Domestic extremists are suspected or known to have been involved in the killings of at least 11 people in the United States in 2008, according to an investigation by the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism. This figure represents a minimum number of deaths, as it often takes years for connections between killings and extremism to be revealed. Sometimes, especially in the case of murders behind prison walls, news of the killing never makes it to the public at all.
The total of 11 is a sharp drop from 2007, when there were at least 21 killings related to members of extremist movements. However, numbers often fluctuate from year to year.
Ideologies and Motives
Of the 11 deaths in 2008, 10 were attributed to white supremacists and one to the right-wing, anti-government sovereign citizen movement. None came from left-wing extremist, anti-abortion extremist or radical Islamic extremist movements.
The most unusual aspect of the 2008 killings is that the motives behind virtually all the incidents were not primarily ideological. Unlike most previous years, none of the murders involved hate crimes or acts of domestic terrorism.
Many of the murders of 2008 were internal killings—members of an extremist group killing one of their own, often because the victim was suspected of being an informant or security risk of some sort. Other murders took place during the commission of "traditional" crimes such as robbery or involved "personal" motives such as killing a spouse. These killings illustrate the inherently violent nature of the membership of many extremist movements.
The lack of ideological murders was not for lack of trying. Numerous extremists were arrested for attempted murder in 2008, and many of these involved hate crimes of one kind or another. There were also plots and conspiracies to commit murders, the most notorious of which was the alleged plot by two young white supremacists from Arkansas and Tennessee to go on a murderous rampage with the goal of killing 102 people and assassinating presidential candidate Barack Obama.
However, the successful killings in 2008 were primarily non-ideological. This is no coincidence, but rather a reflection on the group affiliations of many of the alleged killers. Although there was one Klan-related killing and two murders involving independent or non-affiliated white supremacists, seven of the murders were committed or suspected of being committed by members of white supremacist prison gangs.
Violent Racist Prison Gangs
The 2008 murder count illustrates one of the most disturbing recent trends among domestic extremist groups: a startling rise of white supremacist prison gang activities. Although such groups have a long history in America's prisons, in recent years they have been more and more active on America's streets as well. Combining the ruthlessness and criminal know-how of organized crime with some of the ideological intensity of traditional hate groups, they engage in a wide variety of criminal activities ranging from drug dealing to hate crimes.
While a number of the extremist-related murders in 2007 were attributed to racist prison gangs, the proportion in 2008 was even higher. What is most disturbing is that only one of the seven killings in 2008 linked to racist prison gangs actually took place in prisons—the others all occurred in the "free world" (though there were likely additional murders that took place behind bars in 2008 but which have not been reported).
Of these killings, one has been linked to a non-specified Texas gang and another is thought to have involved the Arizona Aryan Brotherhood. The remaining five – in other words, almost half of the extremist-relating killings in 2008 - may have involved a single group, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT).
The ABT, often confused with the original Aryan Brotherhood, is entirely independent of its similarly named and more well-known counterpart. With an estimated 1,500 prison and "free world" members, primarily based in Texas and the surrounding states, it is one of the largest white supremacist groups in the United States and one of the most violent as well. It is, however, an organized crime group first and a white supremacist group second, and appears to be less "ideological" than some of its counterparts, such as its main rival in Texas, the Aryan Circle.
The ABT is as ruthless towards its own members as it is to its hate crime and traditional crime victims; many ABT murders are actually "hits" on wayward members, usually for breaking serious gang rules or because of suspicion of being an informant. ABT murders are often distinguished from those of other extremist groups because of their "professional hit" nature, characterized by execution-style killings and efforts to dismember, burn, destroy, or otherwise hide corpses.
Two of the extremist-related deaths in 2008 were related to vehicular accidents or encounters. The incidents are representative of the spontaneous acts of violence that appear in extremist-related death tolls year after year.
In early 2008, authorities charged John Chester Stuart, a Phoenix, Arizona, member of the anti-government sovereign citizen movement, with second degree murder for a road rage incident involving a drunk driver. On January 29, Stuart and his girlfriend were driving when passed by another driver, Orville Beasley, who was later found to be legally drunk at the time. At the next stoplight, Stuart and the other driver confronted each other. Stuart allegedly shot Beasley in the forehead and fled the scene. He was later arrested.
