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Friends Stand United (FSU)

Insurgency Overview

Friends Stand United (FSU) is a loose network of militant anti-racist and anti-narcotic groups. FSU was formed in Boston, Massachusetts in the late 1980’s by Elgin James (now an American filmmaker and musician). The organization grew from the hardcore music scene – a more aggressive offshoot of punk rock. FSU particularly finds its roots within the straight edge subculture within the hardcore scene. Initially, the group formed in order to purge the Neo Nazi skinheads and drugs from the hardcore scene through violent action. Over its history, FSU has been accused of various incidents of unprovoked violence, some which have resulted in murders. FSU has also been accused of using their power to extort individuals in the hardcore scene.

History & Foundations

As aforementioned, FSU was born out of the Boston hardcore scene. Early bands like Bad Brains, Black Flag, and Minor Threat brought on a more aggressive and heavier sound. Individuals within the scene also changed their appearance from the stereotypical punk aesthetics (i.e mohawks and spiked jackets) to athletic clothing and streetwear (1). A subculture that came about within the hardcore scene was straight edge; a personal promise amongst members to abstain from drugs and alcohol. The tenants of this subculture within hardcore grew from the song “Straight Edge” by the DC hardcore band, Minor Threat. Although this straight edge subculture initially began as a positive one within the broader hardcore scene, it began to adopt a more militant significance as a result of its spread to other cities, such as New York City and Boston (2).

One individual that was captivated by the straight edge hardcore scene was Elgin James. Elgin James grew up in rural Connecticut on a farm, and his adoptive parents were a white couple who were involved in the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi (1). James noted that his upbringing was chaotic due to frequent physical abuse from his adoptive father. He also experienced an identity crisis due to him being mixed race with white adoptive parents. He also knew almost nothing about his biological parents (1). This alienation and abuse brought James into punk rock music (3) and – as he began seeking a ‘harder’ scene – James became part of the anti-racist skinhead culture (before becoming a part of the hardcore one). Within the hardcore scene, James became part of the straight edge lifestyle.

After high school, James enrolled in Antioch College in Ohio and – while he was at home for the holidays – he was attacked walking down an alleyway. His injuries were extremely severe and he spent several months recovering, henceforth forcing him to withdraw from the university. This forced James to live on the streets living in squatters and after a long period of train hopping and squatting across the US, he eventually settled in Boston, Massachusetts (3). James and other squatters, being straight edge, began clearing the neighborhood of drug dealers by beating them up and robbing their money to use for survival.

In the 1980s, the Boston hardcore scene was plagued by Neo Nazi skinheads. Individuals like James did not take kindly to this intrusion into the scene and decided to fight back. After various battles and instances of direct confrontation with Neo Nazi skinheads, James and his friends decided to form a more legitimate group (1), which led to the formation of FSU. The FSU originally stood for “Fuck Shit Up”, but later stood for “Friends Stand United”.

Ideology & Objectives

Word of FSU spread throughout the national hardcore scene. Makeshift hardcore crews that stood for the same anti-drug and anti-Nazi ethos reached out directly to James for permission to become a chapter of the organisation. Eventually, FSU chapters formed in Philadelphia, Chicago, Arizona, Los Angeles, Seattle, Upstate New York, and New Jersey (1).

Each one of these chapters carried out an agenda of ridding their local scene of drugs and Neo-Nazism through violent means. Fist fighting is the standard approach of the FSU, although the organization is also known to use weapons. For instance, FSU would use brass knuckles, baseball bats, knives, hammers, and even makeshift weapons like padlocks in socks. A lot of the violence carried out by the FSU is only formally known to the hardcore scenes where they have a presence and remains relatively unknown to the general public. However, this changed after the release of the documentary “Boston Beatdown: See The World Through our Eyes – Volume II” in 2004. The documentary was a mix of commentary from FSU leaders, footage of their street fights, their fights at hardcore shows, as well as collections of music of various FSU-affiliated hardcore bands (4). The documentary gave the general public a glimpse and quick history of the straight edge and hardcore scene.

