The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, known for its extreme violence and blatant disregard for the law, is in a “state of disarray” thanks to the collective efforts of both state and federal agencies that have worked together to dismantle the statewide gang.Last week, Aug. 23, John Manning, a 52-year-old member of the gang commonly referred to as the ABT, was sentenced to 355 months in a federal prison for his role in shooting an ABT associate, Matthew Fails, in Nederland. The shooting happened on Sep. 7, 2009. Fails survived being shot in the head; however, according to a surgeon who testified at Manning’s trial, Fails went through “agonizing pain” as a result of the shooting and would not “ever be the same.”
The shooting was ordered by Joshua Bodine, a Vidor native who had ascended the ranks of the ABT hierarchal structure to be a “Major,” or the No. 2 guy in the Southeast Texas-Houston region of the ABT. Bodine, 32, was arrested two days after the shooting on Sep. 9 and has been in custody ever since. He pleaded guilty in October 2011 to assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering activity. Bodine was sentenced to 240 months in federal prison.
“They’re prevalent all over the state,” said Special Assistant United States Attorney Baylor Wortham, who prosecuted the Manning case, of the ABT’s statewide network. “Locally, they’re everywhere between Hardin County, Orange County, Vidor-area, all the way to even some parts of Port Arthur and Mid-County. We have a lot of occurrences of people being affiliated with the gang.”
Although there might be plenty of tattooed Caucasians around Southeast Texas proclaiming their allegiance to the ABT, the reality is that a three-and-a-half-year operation involving multiple agencies has been responsible for disrupting and virtually dismantling one of the more dangerous criminal organizations in the state and region.
“I can’t say that the ABT in this area has been completely dismantled, but they’re not near the level of organization as they were before,” Wortham said.
The ABT has its roots in the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang that was borne in San Quentin Prison in California. The group made its way to Texas and the ABT started in earnest in the 1980s in prisons across the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system. In fact, the ABT actually used the regional system by the TDCJ as its blueprint for its regional design. Thus, there were five TDJC regions in the 1980s,and those were the five regions designated by the ABT, and each region had a hierarchal structure, with a overseeing “General.” According to court documents from the U.S. Department of Justice, the purpose of the ABT is to be the “most powerful white supremacist gang in the state of Texas.”
Richard Boehning, an ATF Special Agent and military officer in the Army Reserves, oversees the multi-organizational task force that includes, in addition to local law enforcement agencies, of federal agencies such as The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the FBI and DEA; the Secret Service; Homeland Security; United States Marshals Service; as well as state agencies like the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Boehning testified as an expert witness in March for the United States in a case against Robert Bruce Harlow, who was charged for his role in the severe beating of an ABT prospect in Tomball, just outside of Houston, in 2008. Harlow was ultimately found guilty of aggravated assault and sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.
In court transcripts obtained by The Examiner, Boehning testified how the ABT recruits members from inside prison and how the gang members inside of the prison communicate with members that are both locked up or out in the free world.
“They’re recruited — obviously, if they come across a member they think, or an individual they think might be able to benefit the gang or the organization, they’re prospected,” Boehning testified in March on the recruitment process in prison.
According to Boehning testimony, the prospecting period can take up to a year, but is sometimes longer. During that period, a prospect is given a name and one of the tasks they must complete is to know the ABT Constitution, which “essentially talks about everything that the ABT does or doesn’t do, and it’s their binding document, if you would,” the law enforcement and military veteran testified.
And adhering to and memorizing the ABT constitution isn’t the only thing an ABT prospect must do during their “prospecting” period.
“(The prospect) signs a blind-faith commitment, which is essentially a document wherein he states that he is going to obey the orders of everybody within that chain of command without hesitation. The other thing that he must do is he needs to make a tie to the organization. That’s usually in Level 3 of the prospecting period, and Level 3 being the last four months. And when he makes that tie, typically he’s required to carry out an assault on an individual determined by the chain of command wherein he must ‘blood-in’ or draw blood on another individual,” Boehning testified.
Wortham and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy Rod Carroll said this area is ripe for new prospects because of the federal and state prison complexes in Jefferson County. But the problem for the ABT right now across the state is that the taskforce that Boehning has operated the past three years has led to the arrests of more than 60 ABT members, leading to at least 35 federal indictments and 30 state indictments.
“They’ve been hit hard,” said a person with intimate knowledge of the taskforce and the investigations into the ABT who asked to remain anonymous as more investigations continue. “The (ABTs) have been getting pounded for the past three to four years. The reality of it is right now, they’re in disarray. There’s been federal indictments, racketeering-type charges, some homicide charges. They’ve been beat up pretty good.”
With the leadership of the gang either dead or incarcerated, the members left on the outside, or free world, don’t have any real direction, according to law enforcement officials, and it’s going to take time before the gang is able to regroup and be effective again.
“They’ll eventually reconstitute,” said the source. “They’re a prison gang. It may take a couple of years, but they’re not going to go away. White guys in prison are going to band together under the same roof.”
Fred Davis can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 227, or by e-mail at fred [at] theexaminer [dot] com.