Even more radical than the prison gang that spawned it, the Aryan Circle, blamed in a recent cop-killing, has officials worried
Shawn Hornacek lifts the sleeves of his Alabama Department of Corrections inmate uniform to reveal spider web tattoos on both elbows. The one on the right contains a swastika. Hornacek claims it represents "peace." But there's nothing peaceful about the spider web on his left elbow. At its center are two lightning flashes, or "cracker bolts," orbited by three rings. Hornacek explains that one ring is added to his loosely sketched web every time he attacks a black or gay person.
The tattoos — spider web, rings, cracker bolts — are membership patches, indicating that Hornacek belongs to the fastest growing and lately the deadliest white supremacist prison-based gang in the country.
"Aryan Circle," Hornacek says. "In it for life."
Once concentrated solely in Texas, the Aryan Circle currently operates inside and outside prisons in at least 13 other states, according to law enforcement officials as well as Aryan Circle websites and publications. The gang is more ideologically driven by a white nationalist revolutionary agenda than other racist prison gangs — and just as violent, if not more so. In recent months, it has been making a name for itself with a string of murders and other attacks, both inside the nation's prisons and in its communities, that have officials seriously worried.
Two police officers were killed in August in a shoot-out with Aryan Circle members in Louisiana. In Texas, law enforcement investigators believe the gang is responsible for a string of shootings last year, including at least three murders.
Hornacek, 31, is currently serving a 10-year sentence at Ventress Correctional Facility in Clayton, Ala., for, he says, stealing a trailer of guns. He told the Intelligence Report in a recent interview that he joined Aryan Circle in 2003 while incarcerated for possessing a crack pipe in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Circle leaders inside jails and prisons typically screen potential recruits by instigating fights between the prospective member and a "toad," a black inmate. Hornacek calls this exercise a "heart check."
"If he don't fight, that shows he's a little weak, and we weed him out," he says.
"Lotta cowards hide behind shit," Hornacek says in justifying the Circle's sadistic induction procedures. "They wanna be a part of something in prison to protect themselves, and one of Aryan Circle's laws is this ain't a tool for protection."
Circle leaders portray the gang as a nationwide clan of race warriors fighting for a grand cause. "In the beginning, the organization centered on the preservation of the race within a hostile prison environment," reads a history chapter in The Official Handbook of the Aryan Circle. "Today, it has expanded to much more than that."
Now, according to this official history, the goal of the Circle is to violently promote white nationalism, "both in prison and in the world throughout."
The Aryan Circle is often confused with the Aryan Brotherhood, the older, wider spread and vastly more infamous rival. Although the two gangs have similar names and iconography — including swastikas and distinctive but subtle variations of lightning bolt tattoos — there are substantial differences in their history, organizational structure and ideology.
White inmates at the maximum-security prison in San Quentin, Calif., founded the Aryan Brotherhood in 1964. When the Aryan Brotherhood in Texas attempted to renounce crime and refashion itself as a "church," inmates started the Aryan Circle in 1985 to preserve radical white supremacist beliefs and remain on the defense against black and Hispanic prison gangs.
The Circle was built, as its history says, "on a prospective confidential basis. At no time will there be a membership rally held. In this way each member knows that the next member in line was a hand picked prospect."
Gang leaders often recruit white convicts who are serving relatively short sentences, because the sooner a Circle member is released, the sooner he can expand the gang's network outside prison. A "prospect" or "recruit" who passes the heart check is subject to a 12-month probationary period including a "hit" or "smash" against a gang enemy ordered by Circle leaders in order to "blood in" as a full member. New recruits swear allegiance until death. There's no quitting the Aryan Circle without going "blood out," meaning violently.
Circle prospects and members, or "patch holders" (each member has an identifying "patch number"), are ruled by hierarchical structures, which exist in geographical regions carved out both within the Texas state prison system, and also in federal penitentiaries across America. The gang leader who oversees a national region is called a "Leaf."
According to Aryan Circle documents obtained by Intelligence Report, the Leaf for Region One — which consists of federal and state prisons in Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas -—is 48-year-old Danny "Danny Boy" Lee Bonham, who's currently serving a life sentence in the Coleman federal prison near Orlando, Fla., for conspiracy to distribute narcotics.
The Leaf for Region Two — which includes prisons in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and West Virginia — is 42-year-old Tracy "Blayze" Kenyon Sexton, who's serving a 105-month sentence in the Allenwood federal penitentiary in central Pennsylvania for illegally possessing and transporting firearms.
