about books journalism links contact2 home2
Hammering The Rock

The Aryan Brotherhood, one of the most feared prison gangs in American history faces the ultimate showdown with the authorities – but will it be enough to smash 'The Rock'? Report by Nick Ryan.

It was a place for those who had made it. Plate glass and grandeur, reflected in the bright winter sunlight. The posh Pacific Heights neighbourhood was a world away from the street gangs and violence plaguing many American inner cities.

So it must have seemed to Bill Kuenzi on a typically brisk San Franciscan afternoon, January 26 2001, as he unlocked his friend's third-story apartment door. Until, that was, he heard the screams.

"It was high-pitched, desperate, continuous screaming," Kuenzi later testified in a Los Angeles court, "of a woman who was obviously being attacked. I knew I had to do something and I tried to call 911 on my cell phone."

Kuenzi's phone didn't work where he was. So he went to the stairs for better reception and began climbing toward the screaming. The cell phone still didn't work. He continued until he reached the fifth floor. Then fear stopped him. The screaming was coming from the sixth floor.

"I assumed it was a domestic violence situation," said Kuenzi, a 35-year-old stockbroker. "Or a woman being sexually assaulted. I realised that when I climbed to the sixth floor landing, I would be exposed to the situation, which I knew was violent, and I was scared."

He had good reason. The violence that Kuenzi feared was not being perpetrated by some enraged boyfriend who might be calmed down, or even a rapist who could be scared off by the arrival of others.

The attack taking place a floor above Kuenzi was being carried out by two huge Canary Island mastiffs. They had been bred as vicious attack dogs by a pair of prison cellmates, members of the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood — possibly the most frightening prison gang in US history.

The dogs were mauling to death Diane Whipple, a petite 34-year-old college lacrosse coach and resident of the sixth floor, who had just returned from a shopping trip.

Descending again, Kuenzi finally got through to police. As he reached the ground floor, he heard Whipple's cries change to a low moan.

"Then the screaming stopped," he said.

The first police officers at the scene found Whipple in the sixth-floor hallway, nude, mutilated, covered in blood, and trying to crawl to her open apartment door. The carpet, floor and walls were smothered in bloody handprints.

Whipple was beyond help. Her larynx was crushed and her jugular vein had been severed by dog bites. The two dogs, Bane (male) and Hera (female), had worked together, Bane attacking her face and neck, Hera the lower body. Whipple would die in the emergency room 70 minutes later.

This strange and savage attack was to expose to the American public one of the more bizarre aspects of the Aryan Brotherhood. Known as Presa Canarios, the dogs which killed Diane Whipple belonged to her neighbours, Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, husband-and-wife attorneys. Their legal practice had put them in contact with the two life-term prisoners at Pelican Bay, the most secure facility in the California system.

With Noel and Knoller's help, Paul "Cornfed" Schneider, an Aryan Brotherhood member, and Dale Bretches were running a dangerous business – against prison rules – that they called Dog o' War. Officials believe that huge dogs were being raised for sale to guard methamphetamine labs. The business was conducted from the cells, and by vulnerable contacts on the outside whom Cornfed managed to dupe.

Jewish-born Noel, 60, and Knoller, 46, were later convicted of involuntary manslaughter and, in Knoller's case, second-degree murder as well. There were allegations of sexual abuse concerning the dogs, and naked pictures of Knoller were also found in Cornfed's cell. Even so, these were hardly your run-of-the-mill Aryan Brotherhood associates. Yet the case threw into sharp relief the continued existence of America's most feared prison gang.

The Rock

Photos of Aryan Brotherhood members invariably reveal the same qualities: thick bull necks, massive forearms, tattoos of fierce Vikings, Nazi lightning bolts, and a distinctive shamrock enclosed in the claws of a swastika with 666 branded on its petals. Wear one without permission and you die. But not before, alive or dead, they slice it off you with a razor.

