“Make them read Hitler’s Mein Kampf” remarks a police officer in The Hague, “and they will be cured forever.”
The officer’s remark does not ratify neo-Nazi ideology, but rather addresses the so-called LONSDALE youth. The phenomenon of LONSDALE youth refers to a sub culture of hardcore music fans that sometimes have racist ideas.
In December 2004 Anne Frank Foundation monitoring report about racism concluded that “the problem of extreme right-wing and racialist culture among young people has never hitherto reached the proportions in the Netherlands that it has today.”
The main focus of our report turns to a specific group within contemporary Dutch youth culture, the so called, “LONSDALE youth”. Some of the group members exhibit racist, extreme right and xenophobic attitudes. Particularly, we would like to pay more attention to the approaches of the Dutch police towards this relatively new social phenomenon. Do they perceive this group as just “annoying pimple heads” or as “xenophobic youngsters”? What is the attitude of the law enforcers and what methods do they use to solve this issue in different parts of Holland? Before going deeper into the methods of the police in Aalsmeer, Eindhoven and The Hague, we take a closer look at what is perceived as ‘the’ LONSDALE subculture.
The phenomenon of LONSDALE youth refers to a sub culture of hardcore music fans that sometimes have racist ideas.
LONSDALE is a world known British clothing brand for sportswear. These clothes have often been worn by different famous people, such as the boxers Mike Tyson and Muhammed Ali. Beginning in 2001, fans of hardcore music in The Netherlands started to wear this clothing brand in their subculture. It changed the image of this brand in The Netherlands dramatically. In few years LONSDALE became a symbol for racism and xenophobia and became frequently related to Neo Nazi features. The LONSDALE Company tries to combat the racist connotation LONSDALE has in The Netherlands (and also in Belgium and Germany). Therefore they have started a publicity campaign with the slogan “Lonsdale loves all colours”. Nonetheless, LONSDALE is still associated with youngsters who have a negative attitude against ethnic minorities and who are often involved with violent incidents. After the murder of the controversial Islam criticaster and filmmaker Theo van Gogh (November 2004) by a Dutch person from Moroccan decent, the amount of racist violence by LONSDALE youngsters and others increased sharply.
“It is a new and rather many-sided phenomenon in Dutch culture” noticed one of our interviewees. Although not all hardcore fans who wear LONSDALE can be characterised as racists, the term LONSDALE youth today usually refers to teenagers with racist tendencies. Estimates of the number of “Lonsdale youth” in the Netherlands vary widely, from 300 to 1,500, with a hardcore group that consists of up to 150 members.The LONSDALE group is a very mixed group, which consists of teenagers from 12 to 20. They wear the clothes of this brand for different reasons, that’s why it would be incorrect to unite all LONSDALE youngsters in one group.
“They don’t have racist ideas. Without having clear understanding of its meaning they just copy the style and repeat the words that they hear on the streets.”
According to police officer Johan Vermeeren, so called ‘followers’ wear it just for looking as ‘cool’ as their older friends. “They don’t have racist ideas. Without having clear understanding of its meaning they just copy the style and repeat the words that they hear on the streets”. As one Lonsdaler’s mother mentioned in an interview with us, this category of LONSDALE kids (10 to 13 years old) wear this brand because they also consider “Nike to be for gay people, Adidas for the stupid and LONSDALE as the only cool clothing.”
Having negative experiences because of being bullied by allochthones (persons from non-Dutch decent), some kids decide to start wearing LONSDALE to protect themselves. By dressing this way, they hope that the aggressiveness it radiates will protect them from being attacked by allochthones once again. But the reverse may be true. Wearing ‘cool’ and belligerent LONDSDALE clothes, they don’t realise that easily become target of allochthone aggression (interview Jan Kik and Soumeya Khemiri, Discrimination Bureau The Hague). Statistics on racial and extreme right violence in November 2004 shows that in 27 out of 174 cases LONSDALE youth was involved (monitoring report on racism and the extreme right, sixth report Anne Frank Foundation). In at least four of these cases LONSDALE kids were clearly the victims of the violence.
