It was intriguing when Breitbart News reported this week that "the mainstream media has gone to great lengths to label ad-infinitum the Aryan Brotherhood as a 'white supremacist' group" — as if the dreaded MSM got the story all wrong. Police suspect the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas is involved in the killings of Texas prosecutors, as well as the January killing of a Colorado assistant district attorney. On Friday, police arrested James Lohr in connection to the Colorado murder, the Associated Press reports. Lohr is reportedly a member of the white supremacist gang the 211 Crew.
Breitbart News, like its founder Andrew Breitbart, is particularly interested in the idea that liberals are the true racists, and that the media has unfairly portrayed Republicans, conservatives, and the Tea Party as racist. But saying the Aryan Brotherhood isn't racist seemed like a step — maybe three or 10 steps — further. Breitbart News's Brandon Darby says calling it a "white supremacist" group is spin. Darby points out that in the early 80s, an FBI document said, "The purpose of the AB is now power and is not a racial organization as it has been deemed in the past." Today the Aryan Brotherhood reportedly works with Mexican drug cartels. This is not new; the Brotherhood cut a deal with the Mexican Mafia in the 1970s. The implication is that if you align with Mexicans, you can't be white supremacist.
That ignores some things we know about the Brotherhood. It was founded as an all-white prison gang, and the old rules said you had to kill a black inmate to join. A copy of its constitution found in 1994, 10 years after the FBI's analysis, says, "An ARYAN BROTHER is one who shows, gives, and demands his respect where it is due and upholds every moral principle and value of and for all the Elite White Aryan Race." They reportedly use white supremacist literature to attract new members. Prison gangs are still divided along racial lines, though it seems not all inmates are entirely devoted to the cause. At The Daily Beast, an anonymous former inmate, who is black, describes the Aryan Brotherhood as "still mentally fighting the Civil War" in the 90s, though they were willing to work with him because he knew how to do paperwork. In October, Business Insider's Abby Rogers spoke to a former prisoner who was ordered to stab a black inmate because the inmate made a pass at him. When I was a teenager, I worked at a diner with a cook who had "WHITE POWER" tattooed on his stomach. He told me he didn't really believe in it, but he had to go along with it to get through prison.
We went looking for another view of the Aryan Brotherhood's racial motivations beyond Breitbart. Beyond the mainstream media, or the mainstream conservative media, or the FBI. Who would be a better expert on the Aryan Brotherhood's adherence to white supremacy than other white supremacists?
It turns out that in the white nationalist community, the Aryan Brotherhood is not very popular. They are seen as gangsters who will compromise white supremacist principles for money. For a sense of the conversation, look at the message boards on the white nationalist site Stormfront. On a November 2003 thread titled, "Mexican Mafia & Aryan Brotherhood Join?" for example, some were forgiving. Euroman/MB wrote, "The AB does what ever they MUST do in order to survive in prison." Others were confused, as Lowe wrote:
Im kinda confused as to whats really going on with this situation. It seems obvious to me the core of this is money, but is it just the natural greed of money that has caused the AB to even remotely associate themselves with the mexican mafia scum or just some transactions that would help guarente some safety for our AB brothers safety in the numerous minority filled jails across the country.
Stormfront poster Iconoclast14, however, was more skeptical of the group, writing, "This just goes to show that you must focus on racial determinism rather than economic determinism. Money does corrupt."
But by 2010, Stormfront posters wanted nothing to do with the Brotherhood. A poster named Moderate White started a thread titled, "Why is the Aryan Brotherhood allied with non-white gangs?" Beyond the North wrote, "In my book, they deserve to lie in the same graves as the blacks and browns they operate with." The thread was eventually spiked for even associating Stormfront with a "fringe" group. White Resistance 14, a "sustaining member" of Stormfront, explained:
I'm getting a bit fed up with those who insist on bringing up fringe organizations or gangs in what I see as a disingenuous attempt to connect them to the white nationalist movement. There's no connection. None. Period. End of story.
Elsewhere, reviews are mixed. There are just a few articles about the Aryan Brotherhood at the thinking man's white supremacist site, American Renaissance. But commenters claiming to be former prisoners mention it in threads. Baldowl wrote earlier this year:
I did a little time a long while back. During the first week, a fellow white inmate asked me if I was racist. "If you're not now, you will be before this is done," he assured me.
And here I am.
On another story from late 2012, commenter Brady Dillon writes approvingly,
In the penal system, where whites are already a minority, the Mexican Mafia, is perfectly willing to work with the Aryan Brotherhood to fight the Black Guerilla Family. Not that whites and mestizos like each other by any means, but they both recognize that blacks are worse.
But a Swedish website's headline from April 2012 is less forgiving. Google translates it as "Aryan Brotherhood — junkies and killers with Jew leader." (One leader is reportedly half-Jewish and has tattoos of both a Star of David and a swastika.)
At Breitbart, Darby suggests politicians are hiding the reality that the Aryan Brotherhood works with Mexican groups because it would undermine their efforts to reform immigration laws. "After all, if Americans were to find out that the Mexican cartels are operating on U.S. soil, it would likely change the immigration debate and could potentially delay a deal indefinitely," he writes. The media is part of the spin, too, he says:
It would be convenient for the media if the brutality in Texas turns out to be at the hands of a "white supremacist" group acting alone and on racial grounds. What would be less convenient is if a "white supremacist" group turned out to be working in conjunction with Mexican drug cartels in the middle of a politically charged debate on U.S. immigration policy.
Obviously, not all illegal immigrants are violent drug-dealing gangsters. It seems Darby would prefer the American public to be less open-minded about Mexicans than the Aryan Brotherhood is.
(Above, a former enforcer for the Aryan Brotherhood in a National Geographic documentary about the gang.)
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.