Some have knit caps pulled low over their eyes; many sport peculiar, walrus-like mustaches more befitting American Civil War soldiers and Wild West outlaws. They have connections to the world of outlaw bikers, and sport whimsical, cartoon nicknames: The Hulk, Bart Simpson, Blinky, Speedy, Tweak, The Baron, Lucifer and Super Honky. Their eyes are invariably intense and defiant, glaring right through the camera and down the throats of anyone who looks at their picture for all time.

Nicknamed "The Rock" or "The Brand", sometimes "Alice" or "Alice Baker", carnage spreads in the Aryan Brotherhood's wake. Dozens of murders, professional hits, drug dealing and prostitution rings (both male and female) – all controlled from inside maximum security, lock-down prisons using intricate codes, wives and girlfriends, and "blood in, blood out" loyalty. The gang in recent years has established criminal networks outside prison walls in cities, small towns, and suburbs across the country. Methamphetamine is their drug of choice – both consumption and dealing. Oh yes. And they have a Nazi belief system to boot.

While the precise number of Aryan Brotherhood members and associates is not known, the gang has chapters in virtually every major state and federal prison in the country. Estimates of AB's total strength vary widely, but nearly all exceed 15,000 members and associates nationwide, with roughly half in prison and half out.

There are many reasons to fear The Rock. Its members make up less than one-tenth of one percent of the nation's prison population, yet the white power gang is responsible for 18 percent of all prison murders, according to the FBI. They killed rival gang members; they killed blacks and homosexuals and child molesters; they killed snitches; they killed people who stole their drugs, or owed them a few hundred dollars; they killed prison guards; they killed for hire and for free; they killed, most of all, in order to impose a culture of terror that would solidify their power. From 1975 to 1985, members committed 40 homicides in California prisons and local jails, as well as 13 murders in the community. From 1978 to 1992, AB members, suspects, and associates in the federal system were involved in 26 homicides, three of which involved staff victims.

Part of its modus operandi is to spread fear among the other gangs in the system; the idea is to fear nothing and no-one, to make up for a numerically smaller position with greater violence. They are, in a warped sense, the SAS of the prison world. Murder of another gang member is often the way for an associate (usually in lower order gangs, often called the Peckerwoods) to sign up.

In 1981, two members of the Brotherhood locked up at the federal prison in Marion, Illinois, murdered the leader of a rival gang, the D.C. Blacks, by sneaking up behind him in the shower and then brutally stabbing and slashing him 67 times. They then dragged his bloody, mutilated corpse through a cellblock while white inmates cheered and chanted racial slurs.

"I have walked over dead bodies," one of the AB assassins in that case later boasted in court. "I've had guts splattered all over my chest from the race wars."

Manuel 'Larry' Jackson, a reputed member of the Mexican Mafia (known as "La EME", a gang allied to the Brotherhood and both rivals to the other main Hispanic gang, La Nuestra Familia) allegedly beat and stabbed another inmate to within an inch of his life for merely making disparaging comments about the AB. Cleo Roy, who at the age of 16 killed a police officer, also allegedly placed a noose around the neck of an inmate named Thomas Lamb while a fellow assassin hung him from the shelves in his cell to make it look like a suicide. Lamb's offense: he had failed to carry out a murder for the AB while on parole and then had the misfortune of landing back in jail. The AB leaders were very patient. They allegedly issued the order for Lamb's murder at the California Institution for Men at Chino in 1982. Lamb died in the federal penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, on October 15, 1988. The Aryan Brotherhood, in jail parlance, "had all day."

The US spends some $60 billion annually on its prison and jail systems and some joke with cruel irony that it has been getting its money's worth. The Brotherhood are the most lethal killers the country has produced since Delta Force (special forces). They are one of the "Big Four" of prison-gangs in the USA, all of which first formed in California. What is special about them all, and particularly the Brotherhood, is that it grew from the inside out, a network controlled by lifer prisoners with nothing to lose and little to fear. After all, what difference would another sentence make when you were already in 23-hour lockdown for the rest of your natural life?

Blood in, Blood Out

Most prisons in America had been racially segregated until the 1960s. When they were desegregated, racial violence flared and inmates formed gangs along colour lines. Four decades later, the problems have got so bad that sometimes judges will order this segregation in order to preserve security – the one time the pro-diversity American legal system will do so.

