On Thursday, federal authorities announced the conviction of a Texas man and a Missouri man in a federal RICO case against members of Neo-Nazi prison gang the Aryan Circle. The indictment describes crimes attributed to the gang that include murder, stabbings, kidnappings, and burning off one another’s gang tattoos with flaming logs and hot metal pipes.
“Today’s verdicts keep two violent white supremacists from wreaking havoc and hate on the streets of America,” said Fred Milanowski, the special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Houston, in a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Texas.
The convictions stem from an indictment originally filed in October 2020 that named a dozen alleged Aryan Circle members with nicknames like Turbo, Bear, Big Kev, and Aryan Prodigy. Several of the original defendants took plea deals; some even turned State’s witnesses. In the end, only two defendants faced the jury.
William Glenn Chunn, also known as “Big Head,” 39 — who the Justice Department described in a press release as one of the nation’s top Aryan Circle leaders — and Jesse Paul Blankenship, or “JP,” 38, were both found guilty of conspiring to participate in a racketeering enterprise. The jury added an enhanced penalty for Chunn for an attempted murder, and convicted Blankenship on two additional counts of kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
Court documents offer insight into the inner workings of the gang, describing the Aryan Circle as a “violent, race-based, whites only” gang that started in the 1980s in Texas and whose hundreds of members operate inside prisons across several states as well as in what the gang refers to as the “free world,” outside of jail. The organization has a militaristic structure and chains of command, with several branches in different states and prison systems, as well as a biker subgroup. Members refer to it as the “family” and are required to attend monthly gang meetings known as “church,” where higher-ranking members collect drug money from subordinates and administer disciplinary beatings.
In one instance, described in the indictment, a 2016 “church” meeting in Louisiana took a violent turn when one Neo-Nazi shot another at point blank range and killed him in an argument over whether members were permitted to contact someone who had been kicked out from the gang. The gang members present moved the body and called the cops, trying to stage a botched robbery. One allegedly later traveled to the area to help with “clean up” in the crime and “taunted” investigators who were working on the case.
Part of climbing the ranks of the AC involves “putting in work,” or spilling blood on behalf of the organization. Orders leaders might give underlings to mete out justice to rivals or gang members who stepped out of line could range from S.O.S., or “smash on site,” to giving a “green light,” which calls for “an attack up to and including the murder of a rival gang member or of an AC member or associate who had committed an egregious violation of the gang’s rules,” court documents say.
Unsurprisingly, Nazi symbolism is common for Aryan Circle members, whose tattoos often depict the Iron Cross, the eternal flame, and Schutzstaffel SS lightning bolts. Court documents describe “the most coveted tattoo of AC membership” as the diamond-shaped “patch,” which varies but can include a swastika, the lightning bolts, and the letters AC in the center. Put in enough work, and you can earn a patch — not unlike Girl Scouts, if scouts shanked rivals in the throat with a sharpened piece of metal for disrespecting their troop, like one Aryan Circle member is accused to doing to an enemy in a New Jersey state prison in 2017.
And the hard-won patch can be taken back. Court documents describe one instance in 2016 where Blankenship and other AC members kidnapped a fellow member from his home at gunpoint and used a metal pipe — which a press release from the DOJ says was heated by blowtorch — to burn the gang’s patch tattoo from his skin, then tattooed over parts of it. The indictment describes another instance where a group of Aryan Circle members “violently attacked, restrained, and burned an AC member’s patch off with a flaming log” as a way of evicting him from the gang.
The indictment accused Chunn of ordering several stabbings of members of the Aryan Circle and rival gangs, including calling for a 2014 attack in a federal Louisiana prison where one Aryan Circle member stabbed his cellmate, a fellow gang member, about 40 times as punishment for selling a TV to Mexican gang members in order to get drugs. Authorities also accused Chunn of beating an inmate in 2015 who he thought was cooperating with law enforcement. Blankenship was further accused of breaking into a house in Missouri in 2016 and firing a gun at two victims.
The Texas press release described the convictions as the latest in a series of dozens achieved by a long-running federal racketeering investigation targeting Aryan Circle leadership. “We will continue to investigate and prosecute those who advocate harm to others,” said Eastern District of Texas U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston, “And to specifically target the leaders of violent gangs.”
Both defendants face possible penalties of life in prison. A federal district court judge will determine their sentence.