The Circle produces a bimonthly magazine called The Circular, which has a post office box in Carnegie, Okla., and a mailing address in Lubbock, Texas. The editor-in-chief of the publication is Aryan Circle founder Mark Cooper Gaspard, also known as Mark Cooper Patterson. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, Gaspard is currently under parole supervision until 2010. Arrested five times on burglary, armed burglary and drug charges, Gaspard has been in and out of Texas state prisons since 1979. In 1985, the year he started Aryan Circle, Gaspard was serving time in a Huntsville state prison, according to Texas DPS records.
Gaspard is a small man — just 5 foot 7 inches and 132 pounds. What he lacks in physical stature, though, he makes up for in charisma, according to Sigifredo Sanchez, head of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice gang department, and the official who confirmed Gaspard as the Aryan Circle founder. "He could talk people into doing things," Sanchez said. "He's a very smart and conniving individual."
According to Sanchez, Gaspard never wanted the lead role, despite his formulating the group's precepts, including the ideas that all who oppose the white race are sworn enemies and that all crimes against the white race are punishable by death.
"The people who are the innovators all were white. They generally had the freedom to be inventive without ZOG [Zionist Occupational Government] breathing down their neck," reads one article in an undated copy of The Circular. "It is clear that for many years these people have been trying to destroy us culturally and genetically. This is the reason the media promotes interracial marriage and racial integration."
When the Aryan Circle attempted to give Gaspard the rank of general, "he tossed it back," Sanchez said, because the group had grown too radical.
Norman Smith, who identifies himself as a vice president of the Aryan Circle inside the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan., maintains a website where he castigates white inmates who socialize with black inmates. "To see White boys trying to act like, dress like and talk like 'Africans' sickens me. I watch as they turn their backs on their own kind figuring they are going to be part of the dark in here. But in there they are used as bitches, passed around like candy, humiliated, their stuff taken, used as fall guys to keep their 'brothers' out of the hole, or beaten."
"I will HONOR my heritage, my culture, my race," Smith proclaims. "I AM PROUD TO BE AN ARYAN."
This ongoing intra-gang reinforcement of a white nationalist belief system, as crudely expressed as it may be, further sets the Aryan Circle apart from the Aryan Brotherhood. The Brotherhood long ago placed illegal commerce above ideology by doing business with the Mexican Mafia, a non-white prison gang. The Brotherhood is still a race-based gang, but as the saying goes among prison gang investigators, the only color that really matters to the Brotherhood these days is green.
The Aryan Circle signed a peace treaty with the Mexican Mafia in 1996, ending a four-year gang war in the "TDC," or Texas Department of Corrections, that resulted in 13 murders. The Aryan Circle and Aryan Brotherhood gangs are also under a peace treaty in Texas. But outside that state, the rivalry between the two "has metastasized into its own beast," Sanchez said. Reports from the Federal Bureau of Prisons say the Aryan Circle has vastly improved its numbers and is in deadly conflict with the Aryan Brotherhood.
Hornacek told the Intelligence Report that the two gangs maintain uneasy truces with Aryan Brotherhood and Mexican Mafia in Texas, mainly due to their shared hatred of black prison gangs such as the Gangster Disciples and the Black Guerilla Family.
"If you got caught talking to a black [inmate], other whites would stay away from you," Aryan Circle member Johnny Bravo said in a February 2006 interview with Gorillaconvict, an authoritative blog run by incarcerated prison gang researcher Seth Ferranti. "We don't house with them [blacks], period."
A widely distributed Circle leaflet titled "14 Whys," a play on the famous "14 Words" white nationalist catchphrase, details the gang's strict opposition to any form of race-mixing, whether behind prison walls or in the world outside. "WHY does the media repudiate the historically proven fact that racial integration is cultural and biological genocide?" it asks. "WHY do the Christian churches promote adoption of colored children from all over the world by White families, when the result is genocide of the White race? WHY does the U.S. Government advance White genocide through forced busing of our school children?"
Aryan Circle's concern for white children extends to a hard-line stance against drug abuse by its own members. One recent article in The Circular reads like an anti-drug public service announcement for white supremacists: "More of our white brothers are being arrested and sent to prison with drug addictions. The outcome is … a weaker white population, less protection for our white women … and our lost sense of 'Family Values.' Our white sisters are left carrying the load of a 'household' we helped create. Often she is then forced into low-income housing and welfare lines where she becomes surrounded and overwhelmed by the black community who share these facilities. Then our children, the only hope for the future of our race … never grow with a sense of moral separateness.
"The choice is clear: Your Race, Your Family, Your Freedom … or your favorite drug."