Having more a nationalistic than racist attitude, another group associate themselves with right-wing hardcore music. As mentioned by the same police officer from The Hague “they tend to shout a lot, but usually they don’t go outrage”.
“Nike to be for gay people, Adidas for the stupid and LONSDALE as the only cool clothing.”
The last category of LONSDALE youth brings more troubles than the previous ones and mainly creates the negative image of LONSDALE youth. These youngsters often have racist and Neo-Nazi ideas. The following quote that can be found on the internet (www.holland-hardcore.com) illustrates this.
“How often don’t you see white bitches having an affair with a bastard goat fucker or other coloured people? (…) But what can you do about it, nothing!! I will make sure to look after it in my environment (especially my little sister). So far, we don’t have blacks in my family and I would like to keep it that way!!! Sounds short-sighted, but I don’t want my sister to get a child at age 14 and having the K#$*# pissed off so that WE are stuck with an allochthone!”
According to police officer Paul Giesen, especially the poorly educated youngsters sometimes get involved with fights between them and allochthone groups. According to police officer Jan Vermeeren from The Hague, it is nevertheless not always racist ideas that form the basis for such conflicts. Sometimes it simply starts with competition about girls or territory, which later provokes tensions between LONSDALE groups and, for example, Moroccan teenagers.
The diversity of these different factors makes almost impossible to give a strait definition of what is “LONSDALE youth”
“Number 88 is very popular, because it represents the eighth letter in the alphabet. Decoded it stands for HH and refers to Heil Hitler, while number 18 is used as an abbreviation for Adolf Hitler.”
In appropriating the clothing brand for their own purposes, the group has turned the name LONSDALE into a pernicious acronym. They take part of its name (NSDA), and claimed it as a reference to Adolf Hitler’s political party the NSDAP (National Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei). They also use it as an abbreviation for the Dutch sentence “Laat Ons Nederlanders Samen De Allochtonen Langzaam Executeren”(Let Us Dutch Slowly Execute the Allochthones). But this is not the full spectrum of symbols that are common for this youth culture. “Number 88 is very popular, because it represents the eighth letter in the alphabet. Decoded it stands for HH and refers to Heil Hitler, while number 18 is used as an abbreviation for Adolf Hitler” (KAFKA researcher Willem Hart). Some LONSDALE youngsters use the voice of Adolf Hitler himself as their cell phone ring. According to Hart, another feature that is often used is wearing white laces in black shoes, which stands for white power. Some use red laces as a symbol for ‘blood on your hands’, which might refer to having a record of violence against allochthones. So alongside the use of the LONSDALE brand, this youth culture also creates other racist symbols to express their identities.
According to researcher Jaap van Donselaar from the Anne Frank Foundation, the LONSDALE subculture lacks evident leaders. Most of the LONSDALE youth don’t have a consistent political ideology. Jan Kik and Soumeya Khemiri of the Anti Discrimination Agency in The Hague remark that they just think that “allochthones steal their jobs”, “all Morrocans are criminals”, and “the Netherlands should remain white”. The lack of ideology is also reflected in the unsuccessful attempts of extreme right-wing parties to recruit LONSDALE youth. LONSDALE youth is not interested in their ideologies and are bored to death by the political debates and lectures of those parties. As mentioned earlier, the police officer in The Hague remarked: “Make them read Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and they will be cured forever”.
The Strategy of the Police
So far, there is no structural communication between different police regions about the LONSDALE issue.
The Dutch police consist of 25 regional corps with a certain amount of autonomy. All of them have their own ways of dealing with social problems. Since there is not a coherent national policy to deal with the LONSDALE youth, different regions come up with their own approaches to address the problem. The strategy of course also depends on the specific characteristics of the LONSDALE issue in that region. So far, there is no structural communication between different police regions about the LONSDALE issue. And if exchange of information and best practices occurs, this happens mostly on the basis of personal contacts between individual police officers.
Visits of the extreme right Dutch People’s Union to recruit LONSDALE youth didn’t bring them the expected results, because those kids were simply not interested in complicated ideologies, especially when they found out about their strict drug policy.
