How the Texas prison system created a terror group: FBI files on the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas

Bureau traces the rise of the ABT to racial tensions in the prisons, which was likely exacerbated by a segregation policy adopted in 1979

Written by Michael Best
Edited by JPat Brown

The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) is a prison gang known for its overtly racist and white nationalist philosophy. Despite similarities in their name and organizational structure, the ABT is no more connected to the Aryan Brotherhood than they are to other neo-Nazi groups throughout the country.

According to the FBI, the ABT trace its origins back to California in 1967, before migrating to Texas’ prison system in 1984. The original purpose had supposedly been “providing protection for whites serving time in prison,” with members of the ABT apparently feeling this was a necessary response to the growing number of African Americans who were imprisoned as a result of racial disparity in law enforcement.

The FBI itself traced the rise of the ABT to racial tensions in Texas prisons, which was likely exacerbated by the segregation policy adopted in 1979. As an LA Times editorial points out, in prisons “racial segregation is at best a temporary option to quickly defuse violence, but unnecessary and corrosive as an ongoing policy; and race-based punishment is an evil that goes to the heart of the American experience and cannot be countenanced in the justice system.”

At the same time, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) ended its reliance on “prison tenders” or “inmate guards” who reported to the prison administration. This resulted in an authority vacuum that increased racial tensions and led to the emergence of prison gangs like the ABT.

While they may have started as a prison gang, the FBI recognizes that the ABT has since grown to become a paramilitary organization of domestic terrorists, advocating against ‘diluting the white race with other races’ and were afraid that they might become a minority.

Their illegal activities include trafficking meth, cocaine, and firearms while carrying out contract killings and corrupting public officials. By 2003, a number of murders had been traced back to the group. At that point, the FBI was aware of over 1,000 documented members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.

Citing “a study referenced on the internet”, the FBI reported that the TDCJ estimated that 75-80% of the ABT membership were in prison at any given time. Those outside the system were expected to help support their imprisoned comrades. Later references in the file indicate that only those imprisoned were allowed to have leadership roles in the ABT. Anyone who was released would be lose their position and be expected to support the incarcerated gang members.

While the ABT was overtly racist against most ethnicities, they were most concerned about the Jewish community. In the eyes of the ABT, “the news media, most major corporations, and all American and International Banks are controlled by the Jews.” They also believe that the Israeli government has too much sway over the U.S. government and the President.

That said, according to the FBI file, their racist philosophy was worth less to the ABT than money was - they are more than happy to work with gangs of other races if it was profitable, stating that “the color of money is green.”

Recently, the ABT’ traditional power structure, based on five regions and five leaders, was challenged in an internal power struggle. According to the FBI, some members of the ABT wanted the “five-wheel” structure dropped in favor of a “three-wheel” structure.

It seems that the Three Wheel system, however long it lasted, hasn’t been previously reported (based on a Google search and the current version of the South Poverty Law Center’s page on ABT). However, it does seem to have been adopted. A copy of a 302 form (FBI interview) produced in September of 2003 indicates that the “five-spoke wheel concept” was “dissolved” as a result of a leadership split and that the ABT then operated on a “three-spoke wheel concept.”

According to the FBI’s cooperating witness, this leadership split also resulted in a splinter group being formed from the ABT - the Aryan Reich.

How long the “three-spoke wheel concept” lasted is unclear, as is the full extent of the conflict and split between the ABT and the Aryan Reich. though additional files may be released. In the meantime you can read the FBI file embedded below, or on the request page.


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Image via Houston Chronicle