A series of trials against the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang is scheduled to begin in three federal courtrooms in Los Angeles and Santa Ana, California, in the coming weeks.
The capital case, the largest filed in U.S. history, spans three decades and involves 32 murders and attempted murders in prisons around the country. A six year federal investigation led to a 140-page indictment alleging that leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood conspired to murder fellow inmates who cheated them on drug deals, snitched to prison officials or otherwise failed to follow orders.
The Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, founded in the mid 1960s in California, has built its reputation on violence and intimidation. The gang, known in the prison system as the “Brand,” is involved in drug trafficking, extortion, gambling and protection rackets in federal and state prisons across the country. Increasingly, many of its activities take place outside the prison system as well, including drug dealing and identity theft.
Despite being isolated from other prisoners, Aryan Brotherhood leaders engaged in drug trafficking, extortion and approved hits, according to prosecutors. Members of the group allegedly communicated with each other by tapping out Morse code on the prison floors and walls, shouting ancient Aztec words, using family and friends to pass along demands and passing coded notes, some written in urine that acted like invisible ink.
Of the 40 Aryan Brotherhood members originally charged, 19 have reached plea bargains and one has died. The remaining 20 defendants, including key leaders Barry Byron Mills (a.k.a. “The Baron” and Tyler Davis Bingham (a.k.a. “The Hulk”), are scheduled for trial in the coming weeks. Prosecutors allege that Mills and Bingham are responsible for sanctioning most of the 32 murders and attempted murders listed in the indictment.
Many of the 16 defendants who face the death penalty are already serving long prison terms, and nearly all of their alleged victims were other inmates convicted of violent felonies. For example, the death penalty counts against Mills and Bingham stem from the 1997 murders of two black inmates in a prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
Among the other defendants are Edgar Wesley Hevle (a.k.a. “Snail”), Christopher Overton Gibson and Tommy Silverstein (a.k.a. “Terrible Tom”). Hevle and Gibson are serving time at a maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado, for murder and attempted murder respectively. They are charged with ordering or orchestrating the murders of other inmates. Silverstein allegedly killed a guard by stabbing him 20 times.
The 40 Aryan Brotherhood members charged in the case were arrested in 2002 after a six-year investigation.
During the trails, the courtrooms will be fortified with extra security, including an extra metal detector, plainclothes U.S. marshals and a specially constructed defendants’ table. Aryan Brotherhood members have been involved in courtroom violence on a number of occasions, including a trial during which an inmate stabbed his attorney four times.
In recent years, prosecutors have used racketeering statues to successfully prosecute members of several prison gangs, including 29 members of the Aryan Circle in Texas, 10 members of the Nazi Low Riders in California and a dozen members of Soldiers of Aryan Culture in Utah.
For more information about the Aryan Brotherhood, the nation’s largest white supremacist prison gang, see Dangerous Convictions: an Introduction to Extremist Activities in Prisons.