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Straight Edge

Friday, March 26, 1999
(This is an unedited, uncorrected transcript.)

HUGH DOWNS What parents wouldnít like their teenager to live a clean, healthy life, swearing off cigarettes and drugs and alcohol? Well, a movement called Straight Edge encourages kids to do just that. Straight Edge sounds like a parentís dream come true. So why are many people and a lot of law enforcement officials afraid of it? John Quinones has a terrifying story of Straight Edge followers going way over the edge in their passion for what they believe in.

JOHN QUINONES, ABCNEWS (VO) This may look like your typical punk rock concert, but itís not. Many of these kids are members of a growing subculture in America called Straight Edge. It may look wild and violent, but believe it or not, the kids say itís all good, clean fun. In fact, soócalled "Straight Edgers" donít even drink. They donít smoke, and they donít do drugs. Itís all part of the "straight" in Straight Edge.

JOE, STRAIGHT EDGE MEMBER All Straight Edge is, is a way to live your life better. Itís a way to live your life positive, and itís a brotherhood.

DAVE, STRAIGHT EDGE MEMBER Like, if I wasnít Straight Edge, I could just sell out. I could just not be drugófree anymore. It wouldnít make any difference. But being Straight Edge, I have Straight Edge friends. Itís more of a commitment.

ANDY MAUNCH, STRAIGHT EDGE MEMBER Itís like, whatís so bad about us? We donít drink. We donít smoke. A lot of us donít have promiscuous sex. It doesnít sound too bad to me.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Not bad at all, as long as you agree with the Straight Edge philosophy. But watch out if you donít.

DEPUTY BRAD HARMON, SALT LAKE COUNTY SHERIFFíS OFFICE Iíve not ever seen them back down. They will stand and fight for their cause.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Brad Harmon is a deputy with the gang unit of the Salt Lake County Sheriffís Office. He says Straight Edgers may boast of being squeaky clean and health conscious, but heís found many of them are nothing more than violent gang members who assault people who smoke and beat up people who drink alcohol.

BRAD HARMON Anybody that would say that theyíre not violent has not looked into them as a whole.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) The reality, says Harmon, is that the most militant Straight Edgers are nothing more than suburban terrorists, rebels with passionate causes. Not only are they opposed to tobacco, alcohol and drugs, many of them are strict vegetarians and staunch defenders of animal rights. Police say some Straight Edgers are so determined to prove their point that they firebombed this McDonaldís restaurant because it sells meat. They tried to set this store on fire because it sells leather. And then there was that bombing two years ago, just outside Salt Lake City. (on camera) This is the headquarters for a Utah the cooperative of fur breeders. Its members are farmers who raise minks for a living. In March 1997, police say six young men tied to the Straight Edge movement allegedly planted and then exploded several pipe bombs here, causing almost $1 million in damages. (VO) Authorities called it one of the most violent attacks in the US in the name of animal rights. In all, more than 40 cases of arson, vandalism or serious assault in Utah have been traced to the Straight Edge movement. Police say itís one of the fastest growing gangs in the state, with an estimated 2,000 followers, about 200 to 400 of them considered prone to violence. (on camera) Are these kids as dangerous as the Bloods, the Crips? Can they be?

BRAD HARMON I consider them every bit as dangerous. We see them carry weapons. We see them maiming people. We see them doing millions of dollars of destruction to business people around the city. In other countries, they call it terrorism. I would say itís about the same thing here.

JOHN QUINONES They sound like politically correct terrorists.

BRAD HARMON I couldnít say it better myself.

DAVE We donít have a leader. Itís nothing like a gang.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Meet some of the Straight Edgers from Salt Lake. Most of them say theyíre against violence. In fact, any one of themóDave, Mark, Joeócould be the boy next door.

MARK You meet a Straight Edge kid, donít immediately assume thereís some violent hatemonger because thatís not the case.

JOE By no means do we go around acting like hard asses or tough guys.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) But now listen to Andy Maunch (ph). He has a more belligerent tone than the rest of his friends, saying that he gets in fights all the time, but that theyíre not his fault.

ANDY MAUNCH Iíve got to die sometime. It might as well be dying standing up for what I believe in.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Andy says he wouldnít beat up someone who was smoking. But if someone insists on blowing smoke in his face and he canít get away from him, he has no problem getting violent.

ANDY MAUNCH If it resorts to violence, yeah, then I donít have a problem with that. I mean, thatís disrespectful to me, and thatís harming my body. I donít tolerate it.

JOHN QUINONES (on camera) But they have a right to smoke.

ANDY MAUNCH And I have a right to breathe clean air, too.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Who are these Straight Edgers? Well, they donít have gang leaders, and they remain rather elusive. But we do know that most are teenagers who come from upperómiddle class white families. The movement was started in the New York area in the 1980s by kids who were old enough to go into nightclubs but not old enough to be served alcohol. The Straight Edgers, marked by an "X" on their hands, started bonding together. (on camera) But why have some elements of the Straight Edge movement turned so violent here in Salt Lake City? Well, this is the home of the Mormon church. Itís a conservative community that prides itself on family values. On the surface, Straight Edge, with its no smoking, no drinking, no drugs approach, fits right into those values. The parents of Straight Edgers are so impressed with that approach that few of them noticed when some of their kids started taking their cause to an extreme, far over the edge. (Fraternity brothers singing) (VO) Take the night last September when Straight Edgers met these fraternity brothers from the University of Utah. The frat boys say they were hanging out at this pizza parlor when one of them stepped outside and asked a Straight Edger for a light.