The Aryan Brotherhood itself was "born" in 1964, inside California's Supermax San Quentin prison. Originally created by Irish-descended bikers, they were vastly outnumbered by black and Mexican prisoners. Their strategy was simple. What they lacked in numbers they would make up for in brutality – slaying members of other races, attacking prison officers, doing whatever was necessary to strike terror into the hearts of those around them. The Nietzchean maxim was that "a brother's a brother, till that brother dies." To join the ranks of the Brotherhood, one would have to kill a black inmate; to get out, one would have to be murdered oneself. Blood in, blood out.

As a result, the Brotherhood earned a reputation for its zero-tolerance policy on "disrespect" from other inmates. They fought gladiator-style, which is essentially a simple but balletic street fight magnified, like everything else in prison, tenfold. A 10-second fight in prison is an eternity. In much less time, windpipes can be severed, jugulars torn out, spinal cords pierced and livers punctured. But the AB made a science of death: their "warriors" studied anatomy texts in prison libraries to better understand parts of the human body that could be maimed for maximum effect. Exercising in their tiny cells, they developed such strength that they could break handcuff restraints. Therefore, membership became selective, almost Mensa-like, based on physical strength, willingness to kill on sight – and intelligence too. Leaders read Machiavelli, Nietzche and Tolkien, as well as Hitler's Mein Kampf.

"You gain ranks by battles, by 'missions,' not all of it locked up," explained 'tree 1488', an Oklahoma Aryan Brotherhood member posting on the white power Stormfront website ('14' and '88' are common white supremacist terms). "Brothers grow as close as vets do when they go into battle fighting for a common cause. We are there for each other even on the outside. I have a high ranking it has taken me nearly seven years of missions to earn."

In 1973, no less a reputed mad-dog killer than Charles Manson was rejected by the Aryan Brotherhood when he asked to join. He refused to murder for skin colour alone. "The AB want Manson to kill a black because black is black," Manson's lieutenant Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme wrote in a letter. "He will not do this and they are against him."

Very few members were actually sent to prison for hate crimes. Often they would be sentenced for robbery or drug dealing, then join the gang for protection. The ultimate fear is that within hours of arrival, you would be "punked" – forced into sexual slavery – by other gang members, often black or Hispanic, and could even be traded among them as "chattel". Not that the Aryan Brotherhood was fussy: it too traded in "fuck boys". It didn't matter whether you were gay or not – though homosexuality is looked down upon as a violation of one of the AB's sacred oaths, all of which seem to end with the proviso "punishable by death".

Only after that comes the racial ideology. Ironically, though, the gang has allies such as La Eme, or 50 percent white/Hispanic gangs such as California's Nazi Lower Riders. As the authorities have cracked down on the Brotherhood, so it has turned to newer, young associates – and other racial gangs – to carry out tasks such as dealing, carrying out hits on the outside, passing messages and so on. As this has happened, so a plethora of such gangs – a mix of street gangs and prison-grown organisations – have sprung up in the Brotherhood's wake.

Throughout the 1970s, as the gang expanded, the Brotherhood constantly battled with black and Hispanic prison gangs in slow-burning wars of attrition fueled by racial hatred – but truly fought over territory and profits. Then as now, the Aryan Brotherhood was both a white supremacist organisation and a criminal syndicate. Drug dealing, inside and out, was one of its main activities.

"There's no doubt the Aryan Brotherhood are a bunch of racists, but when it comes to doing business, the colour that matters most to them isn't black or brown or white – it's green," said prison gang expert Tony Delgado, Security Threat Group Coordinator for the Ohio Bureau of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Whereas the Order – a high-profile gang of white power criminals who in the early 1980s carried out bullion hoists, counterfeited currency and murdered a Jewish radio host – killed and robbed mainly to further the cause of white supremacy, the Aryan Brotherhood reversed that formula. The AB uses the white supremacy movement to further its criminal endeavors.

"The white power thing is mostly just a good recruiting tool and a way to maintain structure and discipline," said Delgado. "These guys are more about making money than starting any kind of white revolution. They sell heroin to white people all the time. That's not very Aryan or brotherly of them."

