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Lambda Lore

Utah’s ‘Army of Israel’ skinheads confronted Utah gays in the 90’s

Written by Ben Williams

In 1991 some of the Army of Israel skinheads, followers of 20-year-old Johnny Bangerter, came to Utah to make their presence known. Johnny formed the Army of Israel after moving to Southern Utah, to the great embarrassment of Utah’s then governor, Norm Bangerter – first cousin of Johnny’s father.

Johnny wanted to form a militia that would one day take over Zion National Park.

While in Utah the Army of Israel organized several small skinhead rallies in Salt Lake City to disrupt gay events. David Nelson, of the Gay and Lesbian Utah Democrats said of the skinheads’ appearances at these events, “Everything and everyone seemed rehearsed, as if they were going through the minimal motions to guarantee news reports.” He added “If that was the muscle of Utah white supremacy, I was left unimpressed.”

Then the Army of Israel caught wind of Queer Nation Utah’s intention to protest April LDS General Conference outside of Temple Square. The skinheads showed up as a counter protest and I wrote in my journal about the confrontation that took place on April 6, 1991.

“Church security was out in full force and about eight plain clothes cops were present also but they were not there to harass Queer Nation but rather to keep about ten skinheads from attacking members of Queer Nation. The skinheads shouted and screamed their hatred and had held up their Nazi posters with their anti-gay slogans. Cameras were in evidence everywhere, from our sides and from theirs. Every time someone took a picture of us, we took one of them. One real positive aspect of the activity is that we now have photographs of some of the most dangerous skinheads in Utah and we can track them now.”

A Queer Nation member, Devin Hanson, wrote; “Later a few neo-Nazi skinheads showed up to put in their less than 2 cents worth. The Skinheads tried to argue with the queers and began preaching from the Bible, (while others grabbed their crotches, screaming suck this) but for the most part were ignored by the queers.” 

An article in The Salt Lake Tribune also mention this initial confrontation between the Army of Israel and Queer Nation Utah. “Nearly two dozen Salt Lake Police officers and church security personnel looked on as the protesters pressed near the gate. Police briefly stepped in after a handful of self-described “neo-nazi skinheads” got into a shouting match with the protesters”.

The Army of Israel made another appearance at Gay Pride Day which was held at the Salt Lake County Fairgrounds at Murray Park.

On June 23 I wrote, “Kevin Hillman and Debbie Rosenberg picked a great location and had a great line up of performers. I think everyone generally had a wonderful time even if about nine Nazi skinheads marched into the event from State Street with their Nazi Battle flags aloft. The police responded quickly and no incident actually occurred. However people were ready to mob them if the punks pulled any crap so they goose stepped back out and went on their merry way.” 

Brenda Voisard, who was chair of the Gay and Lesbian Community Council of Utah at the time, was a witness. She said that about three hundred Pride Day participants surrounded the skinheads and then turned their backs to them, preventing them from entering further into the park. This was a way as not to give them any attention until the police came and escorted them out of the park.  

The Army of Israel continued to harass when they showed up at the second Gay and Lesbian Pride March organized by Connell O’Donovan who at the time was going by the name Rocky. The march was held on June 27 to commemorate the Stonewall Riots.

I wrote in my journal of that event: “I wasn’t even sure whether I was going to join the Pride March today but decided to at the last moment. I joined Gary Boren and we ran up to Second North behind the Deseret Gym to join the other participants who were already parading down Main Street from the Capitol. I’d say between five and six hundred people were at this march. We went down Main Street to Fourth South and finished in front of the City-County Building at Washington Square.

“At the City-County Building, about ten skinheads were there with their Nazi Battle Flags, ready to hassle us on the east steps where we were supposed to congregate at the end of the march. I marched with Maureen Davies and Brenda Voisard at the head of the procession carrying the Gay and Lesbian Community Council Flag and since we were at the front of the march when we reached the steps of the building, we now found ourselves closest to the Skinheads.

“Rocky O’Donovan, through his bullhorn, shouted to the crowd to turn our backs on them, which we did. I did not like having my back to the Nazis thinking that one of them might knock me in the head. The police however stood between us and the Nazis. The cops had their batons out. I am sure several wanted to do a number on the Nazis but there were no violence just verbal confrontation with the skinheads taunting us.

“I couldn’t hear any of the speeches being made as we were way in the back. We were constantly being heckled by the skinheads. I heard more of the Nazi’s angry tirade directed at us than I did our speeches.

“The Nazis were chanting ‘Out of the Closet into the Grave’ and several had the same dreary signs commenting ‘Thank God for AIDS’. David Sharpton, who came to the front of the steps, where we were, was livid and if not for the police would have charged into the skinheads. He is a pistol.” 

The Army of Israel’s ruckus on the steps of the City-County Building made the news in both the Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune.

The Tribune wrote up a short blurb: “Supporters at the Second Annual Gay and Lesbian Pride March encountered some antagonists Thursday afternoon in the form of about a dozen skinheads. They tried to disrupt the rally and had signs that read `Thank God for AIDS’,” said Ben Barr, executive director of the Utah AIDS Foundation.

“More than 300 marchers ran into the skinheads at the Salt Lake City-County Building, 400 S. State, at the end of the route but it was ‘a peaceable rally’,” Barr added.

Surprisingly the Deseret News’ article was lengthier. The headline was GAY PRIDE DAY MARCH, WHITE SUPREMACISTS SHOUT AT GAYS DURING PRIDE DAY PARADE IN S.L.

“Hundreds of members of Utah’s gay and lesbian community marched through downtown Salt Lake City Thursday to conclude their 10th annual Pride Day. People who identified themselves as white supremacists shouted at the group and waved a Nazi flag during the march, but no physical confrontations erupted. Gays, lesbians, family members and friends carried signs and chanted as they walked from the State Capitol down Main Street and east on 400 South to the City-County Building. More than a dozen police officers escorted the group and stood between them and 14 white supremacists during a rally at the building. The march and rally culminated a week-long celebration that began June 16 in Ogden and included a day of speeches, fundraising activities and music at the Salt Lake County Fairgrounds.”

The last mention of the Army of Israel was over Labor Day 1991 when they were harassing gay people gathered in Memory Grove. The Deseret News  contained an article on what the skinheads were up to on that day.

`SKINHEAD’ REPORTS BEING STRUCK BY CAR read the headline.  

“A 20-year-old ‘skinhead’ told police that his leg was broken over the weekend when he was struck by a car whose driver he had insulted in Memory Grove. Police said a group of ‘skinheads’ apparently called the motorist a derogatory name when he refused to answer their questions. The motorist made a U-turn, struck the victim with his car and drove away, according to reports.

“The victim, whom officers described as uncooperative, refused emergency medical treatment but was advised to go to a hospital, according to a police report issued Sunday. Investigators said the victim admitted that he and another ‘skinhead’ had gone to the park early Saturday to confront homosexuals. He also told police that he hadn’t thought the motorist would actually hit him.”

I haven’t been able to locate anymore confrontations between the Army of Israel and the gay Community in Salt Lake City for the rest of the year as that after this time most of the young kids returned to Southern Utah, especially to La Verkin to create a White Nationalist Homeland.

Ironically, today Johnny Bangerter is a grandfather trying to live down his racist past. Bangerter says he has reformed as that he has a gay son and a Latino grandson. He also has a niece who is black and another who is Hispanic. Bangerter admits now what he never admitted during his white-supremacy days, that he is part Jewish on his father’s side.

About the author

Ben Williams

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