Aryan Brotherhood

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The Aryan Brotherhood, also known as the Brand or the AB, is a neo-Nazi prison gang and an organized crime syndicate which is based in the United States and it has an estimated 15,000–20,000 members both inside and outside prisons. The Anti-Defamation League calls it the "oldest and most notorious racist prison gang in the United States". According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Aryan Brotherhood makes up an extremely low percentage of the entire US prison population but it is responsible for a disproportionately large number of prison murders.

The gang has focused on the economic activities which organized crime entities typically engage in, particularly drug trafficking, extortion, inmate prostitution, and murder-for-hire. The organization of its whites-only membership varies from prison to prison but it is generally hierarchical, headed by a twelve-man council which is topped by a three-man commission. The Aryan Brotherhood uses various terms, symbols, and images in order to identify itself, including shamrocks, swastikas, and other symbols. In order to join the Aryan Brotherhood, new members may swear a blood oath or take a pledge; acceptance into the Aryan Brotherhood is aided by a prospect's willingness to kill another inmate.


Most prisons in the United States were racially segregated until the 1960s. As prisons began to desegregate, many inmates organized themselves into gangs along racial lines. The Aryan Brotherhood is believed to have been formed at San Quentin State Prison, but it may have been inspired by the Bluebird Gang. They decided to strike against the African-Americans who were forming their own militant group called the Black Guerrilla Family. In the early 1970s, the Aryan Brotherhood had a connection with Charles Manson and the Manson Family. Several members of the Manson Family were in prison at the time, and they attempted to join forces. However, the relationship did not last long as the Aryan Brotherhood considered Manson "too leftist", while members also took offense at the murder of pregnant actress Sharon Tate.

In 1981, Thomas Silverstein and Clayton Fountain were charged with the murder of a black inmate named Robert Chappelle in the United States Penitentiary, Marion, control unit. It was believed that Silverstein and Fountain strangled Chappelle in his cell. Silverstein and Fountain later killed Raymond Smith, a friend of Robert Chappelle. The two men stabbed Smith 67 times. Silverstein then started to plan killing a correctional officer. On October 22, 1983, gang members from the Aryan Brotherhood killed two correction officers at Marion. Silverstein killed an officer named Merle Clutts, stabbing him approximately 40 times. Several hours later, Fountain also killed an officer named Robert Hoffman. The tactics used were developed for a prior inmate murder; Silverstein used an improvised knife and handcuff key while being taken to the showers. He picked the lock, then attacked and killed Merle Clutts. Fountain used similar tactics to kill Robert Hoffman.

By the 1990s, the Aryan Brotherhood had shifted its focus away from killing for strictly racial reasons and focused on organized crime such as drug trafficking, prostitution, and sanctioned murders. They took on organized crime-level power inside of the prison system, and they held more power than the Italian crime families within the prison system. For example, Gambino crime family boss John Gotti was assaulted while incarcerated in Marion Federal Penitentiary in 1996, and he allegedly asked the Aryan Brotherhood to murder his attacker. Gotti's attacker was immediately transferred to protective custody and the planned retaliation was abandoned.

In April 1993, members of the Aryan Brotherhood along with members of the Black Muslims and other gangs in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility initiated the Lucasville Prison Riot in Lucasville. The rioters took several officers hostage and killed nine inmates, then killed an officer. Their complaints included alleged abusive treatment and overcrowding, with Black Muslims also demanding an end to mandatory tuberculosis testing, which they said violated their faith.

Investigations and prosecutions

In late 2002, 29 leaders of the gang were simultaneously rounded up from prisons all over the country and brought to trial under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The intention was to bring death sentences for at least 21 of them, in a manner similar to tactics used against organized crime. The case produced 30 convictions but none of the most powerful leaders received a death sentence. Sentencing occurred in March 2006 for three of the most powerful leaders of the gang, including Barry Mills and Tyler Bingham, who were indicted for numerous crimes, including murder, conspiracy, drug trafficking, and racketeering and for ordering killings and beatings from their cells. Bingham and Mills were convicted of murder and sent back to United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility Prison (ADX) in Florence, Colorado where they are serving life sentences without parole, escaping the death penalty.

Prosecuting the gang has been difficult, because many members are already serving life sentences with no possibility of parole, so prosecutors were seeking the death penalty for 21 of those indicted but have dropped the death penalty on all but five defendants. By September 2006, the 19 indictees not eligible for the death penalty had pleaded guilty. The first of a series of trials involving four high level members ended in convictions in July 2006.

On June 23, 2005, after a 20-month investigation, a federal strike force raided six houses in northeastern Ohio which belonged to members of the "Order of the Blood", a criminal organization which is controlled by the Aryan Brotherhood. 34 Aryan Brotherhood members or associates were arrested and warrants were issued for the arrests of ten more.

Ideology and motivation

The initial motivation for the formation of the group in San Quentin in 1964 was self-protection against an existing black prison gang. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has said that, although they clearly have a white supremacist ideology, the major motivation is money, and they have occasionally set aside racist views, such as by allying themselves with Latin American gangs, in order to make a profit.

The SPLC, which monitors hate groups and other extremists throughout the United States, has designated the Aryan Brotherhood as "...the nation's oldest major white supremacist prison gang and a national crime syndicate", and the "...largest and deadliest prison gang in the United States".

