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?

Through the Past, Darkly
Most prisons were racially segregated until the 1960s. When they were desegregated, racial violence flared and inmates formed gangs along color lines. In 1964, white inmates at San Quentin Maximum Security Prison in San Quentin, Calif., founded the Aryan Brotherhood. From the beginning, the gang was steeped in racial hatred and neo-Nazism. The founders adopted swastikas and Nazi SS lightning bolts as the Aryan Brotherhood's identifying symbols and tattoos. Recruits were ordered to read Mein Kampf and to "earn their badge" of membership by attacking — and often killing — black inmates.

In 1973, no less a reputed mad-dog killer than Charles Manson was rejected by the Aryan Brotherhood when he asked to join but then refused to murder for skin color alone. "The AB want Manson to kill a black because black is black," Manson's lieutenant Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme wrote in a letter. "He will not do this and they are against him."

Throughout the 1970s, as the gang expanded, the AB constantly battled with black and Hispanic prison gangs in slow-burning wars of attrition fueled by racial hatred but truly fought over territory and profits. Then as now, the Aryan Brotherhood was both a white supremacist organization and a criminal syndicate.

"There's no doubt the Aryan Brotherhood are a bunch of racists, but when it comes to doing business, the color that matters most to them isn't black or brown or white — it's green," said prison gang expert Tony Delgado, Security Threat Group Coordinator for the Ohio Bureau of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Whereas the Order — a high-profile gang of hardened white power criminals who in the early 1980s robbed armored cars, counterfeited currency and machine-gunned to death a Jewish radio host — killed and robbed mainly to further the cause of white supremacy, the Aryan Brotherhood reverses that formula. The AB uses the white supremacy movement to further its criminal endeavors.

"The white power thing is mostly just a good recruiting tool and a way to maintain structure and discipline," said Delgado. "These guys are more about making money than starting any kind of white revolution. They sell heroin to white people all the time. That's not very Aryan or brotherly of them."

Joining the Movement
In 1980, the Aryan Brotherhood split into two separate but cooperative factions, one for gang members in federal custody and the other for gang members in state prisons, who had by then proliferated to Colorado, Arizona, Missouri and New Mexico. The federal faction of the gang formed a three-man "commission" to supervise and direct all Aryan Brotherhood actions inside federal prison. In 1982, the state prison AB faction followed suit.

Initiates to both factions swore lifelong allegiance to the gang with the same blood oath: "An Aryan brother is without a care/He walks where the weak and heartless won't dare/For an Aryan brother, death holds no fear/Vengeance will be his, through his brothers still here."

Also in the 1980s, the imprisoned leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood began to cultivate relationships with the leaders of neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations outside prison, most notably Aryan Nations. AB members in Missouri unsuccessfully challenged that state's ban on inmates receiving Aryan Nations literature, and AB members all over the country joined Aryan Nations under its alter-ego name, Church of Jesus Christ Christian. This "church" is a purveyor of the "Christian Identity" religion preached by late Aryan Nations founder and head pastor Richard Butler, whose "prison ministry" for decades promoted the doctrine that non-whites are "mud people" and Jews are the literal descendants of Satan.

Very few Aryan Brotherhood members are sent to prison originally for hate crimes. Typically they're sent up on robbery or drug charges and then join the gang for protection. But once they're members of the AB, white prisoners are indoctrinated into the virulent ideology of race war.

"We do what we have to do to make it in prison. If any of you ever have to go there you will fully understand. Until then you won't," a member of the Aryan Brotherhood posted in June to a Stormfront forum on which white supremacists were debating whether the Aryan Brotherhood should be embraced or shunned by white power activists.

"My name is Michael but all my brothers call me 'tattoo.' I am an overseer for the Alabama Aryan Brotherhood. I am currently incarcerated in Bibb County Correctional Facility in Brent, Alabama. I want to set the record straight on a few things I've head on this forum. The Aryan Brotherhood, my family, will always be a big part of the White Nationalist movement! We are under a blood and honor oath to live by the 14 words 'We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.' Any true soldier not only lives by these words but they would be embedded in his heart and soul. Rahowa! [Racial Holy War]"

Once they're released, some Aryan Brotherhood members commit terrible hate crimes in the name of Rahowa. The most infamous racially motivated murder since the civil rights era occurred in 1998, when three white men, two of them ex-cons, tied a black man, James Byrd Jr., to the back of their pickup truck with a logging chain, dragged him to death over three miles of country roads outside Jasper, Texas, and then deposited his shredded remains in front of a predominantly black cemetery. One of the ex-cons testified at his trial that he and one his accomplices had both joined the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas for protection from black inmates while they were incarcerated. When he rejoined society, his arms were covered with Aryan Brotherhood tattoos, including one depicting a black man being lynched. "You look at his arms," the trial prosecutor said, "and you see what's in his heart."

In October 2001, another member of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas who was enraged by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks gunned down a Bangladeshi gas station attendant simply because the victim "looked Arab."

The AB has reportedly toyed with terrorist plots of its own. In 2000, a longtime Brotherhood member and explosives expert-turned-government informant told federal investigators he had been approached by AB leaders inside Colorado's Supermax federal prison who asked him to provide them with technical information on making bombs in preparation for a series of attacks on federal buildings and officials across the country.

"It's become irrational," he said, according to an FBI report. "They're talking about making car bombs, trucks bombs, mail bombs."