Portland, Oregon police strive to contain the rising threat of Brood, a white street gang with a hunger for violence, racist elements, and no regard for the law
brood (brōōd) noun 1 a family of young animals 2 a group having a common nature or origin 3 the children of a family
At 6'9", 290 pounds, it’s no mystery how Portland, Oregon, gang leader Shawn Cutler came by the street name Sky. “I could have been a monster on the NBA circuit,” Cutler said. “I had the size and skills for it. But I took a different path.” Cutler, 47, is one of the founders of Brood, a vicious gang with strong white supremacist undercurrents that’s a growing threat in Portland. Thirty years after Brood came to life, Cutler speaks of it as if he’s a gangland Dr. Frankenstein. “Brood was never supposed to be what it’s become,” said Cutler. “I don’t condone all the crime being done in Brood’s name today, or any of the white supremacist stuff. The whole thing’s gone crazy. It’s out of my control. Hell, it’s out of anyone’s control. It’s a little upsetting.”
Brood members in recent years have transformed Portland apartment complexes into armed compounds within residential neighborhoods; committed dozens of armed robberies, including many home invasions; stolen hundreds of cars; trafficked untold amounts of narcotics and illegal firearms; provided muscle-for-hire to outlaw motorcycle gangs; and operated a torture chamber in an auto body shop on a major thoroughfare, among other felonies.
“We’re dealing with a large, violent, dangerous gang operating openly in the city of Portland,” said Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Detective Josh Zwick, who led a major investigation of Brood.
Subtlety is not a strong point for Brood. Its members openly display Brood tattoos, including swastika designs, and wear T-shirts and hats bearing the gang’s name, logo and slogans: “Love is Law,” and “We Never Sleep,” a reference to their taste for crystal methamphetamine. Brood graffiti is easy to find in the Southeast Portland neighborhoods where the gang is concentrated. Stolen vehicles found in Portland, stripped of valuable parts, have business cards tucked beneath windshield wipers, reading, in Old English lettering, “Brood, where’s my car?”
The gang is heightening tensions in a city with a long history of white supremacist gang violence that’s already on edge following the May 26 murders of two men aboard a public light rail train. The men were stabbed to death by a white supremacist after they challenged him for verbally harassing two young women, one of whom is African American and the other of whom is Muslim and was wearing a hijab. A third good Samaritan was also stabbed but survived.
One Brood member was arrested May 1 for allegedly committing 34 felonies in a 37-day crime spree, ranging from grand theft auto to weapons charges. “I went into beast mode,” he explained to investigators. “And beast mode is not good.”
“It all started as four street kids looking out for each other in downtown Portland,” said Cutler. (His account of the gang’s beginnings was confirmed by three Portland law enforcement gang experts.)
It was 1986. Cutler, then 16, was a recently emancipated minor who wound up homeless in Portland. He slept in a camp and spent his days in “Paranoia Park,” a grassy square with a fountain. (Still a magnet for homeless youth, its official name is O’Bryant Square.)
“This was back when the black gangs were getting bigger with the crack trade, and there were a lot of Crips and Bloods and black pimps coming downtown, victimizing us street kids,” Cutler said. “Three other guys and I made a pact that, no matter what, we’d always have each other’s backs. It was just four skinny white kids trying to survive.”
The foursome came up with a name for themselves: Brothers Running Over Ordinary Dogs, or Brood, for short.
One night in early 1987, according to Cutler, the four “original gangsters” of Brood fought 22 black gang members in Pioneer Square, another park in downtown Portland. “We took some lumps, believe that, but none of us ran,” he said. “We stayed in it, all of us, and from that day on we were united, a family.”
Brood was never intended to be a white supremacist organization, Cutler said. “There was a certain racial element to it, because we were white and a lot of the guys we were fighting were black. But it [Brood] was based more on shared identity and mutual protection. It wasn’t about hating anyone else just for the color of their skin. We only hated people who were trying to do us wrong, plain and simple.”