Daryl Johnson, leader of the Domestic Terrorist Analysis Team whose job it is to monitor the activity of right-wing militias and other domestic terrorist groups, said that white supremacist organizations in prisons are a "...radicalization threat", committing acts of violence inside prison, and then in the larger communities after release. Johnson named the Aryan Brotherhood, Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, and the Aryan Circle as examples of white supremacist prison-based gangs which are radicalization threats.: 325 

In an investigation in California prisons which ended in 1989, the FBI characterized the Brotherhood as a "...violent, white supremacist group", and a 2008 DHS intelligence conference in Newport, Rhode Island divided violent domestic extremism into three types, and concluded that white supremacist groups like Aryan Brotherhood remained a threat and a cause for concern.: 189 

Operations and membership

Estimates of Aryan Brotherhood membership vary from 15,000 to 20,000 members in and out of prison.

The Aryan Brotherhood has members inside federal and state prisons, and outside on the streets. All members are white, and are either in prison or have been in prison. Joining is difficult. New members are on probation for a year, must swear a blood oath for life, and must commit a violent act to join the Brotherhood, such as killing a rival inmate, assaulting an officer or murdering an African American or Hispanic prisoner. Members are inculcated with various reading materials smuggled into prisons published by Aryan Nations, Militia of Montana, and other groups, as well as Mein Kampf, The Art of War, and Machiavelli's The Prince. Early members liked the Western novels of Louis L'Amour, source of the organization's self-proclaimed "the Brand" moniker. Therefore, they perpetuated an admiration for the outlaw gunslingers of the American West. Members also have a fondness for medieval Vikings and the pirates of the Golden Age.

Criminal activities inside prison walls include male prostitution, gambling, extortion, and drug trafficking, primarily involving methamphetamines. Outside prison, the AB engages in every kind of criminal enterprise, "...including murder-for-hire, armed robbery, gun running, methamphetamine manufacturing, heroin sales, counterfeiting, and identity theft", according to the SPLC.

Organization and affiliation


After its formation in California prisons in the mid-1960s, the Aryan Brotherhood had spread to most California prisons by 1975. After some of its leaders were sent to federal prisons, they took the opportunity to start organizing inside the federal prison system. This ended with the creation of two separate, but related organizations, the California Aryan Brotherhood, and the federal prison Aryan Brotherhood. As a former top leader said, "They're like two related but different crime families. They each have their [ruling] commission… but they're allies." By the late 1970s, these gangs had fewer than 100 members, but their membership grew rapidly as they absorbed other racist and skinhead groups, and today these gangs are estimated to have over 20,000 members in both the federal and state prison systems.

In its early days, the group had a one-man, one-vote system, but this broke down as a result of the group's rapid expansion, and it was replaced by the establishment of a hierarchical structure, headed by a 12-man council, and overseen by a three-member commission. The federal and state systems each had their own council and commission. Organization varies somewhat, from prison to prison. For example, in the Arizona prison system, members are known as "kindred" and organize into "families". A "council" controls the families. Kindred may recruit other members, known as "progeny", and serve as a mentor for the new recruits.

A sort of internal banking or accounting system was instituted, which allowed them to "tax" criminal activity on the streets, and collect 20% on the proceeds, money which is then laundered and controlled by the commission.

Affiliations, alliances and rivalries

The Aryan Brotherhood is affiliated with the national hate-based organization Aryan Nations.

In 1992, the Brotherhood established ties with American Mafia crime, via boss John Gotti, who was sentenced to prison and contacted the Brotherhood for protection while he was in prison. Gotti also organized a business partnership which operated on the outside between his group and the Brotherhood and as a result of this business partnership, the group's power greatly expanded on the streets.

Their communication and control has become so tight and efficient that they have been able to organize and direct major criminal enterprises on the outside, even from solitary confinement, much to the frustration of federal and state authorities.

The group has an alliance with La Eme (the Mexican Mafia) as the two are mutual enemies of Black Guerrilla Family.

Symbology and identification

The Aryan Brotherhood uses various symbols and images to identify members, and the organization, and spoken or written mottos and oaths to secure them.

Tattoos and other marks

A member's tattoo

New members were branded with a tattoo, following the procedure in a prison novel popular among inmates. The image was either a green shamrock (also called, "the rock"), the letters AB, or the number 666. "The brand" meant the inmate belonged to Aryan Brotherhood.

Like most prison gangs, Aryan Brotherhood members mark themselves with distinctive tattoos. Designs commonly include the words "Aryan Brotherhood", "AB", "666", Nazi symbolism such as SS, sig runes, and swastikas, as well as shamrocks and Celtic iconography.

Mottos and pledges

Other means of identification of group membership were the "blood in, blood out" motto symbolizing life-long membership with no exit other than death, and "the pledge", an eight-line oath that each new member had to swear.

Categorization and analysis

According to the FBI, as of 2005, the gang made up less than 0.1% of the prison population but was responsible for between 18–25% of murders in the federal prison system.

The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released the Domestic Extremism Lexicon report in 2009 that defines different classifications of extremists. On the last entry of the 11-page report, it broke down the "white supremacist movement" into six categories: Neo-nazi, Ku Klux Klan, Christian Identity, racist skinhead, Nordic mysticism, and Aryan prison gangs.

An analysis by Slate describes the Aryan prison gang classification as "...further outside the white supremacy mainstream", and describes them as largely independent of other white supremacist groups, although the lines blurred as time went on. The report also refers to them as "more flexible" than other white supremacist groups since "...their criminal goals usually take precedence over ideology."

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