MIKE ORTHNER (PH), FRATERNITY BROTHER I asked one of them for a lighter. And they said, "We donít do that thing. We donít use fire."

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Within minutes, Mike Orthner says he and his frat brothers were jumped by more than a dozen Straight Edgers armed with brass knuckles and other weapons.

MIKE ORTHNER Right there, I got hit with brass knuckles, right in the forehead. I went down, and then I just tried to push everybody off me, fight back. But it was 10 on one. And three of them had brass knuckles. I got hit in the back of the head with a sword.

JOHN QUINONES (on camera) A sword?

MIKE ORTHNER A sword.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Fraternity brother Ryan Taggart (ph) couldnít believe it.

RYAN TAGGART, FRATERNITY BROTHER This kid was waving around this Samurai sword, and a couple of us, we were just yelling, you know, "Drop your metal." You know, "We donít need this." The kid with the sword honestly looked a little crazy. I mean, heís just waving it around like heís teasing us with this sword.

MIKE ORTHNER Theyíre just vicious, you know. Itís like piranhas, a pack of piranhas on me.

JOHN QUINONES (on camera) Were you trying to get them to drink or trying to get them to smoke?

RYAN TAGGART No. No, we were doing our own thing.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) And this wasnít their first big fight. Several months earlier, an almost identical brawl with Straight Edgers sent frat brother Michael Larson (ph) to the emergency room.

MICHAEL LARSON, FRATERNITY BROTHER And before I knew it, I was being assaulted with a baseball bat. I sustained a few hits on the head, and I was out, unconscious.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Andy and his friends say they were not at those fights with the fraternity brothers, but they know fellow Straight Edgers who were there. And they say the frat boys provoked it.

ANDY MAUNCH I would have helped them if I was there. I would have done all I can to put everyone in the hospital.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) The issue wasnít smoking or drinking, they say. It was respect. (on camera) But what gives you the right to enforce with brutality your likes and dislikes?

ANDY MAUNCH If someone doesnít like it, then they shouldnít be disrespectful.

JOHN QUINONES But that doesnít mean you beat them up?

ANDY MAUNCH If thatís what happens, oh, well.

JOHN QUINONES You really mean that? What do you think of these frat guys?

ANDY MAUNCH I hate them.

PROF THERESA MARTINEZ (PH), UNIVERSITY OF UTAH Some of these kids are very, very much part of the cause. They really believe that what they are fighting for is righteous.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Theresa Martinez is a sociology professor at the University of Utah who specializes in street gangs. Sheís been tracking the Straight Edge movement for the past five years.

THERESA MARTINEZ If you strip away the message, in many ways, this is just another gang. Straight Edge is just another gang.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) The Straight Edge movement has now spread throughout the country. And though itís mostly nonviolent, authorities here say they are getting calls of concern from police agencies in other states.

BRAD HARMON Most of the time when they go to war or go to battle, they have a plan of attack. Itís just not a quick provoked incident. They usually know that somewhere theyíre going to have this occur during the night.

JOHN QUINONES (on camera) They accuse you guysóthey accuse Straight Edgers of being thugs.

ANDY MAUNCH They can accuse us of whatever they want. Weíre not the ones going around getting drunk, starting fights with people.

JOE Like they say, Straight Edge is so violent. But I mean, here I am, pacifist. Clark, pacifist. Probably half the kids I hang out with are pacifists.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Repeatedly they told us Straight Edgers donít start fight. Other kids attack them because of their beliefs. And society, they say, either misunderstands or misrepresents them.

JOE I donít see how people could label it as so wrong when itís such a positive thing.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) In fact, Andy and his friends describe themselves as nothing less than Boy Scouts with rather impressive aspirations.

ANDY MAUNCH I want to go into law enforcement, eventually become an ATF agent.

JOHN QUINONES (on camera) You want to become a law enforcement officer?

ANDY MAUNCH Yeah. Itís always been what Iíve wanted to do since I was a little kid

JOHN QUINONES (VO) All of the Straight Edgers we met say theyíre not gangsters or terrorists. They say they were not involved in any bombings or arsons. Andy, however, comes off like a soldier, a soldier of sobriety.

ANDY MAUNCH Survival of the fittest. If youíre strong, youíll live.

JOHN QUINONES (on camera) And if youíre not?

ANDY MAUNCH You die.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Just one week after our interview with Andy and his fellow Straight Edgers, there was another gang fight on the streets of downtown Salt Lake City. Police say about 30 suspected Straight Edgers and another group of kids exchanged words. Tempers flared, and a large brawl broke out. Bernardo Reprenza (ph), just 15 years old was beaten and stabbed to death. Among his assailants, say police, was Andy Maunch, who allegedly beat him unconscious with a baseball bat. The 18óyearóold who dreamed of going into law enforcement is now charged with firstódegree murder. He has pled not guilty.

ANDY MAUNCH You disrespect someone about being Straight Edge, about being whateveróI mean, if someone disrespects someone about their religion, I mean, thatís being disrespectful you, fight them. They die, thatís what they deserve.

HUGH DOWNS Andy Maunch is expected to go on trial for murder in July. Boy, zeal for anything can be a dangerous emotion.

BARBARA WALTERS When it goes that far. And we have just learned that local and federal authorities have put Straight Edge, along with other groups involved in domestic terrorism, on a list of people to watch closely during the 2002 Olympic games in Salt Lake City.