Courts

In Texas, Judge Sentences Aryan Circle Gang Member Who Burned Off Man's Tattoo to Life in Prison

The Aryan Circle has spent decades growing into one of Texas' most feared prison gangs.
The Aryan Circle has spent decades growing into one of Texas' most feared prison gangs. Photo by Damir Spanic, Creative Commons (Unsplash)
The way federal authorities tell it, Jesse Paul Blankenship burned a tattoo off another man’s skin with a metal rod he’d heated with a blowtorch. He also participated in a kidnapping and opened fire on two people in their home.

Between 2010 and 2021, federal authorities say, Blankenship had “put in work” for the Aryan Circle, one of the country’s most notorious neo-Nazi prison gangs.

Now, he’s headed to a federal prison with a life sentence, the U.S. Department of Justice in East Texas announced in a press release Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Thad Heartfield issued the life sentence some 10 months after the court convicted Blankenship of racketeering conspiracy, kidnapping in aid of racketeering and conspiracy to commit kidnapping in aid of racketeering.

Blankenship, a 39-year-old from Missouri, moved up in the leadership ranks of Aryan Circle throughout his time in the gang, eventually gaining enough authority to order fellow members to carry out violence, the DOJ in East Texas said in the release.

“We will continue to investigate and prosecute those who advocate harm to others, and to specifically target the leaders of violent gangs,” U.S. Attorney Brit Featherstone in the Eastern District of Texas said in the release.

Fred Milanowski, the special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Dallas, said the case “demonstrates that members of violent gangs that engage in heinous crimes will be held accountable.”

Founded as a rival splinter group of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas in 1985, the Aryan Circle has gained a reputation as one of the most brutal prison gangs in Texas and beyond.

Throughout the last three and a half decades, the gang has grown in size as it spread throughout the prison system. Authorities say it’s been involved in murders, attacks on law enforcement, methamphetamine trafficking and other crimes.

While the gang regularly traffics in arms and drugs, the Anti-Defamation League watchdog has said Aryan Circle members have also committed hate crimes against people of color and the LGBTQ community, among others.

“Though their main motivations are those of an organized crime group, they live up to the hatred implicit in their white supremacist beliefs as well,” the watchdog says in one report.

The ADL says the Aryan Circle is the second-largest prison gang in Texas. 
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Patrick Strickland is the news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's a former senior reporter at Al Jazeera English and has reported for the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.