Monday, June 17, 2024

Long Beach Lost: The forgotten LB origins of one the most notorious white power gangs, PEN1

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Editor’s note: This Long Beach Lost article first appeared on Longbeachize in December of 2016; it has since been extensively updated and contains language which could be offensive and descriptions of violence.

Long Beach likely doesn’t know Donald Reed “Popeye” Mazza—the man who largely became the most known leader of the nation’s first hybrid street-prison gang Public Enemy No. 1 (PEN1) after it moved its home base from Long Beach to Orange County—nor were they likely paying much attention when he admitted last year in court he was going to kill one of his fellow gang members for fear of retaliation from the Aryan Brotherhood.

What you should know is that he attempted to pull off one of the most absurd attempts at removing himself from his horrid love affair with white supremacy, violence, and crime, when he decided to get baptized in 2014 and use that evidence in order to get out of jail—a ploy that obviously failed. 

And like many forms of hate, it represents the vacuousness with which it starts and the showmanship many of its leaders choose to partake in when their power is strangled—and with the FBI’s 2020 Hate Crime Statistics updated earlier this year, it is a stark reminder that even in the liberal bastion that is most of SoCal, these ideologies remain alive and well throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

How PEN1 evolved—and still controls many of its members, past and present

PEN1 is anything but Christian—and the people I’ve spoken to on this still wish to remain anonymous, even after seven years following my first publishing. 

“I’m not talking any more on it,” said one contact via text. “Mazza might be a mess but that doesn’t make it dangerous as fuck to discuss, especially online. Do not text me about this again.”

Other past members or affiliates who have spoken of PEN1 on the record have resulted in dangerous if not outright lifetaking situations. One of its most profiled cases was that of Scott Miller, a Long Beach-based founding member of PEN1 who was executed in the back of the head with a 9mm handgun by Michael Allen Lamb and Jacob Anthony Rump on March 8, 2002, after he gave a Los Angeles Fox News affiliate an on-camera interview.

Miller, like many during the initial forming of PEN1, wasn’t necessarily filled with hate in the beginning but he was, at least initially, a punk. In fact, the name of the group acts as a double-entendre, playing with both “Public Enemy No. 1” and the 1980’s British punk band Rudimentary Peni (which has no formal tie to the gang).

“Scott Miller was my friend, yes,” said a non-member and old school punker who now resides out of the country. “His nickname was ‘Scottish.’ Started off as a tough surf punk kid and, as his rep grew, he got caught up in his own fantasy of what being tough really meant. When we were about 19, he shot the leader of the L.A. Death Squad [aka LADS] and after that he became, like, a god to all those Huntington Beach skinheads. It went downhill from there.”

The division of the punk scene in L.A.: Fascists versus anti-fascists

The American punk scene—which originated on the East Coast in anti-authoritative groups that espoused a deep intolerance toward hatred—became snarled in violence when it arrived in Los Angeles, particularly between 1983 and 1986.

Authors Heath Mattioli and David Spacone noted in their already seminal “Disco’s Out, Murder’s In!”, an account of Frank the Shank’s rise to power via the La Mirada Punks (LMP), that the punk scene in LA became a term synonymous with violence.

What the book reflects in the quote above is how many got swept up in the dark side of it all. Frank the Shank, in his own words on a now-deleted online forum, celebrated the 30 years of LMP’s influence online before the publishing of his book:

can you belive [sic] that LMP has been running La Mirada since 1977, we have been around since punk-rock began. new york influenced it, england started it, Los Angeles made it hard-core and the LMP made history of it ! 

From Frank to VICE—which noted in its own interview with Mattioli and Spacone that guys from “the 80s DC scene got beat up a lot, but then they came to L.A. and saw an even more aggressive scene”—to one of my own sources, each have noted that L.A. marked the geographic point where violence took over punk.

“It’s funny,” said one source. “I grew up a middle class kid—on the East Coast—but when I moved here to Long Beach as a teenager, I was dropped in the middle of a lot of insane things. Being a punker back home, we were just kinda arty weird kids into fun aggressive music but out here it was intense. Tons of gangs like LMP or FFF (Fight for Freedom, a gang that drew bafflement from the LAPD), drugs, and plain, all-out lunacy.”

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Even Scotty Wilkins, singer of Verbal Abuse, noted in American Hardcore: A Tribal History: “I was in the LADS. […] Guns started to get involved. I remember sitting across from Perkins Palace in Pasadena, with a few dudes from FFF. They started passing out guns and I was like, ‘I’ll see you later.’ […] It was all pretty stupid. That’s why I left in 1983 for San Francisco.”

