Skip screwed up. A captain in the Aryan Brotherhood of Mississippi had fronted him $250 worth of methamphetamine, but Michael “Skip” Hudson, another member of the gang, didn’t like the quality and refused to pay for it. One of the Brotherhood’s statewide leaders ordered the dispute settled with “minutes,” meaning a fistfight, a common method of conflict resolution within the highly organized and hierarchical gang.
And that’s when Hudson made his fatal mistake: He refused to show.
When Frankie “State Raised” Owens Jr. heard a Brotherhood soldier had ignored a direct command, he waited for Hudson with three other members at one of their trailers, close to the Alabama border. When a gang soldier and a recruit arrived with Hudson that December day in 2010 in a pickup truck—having lured him on Owens’s orders by lying that they were on their way to cook meth—the full fury of the Aryan Brotherhood of Mississippi was unleashed. Owens used a billy club he nicknamed “Blackie” as he and the five other men beat Hudson. They then bound him with wire and loaded him into the trunk of a car for a 90-mile drive north to meet with Eric Parker, the captain who had given Hudson the meth. When they arrived at Parker’s trailer, he wasn’t home, so Owens let Hudson out of the trunk and allowed him to smoke a cigarette.
When Parker arrived a few minutes later, he and Owens strangled Hudson with a baseball bat, court papers state.
Later that night, Parker frantically called the gang’s highest-ranking leader outside prison, Brandon “Oak” Creel, to say things had gotten out of hand (they weren’t supposed to kill Hudson) and they needed help. Owens and Parker then tossed Hudson’s body in the back of another pickup truck and drove to Creel’s house, where they wrapped the body in carpet and stuffed it into a 55-gallon drum. Creel used a backhoe to dig a pit, lined it with roofing metal and put the drum inside. He then tossed in tires, doused them with gasoline and sparked up a tire fire that he kept burning for five days. Finally, he folded up the roofing metal that lined the pit and dumped his noirish crematorium into a nearby creek.
Hudson’s brutal murder and elaborate burial were the centerpiece of a federal indictment that convicted 42 Aryan Brotherhood of Mississippi members and associates over the past year and halted the gang’s plan to consolidate with the national Aryan Brotherhood. Recent prosecutions in Texas and Oklahoma show that, just like in Mississippi, local Aryan Brotherhood groups kept those states flooded with methamphetamine while enforcing a brutal “blood in, blood out” loyalty both in prison and in what they call the “free world.”
But that rigorous internal discipline led to the long-running Mississippi gang’s downfall after multiple members, tired of all the rules and beatings, turned against their onetime brothers. “That’s why we were able to get so many cooperators,” federal prosecutor Scott Leary tells Newsweek. “That sense of loyalty had been eroded by the violence that had been inflicted on the members.”
A ‘Blood In’ Mission
The Aryan Brotherhood of Mississippi was founded in the state’s prisons in the mid-1980s. Like its counterparts in other states, it was modeled on the Aryan Brotherhood that formed at San Quentin State Prison in California in 1964 as a “defensive formation” against the Black Guerrilla Family, with the goal of protecting white inmates from extortion and rape. “All of these race-based prison gangs essentially emerged as a response to the desegregation of prisons in the United States,” says Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Potok says there’s an estimated 20,000 members of Aryan Brotherhood gangs nationwide, and in the past 15 years they have spilled beyond prison walls to form sprawling criminal organizations. Other experts say the roots of prison gangs like the Brotherhood lie in the intensification of the drug war and the resulting overcrowding in prisons. They say that led to more violence and an increased incentive for prisoners to become gang members to protect themselves. “It’s our criminal justice policies since the 1970s that have created the gang presence in prisons,” says Heather Ann Thompson, a history professor who studies prisons at the University of Michigan.
