What’s So Scary About the Texas Aryan Brotherhood? Take a Look at the Indictments

Amid a streak of violence, a Texas prosecutor has pulled out of a major Aryan Brotherhood case. Christine Pelisek digs into the chilling indictments at the center of the controversy. Plus, Michael Daly reports on the likeliest new suspects in the Kaufman County killings.

James Marshall Meldrum, a.k.a. Dirty, is a 40-year-old career criminal from Fort Worth and self-proclaimed soldier of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. Last year he was pulled out of the truck he was driving. The man with the gun, another member of the white supremacist group, wanted his truck back, and he aimed a pistol at the head of Meldrum’s wife.

Brotherhood members had stolen the man’s truck to make a point, and Meldrum was using it for his electrical business. A few days later, Meldrum dragged the man out of his house and severely beat him as retribution for threatening his wife. Although the man was taken to the hospital, he knew better than to disclose the name of his attacker.

That’s no big surprise. The group’s trademark is the use of extreme violence and threats of violence to maintain internal discipline. They are also hell-bent on seeking retribution against members who turn their backs on the gang or snitch to the police. Their own tattoos spell it out threateningly: "God forgives. Brothers don't."

The details of Meldrum’s case are included in a sweeping federal indictment that came down like a hammer on the gang’s Texas branch in November of last year, busting some 30 members and four senior leaders. The documents are getting an even closer look now that the Brotherhood is speculated to be involved in the murder of two local prosecutors and one of their wives. And in another troubling development, on Monday Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Hileman, who was set to prosecute the Aryan Brotherhood, withdrew from the case citing “security concerns.”

To be sure, any connection between the Aryan Brotherhood and the recent killings of the prosecutors is unclear—police are now reportedly eyeing as a "person of interest" a former local official who lost his job in a corruption probe and was prosecuted by the two dead men. And with its chilling details about the extreme internal discipline that gang leaders often mete out, the documents may even detract from the theory that the perpetrator could have been a rogue member of the group. In any case, they provide a chilling glimpse into the way the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas operates.

In one instance, according to the documents, leader Kelley Ray “Magic” Elley ordered members to kill a recruit and make “the killing as messy as possible,” directing the killers to “return the victim’s severed finger as a trophy.” Elley ordered the attack as a way of intimidating other recruits from cozying up to the police. In another instance, three members took a blowtorch and burned off the gang’s insignia tattooed on another member's arm as a punishment for refusing to take an order.

“You have a list of 10 rules,” says Mark Sullivan, a former member of the Arizona faction of the Aryan Brotherhood. Sullivan uses an alias because he fears retaliation. “If you break any of the rules, you die. The only way to have a successful organization is to be sealed tight. You can’t have any cracks. The No. 1 rule is never ever rat.”

The November crackdown was one of the state’s largest ever on the group, charging members with multiple acts of murder, robbery, arson, kidnapping, and narcotics trafficking that date back to 1993. Meldrum admitted to trafficking in methamphetamine and severely beating the gang member with the truck. He entered a guilty plea along with Ben Christian Dillon, who admitted to acting as an enforcer to collect drug debts, committing arson, and attempting to kill a fellow member who was marked for death by senior leaders, on January 31.

Meldrum’s case gained notoriety after it was discovered that he entered his guilty plea on the same day Texas prosecutor Mark Hasse was gunned down as he was walking from his car to a courthouse, which helped fuel speculation that the Aryan Brotherhood was behind not only Hasse’s murder but the slayings over the weekend of district attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, in Kaufman County, some 20 miles southeast of Dallas.

Whether the Aryan Brotherhood had anything to do with the brutal slayings or not, the crackdown did, at least for now, shake up the leadership of the notorious criminal enterprise by taking out four of the five highest-ranking generals: Terry Ross Blake, Larry Max Bryan, William David Maynard, and Charles Lee Roberts. Some of the accused possibly face the death penalty.

And what’s so intriguing about the federal bust, says former Texas prison warden Terry Pelz, is that one of the criminal enterprise’s top generals, Terry “Lil Wood” Sillers, turned out to be the snitch. “You don’t see it that much,” says Pelz, who is an expert on the Aryan Brotherhood. “He obviously cut a heck of a deal. He will be in protection for the rest of his life. Maybe witness protection is involved. Who knows what our government does anymore? He probably won’t be the only one to turn.”

Sillers became a member of the Aryan Brotherhood in 1985, and earned his “blood tie” by attempting to kill and severely injure a rival gang member, according to federal court papers. Sillers slowly rose through the ranks and by 1999 he assumed control of a unit within the prison system. In April 2008, he was promoted to the rank of general. A year later, he was the victim of an attempted murder by a rival gang member. The following year, a green light was placed on the rival gang members who put a hit out on him.

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He was back on the streets in 2011 and made headlines when he led police on a bizarre chase that was caught by television helicopters. In June 2012, Sillers pled guilty to racketeering charges. According to a government motion filed last August, Sillers, who is in protective custody, began cooperating with the federal government and is “expected to testify for the government in the trial of other persons not yet charged.”

“I ratted on the Aryan Brotherhood,” said former member Sullivan. “They want to chop me into pieces. They are some bloodthirsty psycho fuckers. It was either I cooperated or I never see the light of day … I guarantee 75 percent of the people in prison if someone came to them and said, ‘If you give us the information we want we will make your life better or we will let you leave,’ they will cooperate. Snitching is the way of the world now.”