Following his arrest, he filed a variety of pseudo-legal sovereign citizen style documents that resulted in a second felony charge against him. In a plea agreement in September, Stuart pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge related to the sovereign citizen filings. He awaits trial on the shooting incident.
Two months later, in Missouri, a more mysterious shooting occurred. In late March, the wife and son of long-time white supremacist Glenn Miller, on their way to a cemetery to visit a deceased close relative, collided with a pick-up truck in Marionville. When another driver stopped to help the victims of the car crash, son Jesse Miller inexplicably shot and killed the driver with a shotgun. He then began walking down the road, still carrying the shotgun. According to witnesses, Miller was shouting obscenities and racial epithets, including "it was all the Jews' fault."
A Marionville police officer, Andy Clark, driving towards the accident, spotted Miller on the road. He stopped the police cruiser, got out and ordered Miller to drop the weapon. Instead, Miller fired at Clark, hitting him in the neck and shoulder. Clark fired back, killing Miller. Miller's motivations may never be fully understood. His father, who described Miller as bipolar and manic-depressive, thought the stress of the accident might have caused Miller to act out. Miller had also had recent run-ins with Springfield police related to conflicts with his girlfriend.
Officer Clark was lucky; his neck wound was only a millimeter or two from being fatal. But police in general were fortunate in 2008, in that there appear to have been no extremist related officer killings for that year. This is a sharp and welcome contrast with 2007, a year that saw four police officers and one corrections officer gunned down by white supremacists.
Justice in 2008
The year 2008 also saw a large number of extremist killers from previous years brought to justice. Some of the highlights include:
Known Extremist Related Killings 2008
|Bogalusa, Louisiana, November 9, 2008||Eight members of a small Klan group are arrested on charges related to the killing of an Oklahoma woman brought down for a Klan initiation||Sons of Dixie Knights of the Ku Klux Klan|
|Kendall County, Texas, October 25, 2008||Two ABT members are arrested for allegedly killing (then decapitating and cutting off the hands of) another member of the group in an internal conflict||Aryan Brotherhood of Texas|
|Weatherford, Texas, October 21, 2008||Two ABT members are arrested for allegedly killing a man during an attempted robbery||Aryan Brotherhood of Texas|
|Cleveland, Texas, October 12, 2008||Two people with ABT ties are arrested in connection with the killing of a person suspected of ABT membership in what may have been an internal murder||Aryan Brotherhood of Texas|
|Ingram, Texas, August 26, 2008||A number of people are arrested, including two members of what authorities call "a white supremacist gang," in connection with the murder, robbery, and identity theft of a wealthy retiree||Unknown white supremacist gang|
|Bulverde, Texas, June 16, 2008||ABT member Sean Michael Brock is found shot to death in an execution-style killing in Bexar County in what may be an internal ABT murder||Possible Aryan Brotherhood of Texas|
|Phoenix, Arizona, May 1, 2008||Pete Van Winkle is charged with first degree murder for a stomping and choking assault, caught on videotape, of an inmate at Maricopa County's Fourth Avenue Jail. The attorney for the slain inmate suspected the murder was payback by the Arizona Aryan Brotherhood for the victim's refusal to assault another inmate.||Possible Arizona Aryan Brotherhood|
|Marionville, Missouri, March 28, 2008||Jesse Miller, son of longtime white supremacist Glenn Miller, shoots a would-be Samaritan following a traffic accident. After subsequently shooting a police officer, Miller is killed by return fire||Unaffiliated white supremacist|
|West Hurley, New York, February 19, 2008||White supremacist James "Yankee Jim" Leshkevich strangles his wife with his bare hands, then hangs himself in a murder-suicide||Unaffiliated white supremacist, former member of neo-Nazi National Alliance|
|Phoenix, Arizona, January 29, 2008||Sovereign citizen John Chester Stuart is charged with second degree murder for an alleged road rage incident in which he shot and killed another motorist with whom he had a dispute||Unaffiliated sovereign citizen|
|Fort Worth, Texas, January 21, 2008||Three men are arrested—at least one of whom, Larry Wayne Burcham, is a member of the ABT—following the shooting death of a 19-year-old girl during an apparent robbery attempt. Her husband was also shot in the head, but survived||Aryan Brotherhood of Texas|
People with knowledge of other killings with extremist connections are invited to communicate this to the Anti-Defamation League.