The Aryan Brotherhood, also known as the Brand, or the AB, is a white supremacist prison gang and organized crime syndicate in the United States with about 10,000 members in and out of prison. 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 up to 30% of murders in the federal prison system.[dubious – discuss] The AB has focused on the economic activities typical of organized crime entities, particularly drug trafficking, extortion, inmate prostitution, and murder-for-hire.
Organization at lower levels varies 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. The group has an alliance with La Eme (the Mexican Mafia) as the two are mutual enemies of Black Guerrilla Family.
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.
Until the 1960s, most prisons in the United States were racially segregated. 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 derived from or 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 Family, who were not in prison at the time, attempted to join forces. The Manson Family became split, the Comoites following former family member Kenneth Como, and the Mansonites following Manson. However, the relationship did not last long as the Aryan Brotherhood considered Manson "too leftist".
In 1981, Thomas Silverstein and Clayton Fountain were charged with the murder of an African American inmate named Robert Chappelle in the Marion control unit. It was believed that Silverstein and Fountain strangled Chappelle in his cell. Later on Silverstein and Fountain killed Raymond Smith, a friend of Robert Chappelle. The two men stabbed Smith 67 times. Later Silverstein started to plot on killing a prison guard officer. On October 22, 1983, gang members from the Aryan Brotherhood killed two correction officers at the United States Penitentiary, Marion, Illinois. Silverstein killed a prison guard named Merle Clutts in which Clutts was stabbed approximately 40 times. Several hours later Fountain also killed a prison guard 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. After picking the lock, Silverstein 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–like powers, and may be more powerful than the Italian crime families within the prison system. For example, after being assaulted while incarcerated in Marion Federal Penitentiary in 1996, Gambino crime family boss John Gotti 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 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 Byron Mills (born 1948) and AB "lieutenant" Tyler "The Hulk" Bingham, who were indicted for numerous crimes, including murder, conspiracy, drug trafficking, and racketeering and for ordering killings and beatings from their cell. 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. Thirty-four Aryan Brotherhood members or associates were arrested and warrants were issued for ten more.
Barry Mills, Thomas Silverstein and Tyler Bingham are among the leaders of the gang. Former members include Michael Thompson. Thompson was a high school football star, and is part Native American. Thompson was sentenced to multiple life sentences with no chance of parole and will spend the rest of his life in protective custody sections of California prisons.
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