Greg Withrow never met any of the eight white supremacists arrested this month on charges of plotting to kill Rodney King, the Rev. Al Sharpton and other well-known blacks. But when he heard the news, he shuddered with guilt.
"I guess I'm kind of responsible," said the man widely acknowledged as founder of the "skinhead" movement in 1978. Mr. Withrow, 31, has since renounced white supremacist organizations. "It became apparent that I held the youth movement in the palm of my hand. . . . I am sorry for what I have done."
Mr. Withrow and others said that white supremacist skinheads tend to adopt an anarchistic lifestyle in which race and hate crimes are celebrated.
In keeping with this attitude, groups around the country are only loosely confederated. "I called it the '100 Hitlers policy' to set up cells across the country," he said. "The police can crush one cell, two cells, but the movement continues."
Leaders of the cells tend to meet each other only through more traditional organizations, such as neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and White Aryan Resistance, which use skinheads as foot soldiers.
"In the past," Mr. Withrow said, "you had older people recruiting young people. What is happening now is peer pressure -- you have young people recruiting young people. You have people who feel disenfranchised. They are offered a way to vent."
These young white supremacists, law enforcement officials and other experts agree, are the most violent part of what authorities call the "hate movement."
According to a report this month by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, there are an estimated 3,500 active skinheads around the country, more than double the number reported in 1988. The report, based on law enforcement and other sources, said that skinheads are believed to be responsible for 22 bias murders in the past three years.
Two weeks ago, federal and local authorities in Southern California arrested eight people on charges of conspiring to kill Mr. Sharpton, a controversial New York minister; Mr. King, a black motorist beaten by white Los Angeles policemen; and other well-known blacks. The eight, who belonged to groups called "The Fourth Reich Skins," the "White Youth Alliance" and "White Aryan Resistance," allegedly also were plotting to blow up the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles and to gun down its parishioners.
Mr. Withrow said he was brought up to be a racist. "Some fathers raise their sons to be doctors, some fathers raise their sons to be lawyers," he said in a telephone interview Thursday from his home in rural Oroville, Calif. "I was raised to be the Fuehrer."
While Mr. Withrow was growing up in nearby Sacramento, his father made him study the life of Hitler and read hate literature. At 14, he joined the Klan, and later that year he was arrested for mugging an undercover policeman in San Francisco. "I had formed a racist group that went around mugging Japanese tourists and homosexuals," he said. "The cops set up decoys and I got arrested."
After jail, he went to American River College in Sacramento and formed the White Students Union and the Aryan Youth Movement. The groups printed tens of thousands of pieces of hate literature, blaming ethnic minorities and Jews for all the problems of the world.
"We began making contact with skinheads in England and we brought over the skinhead ideology," he said. "At first many adult racists were not accepting of our movement, but in time they [skinheads] came to the forefront. They became the warriors."
Tom Martinez, a former white supremacist, said he believes skinheads are the most dangerous segment of the hate movement. "There is a lot of angry youth out there," he said. "Many of these kids have a good gripe against society."