Leo Felton’s Prison Plot, Aryan Unit One, Hits the Streets

A white-supremacist prison plot hits the streets-with an unusual 'Aryan' at the helm

The Training Facility
Two weeks after he walked out of Northern State, Felton got a letter from prison-mate Wesley Dellinger. Known to his cohorts as "Wolf," Dellinger headed the prison's brutal white-power gang, the East Coast Aryan Brotherhood.

"Prison can be used as a training facility," Wolf wrote, "and should be."

He was not talking about rehabilitation programs; he was talking about indoctrinating racists who would, once on the outside, put their ideology into action. As Wolf knew, Felton was living proof of how efficacious such training can be.

For the first several years of his sentence, Felton's mind wandered much the way it had in his teenage years. He began to read racist tracts, getting into trouble several times for possessing neo-Nazi materials from the Aryan Nations, a hate group based in Idaho. In 1993, he celebrated a prison wedding with Lisa Meetre, a nurse and former Skinhead who knew him in Maryland and corresponded with him after his convictions.

Two years later, he converted to Greek Orthodoxy, keeping Lent by praying and eating peanut-butter sandwiches instead of ordinary prison fare. He even began training for the priesthood.

But Felton's devotion to Jesus proved fleeting. By the time he was transferred to maximum security at Northern State in 1999, he had a serious reputation as a hard-core racist. Prison officials knew he had become a leading apostle of the White Order of Thule, a small "elite" group of racist pagans that Felton once described as a "graduate-level school of Aryan" ideology.

They knew he was part of the East Coast Aryan Brotherhood. They knew he had stabbed a black inmate when he tried to reach over Felton for a slice of cake in the cafeteria. They also knew that Felton had the kind of charisma that could win converts to his cause.

Still, they gave him an ideal cellmate: Michael Reid, another member of the Aryan Brotherhood. Felton soon hooked up with Wolf, who was the Brotherhood's "shot-caller" at Northern State, allegedly deciding which minority prisoners the brothers should try to kill.

Felton introduced Wolf to the intellectual bent of the White Order, which requires its members to learn Norse mythology and study highfalutin works by the likes of Jung and Nietzche. In return, Wolf helped Felton find a focus for the hatred that had always seethed inside him.

Communicating through prison "runners" and letters sent through friends on the outside, they cooked up what Wolf called "a revolutionary battle plan."

'The Spirit of Bob'
The plot was modeled on the Order, also known as the Silent Brotherhood or Bruders Schweigen. A gang of some two dozen white-supremacist outlaws, the Order robbed armored cars to the tune of $4 million, counterfeited money on Aryan Nations presses, and murdered Jewish radio host Alan Berg in Denver in 1984.

The guru of the Order, Bob Mathews, became a martyr to the movement when he died during a fiery shootout with the FBI that same year.

According to Thomas "Hammer" Struss, a New Jersey native lured by Wolf into the Aryan Brotherhood, the new effort would be "following in the path of the original Order, but learning from their mistakes and taking it to a whole new level."

As they left prison, Aryan brothers would organize a series of small, discrete, "well-placed cells," operating underground with false identities. Aryan Unit One would lead the way, with Felton taking Bob Matthews' role as the heart and brains of the assassination-and-demolition crew.

"Hail to you, Hail to Odin, the Spirit of Bob lives on," Wolf enthused in a letter to Felton.

 

Felton's comics told stories of violent Aryan heroes — but he couldn't make his life mimic his art.

Felton, who often invoked Matthews in the racist comic books he drew, was convinced that ex-convicts would make the best racist revolutionaries. Late in 2000, as his release date approached, Felton wrote to a co-conspirator: "There are many behind these walls that carry within them an intensity, a barbarity" that is "woefully lacking" among whites on the outside.

The co-conspirator he was writing on this occasion had never been locked up. Erica Chase, a 20-year-old who resembled a sorority member more than an Aryan warrior, was almost as unlikely a member of Aryan Unit One as Felton himself.

Described by her best friend's father as "a bubbly young lady," Chase grew up on toney Cape Cod, but fell in with racist Skinheads during her teenage years. After drifting from place to place, job to job, Chase had landed in Michigan City, Ind., where she worked at a used car lot, partied with the vicious Outlaw Hammerskins gang, and dreamed of finding a partner in her own violent ambitions.

In 2000, she started sending letters to Felton as part of a prison outreach effort by the World Church of the Creator, an anti-Semitic hate group based in Illinois.

In court, two of Chase's friends would testify that she had long talked about doing more than tattooing "WHITE POWER" on her toes. During a stint in Philadelphia, she told Skinhead pal James Nienczura that she wanted to blow up the local African American Museum, but "there was no one to do it with her." Sometimes, when the subject of "muds" or "niggers" came up, Nienczura testified that "she'd talk about shooting them."

If Chase was looking for a partner in hate crime, she found the ideal pen pal in Felton, who bragged in one letter about women being attracted to his "criminal mystique." As their correspondence flourished, Chase began to mail Felton the racist materials he requested.