Heavy use of crystal meth also defined Brood from day one. “Living on the streets, you learn to stay up all night, because if you sleep at night you get robbed or harassed,” Cutler said.
The four began stealing from houses and cars to get money for meth, then graduated to strong-arm robberies and drug dealing. One by one they were caught and sent to prison in the late 1980s through early 1990s. “We all four of us went to different state correctional facilities, and we all started recruiting new members in the prisons. That’s when Brood started to blow up into this huge thing it is now,” Cutler said. “The guys we put on in prison, they’d bring in new guys on the streets once they were out, and it just got a little carried away.”
According to multiple Portland law enforcement sources, Brood now has 30 to 50 hardcore members on the streets in Portland at any one time, with another 300 to 350 members in the state prison system. “Brood is currently the biggest white supremacist prison gang in Oregon, no question,” said Bryan Smith, Supervisor of the Multnomah County Parole and Probation Gang Unit.
Well into the 1990s, Brood was primarily a street gang with members in prison. But in the last 20 years, as more of its members were sentenced to long prison terms, recruiting in prison outpaced recruiting on the streets, and Brood evolved from a street gang with a growing presence in the prison system to a prison gang with brazen street factions.
Inside prisons, Brood runs extortion and gambling rackets, distributes narcotics, and battles with black and Hispanic gangs for control.
“Brood is a prison gang, and prison is a segregated, racial world, so there’s inevitably a lot of racial violence between Brood guys and black guys and Hispanic guys, and that fuels the racial identity component,” Smith said.
“At the same time, it’s not like Brood is a group with a fully developed racist belief system of its own. For the most part these guys are too dope-addled to be political. They’re not going to white power rallies. They’re not World War II history experts. They haven’t read a lot of Hitler. They’re criminals. A lot of them are racist criminals. But first and foremost, they’re criminals. And they’re reckless. What defines Brood, more than anything, is total recklessness.”
The tan, sprawling, residential complex on SE 122nd Street in Portland is vacant now, boarded up, with bright green Portland Police Bureau notices duct-taped to grimy windows, informing passersby the buildings have been “a source of public safety concerns.”
Before it was raided last summer by a SWAT team, the run-down house, triplex and weedy yards just north of SE Harold Street was occupied by more than a dozen Brood members running around-the-clock criminal activity.
“The compound on 122nd was pretty typical for Brood,” said Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Ryan Burkeen, a veteran member of the multi-agency East Metro Gang Enforcement Team. “Their M.O. is to take over a threeplex or a fourplex and transform them into a center of a lot of trouble in a hurry. They’re like hornet nests. One day we hear that two or three have moved into a certain location, the next you’re looking through binoculars at 15 to 20 Brood guys hanging out in the yard, and it’s like, ‘Yep, there’s a problem here.’”
On a recent afternoon, a seven-year resident of the neighborhood was tinkering with an old pick-up truck in his yard next to the former Brood compound.
He said the first sign of trouble last spring was his pit bull, Riley, growling all night at the blackberry bushes that separated his property from the Brood compound. “It was constant noise, constant foot and car traffic, people coming and going, yelling in the middle of the night, ‘Watch out, he’s got a gun!’
I mean, it was just insane,” he said.
Riley’s owner, who asked Intelligence Report not to use his name due to safety concerns, said that he’d never heard of Brood until the gang moved in next door, but when he asked old friends in the neighborhood who’d been to prison about Brood, “they told me Brood is the gang that recruits all the white guys in prison. My friends said they [Brood] have these rings where they look for the right kind of properties around here [SE Portland] and just take them over.”
The man said he bought a gun for the first time in his life after Brood moved next door. “It used to be you just needed a pit bull in this neighborhood. Now you need a pit bull and a firearm.”
