Extremist Prison Gangs Spill Into Mainstream

White supremacist prison groups like the East Coast Aryan Brotherhood, which spawned the plot described in the saga of Leo Felton and Aryan Unit One, are nothing new. But in the last few years, these gangs' activities (see related interview, Behind the Wall) have spilled over into the free world with greater frequency.

A few recent examples of this alarming trend:

NOVEMBER 1997 During a wave of racist Skinhead violence in Denver, a police officer and a West African immigrant were murdered by young men who had been recruited into racism at the Lookout Mountain Youth Prison. Nathan Thill, who killed immigrant Oumar Dia at a bus stop, explained that the man was "wearing the enemy's uniform" — his black skin.

JUNE 1998 The truck-dragging murder of James Byrd, Jr., in Jasper, Texas, was carried out by two men — John King and Russell Brewer — who were apparently transformed into racist killers by their prison experiences. Both joined the tiny Confederate Knights of America while they were inmates; King even acquired a tattoo of a black man being hanged.

AUGUST 2000 Four alleged members of the Aryan Circle, the Aryan Brotherhood's main prison rival, were charged with drug and weapons crimes after being arrested in Fort Worth. Robert Massey, one of those arrested, had served time in a Texas prison from 1997 to 1999.

OCTOBER 2001 In the backlash against Arab-Americans that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a Bangladeshi immigrant was gunned down while working at a Texas gas station. Mark Stroman, later convicted of the killing, was an ex-convict member of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.

FEBRUARY 2002 Just a few days before the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, police reportedly foiled a plot to attack Jewish athletes. The plan, they said, was one of a number of recent incidents in Utah involving white-supremacist parolees. "These guys [are] coming out and wanting to express their views," Ogden Police Lt. Loring Draper told The Deseret News.

APRIL 2002 Five members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas were arrested after a botched hit on another member resulted in a spray of semi-automatic gunfire into a quiet Austin neighborhood. One of those arrested, ex-convict William Maynard, 31, was one of five "generals" who allegedly lead the national Aryan Brotherhood. The FBI said the incident was part of a gang power struggle that had included a "string of killings" across the state.

OCTOBER 2002 Federal prosecutors indicted 40 alleged members of the Aryan Brotherhood from 12 different states, accusing them in 16 murders and 16 attempted murders intended, partly, to maintain control of prison criminal activities. "Part of the reason we went after them," said one law enforcement official, was that "we saw them attempting and in some ways achieving an expansion of their power outside of prison walls."