in prison without possibility of parole for Ron Levin's murder. In 1987, NBC broadcast a miniseries based on The BBC with brat packer Judd Nelson playing Joe Hunt. (Ron Silver played Ron Levin) While on trial for murdering their parents, Erik and Lyle Menendez claimed that they got the idea to commit murder after watching the NBC miniseries.
Chapter Two: Lost in the City of Angels
As seedy and unsavory as the Joe Hunt episode was for the good people of the San Fernando Valley, worse was yet to come. The Valley's less affluent neighbors were starting to influence the throngs of impressionable local teens. This was most felt in the music, which was hardcore punk, the seedy ville over the hill (Hollywood) became the gathering spot. Robo, Black Flag's original drummer described the new scene "The Hollywood punk was a totally different animal, into drugs and getting drunk, liking the Sex Pistols."
The Valley punks went for the classic punk look, studs, black leather, chains and mohawks. They were hard wired for violence, all they needed was a leader. Richard Yapelli Jr. grew up in Sun Valley near the foothills of Northern Los Angeles County. Unlike their neighbors to the south, this was a mostly Hispanic, blue collar area. Soon enough, Yapelli was banging with the local Chicanos (he was the first non-Hispanic initiated into Sol Trese, the area's dominant gang)
Yapelli's legit street cred would serve him well once he gravitated towards the rich white kids of the Valley. Around 1981, taking his cue from Henry Rollin's bellicose act with Black Flag. Yapelli reinvented himself as a hardcore punk front man. He formed Fight for Freedom, a hardcore band that made no bones about its Nazi beliefs. He became known as Ranger, a violent manipulator who was equal parts Charles Manson and SS Stormtrooper.
Ranger was joined by a host of anonymous musicians. Their identities didn't really matter, in fact, the music itself didn't matter. It was just the means to and end. A student of the Third Reich and military tactics, Ranger wasted no time in forming an inner circle of like minded teenagers. He even authored a four part code that they adhered to: 1. be yourself 2. live your own life 3. fuck social values 4. fight for freedom.
It didn't take long for legit club owners to ban FFF from their clubs. The Cathay de Grande in Hollywood was one of the few where they were allowed to perform. The band would close out their show with "March of 42" an upbeat little ditty that jacks the melody of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" Ranger starts out "Across the pages of history, Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!" the song would signal the start of an orgy of violence and property damage. "Where were you in '42, when there was no place for Jews."
Ranger would goad them on, a warrior of the wasteland, the new Lord Humungus, the ayatollah of rock-and-rollah. The music was the dog's ass, a wretched piece of shit. Ranger sang with an affected British accent that would suddenly vanish halfway through most songs. The guitarist sounded like he would rather be playing in a Sunset Strip glam metal band, it was fucking horrendous. Fight for Freedom recorded one album, "Ganglife" (cassette only release) A vile and repulsive document that abides by part three of the code: fuck social values.
Ranger would roll into the Cathay with a core group of 30+ (well over 100 on weekends) You could always expect the true believers to liven things up. Any poser punks that didn't abandon the mosh pit, were quickly beaten straight to the nearest emergency room. The concerned parents of all those kids getting stitched and patched up at the hospitals, were up in arms. Ranger and FFF now had the full attention of Los Angeles law enforcement. Not that the hyper violent punks gave it much thought.
FFF (the gang) took on the persona of Ranger, which meant they were intelligent, complex and full of contradictions. The group that preached white supremacy was allied with the Chicano gangs that Ranger had grown up with. They were also the sworn enemies of other Chicano and hardcore punk gangs (primarily the Burbank Punx Organization or BPO) Whatever their motivation, they continued to cut a swath through jocks, metal heads, mods, surfers, homosexuals (real or suspected)
By 1983, the band was banned from every venue in Los Angeles county. Police gang units were getting wise to their ways, so Ranger came up with a plan to throw off their detractors. It was a brilliant move, that was akin to the Gestapo switching uniforms with the KGB. The punk look was replaced by military flat tops, Dickie khakis, creeper tennis shoes, heavy black brogues, flannel plaids and white tees. By design it was a deceptively clean cut look.
