Weekly Wire
Salt Lake City Weekly Militant Straight Edge Goes International

By Ben Fulton

SEPTEMBER 21, 1998:  Move over polygamy. Salt Lake City's militant vegan Straight Edge movement is quickly becoming the topic of choice for the international press, second only to the state's pre-eminent public relations problem of multiple wives. Abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, drugs and sex is par for the course in Utah. Straight Edge adherents take clean living one step further by swearing off all animal products. More militant practitioners have been known to turn belligerent in the face of people who live differently.

Vandalism, fights, and even the firebombings of fast-food restaurants and a fur feed plant by suspected militant Straight Edgers over the years have formed a record so long and intriguing that calls to the Salt Lake Area Gang Project from London and other overseas capitals have become increasingly common.

A front-page article in the Los Angeles Times on Salt Lake City's violent straight-edge youth made it all the way to syndicated publication in an English-language Japanese newspaper, and rocked Olympic delegates in Nagano gearing up for Salt Lake City's 2002 Winter Games. An article in the British Daily Telegraph followed.

So did a scornful profile of the issue in this month's edition of The Face, a glossy style and music magazine out of London. "Salt Lake City is the town where you can be beaten with chains for having a fag [cigarette], or have your skin branded with an X' for tucking into [eating] a burger," the magazine's table of contents reads. "The Mormon capital where the moshpit at punk gigs is the powerbase for teenagers who have vowed never to have sex and will go to jail to protect animals is the American city where clean living is very definitely healthy living. Thanks for visiting: you'd better have a nice day."

Gang Project community coordinator Michelle Arciaga says it's only 10 to 20 percent of the local Straight Edge movement that espouses violence and mayhem, but they're a very fierce minority.

"I would guess we've gotten 15 or 20 media calls regarding Straight Edge over the past six months," says Arciaga. "People are fascinated by it because kids who don't drink or use drugs usually flies in the face of what you'd call gang behavior."

photo: Fred Hayes
Keeping his chin up: Suspect Clinton, Marvin.

The event culminating in all of this publicity was an alleged Straight Edge attack on members of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity for smoking cigarettes outside the Pie Pizzeria this April. After spraying mace over the small crowd gathered at the restaurant, fraternity member Michael Larsen says a gang of about 30 Straight Edgers went after people with tire irons, bats, chains and brass knuckles.

"They maced even the women, then they attacked while everyone's eyes were out," says Larsen, who suffered a black eye after the incident. While some escaped with only bruises and knots, one person suffered a broken foot, while another spent the night at a hospital, Larsen says.

"They came at us from all sides, then they were gone in their cars just as fast as they were there. This was not just criminal mischief, these guys planned this out. People don't just come out of the shadows for no reason."

Arrested in June for his suspected role in the attack was Clinton Marvin, a 24-year-old sporting a Maori-like tattoo on his chin. Det. Brent Larsen (no relation to the victim), an officer with the Gang Project specially assigned to Straight Edge-related crime, could not speak on the case without permission of his supervising officer, but said he was familiar with Marvin as a suspect in the case.

A preliminary hearing regarding the Pie Pizzeria incident is set for October at Third Circuit Court. Back at the fraternity house, Michael Larsen is somewhat surprised there haven't been more arrests in the case. "I would never attack someone for not smoking a cigarette," Larsen, an occasional smoker, says. "I might just shake their hand instead."

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