Aalsmeer (police region Amsterdam-Amstelland)
In Aalsmeer, located near Amsterdam, the LONSDALE issue started a couple of years ago. Big groups of teenagers were hanging out looking for confrontations with allochthone youngsters and their white friends (the white niggers as they were called). When this problem first started, the police didn’t do much in response. They only tried to stimulate the group to keep the place where they were hanging out clean and tidy. In total there were up to 80 LONSDALE youngsters in Aalsmeer. Eventually the matter took a bad turn. Sometimes using baseball bats to fight allochthones, they became one of the sources of violence in this town. When LONSDALE youngsters from surrounding area’s and villages (Kudelstaart, Uithoorn and Kwakel) joint their mates in Aalsmeer for ‘rioting’, the incidents gained a great deal of media attention. One of the consequences of this attention were the visits of the extreme right Dutch People’s Union to recruit LONSDALE youth. These visits didn’t bring them the expected results, because those kids were simply not interested in complicated ideologies, especially when they found out about their strict drug policy.
Since April 2005, the Aalsmeer police decided together with the Public Prosecution Service to change their tolerant attitude into a zero tolerance policy. From then on, harsh repressive measures were taken towards LONSDALE youth.
“Right-wing extremism tends to be a stage of puberty: the coolest, most effective and possibly even the only way to shock liberal parents who these days are not even fazed by Ecstasy or poor grades.”
One of the new methods used by the Aalsmeer police is holding parents accountable for the troubles of their offspring. The conversation that the police had with some parents, proved to be an eye opener for some of them. They were convinced that their kid could never cause trouble and, what is more, exposed in racism. As claims youth psychologist Wolfgang Bergmann the “right-wing extremism tends to be a stage of puberty: the coolest, most effective and possibly even the only way to shock liberal parents who these days are not even fazed by Ecstasy or poor grades”.
Another approach for reducing the problems was “absolute clarity” towards LONSDALE youngsters. They became aware that the police know precisely who they are and whether they commit criminal offences. Letting teenagers know that the police have this information and that their deeds would not stay unpunished, made them to be more cautious about their behaviour. As soon as there is any sort of complaint by local residents, the police take action. This approach has already leaded to the arrest of a couple of LONSDALE youngsters.
Dividing big groups of LONSDALE youngsters in smaller groups is another method put into practice by the police of Aalsmeer. Such a simple measure reduces the risk of fights rapidly. The zero tolerance policy accompanied by harsher measures have apparently impressed the LONSDALE boys and girls, because there has already been a significant decrease in violence and social unrest in this area for a last couple of month. The LONSDALE hype in Aalsmeer seems already to be over the hill.
Eindhoven (police region Brabant South-East)
The police in Eindhoven and surrounding areas have started to monitor and register LONSDALE youth from the end of 2003. At first the policemen on the streets did not knew what to register, because they were not yet familiar with the LONSDALE phenomenon. The Anti Discrimination Agency and youth workers informed the police officers about the dress codes and other signals. After registering youth for a few months, the first brief analysis appeared in June 2004. By that time, there were approximately 200 youngsters with an extremist and racist attitude. They destroyed public and private property, used violence against allochthones, etcetera. This was however only the tip of the iceberg.
The situation in Eindhoven became worse that year, however, due to the murder on Theo van Gogh. Large fights which were often arranged on hardcore music websites took place regularly. On the day we interviewed local police officer Paul Giesen, he was preparing to go to a specific area in the city that night with recognisable and with undercover police officers. Their aim was to arrest the leaders of the groups, so they could prevent a big planned fight, which they had found out about through the Internet. As Paul Giesen remarks: “Having the main instigators in the police car already reduces the chances of a big fight”. According this police officer, LONSDALE and allochthone groups in Eindhoven have got into a negative spiral of violence, revenge and repercussions.
On the Queens Day, some youngsters were arrested and convicted for wearing SS-signs, White Power symbols and Swastikas.
