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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Aryan Brotherhood on Trial

Did you know that one of the largest recent RICO trials has begun in Santa Ana, California? Probably not, as it seems to have had little play in the media. On trial is most of the leadership of the Aryan Brotherhood, the infamously violent white prison gang. The AB was founded at California's San Quentin Prison in the 1960's in response to the rise of black and Hispanic prison gangs like La Nuestra Familia, the Black Guerilla Family, and the Mexican Mafia.

I've done some googling and come up with two articles that I think are very much worth reading. They cover a lot of the same ground, but I think they are both quite interesting on the history of the gang, its organizational structure, the power it developed within the prison system (and the crimes they committed to gain and maintain this power), and the federal operation to take it down.

Here's an excerpt from an article by Matthew Duersten that appeared in the LA Weekly in February:

From one rather warped perspective, the United States, which spends around $60 billion annually on its prison and jail systems, has been getting its money’s worth: The AB are the most lethal killers this country has produced outside of Delta Force. They are one of the “Big Four” of prison-born gangs in the U.S. — all of which first formed in California. Over the years they have perfected a sort of asymmetrical warfare in dealing with prison authorities. Their fearsome propensity for violence — not merely at the drop of the watch cap but before the cap even hits the ground — has made them legends within the penal system. In a 1992 study from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Brotherhood constituted less than one-tenth of a percent of the inmate population in the federal system — yet they were responsible for 18 percent of all its homicides. In 1999, an FBI agent said under oath that the figure was closer to 25 percent.

What’s more, the law-enforcement and penal branches of state and federal governments have built bigger and bigger prisons to house the very supercriminals who train themselves for the “posture of battle” (as Angela Davis described it) almost in direct proportion to the amount of punitive pressure placed on them by The Man. In this respect, the AB has flourished in the most regimented and isolated maximum-security prisons on Earth, including the enormous mall-like Supermaxes. In fact, the entire concept of Supermaxes was born out of violence committed by AB members. In 1983, within an eight-hour period in the dreaded federal pen at Marion, Illinois, inmates Clayton Fountain and “Terrible Tom” Silverstein butchered two correctional officers named Robert Hoffman and Merle Clutts. Hoffman was stabbed 40 times and managed to save two other officers before dying in the arms of his son, also a guard at the prison. Both Silverstein and Fountain had gotten free of their shackles by using counterfeit keys passed to them by other AB members. Thing was, they were already in Control Unit H, a supposed “prison within a prison” built especially to house them.

The Aryan Brotherhood (also known as The Brand) enjoyed decades of relatively undisturbed strength. As their senior leadership was composed of men serving life sentences there was little that the courts could do to stop them short of the death penalty. They also gained many advantages, both in power and in protection from Federal infiltration, from their unique organizational structure: unlike other gangs that concentrated on gaining strength of numbers to consolidate their power the Aryan Brotherhood chose a strategy of carefully selecting an elite, men who had proved their cunning and propensity for violence. These men controlled thousands of associates as well as a range of criminal operations within the prison system, as David Grann explained in the New Yorker:

The Brand, authorities say, established drug-trafficking, prostitution, and extortion rackets in prisons across the country. Its leaders, often working out of barren cells in solitary confinement, allegedly ordered scores of stabbings and murders. They killed rival gang members; they killed blacks and homosexuals and child molesters; they killed snitches; they killed people who stole their drugs, or owed them a few hundred dollars; they killed prison guards; they killed for hire and for free; they killed, most of all, in order to impose a culture of terror that would solidify their power. And, because the Brotherhood is far more cloistered than other gangs, it was able to operate largely with impunity for decades—and remain all but invisible to the outside world. “It is a true secret society,” Mark Hamm, a prison sociologist, told me.

For the first time, on August 28, 2002, that world cracked open. After more than a decade of trying to infiltrate the Brand’s operations, a relatively unknown Assistant United States Attorney from California named Gregory Jessner indicted virtually the entire suspected leadership of the gang. He had investigated hundreds of crimes linked to the gang; some were cold cases that reached back nearly forty years. In the indictment, which ran to a hundred and ten pages, Jessner charged Brand leaders with carrying out stabbings, strangulations, poisonings, contract hits, conspiracy to commit murder, extortion, robbery, and narcotics trafficking. The case...could lead to as many as twenty-three death-penalty convictions—more than any in American history.


(Jessner) was accustomed, he explained, to murder cases, but he had been shocked by the gang’s brutality. “I suspect they kill more than the Mafia,” he said. “They kill more than any single drug trafficker. There are a lot of gang-related deaths on the streets, but they are usually more disorganized and random.” He paused, as if calculating various numbers in his head. “I think they may be the most murderous criminal organization in the United States.”

|| RPH || 3:50 AM || |