An Oregon-based racist prison and street gang has produced an incredible amount of criminal violence. And the beat goes on
PORTLAND, Ore.—Pacing the stage at a Holiday Inn Conference Center, David Kennedy looked a bit intimidated for the founder of the most feared white supremacist gang in the Pacific Northwest.
"I'm sweating like a gangster at a cop convention right now," Kennedy said.
The line got a laugh because Kennedy was, in fact, a gangster at a cop convention. It was the summer of 2007. Claiming to be a reformed criminal, Kennedy was addressing a gathering of Oregon gang cops and prison STG (security threat group) investigators, explaining how and why he formed European Kindred (EK) in 1998.
"I started European Kindred to serve and protect our own people in the joint," Kennedy said. "It was ethnocentric. The '14 Words' was at the heart of it all. If that’s racist, then I’m a racist." (The "14 Words" are a white supremacist movement catchphrase: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children.")
Kennedy first organized the gang within the medium-security Snake River Correctional Institution, the largest prison in Oregon, where he was serving time for burglary. In less than two years, EK had spread to all four other medium-security prisons in the state. In 2001, as members were paroled, it began to establish a street gang presence in Portland. Over the next few years, EK became notorious as members committed hate crimes, murders, rapes and home-invasion robberies, along with manning identity-theft, methamphetamine-distribution and dog-fighting rings.
EK now has at least 300 confirmed members in the Oregon prison system plus another 100-125 members on the streets of Portland, as well as in other cities and towns in the region. While the Portland-area street division of the gang — by far its largest outside of prison — is somewhat in disarray after a series of recent arrests of leaders and high-ranking members, the gang overall is expanding beyond the state where it was born. Last year, EK chapters appeared within prisons in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico, and a street crew sprang up and began recruiting skinheads in Orange County, Calif.
"EK has grown into a monster that's out of my control," said Kennedy, who claimed to have abdicated leadership of EK in early 2007. "I feel a little bit guilty about that."
One of the law enforcement officers in the audience asked Kennedy about a rumored split between EK members along religious lines. Kennedy replied that as far as he knew, the rumors were false. "Most of the guys in EK are into Asatrú [a neo-pagan faith that is not
fundamentally racist, but is practiced by some racists], but then we also have guys who are into Christian Identity [an anti-Semitic theology based on a bizarre reading of the Bible], so it varies," Kennedy said. "Overall it's about brotherhood. It's about blood, not religion."
The ex-gang leader paused for a moment before correcting himself. "Well, actually, the dope comes first. The meth. Then the brotherhood. That's the reality."
Meth and Murder
The first that many Oregon residents heard of European Kindred was in early 2002, when a member of the gang stabbed to death an African-American drug dealer in a downtown Portland housing project. The murder received heavier media coverage than usual because the accused killer was a 21-year-old racist skinhead fresh out of prison.
According to authorities, Joshua Robert Brown joined EK in 2000 while serving a four-year sentence for robbery. He earned his membership by "doing dirt," meaning he followed orders from EK leaders to attack fellow inmates and, in one instance, a corrections officer. Brown killed the drug dealer just three weeks after being released.
Tattooed on his left calf was a symbol that law enforcement officers throughout Oregon would come to know all too well: the letters EK within a red, black and white shield.
European Kindred has nothing against straight-up hate crime violence. In 2003, for example, a gang member beat and stomped to death a developmentally disabled black woman and then set her body on fire while believing she was still alive.
But the gang specializes in armed robberies of black and Latino drug dealers, often using improvised "flash bang" grenades as diversions in home invasions. These robberies, called "rips," give a nod to white supremacist principles while feeding the gang's hunger for money and drugs.
Inside prison, EK is disciplined, with strict codes of conduct and a required reading list that includes right-wing MSNBC commentator Patrick Buchanan and the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu. Outside, most EK members are heavy users of methamphetamine, less concerned with reading "The Art of War" than finding their next score.
"Over the years, EK has in many ways become two separate entities: street and prison, meth versus ideology," Portland police Criminal Intelligence Unit Investigator Anthony Cavalli told the Intelligence Report. "In prison they’re very much about racial identity and white power. But they can’t quite carry that over to the street because they’re so dope-infected, the politics become a sideline."
With meth comes paranoia. In June 2007, EK member James Paulk, 31, drove from Portland to Hood River, Ore., to pick up another EK member, Christopher Bailey, who was being released from Hood River County Corrections on a two-day pass for dental work. Bailey was doing a short jail stint for theft. He rode in the back seat.
Paulk, who'd been doing enough speed to jack up a rhinoceros, had convinced himself that his sworn blood brother was a police informant. While driving on a highway, he pulled a handgun, turned around, and shot Bailey three times in the chest, killing him.
Then he panicked. Taking back roads, Paulk spotted a fisherman. He pulled over, shot the fisherman and tried to steal his victim’s truck (the fisherman survived). Failing in that endeavor, Paulk headed back to Portland. His mood shifted and, for a joke, he stuck a cigarette in the corpse’s mouth and drove around the city for a few hours before stuffing the body in the trunk. Three days later, Paulk headed to Washington and dumped the decomposed corpse in a ravine. He was caught a short time later and, after pleading guilty to first-degree murder, sentenced to life in prison.