North Hollywood Hs. was the command center, with Ranger holding court at a donut shop across the street. There FFF gathered for marching orders and instructions. The white kids had affected the posture and mannerisms of East L.A. cholos. They called one another by Chicano gang names, Spanish slang and phrases were sprinkled into their conversations. It wasn't done to mock or emulate Hispanics, but rather it was meant to confound and piss off authority figures.
The police were caught flatfooted, they didn't know what to make out of this. These kids were flying in the face of all conventional thinking. In Randall Sullivan's "Leader of the Pack" (published by Rolling Stone Magazine in 1985) he states that most white police officers were deeply offended by this turn of events. Their delicate sensibilities took yet another hit when FFF graffiti started popping up all over Encino, Sherman Oaks, Woodland Hills and other exclusive communities.
Hugh Hudson's 1989 film "Lost Angels" alludes to Fight for Freedom. The movie is best known for starring Adam Horovitz (Ad Roc of the Beastie Boys) it also featured Amy Locane, Donald Sutherland and included early acting roles by Pauly Shore and Dave Herman (Mad Tv, Office Space) Although the screenplay is obviously based on Randall Sullivan's "Leader of the Pack" Sullivan receives no screenwriting credits.
Horovitz is Tim "Chino" Doolan, a teenager from the San Fernando Valley splitting time between his divorced parent's homes.(Mark Miller) He has come under the influence of his brother Andy "Natas" Doolan (no doubt based on Ranger) and joined a gang very similar to Fight for Freedom. Chino meets up with Cheryl (Amy Locane) a Valley girl slumming it with the losers and they wind up trashing a car.
For this he gets sent to a private psychiatric hospital, where he meets Dr. Charles Loftis (Donald Sutherland) "Let's start with why you think it's better to be Latino" Dr. Loftis asks Chino during their first session. Meanwhile, Natas is embroiled in a gang war with 10th. St., a carefully coiffed Chicano gang, armed with 24" police issue Mag-lights, that they use to smash the teeth out of some white boy skulls. The two gangs do battle, but find themselves at an impasse.
After getting kicked out of his father's house, Natas is distraught "Talk to me Dad, you fucking polar bear" He helps Chino break out of the treatment center and together they drive to a Chicano neighborhood where a street fiesta is taking place. Natas gives Chino a gun and tells him that they have to hit 10th. St. hard. Chino can't go through with it, Natas is furious and forces Chino out of the truck to fend for himself. Chino then comes to his senses, to the tune of "Many Rivers to Cross"
Chapter Three: And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Mangled Youth
In parking lots across Van Nuys and Burbank, FFF went to war against neighboring jocks. They wrecked the football teams from Notre Dame hs.and Grant hs. Without even throwing a punch, they forced the North Hollywood hs. football squad to back down. Then when a new group calling themselves New Regime, formed and recruited elite jocks from across the Valley, FFF beat them down so badly, that they disbanded on the spot.
As one former FFF member said "After a while, people just accepted that we were unbeatable." Some like the pesky BPO and The Suicidal Cycos, begged to differ. Suicidal was a gang that had formed from the legion of fans that followed the hardcore band Suicidal Tendencies. Dressed in their trademark blue bandanas (pulled down low) and long tailed white shirts (buttoned at the very top) they affected a hybrid surfer/cholo posture. The two gangs were polar opposites.
The Venice boys were blue collar, street wise and crazy as fuck. They took their cue from Mike Muir "Cyco Miko" the lead singer for Suicidal Tendencies. Muir (unlike Ranger) was actually interested in making music, he steered the band away from the gang troubles. Throughout 1983 and 1984, the two groups clashed. Ranger stood like Leonidas surrounded by the Spartiates with Ventura Blvd their Pass of Thermopylae. Clash after bloody clash, FFF came out on top.