The goal of FSU is to have control over the local hardcore scene wherever they are located. FSU aims to entirely purge the scene from drug dealers and any Neo-Nazis. They also regulate the venues and bookings for concerts by working directly as promoters and posing as security. This type of control has put the organization under scrutiny. After claims by individuals as well as the release of the “Boston Beatdown” documentary, FSU began to draw the attention of law enforcement.

Approach to Resistance & Armed Capabilities There have been various incidents linked to FSU that have caused the organization to be labeled as a street gang by the FBI. In 2005, a 36-year old man named Matthew Carlo was beaten to death following an altercation involving members of FSU at a hardcore show in Troy, New York. Six men were arrested, among which Lionel Bliss (an FSU member and bouncer) was charged with negligent homicide (1). Again in 2005, an FSU-affiliated band held a show in Tucson, Arizona. A large fight erupted and – after spilling out into the parking lot of the venue – men affiliated with FSU who were armed with hammers and machetes chased an individual. This eventually escalated into this individual shooting and killing an FSU member (1). In 2014, another major brawl occurred in Cleveland, Ohio. Allegedly, the reason for the fight was tension between FSU members and members of another hardcore crew called “Swing On Sight Family” (6). The festival called “Fire Fest” booked bands affiliated with FSU and bands affiliated with SOSF, causing tension at the festival. A witness stated that 50 to 100 men were armed with machetes and guns. Everyone was fighting in the street outside the venue until someone fired shots in the air, resulting in everyone dispersing and fleeing. This brawl resulted in the hospitalization of 5 people and the arrest of 23 others (6). Elgin James also faced federal extortion charges in 2009 that involved FSU (6).

Additionally, Tony Lovato (from the band “Mest”) claims that his band had an argument with FSU-affiliated members in Chicago. Lovato stated that, after the tour, they were attacked by FSU members. Afterwards, Lovato claimed that they were contacted by Elgin James, who demanded money from Lovato’s band and threatened to attack them with other FSU members if they did not comply. During the following tour, Lovato stated that his band was repeatedly attacked by alleged FSU members and consistently contacted by James to pay $5,000 to FSU for protection (6). There was speculation that Lovato was targeted by James and FSU due to his ties to a white power band early in his musical career (7). Elgin James was charged with federal extortion charges and served 10 months in jail for the crime.

Current Situation Many of the original members of FSU have either stepped away from the hardcore scene and FSU as a whole, or have moved on to outlaw motorcycle clubs. After serving time for federal extortion charges, Elgin James stepped away from FSU and the Boston area to pursue a career as a film director in Los Angeles. FSU still exists in the form of various autonomous chapters in Philadelphia, Chicago, Arizona, Los Angeles, Seattle, Upstate New York, and New Jersey. Due to prevalent hardcore crews in various areas, it has prevented any nationwide expansion of FSU. Over the years, it appears that FSU has made attempts to keep a lower profile out of the public eye, only being well known to those within the hardcore scene.

Works Cited (Chicago-style)

(1) - Binelli, Mark. “Punk Rock Fight Club” Rolling Stone, August 23, 2007,

(2) - Smith, David Shadrack. 2008. National Geographic: Inside Straight Edge. National Geographic

(3) - Gangland. 2008. Rage Against Society. The History Channel

(4) - Morris, Ronin. 2004. Boston Beatdown: See The World Through Our Eyes, Volume II. Crosscheck Records

(5) - O’Bryan, James. “Hardcore Crews Battle in Lakewood – 23 Arrested”. Lakewood Observer, April 21, 2014, https://lakewoodobserver/read/2014/04/21/hardcore-crews-battle-in-lakewood-23-arrested

(6) - US Attorney’s Office. “Alleged Founder of Street Gang that Uses Violence to Control Hardcore Punk Rock Music Arrested on Extortion Charge for Shaking Down $5,000 from Recording Artist for Protection” The Federal Bureau of Investigation, July 14, 2009,

(7) - Chicago. “Elgin Nathan James, Gang Leader Turned Filmmaker, Sentenced For Extortion In Chicago”. Huffpost. Last Modified December 2017.

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