The gang follows the late terrorist David Lane’s “14 Words,” a white supremacist motto: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children.” Unlike many other more flamboyant racist prison gangs, members of the ABT pride themselves on anonymity and their ability to blend in the general population as “suburban gangsters” on the outside.
In Its Own Words:
“God Forgives, Brothers Don’t.”
—Aryan Brotherhood of Texas Constitution.
“We’re peckerwood soldiers, down for our cause
Texas convicts, soldiers, and solid outlaws!
The rules we live by are carved in stone,
Awesome and fearless, bad to the bone.
In joints all over and from around the ways
People try to down us with each passing day.
The strength we have when we go to war
Was passed on to us from brothers before.
We'll go to war with our heads held high
Knowing some of us will get hurt and die.
None of that matters while the battle is on
We will fight to the finish, till all strength is gone.
Our bodies are solid, blasted with ink,
Warbirds and bolts are all that we think.
In times we turn cold, ruthless and hard,
The price we pay to survive in the yard.
We are peckerwoods down for our cause.
Texas convicts, soldiers and outlaws.”
—A poem written by a “peckerwood,” as ABT members sometimes refer to themselves
“There’s AB[T] in every town in Texas. I mean you’re going to run into them everywhere. You may not even realize that — they all don’t have shaved heads and tattoos.”
—Jason “Trooper” Hankins, interviewed in “Aryan Terror,” Gangland series, History Channel, 2009
“It was all about looking out for ourselves — spiritually, financially, physically. You know, taking care of our own. We considered ourselves to be professional criminals. We didn’t take or accept rapists or child molesters or snitches or nothing like that.”
—Former ABT member Bobby Adams, interviewed in “Aryan Terror,” Gangland series, History Channel, 2009
Like the similarly named but unrelated group Aryan Brotherhood, the origins of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas go back to the desegregation of prisons and the racial conflicts that resulted. In the 1970s, under the direction of Texas Department of Corrections chief George Beto, Texas prisons used a brutal “trusty system,” in which corrections officers used certain inmates, known as “building tenders,” to carry out physical punishments of other inmates. The officers favored white inmates as their tenders, and these men had nearly total control behind the walls. But that system was finally abolished in 1980, as a result of the federal court case of Ruiz v. Estelle, and inmates began to organize along racial lines to fill the power void.
White inmates, who were a minority in the prison system, were particularly angry after being stripped of their power, and in 1981 a group of them decided to form a prison gang along racial lines. The group, including ABT co-founder Bobby Adams, reached out to the Aryan Brotherhood in California, which was already nation’s most formidable white prison gang, and asked if they could form a Texas affiliate. But they were refused. In the end, the inmates, some of them already belonging to other small gangs, came together as the ABT. The ABT quickly rose to become one of the deadliest prison gangs in Texas, responsible for scores of murders over the years. They aimed to restore white power within prison walls and considered themselves to be new “building tenders.” They waged war against two rival black Texas prison gangs, the Mandingo Warriors and the Self-Defense Family.
Like other white prison gangs, including the Aryan Brotherhood, the ABT has a clearly white supremacist, if somewhat muddled, ideology. But it is an ideology that comes second to financial considerations, with members working with non-white criminals or non-white prison gangs if it will be profitable for them to do so.
As of 2012, the ABT had an estimated 2,600 members in Texas prisons and another 180 in federal prisons, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Other estimates have put ABT membership at about 3,500 strong, with 1,000 of that number on the street. The group’s members are concentrated in Texas but have spread into the prisons of neighboring states, in particular New Mexico.
The gang’s leadership is believed to be composed of five generals, one for each region of Texas. They are collectively known as the “Steering Committee” or “The Wheel.” The generals oversee criminal activity — smuggling, drug trafficking, extortion and other rackets in the prisons, and a variety of activity including drug running, home invasions, theft and identity theft outside — and also order incredibly brutal sanctions against any member who breaks the gang’s rules. Punishment of those judged to be snitches is known to sometimes involve torture and murder.
A low point for Texas prisons came in 1983 and 1984, when 52 inmates were killed in gang wars. The ABT was responsible for approximately a third of those murders, and by 1985, its members had become masters of the Texas prison system, calling themselves the “Mad Dog.” Since its founding, officials say, the ABT is known to have carried out at least 100 murders and about 10 kidnappings.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks of 2001, the ABT was in the news when ex-convict and ABT member Mark Stroman gunned down a Bangladeshi immigrant working at a Texas gas station in October of that year. It was part of a larger backlash against people mistakenly believed to be Muslims or Arabs.
In 2012, culminating a three-year investigation by several federal law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted 36 ABT members, including four generals, for murder, attempted murder, conspiracies, arsons, assaults, robberies, and drug trafficking. It was the largest racketeering case of the year, and it was an important one. By mid-2014, almost 30 defendants, including general Terry Ross “Big Terry” Blake, had pleaded guilty to the charges brought against them.
Many ABT members can be identified by their tattoos, although some avoid the ink because it typically means they will be segregated from the general population in prison. These tattoos include a shield with a sword, sometimes incorporating a swastika; AB, 12 (because A and B are the first and second letters of the alphabet) or variants such as 1 and 2, I II, and even 112% (translating as “100% Aryan Brotherhood”). They also sometimes use hand signs to signify ABT.