The police in Brabant South-East have operated with a zero-tolerance policy for more than a year. An example of this policy can be found in the approach towards wearing certain signs. On the Queens Day, some youngsters were arrested and convicted for wearing SS-signs, White Power symbols and Swastikas. Nevertheless, at demonstrations in the towns of Zoetermeer and Arnhem, the police tolerated people wearing these symbols during demonstrations.
Besides tough repressions and constantly studying the LONSDALE phenomenon, the police in Brabant South-East have lobbied for an integrated approach towards prevention. Law enforcers closely collaborate with schools, associations and the municipality. Currently, they try to convince the municipality of cooperating more with parents, to counter the racism and violence in their city and to prevent it in an early stage.
The Hague (police region Haaglanden)
In The Hague, the LONSDALE group doesn’t cause such serious problems. They hang out, but there are no systematic fights with other groups (i.e., allochthone groups or other white youth subcultures such as ‘skaters’). Insofar as LONSDALE youth operates in The Hague, it is mainly composed of kids who are looking for an identity and recognition. According to local police-officer Johan Vermeeren, most of them come from unfortunate families. There is a large group of LONSDALE youngsters in Duindorp (a neighbourhood in the Scheveningen part of The Hague), but usually they are not involved with serious violence. The trouble they cause mostly doesn’t go further than painting walls with graffiti or shouting at passer-by’s.
The main aim of the police in this area is to monitor their developments closely. Furthermore, LONSDALE is treated as a regular civil order issue.
The police in The Hague believe that the incidents in their city are not serious enough to warrant a specific approach towards LONSDALE youth. They consider it primarily as a sub youth culture. As Johan Vermeeren remarks: “LONSDALE has no priority here”. The lack of severe incidents and of a systematic way of various youth finding each other for organized fights as in Eindhoven, is another reason for not having a zero tolerance policy. In The Hague, a zero-tolerance policy is just unnecessary for them.
Nonetheless, this police area has always taken all sorts of youth culture very seriously. As they don’t want to depend on the media for information, police trains their staff to deal with different youth cultures and to recognize problems in an early stage. LONSDALE is merely one of those different subcultures and is not dealt with in a different way. So the main aim of the police in this area is to monitor their developments closely. Furthermore, LONSDALE is treated as a regular civil order issue. In case of criminal offences or violence, the police act with LONSDALE youth the same way as in any other situation.
In some general remarks about the Dutch multicultural society police officer Johan Vermeeren remarks: “For a long time we lived side by side with each other, but we never lived with each other…” A successful project for bringing different cultures together can be found in Limburg. LONSDALE youth and Moroccan kids were forced to participate in a “survival camp” together, as a team. They had no other choice as to interact and cooperate with a person that was their worst enemy just a couple of days ago. As a result of this project 3 out of 4 teenagers changed their attitude towards each other.
“Youth culture reflects the attitude of the whole society, but in a more extreme way. LONSDALE subculture is not an exception.” That’s why, according to police officer Johan Vermeeren, the problem of racism is much wider than LONSDALE youth culture. It is embedded in the Dutch society.
Racism is often caused by a lack of information about other ethnic groups and unwillingness of both sides to fill this gap. As Soumeya Khemiri of the Anti Discrimination Bureau mentioned some youngster say to each other: “Why would you talk to a Turk, he’s not worth your time”. In that case, role games in stead of debates might be helpful. People will have to start changing their minds and learn to understand and respect each other, even if they sometimes disagree. History has tendency to repeat if we don’t learn its lessons. Racism and anti-Islamism is increasing in Europe today.
Phenomena such as LONSDALE will probably disappear within a couple of years, but with a new generation it will return in different forms and in new youth cultures. The question mark after the title “LONSDALE gone, racism solved?” can unfortunately not be changed into an exclamation sign. Racism in new youth cultures will keep causing the same type of troubles.
The solution of this problem unfortunately does not depend on one person or one decision. Fortunately some effective measures to counter racism exist. Survival camps that are supported by parents, schools and society can make a difference, such as zero tolerance policy and role games can.