Detective Josh Zwick described the similar menace caused by another Brood compound in Portland, this one a triplex at SE 111 Avenue and Burnside Street. “We couldn’t believe what we were seeing once we put the place under surveillance,” he said. “There were guys holding guns just walking around the property.”
The triplex was occupied by about a dozen Brood members, including several women (known in the gang as the Killer Bs), as well as a few members of European Kindred, a longtime Portland-based white supremacist gang that is allied with Brood, though “EK” is more overtly racist.
The Brood and EK members were dealing drugs and guns, buying stolen goods, and running a busy “chop shop” for stolen cars in the back yard. “All of it right out in the open,” said Zwick. “They were going at it until four or five in the morning every night. It was off the hook.”
Rule Number One
Driving the tree-lined streets of Southeast Portland in an unmarked car, Deputy Burkeen of the East Metro gang unit pointed out Brood graffiti spray-painted on a fence: a crown with the word “Brood,” next to the letters “KRB.” It stands for Krude Rude Brood, a newer extension of the gang’s original name.
Burkeen paused for a few seconds in front of a two-story house at the corner of SE 72nd and Sherrett Street that Cutler frequents. Burkeen noted a hand-lettered cardboard sign in an upstairs window, facing outward, above a mounted air conditioning unit.
It read, “Love is Law, B----!”
“A public service message brought to you by Brood,” said Burkeen.
Asked to explain the meaning of “Love is Law,” Cutler said in a recent interview, “It’s rule number one for us. Right or wrong, you stick with your brothers in Brood. When in doubt, refer to rule number one. ‘Love is Law’ means if one of your brothers comes to you for something, you’re there for them. No questions asked. No judgment rendered.”
Despite the creed, Brood leaders, or shot callers, enforce harsh internal discipline on members who violate gang rules. For at least a year, Brood operated a torture chamber inside Tom’s Auto Painting and Body Shop, located at the intersection of SE Powell Boulevard and SE 85th Avenue, in the heart of Brood territory. The auto shop was co-owned by Brood enforcer David Corbit. He and other Brood officers tortured victims inside the shop’s auto painting booth, which allowed for easy clean-up of blood and other body matter. Brood gunsmiths used the shop equipment to manufacture illegal silencers, which gang members test-fired inside.
In December 2012, Corbit and other Brood enforcers, including David Bartol, kidnapped gang member Nicholas Remington at gunpoint from his home and drove him to Tom’s in the middle of the night. Remington was suspected of being a police informant. The Brood enforcers stripped him, beat him with baseball bats, used a belt sander to remove a Brood tattoo on his left shoulder, then placed a motorcycle helmet on his head and shot it with a rifle four or five times. Next, they injected Remington in the neck with an overdose of methamphetamine and heroin, then dumped him, unconscious, naked except for boxer shorts, and barely alive, on a street about a mile away. Remington survived.
Remington’s account led to a multi-year, multi-agency investigation of Brood, led by Detective Zwick. Dubbed Operation White Christmas, it resulted in more than 100 felony indictments of members of Brood, European Kindred, and three other, smaller Oregon white supremacist gangs. (Corbit was sentenced to 15 years in prison for torturing the two men at Tom’s and shooting a third in a home invasion robbery; Bartol was sentenced to death for a separate murder.)
Operation White Christmas investigators seized more than 100 firearms, several kilos of meth, around $80,000 in cash, a container load of expensive string instruments stolen from a music store in Vancouver, Washington, and several caches of neo-Nazi paraphernalia.
“Operation White Christmas hit Brood hard, but what’s happening now is Brood shot callers, including some of the original founders, are getting released from prison, and that’s re-energizing the gang,” said Deputy Burkeen. “There’s sort of a trend in Brood right now of the younger guys paying respect to their elders. It’s a way of strengthening their gang identity and giving them new momentum.”
One grisly example of this paying of homage: earlier this year, longtime Brood member Billy DuBois died of cancer. His body was cremated, and Brood members across Portland have been getting new gang tattoos using special ink mixed with his ashes.