It had always been said by cynical observers that "the police won't do shit until some rich white boy gets killed." Mark Miller was their guy and his much publicized death turned the tables on FFF. For a few years, Miller had bounced between his feuding divorced parents. They both lived in the same neighborhood and Mark's dad was always around threatening violence against his ex-wife. Growing up in Studio City, he had gravitated towards FFF after they clobbered a moto-cross gang that was terrorizing him.
Ever grateful, Mark worked his way up the ranks, earning himself the gang name Stocko. He was down for whatever, during fights Mark was beastly with a taste for violence and mayhem. He hid that side of his personality from his parents. Mark had a natural charm around women including his mother, who was too busy trying to make ends meet to keep track of his comings and goings. A gifted athlete, Mark earned athletic honors at every school he attended. His father enrolled him at Montclair Prep ($7,000 a semester), because they had the best football program.
When not on the gridiron, Mark was part of Ranger's inner circle. A point man who enforced any breaches in territory claimed by FFF. This included Hot Trax, a teen nightclub on Van Nuys Blvd. On Aug. 15th 1985, Miller and a group of FFF, decked out in punk regalia (an intimidation ploy) showed up at the club. An altercation soon developed with two young Asians from Canoga Park, Tony Nguyen and Chris Comete. It appeared that Comete, had either stroked Mark Miller's girlfriend's purple spiked hair or made a rude remark about it.
In an instant, Nguyen and Comete were jumped by the FFF and beaten until bouncers waded in to break up the fight. Though badly mauled, Comete had enough bravado left to call out the FFF and threaten to shoot Miller in the head. A rematch was set for Aug. 17th., true to their word both parties showed up at Hot Trax to settle business. According to eyewitness accounts, Nguyen and Comete were attacked with clubs and knives. A charge that prosecutors said was false, since no such weapons were found at the scene.
One FFF member struck Comete in the face, the sixteen year old pulled a .38 caliber handgun from his waistband and aimed it at his assailant, it misfired. Comete then discharged three more rounds, intended as warning shots, except one struck Mark Miller who had turned to run away in the back of the head. When the San Fernando Valley Daily News broke the story, it posted a picture of Mark in his prom tux and another picture of a puddle of blood with the letters FFF smeared in blood on the pavement.
At first police thought it was an FFF hit, but Mark's gangs ties soon came to light. It became apparent that the bloody letters were meant as a tribute and a warning. Chris Comete was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter after a juvenile court judge rejected his claim that the shooting was in self-defense. A parade of Mark's FFF associates took the stand and claimed that the shooting was unprovoked. Comete's attorney would argue that "someone unlawfully removed the weapons before police arrived, to cover for Mark."
As predicted, the police finally sprung into action to eradicate the FFF once and for all. As police are so apt to do, they started to methodically identify all members of Fight for Freedom. The group was designated as a gang and every associate was now a known gang member. It made all the difference in the world, now whenever the punks were brought in, they came under the jurisdiction of the Valley Probation Officer Tom Le Valley.
During the period before and after Mark Miller's death, the gang was leaderless. Richard Yapelli had turned 19, as an adult his days of running the streets without serious repercussions were over. In June of 1985, Yapelli was arrested after he brandished a gun and punched a woman in the face when he was refused admission to a private party. He was promptly arrested and brought up on weapons charges. As law enforcement started to crackdown on Fight for Freedom, he was sitting in jail.
Ranger went to trial later that summer, meek and clean cut, he was flanked by his parents. The outcome of the case is unknown, nor is it that important. The rock had been flipped over and all the creepers were starting to scatter. Richard Yapelli soon faded back into the foothills that he came from. The core members of FFF drifted away, some turned in their college applications and went off to school with some bitchin' war stories to tell their frat brothers at UCSB.