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A member of the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood gang who wanted to “prove himself” in order to join chapter in Texas has pleaded guilty to four federal hate crime charges associated with a series of racially motivated arsons.
One of the crimes Steven Scott Cantrell confessed to was attempting to burn down the historic Faith in Christ Church in Crane, Texas, last December in an effort to murder a disabled black man he thought lived there.
Cantrell, 25, became a sergeant in “Ace Deuce,” a branch of the Aryan Brotherhood while serving a prison sentence in New Mexico, federal court documents say. The group is has been notorious as an extremely violent prison gang for decades, but in recent years it has also had a growing presence in the free world. Although it does embraces racist ideology, most experts see the group as primarily a criminal enterprise.
“After relocating to Texas, Cantrell sought to prove himself to a branch of the Aryan Brotherhood in Texas (ABT),” the documents say. As part of that effort, “Cantrell went on an arson spree involving at least five fires.”
First, he entered and ransacked the Faith in Christ Church, writing a series of threatening, racist messages in large letters across the wall of the church next to the pastor’s office. The church serves a predominately black congregation in Crane, Texas, a community of 3,000 south of Odessa.
The Aryan Brotherhood member also tagged the church with references to Ace Deuce and ABT before deliberately starting a fire in an attempt to kill a disabled African-American man who he saw passing by in a wheelchair,” the documents say.
“The arson of Faith in Christ Church was part of a series of racially motivated arson that Cantrell perpetrated that day in his attempt to gain status with the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.
The Dec. 28 fire heavily damaged four connected buildings in the church complex, but there were no injuries.
In the second arson, court documents say, Cantrell started a fire in a home elsewhere in Crane where he believed a Jewish man was living.
For his next target, Cantrell set fire to Craig’s Gym, a for-profit athletic facility elsewhere in Crane.
“Cantrell targeted Craig’s Gym because he believed the owners helped Mexican and African American patrons and because the [business] was owned by a Caucasian man married to a woman of Mexican descent,” the court documents say.
The avowed racist “felt disrespected” by a Caucasian who married a woman with Mexican ancestry “because he believed the white race needed to be kept pure,” the court documents say. That arson was considered a federal crime because the facility is used for commercial purpose and is involved in activity affecting interstate commerce.
As his arson spree continued, Cantrell set fire to a church van belonging to the Tabernacle Baptist Church and a utility trailer owned by a business involved in interstate commerce.
Cantrell pleaded guilty on Friday to damaging religious property; use of fire in a federal felony; interference with housing and a federal arson count. He faces up to 35 years in prison when he’s sentenced on Nov. 30.