Law enforcement officials are digging into details about a white supremacist prison gang as they investigate Saturday’s cold-blooded shootings of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland, his wife Cynthia, and the January murder of another county prosecutor, Mark Hasse.
The Kaufman County District Attorney’s Office was among agencies that helped bring indictments against members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) last fall.
Heidi Beirich investigates hate groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center. She told KERA’s Shelley Kofler the Aryan Brotherhood which formed in the 1980’s is known as the most violent prison gang in the country.
Kofler: The ABT has been described as a paramilitary group. How does it operate?
Beirich: What we know about Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) is that it’s a highly organized system that they have. They have a constitution. They have a steering committee that runs the operation with a handful of members on it. They have ranks like generals, for example, that run different territories in Texas.
Their main business is selling drugs, in particular methamphetamines and heroin, also some cocaine. It’s a very big business for them. They make a lot of money. They started inside the prisons but now they are outside the prisons as well.
Kofler: So this is a white prison gang. My understanding is it has about 2600 members in Texas. What does it take to be a member of this group?
Beirich: The way most people get into the group is you get sent to prison for whatever and you’re looking for protection from other gangs, other ethic gangs whether Latino or African American. That’s how most people get hooked up.
What’s interesting about the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas is that it’s a blood-in system. So, to become a member, you usually have to commit some kind of act of violence. And at this point we know that the group is responsible for about 100 murders, that’s up to 2007, (and) 10 kidnappings during that time. Most of the violence involves their own members or members of theirs who were going to snitch.
They order hits on people. And it’s a pretty gruesome outfit in the sense that they often ask if someone has been targeted for murder that you bring back say a finger to prove that you have committed this act of violence.
The gang has been referred to as the most violent prison gang in the country as the result of all these murders and kidnappings that they’ve been involved in.
Kofler: Last fall federal authorities indicted some 30-plus members on federal racketeering chares. Some of the primary bosses- the big guys in this organization- were indicted. There’s a lot of speculation they wanted to get back at the individuals in law enforcement behind the indictments and convictions.
Beirich: It’s very possible although we don’t know at this point. We don’t have evidence at this point. The indictment was in November. A month later the Texas Department of Public Safety issued a bulletin warning law enforcement authorities who were involved in the indictment and the sweeps that the gang was threatening violence against those folks including murder.
I think the fact the bulletin was issued is why people are thinking that maybe they had something to be involved in the murders in Kaufman County. That county- law enforcement officials from there- were involved in the indictment.
Kofler: When you heard about the murders in Kaufman County did you have some thoughts about this being an organized effort?
Beirich: Yeah, it makes sense that federal law enforcement and law enforcement there in Texas would be looking into a connection with the ABT because of these threats. I mean, I should say, targeting high ranking public officials like this would be quite an escalation in the type of violence ABT has been involved in. Most of it has involved something impeding their business, their own members who are seen as snitches or were talking to law enforcement and so on.
Kofler: What do think law enforcement individuals in the North Texas area should be doing in terms of safety and protection?
Beirich: I think at this point all the DA’s in the region, maybe throughout all of Texas, need to have round-the-clock protection at least until they can sort out what has happened in these cases. We have three people dead now and if it turns out that’s connected to white supremacist prison gangs or to the Aryan Brotherhood and members of that gang are still out there and functioning they are going to have to provide that protection. We can’t have public officials put in the line of fire like that.