Leaders of Racist Prison Gang Aryan Brotherhood Face Federal Indictment

A massive federal indictment names the senior leadership of America's most frightening prison gang. But will it work?

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- Within the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and United States Courthouse here is a courtroom called the "Nuremberg room" for its resemblance to the famous chamber in which 22 leaders of the Third Reich were tried in 1945 and 1946 for crimes against humanity.

Both halls of justice have three-tiered docks where multiple high-profile defendants are shackled to anchors in the floor by chains hidden from view behind tables and podiums. Like the docks in Germany's Palace of Justice 60 years ago, the docks in Santa Ana this year have filled with self-avowed Nazis, Aryan warriors, and followers of Hitler.

But the Nazis standing accused in California are Nazis of a wholly different strain than Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal defendants like Hermann Goering and Rudolf Hess. They are white supremacist pimps, drug dealers and backstabbing shower-stall killers, glorified thugs with swastika tattoos. They covet power and oversee a criminal empire, but they are motivated less by furthering their die-hard racist ideology than satisfying their crude greed. They are the leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood (AB), the most notorious, powerful, and violent prison gang in America. Also known as the Brand or the Rock — a reference to the Shamrock tattoos AB members favor in addition to Nazi insignia — the gang in recent years has established criminal networks outside prison walls in cities, small towns, and suburbs across the country.

Their nicknames are worthy of professional wrestlers — Super Honky, The Baron, Lucifer — but the blood they have spilt by the bucketful has been all too real. Aryan Brotherhood members make up less than one-tenth of one percent of the nation's prison inmate population, yet the white power gang is responsible for 18% of all prison murders, according to the FBI.

The AB's carnage has spanned four decades. In 1981, two members of the Brotherhood who were incarcerated at the federal prison in Marion, Ill., murdered the leader of a rival gang, the D.C. Blacks, by sneaking up behind him in the shower and then brutally stabbing and slashing him 67 times. They then dragged his bloody, mutilated corpse through a cellblock while white inmates cheered and chanted racial slurs.

"I have walked over dead bodies," one of the AB assassins in that case later boasted in court. "I've had guts splattered all over my chest from the race wars."

The Last Arrow
Law enforcement authorities and prison officials have until now been unable to destroy the Aryan Brotherhood mainly because so many top leaders of the gang are serving life or multiple life sentences with no possibility of parole. These men laugh at criminal penalties that only add more time to their already infinite sentences.

Isolating the gang's leaders in solitary confinement hasn't worked either, because they always find way to communicate with each other and to transmit and receive reports, requests, and orders from prison to prison and down through the ranks, whether by bribing guards, subpoenaing each other to appear at court hearings where they employ hand signals and speak in code, or writing letters in a form of invisible ink made with their own urine.

These methods are time consuming. But time is one luxury the leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood possess in abundance. One sure way to stop them is to kill them, which is exactly what the federal government is threatening to do in a sweeping racketeering indictment that has drawn a rogue's gallery of 40 Aryan Brotherhood members and associates, including virtually all of the gang's veteran leaders, or "shot callers," to the Nuremberg room in Santa Ana.

Twenty-one of the defendants are eligible for the death penalty, making the Aryan Brotherhood indictment the largest death penalty case in the history of the American justice system. It is a decapitation attack.

"Capital punishment is the one arrow left in our quiver," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Jessner, who is spearheading the Aryan Brotherhood prosecution. "I think even a lot of people who are against the death penalty in general would recognize that in this particular instance, where people are committing murder repeatedly from behind bars, there is little other option."

The indictment alleges that over the past quarter century, Aryan Brotherhood members either personally committed or solicited 32 murders and attempted murders in order both to promote the gang's stature in prison and to maintain the AB's iron-fisted control of narcotics trafficking, male prostitution, gambling, and extortion among white inmates.

In one example, the indictment alleges that in 1997, AB leaders responding to an outbreak of racial violence inside the federal penitentiary in Marion issued a "formal declaration of war" on black inmates throughout the federal prison system by using coded phone calls and messages written in a secret double alphabet invented by Sir Francis Bacon in 1623. When they received their orders, AB operatives in the federal pen in Lewisburg, Penn., executed a carefully coordinated, simultaneous attack on black inmates, killing two and severely wounding four.

"My brothers and I have went to war, (make no mistake it is war) with all of the mongoloid races at one time or another, using knives, pipes, locks/rocks in socks," a member of the Aryan Brotherhood in Oklahoma who identified himself as "tree 1488" posted to a forum on prison gangs on the white supremacist Stormfront Web site in June. (The numbers 14 and 88 are both common white supremacist identifiers.) "At the end of some of these confrontations somebody is needed to be medi-flighted out, nearly always someone has had to go to medical. I carry my scars/badges of battle. Death is a very real possibility."

The racketeering indictment further alleges that Aryan Brotherhood leaders in prison have contracted killings and other violence by operatives in the free world to collect debts, silence witnesses, and crush competition. Wives and girlfriends of incarcerated AB commonly help smuggle drugs into prison and deliver messages back to AB members and minions in the free world. Four women are named in the current federal racketeering indictment for acting as couriers of information, drugs, and money.

While the precise number of Aryan Brotherhood members and associates is not known, the gang has chapters in virtually every major state and federal prison in the country. Estimates of AB's total strength vary widely, but nearly all exceed 15,000 members and associates nationwide, with roughly half in prison and half out.

"You gain ranks by battles, by 'missions,' not all of it locked up," explained tree 1488. "Brothers grow as close as vets do when they go into battle fighting for a common cause. We are there for each other even on the outside. I have a high ranking it has taken me nearly seven years of missions to earn."

The Oklahoma Aryan Brotherhood member went on the explain to the white nationalists on Stormfront that when he was first released from prison, "my neighbors on the outside were taken aback by my tattoos at first — sleeved out arms with shoulder caps that read 'Aryan Honor,'" but that he gradually won them over with his gardening and baking acumen. "I give them fresh vegetables when they are in season, cakes and so forth. I clue them in to white nationalism if they show an interest. Aryan Honor is the credo I live by."