By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Halualani had known only tangentially about the Aryan Brotherhood before that night — essentially, from his training texts. “I thought it was going to be easier than that. He put up quite a fight, much more than I thought he was going to,” he says. “That was my first contact with them, and it kind of piqued my interest from then on.” In October 1995, under the aegis of Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Yang, Halualani began tracking the loose affiliation of safe houses and people who provided guns and drugs to AB members. He also tailed AB members when they were released on parole, setting up surveillance, trying to catch them in the act and then nailing them, one at a time.
The ATF is not as big, bulky or well-funded as the FBI; as a result, its agents tend to be lone wolves in temperament and tactics. Like Jessner, Halualani is also from the Bay Area, but his wiry sprinter’s frame and boyish-for-39 appearance belie a reputation of being a tough and adept multitasker. “I remember reading a quote from a book on the Texas Rangers,” he says. “One Riot,OneRanger— one agent goes out by himself. We don’t mind going belly to belly with the worst of the worst.” There’s something so calm in the way he says this that it doesn’t come off as a John Wayne like boast, but simply as a fact. Nevertheless, for his security, the ATF would not allow Halualani to be photographed for this story.
Greg Jessner came onboard the investigation in 1997 after Debra Yang left to become a Superior Court judge. His first encounter with the Aryan Brotherhood had been in 1992, when he was handed a file concerning the murder of a man named Arva Lee Ray at the U.S. Penitentiary in Lompoc, California. The man eventually convicted of the murder, Glenn Richard Filkins, was one of the strongest and toughest inmates in Lompoc’s 11 units. Ray, an AB associate, had not been getting along with the leadership. Apparently, he wouldn’t share his drugs and bunked with a “girlfriend” named Leroy Crone. Although the AB trafficked in “punks” or “fuck boys” (inmates who are not homosexual but are forced to work as indentured sex slaves), homosexuality is looked down upon as a violation of one of the AB’s sacred oaths — all of which seem to end with the proviso “punishable by death.”
So Glenn Filkins was asked to step up. At the trial, Jessner was able to show that Filkins tried to kill Ray twice on the same day — first by giving him a “hotshot” (a lethal dose of heroin); then, when that didn’t work, eliciting the aid of another inmate to throttle Ray with a garrote knotted together from strips of bedsheet. Leroy Crone tried to intervene, but when Filkins threatened him, Crone backed off — and was forced to stand by and listen as they strangled his “daddy” to death. “What [Crone] saw was more than just a prison murder, it was the evolution of a prison gang,” Jessner told the court in his bracing opening statement. “Because in effect, he saw the defendant entering the AB just as another was leaving it. He saw exactly what [the AB’s] slogan says: ‘blood in, blood out.’ ”
The slogan Jessner referred to was the AB’s own Nietzschean maxim that “a brother’s a brother, till that brother dies.” It was adopted around 1967, the year they adopted their current moniker as well as its virulently racist agenda: To join the ranks of the AB, one would have to murder a black inmate; to get out, one would have to be murdered oneself. Black and Hispanic prison gangs always relied on strength in numbers; the AB made up for their lesser ranks with pure ruthlessness and brutality, bestowing selective, Mensa-like membership based on each man’s physical strength and willingness to kill on sight. (Intelligence mattered too: The leaders read Machiavelli and Nietzche and Tolkien and that old standby of self-purpose, Mein Kampf.) Charles Manson was supposedly refused membership because he wasn’t violent enough. (“[The] AB . . . want [Manson] to kill a black because black is black,” Manson’s aide-de-camp Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme complained in a 1973 letter. “He will not do this and they are against him.”) When their cell doors opened each morning, AB members were expected to hunt down and attack black inmates whether or not they were part of a gang.
By 1970, the California Department of Corrections began to notice an alarming increase in gang-related violence: 79 assaults and 11 deaths were reported in that year alone. A year later, there were 123 assaults and 19 deaths; the year after that, 186 assaults and 34 deaths. The AB was not the sole culprit behind the increases, but it did earn a reputation for its zero-tolerance policy on “disrespect” from other inmates. They fought gladiator-style, which is essentially a simple but balletic street fight magnified — like everything else in prison — tenfold. A 10-second fight in prison is an eternity. In much less time, windpipes can be severed, jugulars torn out, spinal cords pierced and livers punctured. But the AB made a science of death: Their “warriors” studied anatomy texts in prison libraries to better understand parts of the human body that could be maimed for maximum effect.