By the late 1990s, according to FBI sources and court papers, top AB leaders David Sahakian, Michael McElhiney, Barry Byron Mills and Tyler Davis Bingham allegedly had established ties in the federal system with jailed Mafia crime bosses Oreste Abbamonte, "Little Nicky" Scarfo and the "Teflon Don" himself, John Gotti, who turned twice to the AB to carry out murder contracts.

And it's not just inside that they remain dangerous. "They're becoming increasingly dangerous on the outside," said Mark Potok, head of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. "They now have a very large network of associates to do their bidding. What's happening is that they're running very serious drug operations. Mostly methamphetamine – which really hots you up." Despite several large-scale busts, little seems to deter the dealers.

Once they're released, some Aryan Brotherhood members commit terrible hate crimes in the name of Rahowa – or "racial holy war" as they know it. (Many members have converted to extremist Christian or Odinist cults whilst inside jail, based around racist outreach ministries which specifically preach to inmates).

The most infamous racially motivated murder since the civil rights era occurred in 1998, when three white men, two of them ex-cons, tied a black man, James Byrd Jr., to the back of their pickup truck with a logging chain. They then dragged him to death over three miles of country roads outside Jasper, Texas, and deposited his shredded remains in front of a predominantly black cemetery. One of the ex-cons testified at his trial that he and one his accomplices had both joined the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas for protection from black inmates while they were incarcerated. When he rejoined society, his arms were covered with Aryan Brotherhood tattoos, including one depicting a black man being lynched. "You look at his arms," the trial prosecutor said, "and you see what's in his heart."

Day of Reckoning

Over the years the Brotherhood has formed a sort of asymmetrical warfare in dealing with prison authorities. Their fearsome propensity for violence has made them legends within the penal system. They have also flourished within some of the most regimented and isolated maximum security prisons on Earth, including the enormous Supermaxes. In fact, the entire concept of the Supermax prisons was born out of violence committed by AB members.

In 1983, within an eight-hour period in the dreaded federal pen at Marion, Illinois, inmates Clayton Fountain and "Terrible Tom" Silverstein butchered two correctional officers named Robert Hoffman and Merle Clutts. Hoffman was stabbed 40 times and managed to save two other officers before dying in the arms of his son, also a guard at the prison. Both Silverstein and Fountain had got free of their shackles by using counterfeit keys passed to them by other AB members. The thing was, they were already in Control Unit H, a supposed "prison within a prison" built especially to house them.

But time may have finally caught up with the Rock. The murders above are being cited as part of a massive federal indictment, the like of which has rarely been seen. Forty of the top members of the Brotherhood and associates, including virtually all the gang's leaders ("shot callers") as well as prison guards and girflfriends alleged to have helped them, have been charged in a sweeping racketeering indictment. In a highly unusual case, over half face calls for the death penalty. "It's the one shot the federal government seems to have," said the Southern Poverty Law Center's Mark Potok.

The case takes place within the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Santa Anna, California, in a courtroom called the "Nuremberg room" for its resemblance to the famous chamber in which 22 leaders of the Third Reich were tried in 1945 and 1946 for crimes against humanity. Security is extremely tight: in other cases involving white power gang members, judges have been threatened, and inmates have launched co-ordinated, simultaneous attacks upon their guards and police officers whilst in court. Witnesses are often equally terrified. It has even threatened a US Senator.

Law enforcement authorities and prison officials have until now been unable to destroy the Brotherhood mainly because so many top leaders of the gang are serving life or multiple life sentences with no possibility of parole. These men laugh at criminal penalties that only add more time to their already infinite sentences.

Isolating the gang's leaders in solitary confinement hasn't worked either, because they always find way to communicate with each other and to transmit and receive reports, requests, and orders from prison to prison and down through the ranks, whether by bribing guards, subpoenaing each other to appear at court hearings where they employ hand signals and speak in code, or writing letters in a form of invisible ink made with their own urine.

Twenty-one of the defendants are eligible for the death penalty, making the Aryan Brotherhood indictment the largest death penalty case in the history of the American justice system. It is a decapitation attack.

