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The Aryan Brotherhood Gang Profile: History, Members, Laws, Symbols

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction: The Rise of the Aryan Brotherhood
  2. The Origins and Evolution of the Aryan Brotherhood
  3. Organizational Structure and Criminal Activities
  4. Symbols and Identifiers: The Tattoos of the Aryan Brotherhood
  5. Membership Demographics and Female Involvement
  6. Geographical Spread and Affiliated Gangs
  7. Violence and Internal Discipline: A Culture of Fear

Gangs have been a top concern for law enforcement and families alike. As the population begins to increase, the amount of gang members increases. Gangs are known to be tough groups of members that range in ages and gender. Although there are many gangs, there are main gangs that rule over the others. These gangs are large in size and are known for their reckless violence. Large gangs have clearly articulated goals, can operate with financial efficiency, and can motivate their members to complete their goals (Scott, & David, 2000).

Gang are known for their street violence. However, not every gang member joins on the street. Many gang members end up joining in prison. The advantage of having the accessibility of being surrounded by potential gang members allows gangs to recruit members easier. The top notorious prison gang is the Aryan Brotherhood. The Aryan Brotherhood is a white supremacist gang that was made to help protect their selves against the other races (Orlando, 1997).

Even though the main priority of the Aryan Brotherhood was to protect their race, they are now known for drug trafficking. On top of their money from drug trafficking, some funds come from previous gang members that have been released from prison (Orlando, 1997). How the Aryan Brotherhood recruits their members are different from many other gangs. The Aryan Brotherhood holds meetings by claiming they are a church group, but instead recruit prisoners (Orlando, 1997).

Gang members are smart and diligent when it comes to recruiting and violence. The Aryan Brotherhood is no different with their recruiting tactics and their drug trafficking. Aryan Brotherhood is a gang that takes care of their members in as many ways they can. This paper will discuss the history, structure, symbols, statistics, locations, and violence of the Aryan Brotherhood.

Introduction: The Rise of the Aryan Brotherhood

The Aryan Brotherhood was created in 1967 in California’s San Quentin Prison (Fleisher, & Decker, 2001). It was originally created by racist Nazi supremacist inmates who wanted to be protected by the other races. The main race they were against were African Americans due to the threat that the African Americans were taking advantage of the whites sexually. When the gang first started, it was important for any potential members to be at least part Irish to join (Fritsvold, 2016).

Originally, there were two other groups in the prison system alongside the Aryan Brotherhood. These two were the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Society (Pelz, Pelz, & Marquart, 1991). Around 1983, the Klan members began joining the Aryan Brothers and Aryan Society, making the Ku Klux Klan numbers decrease (Pelz, et al., 1991). With the Aryan Society and Aryan Brothers living in peace, the Aryan Brothers began to increase in their assaults. The administration that was investigating these assaults started calling the Aryan Brothers the Aryan Brotherhood, and the name eventually stuck.

The Aryan Brotherhood started out being violent but was not historically violent until 1983. This was the year that the Brotherhood had eight homicides in a couple of months. These homicides were far from careful as they were brutal stabbing of black inmates. In 1984, the Brotherhood was responsible for 32% of total homicides and 40% of gang homicides (Pelz et al., 1991). This reputation increased the size of their gang membership.

The Origins and Evolution of the Aryan Brotherhood

The Aryan Brotherhood, like most prison gangs, have a “blood in, blood out” policy (Clear, Reisig, & Cole, 2017). This policy is where a gang member either has to stab or kill someone to get in and has to either get stabbed or killed to leave the gang. Depending on the area depends on the severity of the blood that has to be shed. This policy has helped the Aryan Brotherhood become the deadliest prison gang in the United States (SPLC, n.d.).

For any prison gang, structure is detrimental. The most important thing is the ability to oversee all gang activities. Starting out in a prison, the Aryan Brotherhood has learned how to coexist around law enforcement. Inside prison, the Aryan Brotherhood consists of crimes such as drug trafficking, male prostitution, gambling, and extortion (SPLC, n.d.). On the outside the Aryan Brotherhood is responsible for every crime imaginable. These crimes range from hired murders to methamphetamine manufacturing (SPLC, n.d.).