"Executed like a true subversive," Felton wrote back approvingly after one such mailing. Whether she knew it or not, Chase was proving her mettle as a future member of Aryan Unit One.

During his last year at Northern State, Felton plotted with Wolf, pursued his long-distance romance with Chase, and stopped responding to letters from the black side of his family. He couldn't wait to lead the Aryans into battle.

In a letter to Chase dated "Yule 26th" 2000, Felton looked forward his impending release. "If I don't hear back from you before Jan. 28th," he wrote, "I might be on the street! Scary thought (for the untermenschen, not me)."

Itching for RAHOWA
Setting Leo Felton free was a little like releasing a chemical of dangerous but unknown properties into the air. In the words of U.S. Attorney Ted Merritt, he "wasted little time showing how serious he was" about inciting chaos.

Felton moved into the tidy Ipswich, Mass., home of his wife, Lisa, who had faithfully waited almost 10 years for him to join her. He immediately set to work on Aryan Unit One. He cased bombing targets. He ordered books and consulted Web sites that contained recipes for homemade explosives and explained how to go underground with a false identity.

An obsessive list-maker, he jotted down — and began to buy — the materials he would need to mimic the bomb Timothy McVeigh used to kill 168 people in Oklahoma City. At the bottom of some of his lists was an abbreviation that became a mantra: "OKC."

Calls flew back and forth between Felton and Chase — more than 200 in all, between February and April.

While Felton made plans to get an apartment in Boston for Aryan Unit One headquarters, Chase began helping him "clean" the counterfeit money he'd started printing off his wife's computer as a source of income for the cell. Felton sent Express Mail packages of faux currency to Chase, who would take the bills to stores, buy small items and receive real ("clean") money in return.

Felton's prison comrades egged him on. "In Odin's name, may you guide us to victory," wrote Wolf.

Michael Reid, after hearing of Felton's plans for the Boston Holocaust Memorial, seconded Wolf's emotion but injected a note of caution: "I'm very excited about this news," Reid wrote. "I know I don't need to say it, but heed it anyway: Many dry runs."

But the "brains" of Aryan Unit One was too impatient for dry runs, as the brawn — Thomas "Hammer" Struss — soon found out.

Shortly after Felton's Aryan brother got out of prison in mid-February, he called Felton, as Wolf had instructed him to do. Struss had never met Felton — they were housed on different yards at Northern State — so he saw this as a "getting-to-know-you" sort of call. But, as he later testified, it "pretty much escalated into telling me that I needed to get up there" to Ipswich.

"That's it," Felton said. "We need to start this off."

The Revolution Goes Awry
Struss was no pushover. He had entered prison as a teenager with no white supremacist leanings, but came out six years later as a compact-but-menacing Skinhead with "88" (racist code for "Heil Hitler") tattooed on his neck.

His nickname referred to the hammer of Thor, the Norse gods' mightiest weapon. But Hammer was, above all, a loyal soldier in the cause. He followed Felton's orders and caught a bus to Ipswich.

In a matter of hours, Felton was talking him into a bank robbery. "It'd be good to bind our blood as a loyalty test," Struss remembered him saying. Hammer was nonplussed. "We'd just met each other six hours ago and we were planning a job."

The next morning, Struss found himself in downtown Boston, waiting anxiously on the sidewalk while Felton cased a series of banks. "Then he came out and said, 'This is the one.'"

The one was a tiny branch of Citizens Bank, conspicuous on a bustling corner of the Boylston Street shopping district. Felton and Struss hastily cooked up a plan: After Struss held up the bank, he would flee on foot and meet Felton at a nearby Dumpster where Struss could shed the clothes that would be caught on the bank's surveillance cameras.

From there, they'd catch a cab. But wait: What about a hold-up note? Felton ducked into a nearby and purchased "a box of pens, a little notepad, and a yellow bubble-wrap envelope."

After some debate, the conspirators settled on the wording of a note: "No alarm. I've got a gun. Large bills."

As Felton skulked out of sight across Boylston Street, Struss went into the Citizens Bank and slid the note to a teller.

"She hit the alarm," he later testified, provoking laughter in the courtroom. "Then she started getting money out. I told her, 'Since you hit the alarm, can you hurry up?'"

The comedy of errors continued as Struss dashed out of the bank with the envelope, chewing up the note as he ran to the rendezvous point. The getaway plan, such as it was, fell apart when he and Felton met back up.

"We zigzagged down some side streets looking for a cab," Struss testified, but none would stop. After what seemed like hours, Felton successfully hailed a taxi and ordered the driver to speed toward Ipswich. They stopped at a pizza place to count their haul, which came to $1,128. And then they argued some more.

"I expressed to him that I wanted to get back to Jersey," Struss recalled, "to make sure there was nothing on us" before they attempted another hit.

Felton had no use for Struss' prudence. But finally he relented, sending his new blood brother away with the bulk of their haul, about $700. Struss was in too great a hurry to catch a bus, and by the time he got back to Jersey, his pockets were empty. The cab rides had cost him his whole share of the loot. The revolution was off to a sputtering start.