In October, a major effort by federal, state and local law enforcement landed 34 alleged Aryan Brotherhood members, including four top bosses, in prison. Members were accused of issuing kill orders on rival gangs, attempted murder, kidnapping, assault, drug dealing, weapons trafficking, arson and counterfeiting.
Texas law enforcement was warned in December that ABT leaders were “issuing orders to inflict ‘mass casualties or death’ to law enforcement officials who were involved in cases where Aryan Brotherhood of Texas are facing life sentences or the death penalty.” According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, the group was also “conducting surveillance on law enforcement officers.”
Soon after the warning was issued, Kaufman County assistant district attorney Mark Hasse was shot and killed in the parking lot of the Kaufman County courthouse in broad daylight. After the shooting, District Attorney Mike McLelland reportedly carried a gun everywhere, while a constant security watch guarded his house for a month. McLelland was killed on Saturday by an unknown assassin with an assault rifle.
The investigation has not yet yielded any evidence that ABT was involved in either case, and the sheriff is reluctant to conclusively connect the murders. However, a federal law enforcement official said the connection seemed likely, “given the profile and the position of [McLelland],” and that they would operate under the assumption the murders were linked until proven otherwise. In an interview with the Associated Press after Hasse’s murder in January, McLelland himself suggested Hasse may have been killed for his involvement in cases against the ABT.
The FBI has also begun investigating possible links between the Texas executions and the murder of Colorado prison chief Tom Clements by an ex-convict affiliated with another white supremacist group.
Since it was formed in the 1980s, ABT has an especially twisted history of violence and torture, often meant as revenge for a perceived threat or slight. In 1998, two ABT members committed the most infamous racial murder since the civil rights era, tied James Byrd Jr., a black man, to the back of their pickup truck and dragged him over three miles to dump his corpse in front of a predominantly black cemetery. In supposed retribution for the September 11 attacks, an ABT member conducted a series of attacks against Middle Eastern-looking men in Texas, killing two and wounding one. Another member was given a life sentence for the torture, rape, and murder of a woman they believed had disrespected the gang. Last July, in another case of perceived disrespect, gang members choked, tortured and used a soldering iron to sodomize a man before killing him and dumping him in a field. Another member admitted to a series of racially motivated arsons targeting a predominantly black church, a supposedly Jewish home, and a gym owned by the white husband of a Mexican American woman. The ADL estimates the ABT has committed at least 29 murders in Texas since 2000.
ABT does not shy away from threatening law enforcement. According to the current charges against the group, one of the indicted members planned to kill a police officer, while another was ordered to make the death of a recruit “as messy as possible” to warn others away from working with the police and return with his severed finger as a trophy.
Since McLelland’s murder, security has been beefed up for many Texas officials and law enforcement officers who could be possible targets for retribution.