|Founding location||San Quentin State Prison, California, United States|
|Territory||Federal Bureau of Prisons|
|Membership (est.)||300 full members, with 15,000+ associates in and out of prison|
|Criminal activities||Murder, assault, drug trafficking, robbery, gambling, extortion, contract killing, racketeering, arms trafficking, inmate prostitution, human trafficking, dog fighting|
Ku Klux Klan
Public Enemy No. 1
Dirty White Boys
|Rivals||Black Guerrilla Family|
Almighty Black P. Stone Nation
The Aryan Brotherhood, also known as the Brand or the AB, is a neo-Nazi prison gang and organized crime syndicate in the United States with an estimated 15,000–20,000 members in and out of prison. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Aryan Brotherhood makes up an extremely low percentage of the entire US prison population but is responsible for a disproportionately large number of prison murders.
The gang has focused on the economic activities typical of organized crime entities, particularly drug trafficking, extortion, inmate prostitution, and murder-for-hire. Organization of its whites-only membership varies from prison to prison but is generally hierarchical, headed by a twelve-man council topped by a three-man commission. The group has an affiliation with Aryan Nations, and various alliances and rivalries with other prison gangs. The Aryan Brotherhood uses various terms, symbols, and images to identify themselves, including shamrocks, swastikas, and other symbols. To join, members may swear a blood oath or take a pledge; acceptance into the Aryan Brotherhood is aided by a prospect's willingness to kill a black or a Hispanic prisoner.
Most prisons in the United States were racially segregated until the 1960s. As prisons began to desegregate, many inmates organized 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 blacks 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. They later contacted Geri Riley to let her know it was done. 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 hold 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 formed an unlikely alliance with the Gangster Disciples in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. The two groups then initiated the Lucasville Prison Riot which lasted 11 days. The two gangs took several officers hostage and killed nine inmates, then killed an officer in retaliation against the state government. 10 people died during the riot.
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 belonging to the "Order of the Blood," a criminal organization controlled by the Aryan Brotherhood. 34 Aryan Brotherhood members or associates were arrested and warrants were issued for ten more.
Eight "self-confessed members of the Aryan Brotherhood" were arrested on December 8, 2018 in Lynnwood, Washington on assault, hate crime, and other charges in the attack of a black DJ who was performing in a bar and grill. The group harassed the DJ, tried to take his equipment, then beat and stomped him while he was on the floor. A bystander who attempted to aid the man was also injured. The FBI is investigating the group of white supremacists for federal hate crimes. The eight included Travis David Condor, who was arrested for beating a homeless man with a baseball bat in Cleveland, Ohio in 2010, while on active duty with the 82nd Airborne Division, and was let off with 90 days and time served after he apologized to the man face-to-face. Condor runs the hate-based American Defense Records, and took part with the Hammerskin Nation in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. The assault in Lynwood took place on the anniversary of the "martyrdom" of Robert Jay Mathews, the head of the white supremacist group The Order, who was killed in a shootout with the FBI in Washington state in 1984; white supremacists refer to the anniversary as "Martyr's Day."
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 allying themselves with Latino 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 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
The Aryan Brotherhood has members inside federal and state prisons, and outside on the streets. All members are Caucasian, 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 commit a violent act to join such as killing a rival inmate or assaulting an officer. The Aryan Brotherhood will also at times follow the rule, requiring the murder of a black or Hispanic prisoner for entry into the Brotherhood. 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 were known to read Western novels by Louis L'Amour, where the self-proclaimed "the Brand" moniker derives from. Therefore, perpetuating 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.
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.
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 on the outside between his group and the Brotherhood which greatly expanded the group's power 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 Aryan Brotherhood uses various symbols and images to identify members, and the organization, and spoken or written mottos and oaths to secure them.
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, 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.
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.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the gang makes up less than 0.1% of the prison population, but it is 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 at 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."