Posted // April 10,2013 -
In his late teens, Bangerter’s band played at an anti-nuclear encampment in southern Utah where Martin Sheen, other celebrities and hundreds of everyday people orchestrated their own arrests to protest nuclear power and testing. Bangerter’s family believes his older sister’s leukemia was caused by nuclear testing, but her claim for compensation and care was denied.
In 1986, at age 16, Bangerter wed his girlfriend of a few months. They’re still married, parents to four children.
But tensions in Fuck, Shit, Piss were growing—as they were in the greater punk scene—as Bangerter and his stepfather drifted toward the skinhead current while his two other bandmates followed the anti-racist current, whose patience with Nazi beliefs and iconography was wearing thin.
The divide in the punk scene predated Bangerter. In 1982, the Dead Kennedys recorded the prescient song “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” a retort to openly racist bands.
At a 1987 Fuck, Shit, Piss show, Bangerter wore a swastika armband onstage, which amounted to taking sides in the neo-Nazi vs. anti-Nazi divide. The anti-Nazi members of the band and audience wouldn’t take it. A riot ensued.
“One side was yelling, ‘White power, white power!’ The cops showed up,” Bangerter says.
He knew what he was doing: He was blowing up and burning down his whole scene, the way a militant punker would, and the divorce would be symbolized on his face. Then widely known as Johnny Bangs for his haircut that made his bangs jut from his head like a unicorn horn, he cut off his namesake bangs in favor of a buzzcut. Bangerter had found a new muse.
A year prior to Fuck, Shit, Piss breaking up, Bangerter had met an older man who got him a construction job that paid $1 more per hour than he’d been making. The man invited Bangerter, 17, to a meeting of an anti-government tax-resistance group Committee of the States, founded by anti-Jewish activist Col. William Gale.
As Bangerter was wooed by the far-right anti-government scene, he began recruiting young people from the punk scene, pulling them into his meetings and organizing them under the name Vegas Skinheads. “They were a bunch of guys with shaved heads who, months earlier, had mohawks,” he says.
Asked what made him so angry—his family’s exposure to radiation, his terrible experience in Las Vegas public schools, his family torn apart and run out of town by moralistic Mormons?—he sort of shrugs. It’s all of those things, and none of them, he says—even Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” segments made him hate the government.
It’s far more clear what led him to racism. As Bangerter tells it, the racists like Aryan Nations were the only militant anti-government people he found. He’d grown contemptuous of left-leaning groups who, in order to stop nuclear power plants, lay down in the road to be arrested, rather than provoke revolution. He’d tired of the punks, he’d tired of liberals. Johnny Bangs’ future was in right-wing insurrection.