The Aryan Brotherhood—The Dogs of War (Part 1 of 2)

Like the dangerous Presa Carnario dogs that are loved by the Aryan Brotherhood, and which have for centuries been bred as fighting dogs, some men don't do well caged with others. Some require their handlers to cage them individually, as they are dangerous even when confined with their own breed. Mad dogs and mad men must be isolated from others, or put down.

Valdemar 1 Headshot

Like the dangerous Presa Carnario dogs that are loved by the Aryan Brotherhood, and which have for centuries been bred as fighting dogs, some men don't do well caged with others. Some require their handlers to cage them individually, as they are dangerous even when confined with their own breed. Mad dogs and mad men must be isolated from others, or put down.

Much of the early history of the men who formed the most dangerous prison gang in the United States is clouded in mystery, myth, and legend. Their members speak Gaelic and write in ancient runes or speak with coded rhyming words. Make no mistake, this is not the Christian-identity Aryan Nation, the Nevada prison Aryan Warriors, or some white supremacist outlaw motorcycle gang—it is a well organized criminal organization born in the California prison system and baptized in blood. This gang is an expert in the use of terror.

The beginnings of the Aryan Brotherhood (AB) are similar to the history of the AB's ally in crime, the Mexican Mafia. In the 1950s, white youthful offenders formed protective groups in Juvenile facilities and California Youth Authority facilities, especially at Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI) at Tracy, Calif. Lacking an identifiable American white culture, they instead identified with White Power, Nazis, and some motorcycle groups. Many admired the old outlaws of the American West.

When these CYA inmates arrived at California Department of Corrections (CDC) adult facilities, some of the toughest white inmates formed into more formal organizations. The members of the National Socialist Party (NSP) and other Neo-Nazi followers of Adolph Hitler studied and adopted the teachings of the Nazi Youth Movement, whose symbol was the blue bird. Members of this group called themselves "Blue Birds" and would tattoo images of swastikas and blue birds on their bodies, especially on their necks. This group grew in power in the prison system. Some Blue Bird members would later become founders of the Aryan Brotherhood gang.

A madam and prostitute, "Diamond Tooth Lil" was a legendary leader of the infamous Diamond Tooth outlaw gang in the old Wild West. Lill's moniker was a nod to a large diamond embedded prominently in one of her front teeth. Imitation being the most sincere form of flattery, a group of white inmates began calling themselves the "Diamond Tooth Gang" and wearing a diamond or glass rhinestone in their teeth.

Their admiration for the old western gunslingers' loyalty in fighting, as well as the symbol they branded on their cattle, would inspire the Aryan Brotherhood's nickname, "The Brand." Former members of the Diamond Tooth gang would also help to form the Aryan Brotherhood.

As many of the toughest white prisoners from these earlier gangs were of Irish ancestry and identified with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), they adopted the green shamrock as the AB's symbol, and included the use of the IRA phrase "Sinn Fein" ("ourselves" in Irish) in the Brand's artwork and tattoos. The Nazi swastika was often also depicted intertwined with the shamrock for their Nazi followers. Similarly, the number "666"—a.k.a., the Biblical "Mark of the Beast" from Revelations—was included in Aryan Brotherhood tattoos in recognition to motorcycle gang members who helped start the Brand.

By 1967, CDC had identified and officially labeled the Aryan Brotherhood as a prison spawned gang at San Quentin prison. These hardcore white prisoners were the "minority" on the most dangerous Level Four prison yards. As they would almost always be outnumbered by their enemies, their founders—Jack Mahone and Eddie Vaughn—embraced a "strike first and often" mentality that ensured terror at the mention of the Brand's name.

As this core "Lifer's Club" of early Aryan Brotherhood was composed of life-sentence serving members, one more murder at their hands didn't carry any significant threat for them.

Still, they were cautious on other fronts.

To avoid exposure to the Federal RICO Act, the Aryan Brotherhood purposely avoided any written oath, constitution, or bylaws. The unwritten "convict code" governed their proceedings, with erring members ruthlessly purged. Like the Mexican Mafia, it was an organization without a hierarchy, with each member having an equal vote. Each new member, and any act of war, had to be approved by the entire membership. Such constraints would eventually become burdensome for the Brotherhood.

According to Ex-EME member Ramon "Mundo" Mendoza, from the very beginnings of the Aryan Brotherhood in the California Department of Corrections system, the two gangs often worked together in assaults on their mutual enemies. Weapons were traded and sold and delivered by both gangs to be used against the Crips, or the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) and the Nuestra Familia (NF, "Our Family" in Spanish). Reciprocated favors came in the form of hits on the enemies or the defectors of their allies. In June of 1972, AB member Robert "Blinky" Griffin teamed up with Mexican Mafia member Nick "Nico" Velasquez to murder inmate John Taylor at the Sierra Conservation Center facility.


In the 1970s all four California prison gangs were approached by radical revolutionary groups like the "Revolutionary Alliance for Freedom" (RAFF) and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG). Members of the Black Guerrilla Family and the Nuestra Familia formed and maintained some associations with these groups. While the Aryan Brotherhood and the Mexican Mafia rebuffed the philosophy of these groups, they exploited them for their own criminal purposes when possible.

Cult leader Charlie Manson would never be allowed as an AB member, but was protected by the AB, who used Manson's women followers. The Manson women were used to carry messages, smuggle guns, knives, and drugs into the prison. Manson girls became known as the "Aryan Sisterhood," with AB member Bobby Headberg making a present of one of these Manson girls to EME "Godfather" Joe Morgan.

The Aryan Brotherhood proved adept at placing sympathizers in useful positions inside and outside of prison. Seemingly harmless white inmates were often recruited to staff key trustee positions in the kitchen and infirmary, and served as clerks and clean-up crews in the officer areas. Subsequently recruited by AB, they acted as lookouts and gathered intelligence on inmates and prison staff. AB members told me that before an attack on black inmates they would contaminate food with botulism, making sure that the kitchen trustees fed the contaminated items only to the black inmates.

Such assaults are depicted in the Tom Selleck film "An Innocent Man," when Selleck's character mixes soap in an intended victim's food tray. The movie serves as an excellent training film on how prison hits are done, and why. For training purposes, I would also recommend the prison stories written by Eddie Bunker (1933-2005), an old AB associate cum Hollywood writer. I last saw him in the recent remake of "The Longest Yard."

Once a member is identified by CDC or BOP, he is locked down in Security Housing Units (SHU), like the ones in California's Pelican Bay State Prison or ADX in Florence, Colo. He is skin searched and escorted by several guards each time he moves. Despite such precautions, Aryan Brotherhood members have managed to murder and order murders at every facility. They have successfully smuggled plastic explosives, electronic detonators, pistols, ammunition, and large quantities of drugs into the most secure facilities. For example, the AB bombed the license plate factory at Folsom prison. And in 1983 Wendell Norris attempted an escape from Solano County jail with a .22 caliber pistol hidden in his rectum.

Although they made up only a tiny percentage of the California inmate population from January 1975 to December of 1982, the Aryan Brotherhood members murdered 24 people in California prisons and 13 more on the streets. Although they were not charged with them, they were also suspected in numerous other murders that took place during this period. Today CDC has validated only about 60 AB members among the 160,000 inmates in their California prison homes, with possibly only 100 members nationally. Despite their relatively few numbers, they continue to kill more than their share of victims.

For more on the Aryan Brotherhood watch the History Channel series on "Gangland—The Aryan Brotherhood."

About the Author
Valdemar 1 Headshot
Sergeant (Ret.)
View Bio
Page 1 of 20
Next Page