The Aryan Brotherhood is an American prison gang that only accepts whites (although one of its more famous members, Michael Thompson, was part Native American), it is a neo-Nazi hate group with white supremacist leanings but tends to function much like any other gang - being involved in drug trafficking, extortion, inmate prostitution, and murder-for-hire.
Members of the Aryan Brotherhood often adorn themselves with Nazi symbols or Celtic designs (such as shamrocks) and although only making up a small number of the prison population, they are said to be involved in an unusually high percentage of prison murders.
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 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 the United States Penitentiary, Marion, Illinois. 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 Hammerskins 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."