Two Brazen Hits
While not well known outside of law enforcement and analysis circles until recently, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) has emerged as one of the most violent domestic extremist groups and crime syndicates in the nation. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), since 2000 the ABT "which has no relationship to the older, 'original' Aryan Brotherhood has killed more Americans than any other domestic extremist group."
ABT is now the subject of intense speculation relating to its possible connection to two apparent assassinations of Kaufman County, Texas prosecutors; Deputy District Attorney Mark Hasse, 57, on January 31 near the county courthouse, and District Attorney Mike McLelland, 63, and his wife Cynthia, 65, whose bodies were found at their home near Forney, a Dallas suburb on Saturday. In December 2012, after a credible retaliation assessment by the Texas Department of Public Safety, it circulated a statewide bulletin:
"High-ranking members ... are involved in issuing orders to inflict 'mass casualties or death' to law enforcement officials who were involved in cases where Aryan Brotherhood of Texas are facing life sentences or the death penalty."
Hasse, who prosecuted organized crime cases, was killed the same day that two suspected ABT members pled guilty in federal district court in Houston. According to the Dallas Morning News, the U.S. Marshals Service stated in an email, "The focus of our investigation involves the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) being responsible for the murder of the ADA." In 2007 the FBI disseminated a similar warning to law enforcement about the ABT. After Hasse's killing McLelland appeared on television warning those involved in the Hasse killing and calling them "scum." In a different case, the head of the Colorado Department of Corrections was also killed last month at his home by an apparently mentally disturbed former inmate and member of another white supremacist prison group called the 211 Crew.
Kaufman County DA Part of Multi-Agency Group Targeting ABT
The Kaufman District Attorney's Office, with about a dozen lawyers, was among the smaller agencies involved in a massive federally led 2012 prosecution that significantly impaired the ABT. A number of ABT associates are believed to reside in the area. Four of the group's top leadership and 30 other members were indicted in November 2012 under federal racketeering and conspiracy charges. Generally, racketeering offenses make it a crime to participate in organizations that engage in pattern of crimes and intimidation. Conspiracy under federal law is an agreement between two or more compatriots to engage in criminality coupled with an overt step toward the commission of an offense.
The United States Department of Justice wrote:
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 original Aryan Brotherhood (AB) started at San Quentin State Prison, outside of San Francisco in the 1960s as an organization to protect white prisoners from assaults from prisoners of other races and existing non-white racial gangs and there are now related groups nationwide in both state and federal prison systems.
The ABT started in the state in the 1980s. The ABT is alleged by authorities to be an ongoing criminal enterprise that operates both inside and outside of prison in areas such as drug dealing, larceny and extortion. While it has a white supremacist ideology, with members sporting AB and neo-Nazi tattoos, its operational orientation is a practical one. Thus, it will sometimes align with other criminal organizations from other ethnic groups when necessary, leading some to suggest a link to Mexican drug gangs, though at this point there are no specific facts directly supporting that speculative contention. The ADL observes:
The ABT constitution even acknowledges that it can be a "hindrance" to put ideological beliefs before "business transactions" and that the group has to generate income to further its "mission and growth." The result is that many ABT murders take place in connection with their "traditional" criminal activities, such as methamphetamine trafficking, home invasions, and identity theft.
Most of ABT's violence advances criminal, internal discipline, or retaliatory agendas, as opposed to racial supremacy.
The Southern Poverty Law Center's (SPLC) Mark Potok wrote in January:
The Aryan Brotherhood (AB) is a large, white supremacist prison gang that is infamous for its violence and its sprawling criminal empire, which also is highly active outside the nation's prisons. A related group, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT), is known to be particularly violent, and prosecutors in that state have been aggressively moving against its members for several years now.
The Texas organization, arguably the nation's most violent, is divided across five regions led by "generals", all of whom have been indicted by federal authorities as part of a joint state/local/federal multi-agency effort according to the Department of Justice:
Four alleged ABT generals, Terry Ross Blake, 55, aka "Big Terry"; Larry Max Bryan, 51, aka "Slick"; William David Maynard, 42, aka "Baby Huey"; and Charles Lee Roberts, 68, aka "Jive," were charged in the superseding indictment with conspiracy to participate in the racketeering activities of the ABT, among other charges. The second superseding indictment charges the fifth general, Sampsell, with conspiracy to participate in the racketeering activities of the ABT, among other charges.
In addition to generals, the quasi-paramilitary structure involves ranks such as major and lieutenant as well. Members face scrutiny during a lengthy initial probationary assessment period, where they are expected to follow orders and commit acts of violence. Violence is steeped in both ABT and AB folklore and culture. A former top AB leader from the federal system, John Greschner, told the SPLC's Intelligence Report in 2012:
We made sure to get the word out: If you burn the AB, you go in the hat, meaning there's a contract on your life.... Once you're in the hat, you ain't getting out of the hat. Ever. Thirty years later, if a brother sees you somewhere, you're going down. In the streets, in jail, it doesn't matter. They're gonna get you."
Since 2000 ABT has been connected to various gruesome homicides in Texas involving hate crimes, informants, insubordination, and a police officer. In 2012 the ADL reported that the ABT was involved in at least 29 homicides in Texas and bordering states, involving "torture murders" as well as executions. The ADL surmises that ABT was probably behind many more killings within the prison system.
It is estimated that there could be 15-20,000 AB members nationwide (ABT is independent and smaller) who commit a disproportionate amount of violence relative to their size.
Editor's Note: Brian Levin is a former New York City Police Officer who has trained federal, state and local authorities on extremist groups and testified before Congress on the topic.