Five Things We Know About the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, As Explained by CNN

Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes, second from left, speaks at a news conference, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Kaufman, Texas. On Saturday, Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were murdered in their home. (AP Photo/Mike Fuentes)

Texas district attorney Mike McLelland and his wife were found fatally shot in their home Saturday, leaving Kaufman County shaken and state authorities scrambling for clues.

And although law enforcement officials are still uncertain about the details surrounding the slayings, attention has shifted in the direction of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a violent white supremacist group that has that has been in and out of the state’s correctional facilities since the 1980s.

Now it’s important to note that officials have yet to establish a solid link between the two murders and the racist gang.

Still, considering that the McLelland murders come just weeks after Kaufman County assistant district attorneys, Mark Hasse, was shot outside his courthouse office and Colorado’s prison chief was murdered at his front door, allegedly by a white supremacist ex-convict, and the fact that police warned in December that the group may try to retaliate against state law enforcement, it’s not surprising that Texas has turned its attention toward the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.

But what is the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas?

Here are the five things we know about the white supremacist group, as explained by CNN’s Holly Yan and Deborah Feyerick [all block quotes via CNN]:

5. Whites Only

The FBI describes the group as a “whites only,” prison-based gang that has been operating since at least the 1980s.

“I think the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas today is arguably the most violent white supremacist prison gang out there,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The group has been blamed for more than 100 homicides and at least 10 kidnappings since the early 1980s.

4. Not Quite the Same As the Aryan Brotherhood

Inmates in Texas asked the Aryan Brotherhood, a California-based prison gang, for permission to start a Texas chapter, but they were denied membership, the Southern Poverty Law Center said. It’s not clear why.

Nonetheless, the Texas-based group modeled itself after the California gang.

3. Criminal Activities

Like the Aryan Brotherhood, the Texas group’s main purpose morphed from protecting white inmates to criminal activities involving drugs, extortion and murders, authorities say. It also espouses a white supremacist ideology.

[…]

Its reach began to extend outside prison walls as more members finished their sentences. ABT members on parole are required not only to remain loyal to the gang, but also to recruit new members.

“Brutal beatings, fire bombings, drug trafficking and murder are all part of ABT’s alleged standard operating procedures,” said Lanny Breuer, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney General.

2. Did the Group Murder the McLelland & Hasse?

Authorities don’t know.

But McLelland’s office was one of numerous agencies involved in a multi-year investigation that led to the indictment of 34 alleged members of the ABT — including four of its senior leaders — on racketeering charges in November.

At the time, Breuer called the indictment a “devastating blow” to the organization.

Weeks later, the Texas Department of Public Safety issued a statewide warning saying it had “credible information” that members of the group were planning to retaliate.

In an interview with The Associated Press after Hasse’s death, McLelland said his deputy hadn’t been involved in the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas investigation. But the district attorney nevertheless raised the possibility the group was behind the death.

“We put some real dents in the Aryan Brotherhood around here in the past year,” McLelland told the news agency.

1. Membership

“It is said to be one of the gangs that live by the ‘blood-in, blood-out’ code, meaning that you can only get into ABT by carrying out some kind of attack,” Potok said. “And similarly … you can only leave in a body bag.”

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