White supremacist prison culture gets mainstream exposure

theGRIO REPORT - Who would have known that white supremacist prison gangs are a problem in America?...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Who would have known that white supremacist prison gangs are a problem in America?

Recently, these groups have received national attention due to the March 19 assassination of Tom Clements, executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections.  Clements was shot to death while opening the door of his home outside Colorado Springs.

Evan Ebel, Clements’ suspected killer, was a member of 211 Crew, a white power prison gang with origins in the Colorado prison system.  After fleeing to Texas, Ebel, who apparently was released from prison four years too early due to a clerical error, was killed in a shootout with police.

The tragic incident put the brakes on legislation that would repeal the death penalty in Colorado.

A rash of killings

Meanwhile, on March 30 Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia were killed assassination-style at their Forney, Texas home.  McClelland was shot 20 times, his wife once. This comes only two months after the Assistant D.A. Mark Hasse was gunned down in a parking lot near his courthouse office.

While Clements sought the dismantling of the 211 Crew in Colorado (211 is reportedly derived from the California code for robbery), Hasse and McLelland pursued the prosecution of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT).  Hasse was killed the day he was commended for prosecuting the group.

While federal authorities theorize the ABT is a possible culprit in the McClellan murders, other theories suggest the involvement of drug cartels or a lone gunman.

Obama era ushers in brave new world

It is clear that hate groups have been on the rise since President Barack Obama entered the White House.  The number of extreme-right patriot groups has increased 800 percent in the Obama era—with 1,360 groups in 2012, an all-time high—fueled by conspiracy theories, a bad economy, a hatred of the government and an even greater hatred of the first black president, and a fear that he will take their guns.

Obama’s re-election, and his reaction to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut appear to have only enabled and emboldened these groups.

The risk of home-grown, domestic terror attacks is greater than ever.  Nevertheless, prison-based Aryan gangs have been around for quite some time.  Further, while much attention is given to real or perceived threats of terrorism from other regions of the world, little attention has been paid to the storm brewing on U.S. soil.

In November 2012, the FBI cracked down on the ABT, with federal grand jury indictments on 34 alleged members of the gang, including four of its most senior leaders.  If found guilty, ten of the defendants face a maximum penalty of death, while the others face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

“As charged, ABT uses extreme violence and threats of violence to maintain internal discipline and retaliate against those believed to be cooperating with law enforcement. Through violence and intimidation, ABT allegedly exerts control over prison populations and neighborhoods and instills fear in those who come in contact with its members,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer.  “As today’s operations show, the Criminal Division, working closely with its federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, is determined to continue disrupting and dismantling ABT and other violent, criminal gangs.”

Birth of the Aryan Brotherhood

The ABT was formed in the early 1980s in the Texas prisons, modeling itself after the Aryan Brotherhood, which was born in the California prison system in the 1960s.  Originally concerned with white supremacy and protecting its members, ABT expanded to illegal activity, becoming a for-profit criminal enterprise, according to the FBI.  The group, which numbers around 4,000 members, engages in drug distribution, prostitution, murder and robbery.

“Court documents allege that the ABT enforced its rules and promoted discipline among its members, prospects, and associates through murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, arson, assault, robbery, and threats against those who violate the rules or pose a threat to the enterprise.  Members, and oftentimes associates, were required to follow the orders of higher-ranking members, often referred to as ‘direct orders,’” the FBI said in a prepared statement.

As Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center recently told Democracy Now!, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas has committed over 100 murders and 10 kidnappings since its inception.  Not unlike the 211 Crew—which was founded in 1995, extorts people and runs a methamphetamine ring—it is a fundamentally criminal enterprise, albeit a white supremacist one.  And both groups’ activities have spilled out into the streets.  One prison source speculated that the Clements murder was retaliation for moving 211 Crew leaders from one prison to another.

Are the Colorado and Texas incidents linked?

“So, you know, we don’t know at all that these—this whole set of incidents are related to one another, but they may be. It seems quite possible,” said Potok. “These are two white supremacist prison gangs in states quite near to one another. They’re both heavily into running drugs. And they are both under very heavy pressure from both the federal government and local authorities.” Potok also noted the 211 Crew suffered a major indictment in Colorado back in 2005.  “But in both states, this crackdown had been continuing, and it seems entirely possible that this is payback in some form,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Texas state Department of Public Safety issued a bulletin warning that the ABT is “involved in issuing orders to inflict ‘mass casualties or death’ to law enforcement officials involved in the recent case.”

Although we don’t have all the facts, one thing is certain.  We will be paying more attention to white supremacist prison gangs than we should have in the past.  And well we should.

Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove