Wednesday, June 20, 2007
FSU Gang Kills Man over Rebel Flag T-shirt
Gang called FSU tied to fatal brawl
BY JAMES A. QUIRK
When James Morrison and three of his friends walked into Club Deep in Asbury Park the night of
Jan. 14, they hoped to catch Ramallah, one of several hard-core punk bands slated to play.
Instead, within 20 minutes of entering the venue, Morrison, 25, lay dying in the arms of one
of his friends on the sidewalk just outside the club, his skull split open from a blow to the
back of the head.
It is not clear exactly what happened that night inside Club Deep. Those who attended the
show with Morrison say the brawl that led to his death was touched off by someone in the
club taking offense to a Lynyrd Skynyrd shirt worn by Morrison's friend.
The Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office has released few details concerning
Morrison's murder, and no arrests have been made. The venue's owners will say
little about the incident and have closed Club Deep for the winter.
However, interviews with Morrison's mother and the friends who were with him in the
club, as well as dozens of anony-mous letters and e-mails sent to the Asbury Park
Press, suggest that a violent gang active within the hard-core music community may
have played a part in Morrison's death.
The gang is FSU, which stands for Friends Stand United, or two curse words followed
by the word "up." Once responsible for driving out neo-Nazi elements in the Boston
hard-core punk scene of the mid-1980s, FSU is now a bizarre gang of young men who
assault individuals at hard-core shows in dozens of cities across the country. Many
of the bands that were slated to play Jan. 14 at Club Deep are affiliated with FSU, or
are known to attract gang members to their shows, according to sources with the
New Jersey State Police Organized Crime Control Bureau.
Morrison's mother, Lorrie Morrison, 44, of Little Egg Harbor, said she has spoken at
length to the friends who went with her son to Club Deep the night he was murdered.
Most of the fans inside the show, as well as many of the members of the bands
scheduled to play, were wearing FSU shirts, she said.
"It's definitely FSU who is responsible" for the death of her son, Lorrie Morrison said.
"If they say it's not, they're lying."
"While we are familiar with FSU, we're not going to comment on any involvement any
FSU member had or didn't have with the death or Mr. Morrison," said First Assistant
Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter Warshaw.
Violence and FSU
FSU first became an increased concern of the State Police roughly a year ago,
officials there said. Though FSU lacks the sophistication of larger gangs such
as the Bloods, whom the State Police consider a criminal enterprise, officials
stressed that the gang is viewed as a very serious and growing problem.
"Their primary thing is how violent they can become at these concerts," said
Lt. Gerald Lewis, a spokesman for the State Police. "If one of their members
gets picked on and assaulted, they will swarm the person, and increase their
violent acts. . . . Their sole contributing criminal activities are assault and aggravated assault."
Violence and death at concerts of bands connected to FSU are nothing new.
In December 2005, Ray Darrin Pierson, a member of FSU, was shot to death
outside of a Shattered Realm concert in Tucson, Ariz. No arrests have been
made in that case. Shattered Realm hails from New Jersey and has toured
with Ramallah; three of its musicians are open FSU members.
It's not clear exactly how FSU devolved from a positive force purging the
hard-core scene of its most unsavory elements to a gang that has the
power to intimidate other hard-core fans, shut down shows and even venues.
The shift took at least a decade to coalesce, but now FSU has active "crews"
in nearly any state that has an active underground hard-core scene, especially
Boston, New Jersey, upstate New York and Seattle, according to law enforcement officials.
In a 2006 article for The Stranger, an alternative weekly newspaper in Seattle,
reporter Megan Seling wrote: "FSU did start in the '80s as a group of people
who fought racist skinheads at East Coast hard-core shows, trying to eradicate
Nazis from the scene. But FSU's current insular message of fraternity and demand
for respect is far removed from their anti-racist beginnings. In recent months,
they've threatened and assaulted a number of members of the hard-core scene,
including band members, show promoters, and music fans."
The presence of FSU members in Seattle has vexed the music scene there for
years. In January 2006, gang members showed up at an all-ages show and t
hreatened the California hard-core band Dangers, causing them not to play.
At issue was the possibility that the Dangers would play their song
"Neo Neo-Nazis," which lambasts FSU for morphing into nothing but a
group of thugs who terrorize people at hard-core shows.
And FSU is particularly infamous in Boston, thanks in part to the
widespread sale of the Boston Beatdown series of DVDs — controversia
l documentaries about the Boston hard-core scene that feature
hard-core fans, many of them wearing FSU "colors," randomly assaulting
lone individuals. Boston officials attempted to ban the sale of the DVDs
and cracked down on many hard-core shows after the Boston Herald and
ABC News ran features on their contents in late 2004.
Most of the bands slated to perform the night Morrison was killed did
not respond to or declined interview requests.
Members of Wisdom In Chains, in a response sent via MySpace,
told the Press: "It's so sad what went down, we really don't know any
details, and we are ashamed to have our name associated with this
tragic event. The shows are usually a great time, and in 10 plus years
of playing in bands at venues around the world this has never happened
before. Our hearts go out to all affected by this."
In a blog post to their own page on MySpace, members of Ramallah wrote:
"Please stop posting comments and sending messages about the incident
at the show in Asbury Park on this past Sunday. None of Ramallah was
involved, nor did we see anything that happened. We also did not know the
kid that was killed. We have been blamed, lumped in with whoever was
involved, and received tons of negative e-mails about what happened.
None of this is our fault, we were supposed to play a show and didn't.
Most of the people voicing their opinions were also not at the show and
know even less about what happened than we do."
Objections to T-shirt
The brawl that led to Morrison's murder may have all started with an
FSU member taking offense at a Lynyrd Skynyrd shirt.
Friends of Morrison who attended the show spoke to the Asbury Park Press
of what happened inside Club Deep — a club on the boardwalk, near
Second and Ocean avenues — on Jan. 14. Fearing retaliation from FSU
members, they asked that their names not be printed.
Morrison, a Navy veteran who served during the onset of the Iraq war on
board the USS Bataan, had moved to Waretown with a friend just a week
before the Jan. 14 show. A musician himself, Morrison enjoyed attending
local shows with his friends. Their plan Jan. 14 was to see Ramallah,
a hard-core act with roots in Boston that, while popular in the underground
scene, has played only sporadic shows in the area.
The quartet arrived at around 5:30 p.m., not too long after bands began to
play. The lineup advertised for the show was Years Spent Cold, Hard
Response, Wisdom In Chains and Ramallah.
"This was the only concert I've ever been to where I didn't get searched
going through the door," one friend said.
Inside the club, for reasons the friends say they still don't understand,
the atmosphere was immediately tense.
"From the time we walked in, it was like all eyes were on us," one friend said.
"It was like they already knew what they were going to do. Most of the club
was flying gang colors — kids were wearing FSU Nation jackets, FSU shirts."
Within 15 minutes of walking through the door, one of Morrison's friends —
who was wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd shirt that features a Confederate flag —
was approached by a man and told to take the offending shirt off.
Morrison's friends say he tried to defuse the situation, but the man then
removed his jacket, pointed to the FSU T-shirt he was wearing underneath,
and asked, "Now what do you think about that?" before throwing a punch.
Chaos ensued. Morrison sprang to the defense of his friend. According to his
mother, Morrison may have been struck in the head and body with a bar stool at this point.
Another friend, who was outside smoking a cigarette when the fight broke out,
said he saw the young man wearing the Skynyrd shirt being thrown down the
front steps of the club. He rushed to his friend's aid, only to find that Morrison
and another friend were being pushed out the door by security guards and
dozens of people from inside the club.