The Rise and Fall of the Nazi Low Riders

We were waiting for a violent paranoid tweeker we knew was armed with a Glock pistol and running on parole. He told all of his associates that he would not be taken alive. He was also a member of the Nazi Low Rider (NLR) prison gang.

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"Don't Slip, Don't Slide, Nazi Low Ride."

One night my prison gang unit (PGU) surveillance team was carefully staked out around an older two-story white residence in the 2800 block of Thompson Street in Long Beach, Calif. I had the "eye" on the front of the house parked in my undercover car a block-and-a-half away. The rest of my team was similarly parked, trying to blend into this neighborhood, forming a perimeter a couple of blocks out from the target location.

The house was a methamphetamine dealing location, but that's not what we were there for. We had to remain especially discreet and unnoticed because we were waiting for a violent paranoid tweeker (meth user) whom we knew was armed with a Glock pistol and running on parole. He was also a member of the Nazi Low Rider (NLR) prison gang.

The Case

It was a warm day, May 14, 1998, a year before the California Department of Corrections (CDC) would officially crack down on the NLR and validate the 1,000 or so members already identified by the California prison system as a prison gang. The California Department of Justice estimated that there were probably 1,500 NLR members in California and more than 2,500 members nationwide in states like Arizona, Florida, Montana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Utah. There were already more than 250 NLR members identified in the Los Angeles Sheriff's Cal-Gang computer system.

Accompanying our team was CDC Agent Dan Evanilla of the Special Services Unit (SSU). The LASD Prison Gang Unit had cultivated a close working relationship with CDC and SSU for many years and Agent Evanilla was often the source for the most current gang intelligence and always a welcome addition to my team. The SSU acted as the CDC's gang intelligence and special apprehension unit on the streets of California cities.

The PGU team's lead prison gang detective on this case was Michael "Mad Dog" McCravy, and he had developed information that NLR member James Frederick Sturgill was wanted for an assault with a deadly weapon charge. Twice, police had attempted to take him into custody, but he had evaded capture in two wild police pursuits. He had even pointed a pistol at a local Lakewood city councilman. Sturgill was also in violation of his parole. His parole address was listed in the city of Bellflower but he was known to be "spun and on the run," or under the influence of meth and running until the inevitable confrontation with the police.

McCravy had learned that Sturgill was collecting "taxes" from local meth dealers under the authority of the notorious NLR, and that in his waistband he perpetually carried a new Glock pistol. Only during sex was Sturgill known to put the weapon down next to the bed. He was consuming large quantities of "Ice" (high-grade meth) and acting paranoid. This is common to meth users during extended sleep-deprivation runs, and it results in methamphetamine psychosis. Sturgill told all of his associates that he would not be taken alive.

Sturgill wasn't alone in taking this stance. The NLR had instituted a "don't go down easy" doctrine, in order to establish themselves and to gain respect from the other violent prison gangs. The members were ordered not to surrender to law enforcement officers. They were told to resist and kill the officers if the opportunity arose. And if an NLR member were arrested without putting up the proper resistance, he would be tried and punished by his NLR brothers when he returned to prison.

The reputation of the NLR had grown along with its violence. NLR members had shot it out with police, and on several occasions run down cops with their vehicles, even when the victim officer was not attempting to arrest them. So we knew we had our work cut out for us with Sturgill.

Nature of the NRL

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was calling the Nazi Low Riders a white supremacist gang linked to the Aryan Brotherhood (AB) and also with the World Church of The Creator (WCOTC), the White Aryan Resistance (WAR), and the Aryan Nation. But the NLR had more in common with the Black and Hispanic Low Riders than it did with white supremacists. Both the AB and NLR had mixed-race Hispanic, Asian, and Jewish members. This would be considered race mixing with "mud peoples" in true white supremacist ideology.

Both the Aryan Brotherhood and the Nazi Low Riders use race hate rhetoric to motivate and recruit white inmates. Street gangs like the Public Enemy #1 (PEN1), the Wolf Pack, Nazi and Hammer Skinheads, and other "Peckerwoods" (white inmates) were the groups the NLR drew from. Like all other white power groups the NLR was under the leadership of the Aryan Brotherhood (AB). However, during the last 20 years most of the "Brand" (AB) members had been identified by CDC and isolated in Security Housing Units (SHU). The Brand was forced to continue to operate by proxy, utilizing its surrogate Peckerwood soldiers. Members of the violent NLR in particular were often utilized by the AB to "put in work." Members like Sturgill.