Despite such pious admonishments, Circle members frequently engage in large-scale distribution of illegal narcotics, particularly methamphetamine, and many of them can't resist getting high on their own supply. In 2004, 29 Aryan Circle members were arrested in Texas for taking part in a methamphetamine ring that produced and sold more than 30 kilograms of meth in west Texas beginning in January 2000.
Prosecutors argued that Michael Curtis "Bones" Lewis, co-founder of the Odessa chapter of the Circle, was the ringleader. But several witnesses testified over the course of a three-week trial that Lewis was virtually incapacitated by a severe meth habit. Defense attorneys argued that Lewis and his supposed underlings were incapable of masterminding the complex black market operation described by prosecutors because of the Odessa gang's "disorganization, internal rivalries and [their] own drug addictions."
The jury didn't buy it. All 29 defendants were convicted.
After the 2004 methamphetamine bust, the Aryan Circle maintained a relatively low profile beyond prison walls. But that ended last January, when 20-year-old Circle member Ronald David Dickinson, who'd joined the gang while serving time for grand theft auto, was stomped to death by 52-year-old fellow Circle member John Michael Hays, who explained in a videotaped confession that Dickinson had called Hays' daughter a "Mexican whore."
In August, the same month Hays was sentenced to 99 years in prison, another Aryan Circle internal dispute flared into violence in Texas when Bryan "Bone" Aiken and three gang associates allegedly set out to assassinate Danny Covington, a Circle member since the 1980s. Covington, who lived in upscale North Richland Hills, near Fort Worth, was rumored to be abandoning the gang.
When the four hit men appeared at a drug house where Covington was believed to be, Covington and his friend Bryan Shuler showed up and found themselves in a shootout. Shuler was hit in the hand. Covington escaped in his car, but was chased down and shot in the arm by Aiken, who was only a few weeks out of prison.
At the time of the assassination attempt, Aiken was also a suspect, along with four other Circle members, in the July 18 home invasion robbery, beating and execution-style shooting of Randall Whatley, who survived.
According to prison officials, Aiken left the Aryan Circle after completing a "Gang Renouncement and Disassociation Process" in June 2004. But then he rejoined.
"It's rare that happens," Michelle Lyons of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "He is one of only two people who completed the program and then went back into a gang."
Four days before the failed hit on Covington, two teenagers in Victoria, Texas, were killed and a third man was injured in a shootout with Circle member Dennis Leighton Clem, 24, who had just completed a four-year sentence in the TDC for "deadly conduct."
Clem fled the state with his girlfriend, Tanya "Little Feather" Smith, a reported member of the Aryan Circle Women's Branch, a division for female Circle members whose mission statement asserts: "As women of the Aryan Circle we strive to stand behind our men for the support they need against our foes. We will stand beside them when they are backed to the dooryard in battle. And we will fight for them should they become incapacitated by force."
One month later, Clem, Smith and Donald Alex Brendle, a member of the Louisiana chapter of Aryan Circle, were holed up in a Budget Inn motel room in Bastrop, La. Responding to a Crimestoppers tip, Bastrop Police Department detective sergeants John Smith and Charles Wilson approached the room from the parking lot. Clem immediately opened fire, killing Smith and Wilson. Minutes later, Clem shot and injured two ambulance workers. Clem died in a final exchange of gunfire with police.
Brendle and two other Louisiana Circle members were arrested the next day and charged with accessory to first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and obstruction of justice. Smith escaped but was later apprehended in Houston.
Clem will no doubt be hailed as a martyr within the Aryan Circle as the gang continues to cultivate new strongholds, especially in prison systems where the power of the Aryan Brotherhood is waning in the aftermath of federal racketeering indictments. Sanchez says the two are now even in numbers and power, both in Texas and abroad. The Aryan Circle's correspondence with Nazi gangs in Europe has enhanced their network.
"They're dealing with people out of France," says Sanchez. "If you're dealing with any European groups, it's always about the hate."
Hornacek, the Circle member incarcerated in Alabama, disavows any knowledge of the Circle's regions or Leafs. He claims to be "inactive," though he admits to maintaining contact with Circle members in California and Texas. Prison officials suspect he's under orders to establish the Circle within Alabama's state prisons, adding another ring to the gang's expanding web of violence and hatred.
"It's been brought to my attention that they are one gang to be observed and that we should definitely document and monitor them," says Eric Bascomb, the Alabama DOC security threat group coordinator. "They are very methodical and secretive about their process, and they are also more organized and radical than the Aryan Brotherhood."
According to Sanchez, dissension in the ranks of the Aryan Circle could deplete the gang. But he also warns that it could grow stronger. "You never know with these guys," says Sanchez. "All it takes is one guy who has the charisma to pull it all together, and he may be right around the corner."