One former LMP noted that group “turned to that Neo Nazi skinhead shit” sometime in the early 2000s: “LMP beefed a lot. Too many to list: They beefed with LM13, Sunrise, Pig Children, South Bay Skins, Carson Skins, Norwalk Insane Punks, Jim Town…

“LMP is still around though,” he said. “Runnin’ along with the Belcher Street Punks.

PEN1’s glorification of violence—and its epicenter in Long Beach

It is this glorification of violence and inner-gang beef that proved Miller’s murder of a LADS member so potent: LADS, which had an intimate allyship with LMP in their beginnings, started in Hollywood in the early 1980s as a punk gang that fought with everyone from the Suicidals from Venice to Long Beach’s own Vicious Circle. Come a few years down the road, a guy called Gangster started the South Side LADS (S.S. LADS), representing the Long Beach area and Orange County with a mixture of whites and Latinos. This marked its turn into a full-fledged gang operation: selling drugs, home invasion, violence…

The result was a convoluted mess of identities, missions, and philosophies. Following the murder by Miller, some of the S.S. LADS joined PEN1 or the far more powerful Aryan Brotherhood, while the Latinos separated into full-on barrio gangs and furthering the racial divide.

This made Long Beach—in between Hollywood and Orange County—one of the hotbeds for gang violence.

“Fender’s Ballroom [in Long Beach] in the fuckin’ 80s?” said a former member of LADS. “Shit was like a weekly UFC fight. Anyone who was anyone in a gang would go there, beat the shit out of each other. Toward the end, the SOS [aka Sons of Somoa, a Long Beach-based gang that was an extension of the Crips] got involved… People ended up getting stabbed and shot so the place got shut down.”

It earned the club the name Fender’s Brawlroom.

This made sense: Fender’s operated during the peak of violence in the punk scene, from 1984 to 1989, and with acts ranging from Black Flag to the Descendents, GWAR to The Adolescents, Bad Religion to Sublime. To top it off, methamphetamine—”snort’n’smoke mounds of it before and during shows,” according to one former LADS member—along with ringers and slammers (the name given to those who shot cocaine) and smoking sherms (cigarettes dipped in PCP) only added to the insanity and lack of clarity in an already hostile situation.

“When all that gang shit started, that killed everything,” said Shawn Stern of Youth Brigade. “Everybody was fighting with each other. People started carrying guns to shows. I was promoting Fender’s shows and we’d have shootings. It sucked. I mean, kids punching each other is a fact of life. The fights in the early days, most of the time, were one-on-one, plus it was about something.”

PEN1’s shift in operations to become the country’s first hybrid, prison-street gang

PEN1 thus simultaneously gained power but lost it: as the artists of the punk scene—from Henry Rollins, who denounced it from the get-go, to Jack Grisham of T.S.O.L., who admitted he contributed to it—began to see it as a tangible detriment, PEN1 had to move operations. As it slowly left its Long Beach roots and headed south into Orange County during the 90s, it became more notorious, more violent, led by its obsession with speed trafficking, prostitution, and identity theft as they recruited “latchkey kids”—bored, upper-middle class white kids.

However, the execution of Miller marked a significant growth in PEN1. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), PEN1’s increasing strength stems to a large degree from its ability to “position itself as a white power criminal organization capable of operating both on the streets and in the prison yards as foot soldiers for older, more established white supremacist prison gangs, such as the Aryan Brotherhood.”

One source puts it this way: “Part of the reason [the gang] grew in prison is that the Aryan Brotherhood is a validated prison gang and thus members are put in the SHU [Special Housing Unit, otherwise commonly known as solitary confinement]. Somebody had to run the whites on the main yards so it got passed to the Nazi Low Riders and, once they got validated [as a prison gang], it went to PEN1… When I see them at the Observatory (in Santa Ana), it still turns my stomach (but people told me) it’s too hard to identify them and it’s impossible to have a dress code enforced at punk shows. You don’t really see them in Long Beach unless the come in for a random show. It’s always been more of an OC thing even though it’s early roots were here.”

In short: after the Aryan Brotherhood was state-designated a prison gang—and thus dwindling its power through harsher sentencing that equally dwindled operations like drug sales—the Low Riders acted as foot soldiers for the Aryan Brotherhood, helping connect it to the drug world and beyond.