With the giant expansion of members, it is important for the Brotherhood to have structure. The Aryan Brotherhood is structured like the military. The Brotherhood has a constitution alongside of their blood in blood out policy. Outside of prison, the Brotherhood has a banking and collections system to help benefit the members in prison. This system takes a 20% tax out of any Aryan Brotherhood’s member and is then controlled by a commissioner (SPLC, n.d.). This system helps fund the current imprisoned members.

Organizational Structure and Criminal Activities

The Aryan Brotherhood gets hired to help watch major celebrities, like John Gotti and Charles Manson. However, helping out came with a small fee. Charles Manson was known for his violence and following of women. However, when Charles Manson had women visit him in prison, they were not empty handed. These girls helped smuggle in drugs and weapons into San Quentin (SPLC, n.d.).

There have been many attempts to separate the leaders away from members, but they all fail. Most of the leaders are held in solitary confinement, but still get the word out when they want someone dead. This is done through their significant others, lawyers, written codes, and even invisible ink (SPLC, n.d.). The most common method that is used is the cryptogram that was made by the Brotherhood.

This cryptogram is a secret language that was transferred through other prisons so they can easily communicate through codes unknown to anyone else. These codes make it easier to get away with crimes within the gang. The Aryan Brotherhood is a smart gang with many ways of getting around the law. There might be 29 current leaders in solitary confinement, but this does not stop crimes from being committed (SPLC, n.d.).

Symbols and Identifiers: The Tattoos of the Aryan Brotherhood

Identifiers and symbols are an important part to any gang. Identifiers and symbols range from tattoos and clothing to hand symbols. In the Aryan Brotherhood, tattoos are a big part of their attire. The tattoos range from numbers to words to symbols. The number 12 is a tattoo members get to resemble the letters A and B, since number 1 in the alphabet is A and number 2 is B (ADL, n.d.).

While some might be numbers, the shamrock is the bigger and more common tattoo. These range from just a shamrock to a swastika with a shamrock in front. Depending on the member’s location depends on their tattoo and hand sign they use. Even though the shamrock is the main tattoo, the different states add complexity to it.

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The Aryan Brotherhood in Texas has a hand symbol that recognizes the number one and two for the first and second letter of the alphabet, A and B. The hand symbol is held by having all fingers up besides the thumb and index finger. On top of this, they have a tattoo with a swastika with the letters A and B surrounding it.

The brotherhood also uses ss lightning bolts, the iron cross, and the Nazi Eagle. The ss lightning bolt represents Schutzstaffel Heinrich Himmler’s police forces and private army (ADL, 2012). The ss lightning bolt is a more common tattoo often put with the iron cross. The iron cross is a German military medal that is often covered in a swastika, like the Alaskan Aryan Brotherhood. One of the more intricate tattoos is the Nazi Eagle. The Nazi Eagle was created by the Nazi party in the 1930’s to represent power and strength (ADL, 2012).

Most of the tattoos the Aryan Brotherhood get include swastikas and shamrocks. Some form of hate is major in the tattoos that the Aryan Brotherhood members get, with many just getting the word hate tattooed across their body. Even though there are not always physical signs like clothing and the same hand symbols, the tattoos of swastikas and shamrocks make it obvious which gang the member belongs in.

Membership Demographics and Female Involvement

The Aryan Brotherhood is a predominant white male gang. With the idea that this gang is tough as nails, it is a gang many white men want to join. With an estimated 20,000 members, the Aryan Brotherhood is not a small gang (SPLC, n.d.). Even though members used their girlfriends to help smuggle in drugs, having predominant female authority in the Aryan Brotherhood is rare.

