Missouri has had long experience with white supremacists ranging from neo-Nazis to the Ku Klux Klan, but in recent years a new threat has emerged in the Show Me state: white supremacist prison gangs. Some states have been plagued by such gangs for years, but until recently, Missouri had only a limited experience with them.
Now, however, there are a number of white supremacist gangs active in Missouri, typically emerging in prisons and jails, then expanding onto the streets. These gangs combine the criminal know-how of organized crime with the bigoted ideology of hate groups.
Law enforcement has been increasingly concerned about the spread of such gangs in Missouri. Unfortunately, recent events have justified that concern. On January 26, 2015, a member of the Southwest Honkies gang, Joshua Lee Hagood, shot a Springfield police officer in the head while police were investigating a suspicious van. The officer sustained career-ending injuries. This was actually the second officer shooting in Springfield related to the gang. In 2013, Honkies member Martin Potts wounded another officer during a shootout before officers fatally shot Potts.
Police have not been the only Missourians at risk. In February, two Southwest Honkies members, Aaron Williams and Austin Pierce, were charged with a hate crime after allegedly threatening to kill an African-American woman and her children while trying to break into her house. In January, a member of the Joplin Honkies received a seven-year prison sentence for assault and abandoning a corpse.
Gangs like the Joplin and Southwest Honkies are growing in Missouri. Accompanying that growth is increased crime, typically traditional crimes like home invasions or drug-related crime (gangs are often involved with the methamphetamine trade). Criminal gain tends to trump white supremacy, but gangs can engage in hate-related violence, too. Gangs often embrace a cruder form of white supremacy than neo-Nazi or Klan groups, but have larger memberships.
There are five main white supremacist gangs operating in Missouri:
- Sacred Separatist Group (SSG): The Anti-Defamation League first encountered the SSG in 2005, but it has grown considerably in recent years. Like some of the other gangs, it originated in the Western Missouri Correctional Center. ADL has identified members of this fairly large gang from all over Missouri. SSG members have associated with members of all the gangs listed here.
- Joplin Honkies: The Joplin Honkies originated behind bars around the same time as SSG. Originally, members called themselves the Joplin Boys. The Honkies are concentrated in southwest Missouri, especially around Joplin and Springfield. The ADL has identified dozens of active members of the Joplin Honkies, but their true numbers are higher. Offshoot gangs include the Southwest Honkies and the 417 Honkies.
- Peckerwood Midwest: Members of this gang have been identified in both eastern and western Missouri, as well as across the southern part of the state (Springfield to Cape Girardeau). ADL has identified at least 34 members and associates of this gang, though again, actual numbers are considerably higher.
- Family Values: Family Values is a smaller gang and not all members are hardcore white supremacists (some even associate with non-whites). However, a number of identified members do use common white supremacist symbols such as swastikas, SS bolts, 14 and 88. A number of gang members live in or around St. Louis and Springfield.
- Aryan Circle (AC):The Aryan Circle is not native to Missouri but to Texas, where it is one of the largest white supremacist prison gangs. It has expanded into a number of other states, recently moving into Missouri largely as a result of recruitment from Indiana and gang members from federal prison who returned or moved to Missouri. ADL has identified at least 23 active members and associates of Aryan Circle in Missouri, especially in northeast Missouri.