However, the Low Riders soon earned the same designation, sending their key members to the SHU, prompting PEN1 to take over since they are not technically a prison gang according to California Department of Corrections guidelines. A prison gang is defined as a group that is developed in prison and exists for the purposes of inside activity, although foot soldiers on the outside are not uncommon. Those harsher sentences we mentioned? Auto-assignment to the SHU, prompting segregation from the rest of the population. (A regular inmate can only be sentenced to the SHU if he or she is a threat to institutional security or has been rigorously proven to be an associate of a prison gang.)

The result? A rise in clout for PEN1.

How Mazza became the face of PEN1—and invited massive scrutiny from authorities

This was cemented by the aforementioned Mazza, one of the leaders of PEN1 and the founder of the PEN1 Death Squad (PDS) as well as one of its three members given SHU sentences; Nick “Droopy” Rizzo and Devlin “Gazoo” Stringfellow joined Mazza due to their connections to the Aryan Brotherhood and Low Riders. Mazza’s creation of the PDS was a major turn in PEN1’s history: to be a member, one had to murder an enemy.

Mazza eventually earned his “dancing shoes” with the Aryan Brotherhood in the the summer of 2005 at Pelican State Prison, meaning he was an official member of the Brotherhood and further adding to the clout of PEN1 on both the inside and out. Between 2004 and 2007, PEN1’s ranks doubled to an estimated 400 members.

This surge in clout and membership brought about two major blows to PEN1’s operations from law enforcement agencies that decade, specifically 2006 and 2010.

A 10-month-long investigation in 2006 into PEN1 led by the Anaheim Police Department resulted in the arrest of 67 alleged members of the gang across 75 locations. With 300 officers from more than two dozen federal and local law enforcement agencies, the operation was sparked by the discovery of a hit list held by PEN1 leaders that eyed an Orange County prosecutor and five police officers in different departments.

Orange County would launch its biggest assault on PEN1 in 2010, dubbed “Operation Stormfront” after the large white supremacy message board of the same name. Led by the arrest of 34 alleged members, county, state, and federal investigations resulted in three related state indictments that named 14 defendants on charges including extortion, conspiracy and solicitation of aggravated assault and murder.

This, however, has not deterred PEN1’s propensity to violence. The work of OC Weekly—particularly that of journalist R. Scott Moxley—has documented this most heavily, showing that outright pettinesspsychopathy and murderdrug abuse and sociopathysnitching being rewarded by law enforcement, lawsuits over identity, and other nightmares are the name of the PEN1 game.

Craig Tanber—just months after being released from prison in June 13, 2015 after agreeing to a plea deal in 2007 that landed him six years in prison for voluntary manslaughter—allegedly stabbed 22-year-old Shayan Mazroei in the upper torso multiple times outside a bar in Laguna Niguel on Sept. 8 of that year. The case divided a community, with family members urging to charge the crime as a hate crime and prosecutors saying they lacked evidence that the crime was racially motivated.

One of PEN1’s most disturbing violators of human decency, Billy Joe Johnson, was sentenced to death in 2009. He was not only involved in the murder to Miller but two other murders, Clyde Nordeen (killed with pick ax) and Cory Lamons (killed with a claw hammer and the murder with which Tanber was connected with). The latter murder was intended to simply be a “torturing,” with Johnson trying to extract information about the location of allegedly stolen money. Using a claw hammer as a tool to smack Lamons upside the head, Johnson didn’t realize that the trauma he was causing with his hits were life threatening.

The violence and hate hasn’t stopped: The aforementioned Stringfellow—nicknames “Gazoo” and one of the SoCal kingpins of PEN1—was murdered in 2018 in Folsom State Prison by fellow inmates. Kaiewa Haoletanno, who claimed to be a member of PEN1, was arrested that same year on charges that included assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury, torture, kidnapping, kidnapping to commit robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and car theft, all felonies, as well as false imprisonment. A Costa Mesa mural was vandalized with PEN1 racist propaganda in 2022.

PEN1 still mainly operates out of Orange County.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

1 COMMENT

  1. You forgot to mention the Eggtown Punks who beef regularly with Peni, they put hard boiled eggs in their rectums and do drive-by’s, shooting the eggs out via Kegel exercises – what looks like mooning is actually a lethal egg attack! Don’t mess with the EGP!! Oi Oi EggSkin Power!!

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