“Blood in, blood out.”
Normally, the Aryan Brotherhood motto means aspiring members must assault someone to get into the gang and can only leave when they die. In between, they sport “SS” Nazi lightning bolt tattoos on both sides of their necks: visible signs of their blood oath, and their belief in white supremacy.
In rare cases, however, brothers who have broken the rules are stripped of their membership — in the most gruesome and literal way possible.
That’s what happened on May 2, 2013, when three men associated with the Universal Aryan Brotherhood (UAB) — Oklahoma’s very own offshoot of the infamous neo-Nazi organization — kidnapped a brother who hadn’t been selling his share of methamphetamine.
Ronnie “Dirty Red” Haskins and Robert Bryan held the brother down. A man nicknamed Buddha produced a burning hot hunting knife. Finally, a handsome drug dealer named Aaron Clay King, just three months out of prison, gripped the glowing blade and pressed it to the brother’s skin, turning the lightning bolts into boils and scars.
The brutal torture episode appears in an indictment filed against 11 alleged UAB members or associates in November. On Thursday, Bryan pleaded guilty to his role in it. On Tuesday, two more men with ties to the Universal Aryan Brotherhood, including a member of its powerful Main Council, pleaded guilty to racketeering and selling meth.
The plea deals were announced in a somber Department of Justice news release. There were no victorious quotes from federal prosecutors; no promise to break the UAB.
Perhaps that’s because the victory seems Pyrrhic. How to defeat a gang that doesn’t just openly recruit and operate inside Oklahoma’s prisons, but practically owns the institutions? What to do when each arrest just adds to the organization’s ranks?
These questions are vexing authorities across America, where ever more crowded prison blocks are increasingly controlled by violent gangs. The Aryan Brotherhood was one of the first such organization, founded in 1964 by Irish American bikers when California prisons were racially integrated, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Similarly, Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, started in Los Angeles prisons and quickly spread to communities across the Americas.
The Oklahoma case shows how gangs like the Universal Aryan Brotherhood are run from inside prisons but exert power far beyond their walls.
The UAB was established in 1993 within the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and modeled after the principles and ideology of the Aryan Brotherhood. “The UAB had a defined militaristic structure,” according to the indictment: it’s overseen and directed by an all-powerful ‘Main Council,’ the 12 members of which are all incarcerated, most of them inside the maximum-security Oklahoma State Penitentiary-McAlester, known as the “Walls.”
Sub-councils sprang up in medium-security prisons across the state. Orders are passed down from the Main Council to the sub-councils, and then onto “yard captains,” also known as “shot callers.” Yard captains “collected intelligence, oversaw security, enforced order and imposed discipline as directed by the Sub-Council,” according to the indictment.
Inside Oklahoma’s prisons, there are UAB “soldiers” and “prospects,” who have yet to earn their “SS” tattoos, or patches. “Members of all ranks were expected to fight and commit acts of violence at the direction of senior leaders,” the indictment says. Leaders issue “D.O.’s,” or direct orders, such as an “S.O.S.” (stab on sight) or “green light” (assassination).
Outside the prisons, however, in what brothers call “the free world,” the UAB still holds considerable power. According to the indictment, the UAB runs a state-wide meth distribution network, enforced with black market guns. The proceeds are allegedly laundered with the help of “associates,” or non-UAB members. Women, referred to as “featherwoods,” also play a key role, “facilitating gang communication among imprisoned members” and transporting both drugs and drug money at the direction of UAB leaders.
The November indictment shows just how the racket works: fueled by meth and enforced with arson, assaults, torture and murder.
The top official named in the indictment is Anthony R. Hall, a 39-year-old skinhead with a long and violent criminal record. He was locked up as a 19-year-old for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon but quickly escaped, records show. Hall was recaptured and would spend the better part of the next two decades behind bars. Prison photos show him bulking up and adding tattoos: skulls, guns, clovers, dragons, swastikas, iron crosses and a giant motorcycle across his chest. Sometime between 2001 and 2003 he earned his first “SS” patch on his neck, signifying full membership in the UAB.
Hall quickly rose to the Main Council. Using cellphones smuggled into prison, he helped orchestrate meth sales in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, according to his guilty plea.
While Hall and other members of the Main Council were running operations from behind bars, their foot soldiers were causing havoc in the “free world.” In 2005, Matthew Brian Wagner carried out orders to stab a rival gang member in retaliation for the murder of an imprisoned UAB member, according to the indictment.
Wagner, another man, Carl Matthew Smith, and others also sold marijuana and meth, the profits of which were laundered onto prepaid debit cards delivered to Hall and other imprisoned UAB leaders.
UAB soldiers and associates on the outside carried out other missions as well, from stealing vehicles from people who owed the gang drug debts to picking up UAB gang members when they escaped from prison. On April 4, 2013, Smith offered to pay a subordinate to beat someone who owed a drug debt, according to the indictment. Smith was also involved in buying weapons for the gang.
If there is one incident, however, that shows the UAB’s power inside and outside prison, it’s the horrific scene that played out on May 2, 2013. That’s when Haskins, King, Bryan, Rodney Lee Broomhall, a.k.a. “Buddha,” and Kristin Bright allegedly kidnapped and tortured a fellow UAB member, according to the indictment.
Using a red-hot knife, King burned the “SS” tattoos off the neck of the man, identified only as FH in the indictment. “I knowingly, willfully, and intentionally participated in, and aided and abetted the maiming of FH for the purpose of maintaining, or increasing my position in the UAB,” Bryan admitted in his June 4 plea deal. “I knowingly, willfully, and intentionally pinned FH’s arm down in order to prevent FH from defending himself while a UAB member held a heated hunting knife on FH’s neck, burning FH’s UAB patch-tattoo off of his skin, and causing permanent scarring.”
On March 24, 2014, Hall ordered his UAB henchmen to burn a vehicle belonging to a drug user who hadn’t paid, according to the indictment.
It’s unclear how the case against the 11 UAB members and associates came together. Arrest warrants remain sealed. King, Smith and Hall are the only defendants to plead guilty so far. They will be sentenced later this year.
The racketeering case is similar to others brought by federal prosecutors against Aryan Brotherhood groups in recent years. But it’s unclear how much of an effect it has to put members of a prison gang back into prison.
“It’s heartening that law enforcement officers and prosecutors who have to do these cases see that there are some good results,” said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School and a former federal prosecutor who has tried prison murder cases.
“But the truth is, this [gang] is like a hydra: You cut off a limb and it’s going to grow back,” she said. “These guys have been around a long time, and they’re going to get new leaders.”
Levenson was speaking to The Washington Post just after the murder convictions of four top Aryan Brotherhood leaders — back in 2006. Almost a decade later, her skepticism still echoes.
“Do I think this marks the end of prison gangs?” Levenson said in 2006. “No way, nobody thinks that.”