With State and Local Law Agencies’ Help, Feds Again Nail Texas Prison Gang Aryan Circle

In this file image, an inmate can be seen locked up in a prison
In this file image, an inmate can be seen locked up in a prison Photo by Damir Spanic, Creative Commons (Unsplash)
This week, federal, state and local law enforcement, including some North Texas agencies, scored a victory in a wide-reaching case targeting a Texas-based white supremacist prison gang known as Aryan Circle.

On Tuesday, three Aryan Circle affiliates pleaded guilty to federal charges, according to a press release issued by the Department of Justice’s Eastern Texas Division.

“In the battle against organized, multistate criminal organizations, agency cooperation is essential,” Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei said in the release. “Criminals carry on their illegal and violent conduct in whatever jurisdiction benefits them the most, so we need to bring the fight to them, wherever they might be.”

The ongoing crackdown on the prison gang is known as “Operation Noble Virtue” and includes agencies around the country, among them the Carrollton Police Department and the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office.

One of the defendants, 39-year-old Anthony Levi Cochran, pleaded guilty to charges including assault resulting in serious bodily injury in aid of racketeering and to illegally selling a firearm to a convicted felon.

Cochran is from Bullard, Texas, a small town situated half an hour south of Tyler. He “committed the assault as part of his membership in the [Aryan Circle],” the Department of Justice release noted.

Founded in the 1980s, Aryan Circle is the second largest prison gang in Texas, according to the Anti-Defamation League watchdog. The group has a long history of violence around the country, including the murder of two Louisiana police officers in 2007.

In prison, the group has led violent attacks on rival gang members, and outside, members have killed or tried to kill suspected informants and other members pegged as "weak links," the ADL said in a report on the gang.

“Outside prison walls, [Aryan] Circle members engage in a wide variety of activities, of which illegal drugs (especially methamphetamine) are the most important, followed by a variety of theft and robbery rings,” the report explained.

"Outside prison walls, [Aryan] Circle members engage in a wide variety of activities, of which illegal drugs (especially methamphetamine) are the most important, followed by a variety of theft and robbery rings." - Anti-Defamation League

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According to a federal indictment, the Aryan Circle broke away from the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, another infamous white supremacist prison gang, sometime around 1985.

Although the group was initially small, federal authorities said it swelled throughout the 1990s, waging bloody conflicts with other prison gangs, including rival white supremacists and nonwhite gangs.

Breanna Beckley, a 40-year-old Missouri resident, and Shane Louque, a 46-year-old Louisianan, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, a charge related to selling some 500 grams of a narcotic including methamphetamine.

For his part, Cochran had helped plan and participated in the October 2016 beating of a fellow Aryan Circle member who intended to switch gang affiliations, the press release said. Aryan Circle forbids its members from joining other gangs. He faces up to two decades in prison.

Beckley and Louque, who were involved in moving drugs from Texas to Louisiana and flipping them, could wind up with life sentences.

Last October, the U.S. Department of Justice in North Texas announced that indictments targeting Aryan Circle members had been unsealed. Of the 24 defendants named in those indictments, at least seven were based in Texas.

“In and out of prisons, Aryan Circle members have committed a variety of violent acts against African-Americans, Hispanics, homosexuals and transgender people, and others,” the ADL report added. “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.”
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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.