“A paradox of state punitive power emerges: The harsher, longer and more likely a prison sentence, the stronger outside affiliates’ incentives to stay on good terms with imprisoned leaders, and hence the greater prison gangs’ coercive power over those who anticipate prison,” University of Chicago assistant professor Benjamin Lessing wrote in his 2015 paper about how prison gangs undermine state authority. “From Los Angeles and El Paso to El Salvador and Brazil, they have organized street-level drug traffickers and neighborhood gangs into extensive and lucrative criminal networks.” Looking at prison gangs from that angle, prison reform—like recent efforts by President Barack Obama to end overly harsh sentencing laws—could weaken these gangs by improving prison conditions and thereby decreasing the incentive for membership.
The Aryan gangs have evolved into hierarchical organizations, with a structure and loyalty a regional fast-food chain would envy. The Mississippi Brotherhood calls itself “the Family” and is ruled by a three-man “Wheel” that divides the state into nine zones. The Wheel appoints a captain to oversee each zone and prison, with a network of sergeants-at-arms who enforce order and discipline, a treasurer to handle finances and numerous soldiers. Recruits are in “prospect status” for six months before they can be assigned a “blood in mission,” like the one assigned to the prospective member who helped lure Hudson to his death. (The same day Hudson was beaten, that recruit received his “brand,” or tattoo, signifying full membership in the Aryan Brotherhood.)
The gang’s 26-page constitution emphasizes a top-down loyalty and chain of command, according to a copy of the confidential document obtained by Newsweek. “The members will obey and follow all orders given to them no matter the context or the reason without complaint or refusal,” reads the constitution. Refusing an order, it states, “is considered treason against the order of the Aryan Brotherhood of Mississippi and this will be an immediate sanctioned violation and not tolerated in any shape or form. This is a blood-out violation!”
The constitution lists many other rules. No homosexual acts. No sex with another member’s girlfriend or wife. No child molesters. Members must make sure their captain has their current home and cellphone numbers. Regarding the use and sale of drugs, “No needles period.”
The constitution also lays out the gang’s ideology: “We are the elite few of our race who have been selected for the sacred mission of preserving our purity and supremacy in these rapidly changing times,” the document states, tracing the gang’s lineage to the Ku Klux Klan. “Are Africans, Jews, or Asians equal to the Aryans of pure white stock? No!” But strict adherence to Aryan ideology and racism is uneven, law enforcement officials say. While some members are “true believers,” others simply get a few Nazi-inspired tattoos and parrot the Aryan creed to obtain protection in prison and lucrative criminal opportunities on the outside.
Better Meth From Mexico
Imprisoned Aryan Brotherhood leaders orchestrate profitable drug and gun trafficking operations on conference calls they make from smuggled smartphones. The gang members keep their phones powered by wiring their chargers into exit signs or other electronics within the prison. “The little rascals were smart. Keeping their phones charged was not a problem,” says Leary, one of the assistant U.S. attorneys who tried the cases against the Aryan Brotherhood of Mississippi members.
Owens and Parker face up to life in prison when they are sentenced later this summer. Both their lawyers tell Newsweek they will appeal their convictions. Owens’s attorney cited the absence of physical evidence in the murder as one reason for appeal: “There’s no body. No forensics. No nothing.”
The probe into the gang, which lasted two and a half years and culminated with the murder conviction of Parker and Owens, as well as convictions of 40 other members and associates on other charges, halted the march toward consolidation with the national Aryan Brotherhood. Consolidation would have made the gang like a local franchise under the umbrella of a nationwide corporation. While the gang had long distributed meth it bought from suppliers in Tennessee, Texas and California, consolidation would have brought it increased recognition in the federal prison system and the “free world,” as well as a better supply of meth from Mexico via the Aryan Brotherhood in California, federal prosecutors say. Gang leaders had written a new constitution and ordered members to brand themselves with the national tattoo when the investigation stopped the merger.
“They’re all aware of each other, and they talk to one another,” says Kelly Pearson, a prosecutor from the Department of Justice organized crime unit who worked the cases of the Aryan Brotherhood of Mississippi members. “That’s another reason they’re so dangerous—they unify.”