Rise and Fall

In the 1980s Aryan Brotherhood member John "Youngster" Stinson took charge of the NLR and reorganized the gang. The NLR had long ago developed a respected "senior" leadership status. Now, under Youngster's rules, only "senior" NLR members could recruit new members. Only inmates who had served five years could be eligible to join. A mandatory number of three senior members were required to vote a candidate in. The new NLR member would be assigned to a specific senior member and the recruit would be called that senior's "kid." The most senior NLR "senior" would be in charge and set the rules at any facility, unless an AB member was available. Even minor regulations were strictly enforced.

By the 1990s the NLR had grown in power and numbers in the California system and spread to other states and to the federal prison system. They began to export the NLR's brand of madness to the street.

Young white men who had never spent a day in prison were claiming the gang and tattooing themselves with the letters "NLR." Strongholds were established in the Southern California Inland Empire in cities like San Bernardino, Fontana, Riverside, and Corona. Other strongholds were established in cities in Orange County and the San Fernando Valley. Some factions grew so powerful they called themselves the "F—K the Brand" (FTB) gang and challenged the control of even the AB itself.

In 1999, when the CDC classified and validated the Nazi Low Riders as a Prison Gang and moved to isolate them in the same SHU units where their Aryan Brotherhood masters were housed, members dropped out in huge numbers. Today, the FTB faction has been largely purged or is in protective custody. But several loyal NLR members graduated to membership in the Aryan Brotherhood.

Getting Our Man

Scrunched down in my seat, I strained my eyes, even with binoculars, to see each tweeker's face as he or she came and went from the Long Beach meth house. The positive identification of Sturgill would be critical. Having never seen the NLR tax collector myself, I had only a few mug shots to go by. Numerous people entered and exited the location over the next several hours, and suddenly a "possible" walked from a car he had just parked across the street from the Thompson address. I was 90-percent sure it was Sturgill, and that we were going to need SWAT.

We called the nearby LASD Lakewood Station watch commander and requested assisting police units to close and lock down the perimeter, and I requested an SEB SWAT team to make entry. To my shock, the watch commander informed us that his Lakewood units were too busy to assist us a few blocks outside their station area. Remember, it was a Lakewood city councilman that Sturgill had assaulted.

Plan "B" was to call the Long Beach Police Department and request their assistance. LBPD responded immediately and dispatched their SWAT Team. My PGU team closed the perimeter and locked down the residence. Long Beach SWAT used bullhorns to order the occupants out of the house. Two females, one toddler, and three males came out. But none of them was our wanted NLR member, Sturgill. Each one was questioned and identified and each one swore that Sturgill was not in the house. SWAT then fired tear gas into the drug house. I prayed that despite the denials I had correctly identified the subject as he entered the house. But after several more hours the SWAT Team entered and cleared the house with a search dog without finding the suspect.

Then we heard the K-9 barking. He had alerted on a small crawl space on the stairway between the first story ceiling and the second story floor. With his SWAT flashlight, the handler could see a man's feet and legs wedged in the tight space between floors. Sturgill began screaming, "I have a gun", and, "I am not going back" (to prison). Stuck in the narrow crawl space and very limited in his ability to point his Glock at anyone, he yelled, "I'm gonna kill myself!" He then fired a shot. The SWAT members in the living room reacted spontaneously and simultaneously swung their weapons at the same spot in the ceiling were the suspect had just fired his pistol. The SWAT Commander screamed, "Fire discipline!" and prevented a lethal response to Sturgill's shot.

Suddenly, the wounded NLR gang member fell through the plaster ceiling in the living room. He was screaming in pain. Sturgill had managed to turn his pistol enough in the cramped crawl space to shoot himself in the right abdomen. His kicking in pain had caused him to fall through the plaster ceiling. We all laughed at the now unarmed and crying Sturgill as the paramedics treated his very painful wounds.

James Frederick Sturgill recovered from his wounds, was tried and convicted, and returned to prison. But there he will face a less lenient judge and jury: his own brothers in the Nazi Low Rider prison gang.

Although this story has a happy ending, remember that the NLR really does have the "don't go down easy" edict. Remember that each member has passed through a long period of initiation in blood and violence. When you see that "NLR" tattoo, know that it does not mean "No Longer Running" or "Never Lose Respect" as they like to say. Each individual letter must be earned in violent assaults or murders.

Are the Nazi Low Riders racist? Maybe. Dangerous? For sure!

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Sergeant (Ret.)
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