Local fans of “hardcore” music were thrilled to discover that Mesa was one of the planned stops on a popular band’s upcoming nationwide tour.
But when they learned the band, Earth Crisis, was to perform at a bar they believe supports white supremacy, they launched a successful online petition effort urging the band to play elsewhere. Now, Earth Crisis is planning to perform its March 14 show in Tucson.
“There is no room for racism in this day and age and not in this community!” wrote one visitor to the www.petitiononline.com site who signed his name only as “Matt.”
Another visitor, Evan Salazar, commented, “Anybody associated with white power should never be supported.”
The target of their concern is Vincent “Vinnie” Terrigino, an ex-convict who runs the Cell Block Venue, 525 S. Gilbert Road. The concert venue is attached to Papillons Too, a popular bar.
Terrigino currently awaits sentencing on a recent methamphetamine possession charge.
The issue cropped up because of a photo on Terrigino’s MySpace page that revealed a tattoo of a cross on his chest with the word “White” etched across the top and “Power” along the bottom.
Fans of hardcore music — a variant of punk rock characterized by tight, stop-and-go rhythms and harsh vocals — say they will continue to tell bands unfamiliar with the bar to stay away. The bar is open to customers of all ages but has a cordoned-off area that serves alcohol to patrons 21 and older.
Terrigino, 35, said his “White Power” tattoo is merely the remnant of a harsh prison experience in which he had to protect himself.
“To survive seven years in prison, you have to be a man, and getting the tattoos is like showing you’re powerful,” Terrigino said. “I’m an Italian, for God’s sake — I’m not a Nazi.”
The supremacist claims are based primarily on the tattoo. Other allegations that Terrigino is a gang member and that white supremacists hang out at the bar don’t quite check out.
The city could not offer any information to support a white supremacist gang connection to Terrigino or the bar. Bill Lamoreaux, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Corrections, said Terrigino has no documented gang affiliation.
But his critics in the hardcore music community said Terrigino’s insistence on keeping and displaying the tattoo is appalling.
“To us, if it’s something in the past, he’d cover it, but he clearly is not ashamed of it,” said petition-starter James Myhre, adding that he has never been to the Cell Block and that hardcore music stands for equal rights.
Even some visitors to the bar Friday night said they were surprised to learn of Terrigino’s background.
Patron Andy Mohr said he didn’t think someone with a criminal background would be allowed to work in an all-ages bar.
“I guess it’s good to give everyone a second chance, but I’m not sure a bar is the best place to do that,” Mohr said.
Terrigino’s girlfriend, Kristen Kahm, owns the bar, and the liquor license is in her name.
The Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control does conduct background checks on the owner and on anyone with a controlling interest of 10 percent or more who may have authority to hire and fire employees, order alcohol, sign paychecks and run the business on a day-to-day basis, spokesman Sgt. Wes Kuhl said.
An applicant who has been convicted of a felony within the past five years cannot get a liquor license.
“It’s not required that a bar appoint a manager, but if the licensee appoints one, then that person would go through a comprehensive background check as well,” Kuhl said.
Terrigino, convicted of aggravated assault and theft in 1999 and released from prison in 2006, handles booking duties for local and national touring bands for The Cell Block. He also helps with day-to-day activities.
Terrigino said that he has removed the online photo, and that he’s sick of explaining himself to the hardcore community.
“Anyone who meets me realizes I’m no Nazi,” Terrigino said.
“There’s a reason I have this tattoo, and this white supremacy ... has nothing to do with it,” said Terrigino, who said his prison experience has shaped who he is today.
Jesse Garland, who has worked in the bar since October, said he couldn’t believe it when he first heard about the allegations of racism.
“I thought it was a joke,” Garland said. “I’ve never seen anyone being disrespected.”
Art Levin, a security guard at the bar, said he can understand why Terrigino chose the “White Power” tattoo.
“In (prison), you’ve got to choose who you run with to protect yourself, but it doesn’t define who you are,” Levin said.
Terrigino said only the hardcore music community has taken issue with him.
“They sit behind a computer all day and assume stuff,” he said. “If I had seen that picture, I would have thought the same thing, but that tattoo does not represent me as a person.”