Federal officials announced the convictions of a Texas man and a Missouri man in a federal RICO case against members of the Neo-Nazi prison gang the Aryan Circle on Thursday. The group is accused of murder, stabbings, kidnappings, and burning off each other’s gang tattoos with blazing logs and hot metal pipes, according to the indictment.
“Today’s verdicts keep two violent white supremacists from wreaking havoc and hate on the streets of America,” said Fred Milanowski, special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives in Houston, according to a press release from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas.
The convictions are the result of an indictment issued in October 2020, which included a dozen suspected Aryan Circle members with aliases including Turbo, Bear, Big Kev, and Aryan Prodigy. Several of the initial defendants accepted plea bargains, and several even testified for the State. In the end, just two defendants were brought before the jury.
William Glenn Chunn, better known as “Big Head,” 39, and Jesse Paul Blankenship, or “JP,” 38, were both found guilty of conspiring to engage in a racketeering business, according to the Justice Department in a news statement. The jury increased Chunn’s sentence for attempted murder and found Blankenship guilty on two additional charges of abduction and conspiracy to conduct kidnapping.
Court documents provide insight into the gang’s inner workings, describing the Aryan Circle as a “violent, race-based, whites only” gang that began in the 1980s in Texas and has hundreds of members operating inside prisons across several states as well as outside of jail in what the gang refers to as the “free world.” The organization has a military structure and command chains, with branches in several states and jail systems, as well as a motorcycle clique. Members refer to it as the “family,” and they are compelled to attend monthly gang meetings called “church,” when higher-ranking members collect drug money from subordinates and inflict disciplinary beatings.
In one case, mentioned in the indictment, a 2016 “church” gathering in Louisiana became violent when one Neo-Nazi shot another at point blank range and murdered him over an argument about whether members were allowed to contact someone who had been booted out of the gang. In an attempt to fake a botched heist, the gang members present relocated the corpse and phoned the authorities. One reportedly subsequently returned to the scene to assist with “clean up” after the crime and “taunted” detectives working on the investigation.
Climbing the ranks of the AC entails “putting in work,” or shedding blood on the organization’s behalf. Orders from leaders to underlings to meete out justice to rivals or gang members who stepped out of line could range from S.O.S., or “smash on site,” to 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,” according to court documents.
Aryan Circle members’ tattoos often feature the Iron Cross, the everlasting flame, and Schutzstaffel SS lightning bolts, which is unsurprising given their affiliation with the Nazi Party. According to court filings, “the most coveted tattoo of AC membership” is a diamond-shaped “patch” with a swastika, lightning bolts, and the initials AC in the middle. If scouts shanked opponents in the neck with a sharpened piece of metal for insulting their unit, as one Aryan Circle member is accused of doing to an adversary in a New Jersey state jail in 2017, you may get a patch — similar to Girl Scouts.
And the hard-won patch may be revoked. Court filings include one incident in 2016 in which Blankenship and other AC members abducted a fellow member from his house at gunpoint and used a metal pipe — heated by a blowtorch, according to a DOJ news release — to burn the gang’s patch tattoo off his flesh, then inked over sections of it. Another case is described in the indictment, in which a group of Aryan Circle members “violently attacked, restrained, and burned an AC member’s patch off with a flaming log” to remove him from the gang.
According to the indictment, Chunn directed several stabbings of Aryan Circle and rival gang members, including a 2014 attack in a federal Louisiana prison in which 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 obtain drugs. Authorities also accused Chunn of assaulting a prisoner in 2015 who he believed was working with authorities. Blankenship was also accused of breaking into a residence in Missouri in 2016 and shooting two people with a pistol.
According to the Texas news release, the convictions are the latest in a string of hundreds obtained as a result of 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 risk life in prison if convicted. Their sentencing will be decided by a federal district court judge.