CITRUS HEIGHTS -- A decade ago, the influence of white supremacist gangs in the Sacramento region was so prevalent that skinheads with swastika tattoos could walk into area restaurants without drawing a second glance.
Leaflets denouncing minorities routinely appeared on neighborhood lawns, three area synagogues were set ablaze, and a Shasta County gay couple were murdered by a pair of racist brothers.
Law enforcement began calling 1999 the "Summer of Hate" and cracked down on the gangs until they seemed to disappear.
But they never really went away, and the mysterious slaying inside a Citrus Heights home before dawn Wednesday served as a reminder that the groups are still present.
The victim is believed to be 40-year-old David Lynch, one of the nation's best known hate-group leaders and a skilled organizer who aimed to unite disparate skinhead gangs as a force against minorities.
Citrus Heights police did not formally release the name of the man found with gunshot wounds to his head and torso inside a house in the 5900 block of Merlindale Drive.
But Lynch is listed as an owner of the home, and the Southern Poverty Law Center said its law enforcement sources had confirmed Lynch was the victim.
Police also did not release the identity of a man detained Wednesday afternoon as a "person of interest," but three law enforcement sources told The Bee the individual was an associate of Lynch from the world of hate groups who recently had been fired by Lynch.
Police went to the house after a 4 a.m. 911 call reported shots being fired. Officers found the man dead in a bedroom and a 33-year-old woman with a leg wound in the hallway. A law enforcement source said detectives believe the assailant may have entered the home through an unlocked door.
The woman, whose name was not released, was taken to Mercy San Juan Medical Center and was expected to survive. Police said a teenage girl and another woman inside the house were unharmed.
Lynch had worked for years as an asbestos removal technician and had several daughters from different relationships, acquaintances said.
It was clear from the front of his home that he did not care for some outsiders. The front doormat read, "Come back with a warrant." And a sign taped to the front door warned, "Jehovah's Witnesses or any other Christian solicitors will be sacrificed and eaten if you knock on our door!!!"
Despite the warnings, neighbors described Lynch as quiet and reclusive.
"He avoided any kind of confrontation, period," said neighbor Brian Hegney, 43.
The most common complaint against Lynch seemed to be that his Dodge Ram truck had a loud muffler, which could be heard when he left around 7:30 a.m. and came home around 5 p.m.
A sticker on the truck's back windshield on Wednesday paid tribute to "Joe Rowan: Fallen Hero." Rowan, killed in a 1994 shooting in Wisconsin, was lead singer of a Delaware skinhead band and a member of Hammerskin Nation, whose website says it is a "leaderless group of men and women who have adopted the White Power Skinhead lifestyle."
Neighbor Cori Llopis said Lynch would attend neighborhood Fourth of July celebrations, but stayed near his backyard gate rather than talking with neighbors. "He's been nothing but nice, but we haven't had anything to do with him," Llopis said.
Another neighbor, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, said Lynch was a skinhead who hung a Confederate flag from his roof last year on the Fourth of July. The family made a point of avoiding his home, the neighbor said.
Billy Roper, chairman of the Arkansas-based white supremacist group White Revolution, said he had known Lynch for a decade and that "he didn't go around trying to hurt people's feelings or use pejorative terms" toward minorities.
"It's a tragedy," Roper said. "I can tell you that I know how people view those of us who are white nationalists and they think that we're blind haters. David Lynch was one of the most friendly, kind, compassionate people you'd ever meet."
American Front founder
Experts on the shadowy world of white supremacists, racists and skinheads described Lynch as the founder of the hate group American Front and more recently a unifying force working to coalesce skinhead groups throughout the West.
"He really was a force in the skinhead world," said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. "The fact that he's dead is a blow to the skinhead movement. He was one of the survivors. Instead of flaming out, he really grew a base and really marketed the skinheads."
Hatewatch, a blog of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that campaigns against racism, described him as a "clever and charismatic racist skinhead organizer whose history of racist activism dates back to the late 1980s."
Sacramento Sheriff's Lt. Milo Fitch, who ran the gang unit from the mid-1990s until 2002, when hate groups in Sacramento were particularly active, said Lynch was a behind-the-scenes organizer who used his personality to attract recruits.
"He was very prominent in the white supremacist movement and continued to remain that way today," Fitch said. "He was originally from San Francisco and then ended up here after living in Florida for a while and bouncing across the country."
Fitch said Lynch had been an associate of two of the nation's most prominent hate-group leaders William Pierce of the National Alliance in West Virginia and Tom Metzger of White Aryan Resistance in the San Diego area.
"He was a very charismatic guy," Fitch said, adding that he once ran into him as Lynch was having drinks. "I could see why people would be drawn to him the people who are vulnerable, the kids they usually prey upon. He wasn't educated but very smart, articulate when you talked to him."
Levin, who has studied hate leaders for years, said Lynch most recently was involved in organizing skinhead protests in Southern California and that his longevity in such movements was a testament to his intelligence.
"He was part of the racist skinhead worlds, but even more than that he was someone who wanted to create a unified front to protect a nation, and particularly California, that he saw going down the tubes in large part due to demographic changes and the empowerment of minorities.
"He was a true believer. The movement really lacks charismatic leaders, and he was one of them."