Having a female presence in the Brotherhood is important for helping move drugs in and out of prisons. Female presence for violent crimes is not as common in the Brotherhood, but there is more female involvement when it comes to drugs. In 2016, three women linked to the Aryan Brotherhood were busted for running a meth ring linked to local murders (Briquelet, 2017).

Even though the women are said to be with the Aryan Brotherhood, the Brotherhood does not accept women as members. To be able to be a female in the Brotherhood, the female has to be dating or married to a male member. Even though females are not allowed to be members in the Brotherhood, they can be affiliates through marriage.

Geographical Spread and Affiliated Gangs

Originally, the Aryan Brotherhood started in the San Quentin, California prison. As the gang expanded, it slowly started to increase into other prisons. States that have the Aryan Brotherhood include California, Texas, Oklahoma, Indiana, Missouri, Oregon, and Tennessee (ADL, n.d.). Certain states have more than others, with Texas having more than 2,000 members (ADL, n.d.).

There have also been gangs that have spun off of the Aryan Brotherhood but are still white supremacist gangs. Expanding into other states and prisons is important for gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood. This allows for easier transportation for drugs and crimes and allows the ability to lead a gang through different passageways.

Not every gang that has the word Aryan in the name is affiliated with the Aryan Brotherhood. Many of the smaller gangs, like in Alaska and Alabama, get the same tattoos and are called the Aryan Brotherhood but have no affiliation to the gang at all. This makes the locations hard to decipher when it comes to the statistical evidence on the Aryan Brotherhood.

Violence and Internal Discipline: A Culture of Fear

The Aryan Brotherhood is one of the most violent gangs in prison. They are fearless and do not let anything get in their way. They got their violent reputation after the murder of eight men in prison. These eight murders began the line of violence that has not stopped since. The Aryan Brotherhood not only attack the opposite races but also their own members when they do not follow the rules.

In 2019, sixteen members and associates of the Aryan Brotherhood were charged with drug trafficking and murders inside and outside of California prisons (DOJ, 2019). The activity began in 2011 by smuggling in cell phones to reach out to the streets. These cell phones allowed the members to traffic drugs, plan out murders, discuss membership, and oversee other criminal activities (DOJ, 2019).

They got majority of their contraband through two men, MacNamara and Demar, whom posed as a lawyer and paralegal. The contraband was hidden in the wheelchair and wrapped in food wrappers. Once the contraband was found, the members told the men that they had their contraband found, and if they were questioned to blame it on the Brotherhood (DOJ, 2019).

Though many of their violence and crimes revolves around drugs and the opposite race, sometimes it revolves around their own members. In 2018 a former Aryan Brotherhood member was shot in the face for missing a meeting and owing a $96 debt (Ledger, 2018). The former Aryan Brother, Thomas Engelmann, was a long standing member with authority.

Engelmann understood the gang has a blood in blood out policy but was also told he could leave after fifteen years of duty. After watching the gang for two years, he decided to join the gang after thinking he knew what he was getting into. After joining, Engelmann swiftly found out what the gang was all about. He noticed some people could lay low and fade out of the gang, but he soon found out that his years and leadership made it impossible to leave.

Everything in the gang was going smoothly until his aunt passed away. He missed out on a meeting and was threatened his position. He eventually had his position taken away from him after missing another meeting, which ended up being raided by the police (Ledger, 2018). The members immediately assumed Engelmann had set up the raid and set out an SOS, known as Smash on Sight. This meant that Engelmann would immediately be assaulted on site by whoever found him.

Instead of physically assaulting him, two members decided just to shoot him. They immediately opened fire when they saw him in traffic, shooting him right in the face. Engelmann lost his sight and is now blind from the gun wound. Even though the shooting was not ordered, it was still conducted and shows that the Aryan Brotherhood does not play around when it comes to violence.

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The Aryan Brotherhood Gang Profile: History, Members, Laws, Symbols. (2021, September 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 25, 2023, from
“The Aryan Brotherhood Gang Profile: History, Members, Laws, Symbols.” Edubirdie, 09 Sept. 2021,
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