Shutting Down the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas

By Dannette Seward

They called themselves Slick, Thumper, Popeye and Stubby. Bam Bam, Dutch, Chopper. Colorful nicknames for some of the guys playing ball for the local weekend league? Not quite. These are just a few of the members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) recently taken down on charges ranging from racketeering to murder, and these violent criminals don’t play games.

Former Aryan Brotherhood of Texas General Steven Walter Cooke, now serving a life sentence for murder.
Former Aryan Brotherhood of Texas General Steven Walter Cooke, now serving a life sentence for murder.

 

Inspired by the California Aryan Brotherhood, a prison gang that took root in that state’s prison system sometime in the 1960s, the ABT had a similarly inauspicious start amid the cellblocks and prison rec yards of Texas in the early 80s. Thirty years later, that prison gang of thugs had grown to include more than 3,175 confirmed or suspected ABT members in Texas who not only operated within the prison system, but brought their plague of criminal violence and harassment to the streets of every judicial district in the state. Directed by a committee of so-called “Generals,” and governed by a constitution dedicated to “the sublime principle of white supremacy,” by 2008 the ABT had cemented its reputation as one of the most horrifying outfits in Texas, and one that would stop at nothing – be it kidnapping, torture, even murder by beheading – to protect its interests. In the words of Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General Caldwell, “The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas launched its murderous and racist ideology within the Texas prisons, but unleashed a violent crime wave that jumped the prison walls and spread like a virus.”

That was six years ago. The ABT operating in Texas today is, according to U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas Kenneth Magdison, an “effectively dismantled” shadow of its former self thanks to a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) investigation that started on a jailhouse tip in 2008, then quickly grew to a close-knit statewide task force of dozens of local, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies working in partnership to end the ABT’s reign of terror.

Some of the evidence seized during the ATF–led six year Aryan Brotherhood of Texas investigation.
Some of the evidence seized during the ATF–led six year Aryan Brotherhood of Texas investigation.

 

Over a six-year period, the ATF-led task force investigation amassed a vast and horrifying dossier of charges against the ABT, including murder, murder for hire, kidnapping, aggravated assault, aggravated robbery, trafficking in firearms, drug dealing, counterfeiting, and identity theft. The operation wrapped up in September 2014 as the last of 73 accrued convictions rolled in. Thus far it has resulted in six life sentences and more than 900 years of combined sentences for ABT members.

With the ABT’s entire leadership behind bars and its organization in shambles, it might be tempting to chalk the success of this lengthy operation up to a simple victory of law and order over the worst of the worst kind of criminal. The ATF special agent who initiated the investigation into the ABT all those years ago said, “The real story here is the amazing cooperation between all of these entities and agencies to stop these guys. It is unprecedented.”

To learn more about the ABT and the six year investigation that brought it to its knees, visit the ATF website and read the details of the last 36 convictions in the case that came down in September.

Last Reviewed April 26, 2018