Prison gangs a growing problem in Texas and nation

Posted Saturday, Mar. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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kennedy Why would a violent white supremacist from Colorado escape to Texas?

Where else?

Texas is home to about 3,400 members of white supremacist criminal gangs, not even counting the various skinhead and neo-Nazi groups stirring hatred or, in the case of one former American Fascist Party leader near Houston, doing radio commentary under the guise of the Tea Party.

The most surprising thing about news coverage of Colorado parolee Evan Ebel's firefight with police and death Thursday in Wise County is that some readers and even reporters seemed surprised at his racist prison-gang past.

Right away, reporters even started asking whether Ebel might somehow be connected to the January assassination of a Kaufman County prosecutor, unsolved and so far unconnected to any suspect or organization.

Why not ask whether he's connected to the dozens of other local beatings and killings we already know are connected to criminal white supremacist gangs?

"I think there's a lot of confusion here about the prison gangs," said Roberta S. Clark, community director of the Dallas-based regional office of the Anti-Defamation League, which monitors both domestic hate groups and international terrorist activity.

"People don't realize that these groups have grown much larger than the other extremist groups we're more familiar with," she said.

For example, the ADL guesses there might be 500 neo-Nazi activists nationwide.

But the two largest supremacist criminal gangs in Texas -- the Aryan Circle and the prison-system-founded Aryan Brotherhood of Texas -- have an estimated 1,400 and 2,000 members in the state, respectively, and have been connected to a series of violent crimes.

Just last October, 34 suspects were indicted by a federal grand jury in Houston in connection with criminal racketeering accusations involving the Aryan Brotherhood. That investigation included activities in Tarrant County.

The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center civil rights activist group publishes a "Hate Map" listing 62 hate groups in Texas. Spokesman Mark Potok wrote on his Hatewatch blog at that Ebel's Colorado-based gang, 211 Crew, has several hundred to 1,000 members.

The 211 Crew, also known as the Aryan Alliance, is "particularly vicious" and evolved from a white inmates' prison-yard alliance to organized crime, Potok wrote. The gang is particularly known for a complex system of verbal and written codes to deliver orders, Potok wrote.

Potok also mentioned the death of Kaufman County prosecutor Mark Hasse, but only to note that white supremacist criminal gangs are also under investigation in that case. Ebel is suspected in the Tuesday assassination of Tom Clements, director of the Colorado Department of Corrections.

Clark, more familiar with the Hasse case than Potok, said we shouldn't try to connect the dots simply because both cases might have involved gangs.

"I think it's really dangerous to mix these two cases up," she said.

We have many more.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

Twitter: @budkennedy

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