"Capital punishment is the one arrow left in our quiver," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Jessner, who is spearheading the Aryan Brotherhood prosecution. "I think even a lot of people who are against the death penalty in general would recognize that in this particular instance, where people are committing murder repeatedly from behind bars, there is little other option."

In one example, the indictment alleges that in 1997, AB leaders responding to an outbreak of racial violence inside the federal penitentiary in Marion issued a "formal declaration of war" on black inmates throughout the federal prison system by using coded phone calls and messages written in a secret double alphabet invented by Sir Francis Bacon in 1652. When they received their orders, AB operatives in the federal pen in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, executed a carefully coordinated, simultaneous attack on black inmates, killing two and severely wounding four.

"My brothers and I have went to war, (make no mistake it is war) with all of mongoloid races at one time or another, using knives, pipes, locks/rocks in socks," said Aryan Brotherhood member "tree 1488" on Stormfront. "At the end of some of these confrontations somebody is needed to be medi-flighted out, nearly always someone has had to go to medical. I carry my scars/badges of battle. Death is a very real possibility."

The final effect of the government's "decapitation strike" is not known. Even if it takes out the gang's leadership, there are thousands of rank-and-file members due for release in the next decade, as well as scores of similar gangs which have grown up in the Aryan Brotherhood's wake.

"Someday most of us are finally going to get out of this hell," said one of the Brotherhood men involved in the killing of the D.C. Blacks leader in 1981. "And even a rational dog after getting kicked around year after year attacks when his cage door is finally opened."

This story was commissioned for Maxim ©2005.


You can buy this article, and seek new commissions, either by contacting me direct or my syndication agency, www.featurewell.com

Bookmark and Share


Blog: Ryan's Rants
Twitter: @ryanscribe


Aryan Brotherhood – The Facts:

Until the 1960s, most prisons in the United States were racially segregated. As prisons began to desegregate, inmates organized along racial lines. The Aryan Brotherhood is believed to have been formed by a group of bikers in 1964 at San Quentin State Prison, with prosecutors of cases against the gang saying it was formed in reaction to the Black Panthers. It may have been derived from or inspired by a previous entity, the Bluebird Gang. Originally its membership was exclusively Irish American and most of its activities were racially-based, but over time the gang became more profit-driven and began to incorporate other white and even mixed-race members.

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.

Also in 2005, culminating an eight year investigation, federal prosecutors indicted forty members of the organization, thirty of whom were already incarcerated, for a wide variety of crimes. Prosecuting the gang has been historically difficult, because many members are already serving life sentences with no possibility of parole, so prosecutors were seeking the death penalty for twenty-one of those indicted but have dropped the death penalty on all but five defendants. By September of that year, the nineteen indictees not eligible for the death penalty had plead guilty. The first of a series of trials involving four high level members ended in convictions in July 2006. Two of the four went through a death penalty hearing and the jury deadlocked. Before sentencing federal prosecutors filed a request that once the sentencing was over, the four would live out their sentences in solitary confinement, banned from communicating with anyone except their attorneys. The judge refused to rule on the request, telling prosecutors to file it with the US Attorney General and they immediately withdrew. One was sentenced to four life terms, two were sentenced to three life terms, all without the possibility of parole, and one has yet to be sentenced. Some members are still awaiting trial.


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 recruit.

Like most prison gangs, Aryan Brotherhood members mark themselves with distinctive tattoos. Designs commonly include the words "Aryan Brotherhood", the acronym "AB", 666, SS sig runes, spiderwebs near the elbow, shamrocks, and other Nazi and/or Celtic iconography.

The AB has since focused on the economic activities typical of organized crime entities, particularly drug trafficking, extortion, inmate prostitution, and murder-for-hire. According to a recent federal indictment, the Brotherhood has partnered with Asian gangs to import heroin from Thailand. While incarcerated in Marion Federal Penitentiary in 1996, after being assaulted, Gambino crime family boss John Gotti is said to have asked Aryan Brotherhood members to murder his attacker, although the hit was unsuccessful.