Kissing the Ring
Last summer, a group of 10 white men ranging in age from their late 20s to late 40s held a reunion of sorts in a Portland parking lot. The guest of honor was a 47-year-old convicted felon with long brown hair pulled into a ponytail and a goatee, who stripped off his shirt to reveal a huge “BROOD” tattoo inked across his chest.
The group posed for photographs and celebrated the release from prison of the ponytailed Brood “original gangster,” Anthony Kronus Swift, one of the four original founders of Brood, who’d just been released from a Texas federal prison after serving 15 years on gang-related felony charges.
Known on the streets by his middle name, “Kronus” being freed was a shot in the arm for Brood. “The young guys have all heard a lot of stories about Kronus, but they’ve not seen him or met him,” said Detective Zwick. “Now that he’s out, they’re all going to see him, introducing themselves, paying their respects. Like kissing the king’s ring.”
Bryan Smith, the parole and probation gang unit supervisor, said that Kronus directed Brood activities in Portland even while he was serving time at the federal penitentiary in Texas. “He runs the show, wherever he is,” Smith said. “We’ve heard a lot of Brood guys talking about over the years: ‘Kronus said this,’ or ‘Kronus sent this message from prison.’”
Cutler, the other Brood co-founder, refused to answer questions about Kronus. “All I’ll say is that he’s half crazy. He’s already flown the coop [left Oregon], as far as I know.”
To the contrary, multiple law enforcement sources told Intelligence Report that Kronus has been spotted on several occasions at known Brood houses, and that Kronus has presided over mandatory “roll call” meetings for all Brood members outside prison, in which he stressed the need for renewed gang unity.
“From a law enforcement perspective, Kronus being out and active is not a positive development,” said Deputy Burkeen of the Portland gang unit.
Another red flag raised by the sighting of a well-known criminal at a known Brood hangout was the recent presence on the porch of a flophouse popular with Brood members of notorious neo-Nazi skinhead Kyle Brewster, who served 20 years in prison for beating to death Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw in 1988. Two other members of the Portland skinhead crew East Side White Pride were also convicted of murder in what became one of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s most famous legal actions against a hate group. Acting on behalf of Seraw’s family, the SPLC obtained a $12.5 million verdict against the neo-Nazi group White Aryan Resistance (WAR), and its notorious leader, Tom Metzger, who recruited the Portland skinheads who murdered Seraw. The verdict decimated WAR and undercut the skinhead movement in the Pacific Northwest.
Cutler said that he and other Brood leaders condemn violent hate crimes like those called for by WAR and carried out by East Side White Pride skinheads. “We do not condone white supremacist violence, period,” he said. Cutler noted that a few splinter factions of Brood have even allowed a handful of African American, Hispanic and Native American convicts to run with the gang in Portland after being released from prison. “The whole idea that Brood is a white supremacist organization is a complete fallacy.”
With his next breath, though, “Sky” contradicted himself, at least in part.
“The whole racial thing has just gotten blown out of proportion. Without a doubt, there are members of Brood who consider themselves white supremacists,” he said. “Without a doubt, there are members of Brood who have swastika tattoos they place some meaning behind. My point is that some of them had those beliefs and tattoos before they were inducted into Brood, some of them developed those beliefs and got those tattoos after. But there’s no requirement they have those beliefs, just like there’s no rule against it. We’re not here to sit in judgment of anyone’s beliefs or what tattoos he chooses to put on his body or why. That’s not the purpose of Brood”
What is the purpose?
“Brotherhood. Honor. Loyalty. Respect. Family. And, you know, robbing people who there’s a reason to rob.”
Photo Credit: Oregon Department of Correction (Prison Yard); Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office (Kronus); Lean Nelson (Brood Graffiti), Leah Nelson (Tom’s Auto Body); Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office (Brood Members)