The recent murders of two Texas prosecutors and a Colorado prison official suggest a stepped-up campaign of violence against US officials by increasingly powerful white supremacist prison gangs, including the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, hate group experts fear.
Law enforcement has not yet listed any official motives or suspects in the separate killings of two prosecutors in Kaufman County: deputy district attorney Mark Hasse on Jan. 31 and district attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, Saturday.
But in December, the Texas Department of Safety issued warnings to law enforcement, saying leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) are issuing orders “to inflict ‘mass casualties’ or death” to police and prosecutors following a series of major indictments against key members of the gang. And after the murder of Mr. Hasse, the US Marshal Service wrote that “the focus of our investigation involves the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) being responsible..."
As security has been increased for key officials in Texas, there’s a widespread feeling that a battle is underway. “We’re under attack,” one Kaufman County prosecutor told ABC News on Tuesday.
Experts are concerned that might indeed be the case.
“This could be a signal, at least for this specific group, that they are coalescing around a more open, outright campaign of violence against police and other law enforcement officials," says Pete Simi, a hate group expert at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. "The big question is what impact that may have on the dozens of different groups like this around the country and whether they’ll say, ‘It’s time for us to step it up as well.’ ”
Patterned after the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang in California, the ABT is a quasi-military organization divided into five regions led by “generals,” who in turn command captains and lieutenants to run racketeering, extortion and trafficking schemes, as well as exact hits inside prison and out. While the ABT has gradually expanded its influence beyond prisons since its founding in the 1980s, all its generals are currently behind bars.
Its rise points to a broader trend in the white supremacist movement.
“This is a nationwide trend in recent years, where you’ve really seen a growth in the prison component to the white supremacist culture,” Professor Simi says.
Prosecutors in Kaufman County have played a role in targeting the ABT.
“The Kaufman District Attorney's Office, with about a dozen lawyers, was among the smaller agencies involved in a massive federally led 2012 prosecution that significantly impaired the ABT,” writes Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernadino, on the Huffington Post Tuesday. “A number of ABT associates are believed to reside in the area.”
In recent years, US officials have raised concerns about the growth of fringe patriot groups and also so-called sovereign citizen groups, saying that in some cases those politically motivated domestic extremists pose a greater threat to law enforcement than white supremacists. But the possible ties of the shootings in Texas to white supremacists is bringing attention back to a simmering war between white supremacists and the government that has its roots in Reconstruction.
“There’s a very long, long history within the world of white supremacy of targeting the state, law enforcement officials, and political officials,” says Simi.
The very earliest white supremacist groups in the US, such as the Ku Klux Klan, in effect waged war on government officials for years, resulting in hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths. And a campaign of violence, at times involving law enforcement, has been simmering for decades, as groups like the ABT broaden their reach.
In fact, the ABT “has killed more Americans than any other domestic extremist group,” with over 100 murders and 10 kidnappings on its hands, according to the Anti-Defeamation League.
Other neo-Nazi gangs like Aryan Circle and Public Enemy Number One have also expanded their influence inside and outside of prison, often putting financial gains above white supremacist ideology, says Mr. Simi. The man who shot and killed the head of the Colorado Department of Corrections at his home last month was a member of 211 Crew, another white-supremacist prison gang.
The murders in Kaufman County – and the lack of suspects – have unnerved Texas law enforcement. Kaufman County prosecutors are under heavy guard, and the anxiety is understandable, US Rep. Ted Poe (R) of Texas, a former prosecutor, told CNN.
With a total of 13 US prosecutors murdered in the past three decades, Representative Poe says the murders of the Kaufman County prosecutors, one of whom had called the ABT “scum,” were “specifically aimed.”