'A Hive of Criminal Activity'
EK leadership within the corrections system is structured around a "table" in each prison. The term refers to a literal table in the prison yard where four EK leaders hold meetings, sometimes under the guise of an Asatrú ritual. The four leaders in each prison have equal voting rights. The table at Snake River, where the gang was founded, calls the shots for the gang as a whole.
Outside of prison, EK is structured more like an Outlaw motorcycle gang. There’s still a table of four, but with a clear hierarchy: president, vice-president, sergeant-at-arms and treasurer.
The headquarters of EK activity on the street has been a series of clubhouses in private homes. "They've gone through four or five houses just since 2005," Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Gang Unit Deputy Ryan Burkeen told the Intelligence Report. "Their pattern is that once we burn up a house, they disperse for a while then converge on a new location."
Working together for the past five years, Cavalli and Burkeen have made cases against more than a dozen hard-core EK members, including at least two street-level presidents. The resulting prosecutions crippled the gang in the Portland area and may be inspiring its migration to other locales where EK is lesser known.
One clubhouse in particular was a goldmine of arrests and prosecutions. The house, in southeast Portland, is still there. But the gigantic EK shield that once decorated the bottom of its backyard swimming pool has been painted over. For all of 2006, the house was EK street headquarters. "Any guy that came out of prison with a shield on his leg went straight to that house to check in," said Cavalli. "It was a hive of criminal activity."
Burkeen’s gang unit placed the house under near-constant surveillance. "It was a place where we could keep our thumb on EK," he said. "We made multiple cases out of that house. We had foot chases, car chases, gun cases, dope cases, manufacturing explosives, you name it."
One regular visitor, police say, was Kelly Hill, the former girlfriend of Kyle Brewster, one of three members of East Side White Pride, a Portland skinhead gang, who in 1988 bludgeoned to death Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw. In 2006, Brewster was arrested for violating his parole by associating with members of the Portland-based neo-Nazi skinhead group Volksfront.
Hill "was trying to fully legitimize EK as a white supremacist group," said Cavalli. "She attended meetings and was always trying to remind them of their European heritage and pushing the ideology, stressing the 14 words, all of that. But it backfired on her. In the end, she got caught up in the dope like the rest of them."
Changing of the Guard
Cavalli and Burkeen were getting so many arrests out of the clubhouse with the swimming pool that, despite numerous chronic-nuisance complaints from its neighbors, the two investigators resisted pressure from their superiors to shut it down. "We wanted to keep it open as long as possible, but eventually Portland P.D. insisted on a raid, because it was becoming a liability to the community," Cavalli said.
The raid, in October 2006, netted firearms, bladed weapons, methamphetamine and a wide assortment of EK paraphernalia. Two gang members and three associates were arrested on drug-dealing and identity-theft charges, including the street division president, Danny Anderson, known as "Danny B" because he’s from Boston.
Not long after the raid, Kennedy was released from prison and held a secret meeting where he transferred street leadership of EK to ex-con and longtime gang member Josh Sparks. EK at the time ran a commercial kitchen-cleaning business that allowed gang members access to restaurants after hours. "They'd case the places for burglaries and copy down receipts from the credit card machines to use for identity theft," said Cavalli.
In the summer of 2007, Cavalli and Burkeen received information that several EK officers were holed up in a Super 8 Motel near the Portland airport with the proceeds from burglarizing a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. Cavalli went undercover in the hotel as a maintenance man, while a female officer posed as a maid. Once they’d figured out which room the EK members were occupying, they called in a SWAT team to take it down. "We found dope and guns in the room, but they’d already moved the money," said Cavalli.
During the ensuing investigation, Burkeen’s unit placed Sparks under 24-hour surveillance, based on information that he was routinely packing a handgun, which is illegal for a convicted felon. While riding in a taxi, Sparks took off on foot after spotting a police car, leaving a .45-caliber pistol in the back seat. He was prosecuted for illegal possession of a firearm and sent to federal prison.
Since then, going after EK has been like repeatedly smashing a pool of mercury — the poisonous globules are scattered at first, but then creep back toward one another and congeal. "We keep hitting them as hard as we can," said Burkeen. "Every time they try to form up on the streets, we hit them again. That’s the strategy."
In one recent case, two EK members were arrested and charged with attempted murder and arson for allegedly firebombing the house of a robbery witness. In June of last year, Byron O’Neal "Crash" Willenberg was convicted of first-degree rape and sodomy for assaulting a female acquaintance on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2008. And in January of this year, two EK members broke into a woman’s house and beat her severely in front of her three small children after she repossessed a car from a gang member.
"The criminality is ongoing, despite our disrupting them," said Cavalli. "The future of the EK is that it's going to keep getting bigger and bigger inside the prisons. On the streets, right now you can go to small towns east of here [Portland] and find groups of EK committing crimes together. In Portland, it's going to ebb and flow. All the leaders are incarcerated right now. But once a charismatic guy is back on the street, they’re going to start right back up again."