Kansas City Star, Friday 04/23/99

Goths in KC area upset that Colorado suspects have been linked to their culture

By Oscar Avila

[Note: this is not a story about Anastasia's murder, but contains a reference to it]

Goths are used to the stares. That comes with the territory: the ghoulish makeup, black clothes, ominous music. Goths wear their labels of "weird" and "freaks" almost as badges of individualistic honor.

But some Kansas City area Goths were not ready for the backlash they felt after the suspects in Littleton, Colo., were linked to the Gothic culture.

Classmates identified the two suspects as part of the Goth scene because they dressed in black and wore makeup. Although they shared Goth tastes in fashion and music, later reports showed that their beliefs leaned more toward neo-Nazism than the Victorian era that Goths embrace.

One Goth said she was walking to her car in a Northland apartment complex when a motorist yelled obscenities and called her a killer.

Another Goth said a woman in a supermarket clutched her child closer when she passed by.

"I'm being looked at like I'm a monster," said Alison, a 17-year-old area high school student, as tears welled in her eyes. "We get it all the time anyway. Now we're getting it to the nth degree."

The Goth movement was born in the late 1970s, combining themes in centuries-old Gothic literature with modern music and fashion.

Goths traditionally wear black, but so do other groups. They lament that "Goth" has become an all-purpose description for brooding teens.

Goths do have a fascination with death. They write poems and songs on the subject. They also socialize in cemeteries; one Website rates graveyards in the area.

But area Goths interviewed this week say they do not condone violence. Satan and witchcraft are not part of their culture. They abhor racism, welcoming members of all races and religions into their clique.

Goths are bound primarily by their love of the arts, certain types of romantic literature and techno/industrial music.

"I think for kids Goth is a source of power, a source of community," said Kirk Olson of Minneapolis-based Iconoculture, which does market research on cultural trends. "Kids who feel alienated are searching for power in something else. One way of doing that is to differentiate themselves as much as possible from the mainstream."

Although Goths relish morbid themes, they remain lighthearted in weekly gatherings at Davey's Uptown, a midtown nightclub, and Sidney's, a coffee shop on Broadway. Conversation turns to politics, art and movies.

At this week's gathering, friends brought newspaper accounts of the Littleton shootings that they said were inaccurate.

They expressed similar concerns in 1997 when the Jackson County Sheriff's Department questioned whether Gothic connections played a role in Anastasia WitbolsFeugen's death. The 18-year-old Independence woman was found shot in a cemetery.

In previous months, WitbolsFeugen had begun painting her hair and fingernails black. But friends said she only enjoyed dressing in black and was not part of the Goth culture.

Area Goths say that it's possible a teen-ager could become immersed in Goth themes and misinterpret them. But they criticize the media and law enforcement for blaming Goth culture when tragedies occur.

The suspects in Littleton apparently were influenced by neo-Nazism, harbored racist attitudes and were in a simmering feud with the school's athletes. All of that would be anathema to a true Goth, according to Rik Millhouse, managing editor of Interface magazine, which follows the Goth culture.

Millhouse described Goths as "by and large passive people whose main direction in life is one of encompassing acceptance for persons of all colors, creeds and individual pursuits."

A sophomore at Oak Park High School said she plans to distribute fliers at school today encouraging classmates to be tolerant.

"I don't want them to think every person who wears black is this psycho," she said. "These boys had problems whether they dressed in Abercrombie & Fitch or Nine Inch Nails T-shirts and trench coats."

Even if the two Colorado suspects did not appear to buy into the entire Goth culture, they shared some sentiments with area Goths.

The suspects said other students made fun of them. They reportedly felt alone and that others judged them solely on their appearance.

Goths say that sounds familiar.

Amanda Rehagen, a student at the Kansas City Art Institute, said others have mocked her since she was in junior high.

"I completely understand why these kids did what they did," she said. "It wasn't right, but you can see how this could build inside them."

Ian Webb is no Goth. In fact, when he was a student at Winnetonka High School, he and other athletes made fun of them.

But after meeting them, Webb said, he thinks Goths are more tolerant than his other friends.

"You can't judge people on what they look like," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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