RUSSELLVILLE -- The New Aryan Empire, an Arkansas-based white supremacist group, has committed attempted murder, kidnapping and maiming in support of its organization and drug-trafficking operation, federal prosecutors said Tuesday in announcing the indictment of 54 of the group's roughly 5,000 members.
The indictment resulted from an investigation dubbed To The Dirt, which began in 2016 when federal authorities assisted the Pope County sheriff's office in a murder case involving members of the supremacist group that began as a prison gang in 1990 and has since expanded outside the prison and to neighboring communities and states.
The superseding indictment, returned Feb. 5 and publicly released Tuesday, follows the U.S. attorney's office announcement in 2017 that it had indicted 70 people in the same operation on drug-trafficking and firearms charges.
The new, superseding indictment charges 17 of the 54 defendants with crimes under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, and the Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering statute, called VICAR.
U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland said the indictment represents "the first RICO / VICAR case brought in 15 years."
"RICO focuses specifically on racketeering and allows members of the organization to be held responsible for the acts of the other members," Hiland said at a news conference with other federal, state and local law enforcement representatives.
"It's a powerful tool that we will not wait ... another 15 years to utilize both for violent crimes and for public corruption" in white-collar cases, Hiland said. "There'll be more in the coming weeks and months, and it's going to be a tool we rely on significantly as we move forward."
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski said the New Aryan Empire associates stand accused of maintaining "their criminal enterprise by engaging in multiple acts of violence -- including kidnapping and attempting to murder one informant, and stabbing and maiming two others suspected of cooperating with law enforcement."
An inmate at the Pope County jail in Russellville founded the New Aryan Empire, which Deputy U.S. Assistant Attorney General David Rybicki described as "a violent and highly structured criminal enterprise" associated with other white supremacist groups such as the Aryan Brotherhood.
Rybicki called the New Aryan Empire "reprehensible" for its Nazi-like views and said "one particular chilling" allegation involved the maiming of a suspected informant's face with a knife.
The term "To The Dirt" refers to the New Aryan Empire's slogan referring to a rule that members must remain in the group until they die, Hiland's office said in a news release.
Indictment in investigation into Arkansas white supremacy groupView
Thirty-five of the 54 defendants, most of whom are residents of Pope and Yell counties, were in state or federal custody as of Tuesday afternoon; three were being arraigned in federal court; and 16 were previously released on bail.
"NAE [New Aryan Empire] uses its power to create fear and intimidation that shields its members from criminal responsibility, ensures the timely payment of drug debts, and prevents the theft of members' money or drugs," the indictment says. New Aryan and other such groups often work together on narcotics distribution and to keep rivals, witnesses and others in fear of its leaders, members and associates, it adds.
Between May 2014 and May 2016, federal authorities allege, New Aryan associates Marcus Millsap, 51, of Danville and James Oliver, 47, of Russellville, along with the group's president, Wesley Gullett, 29, of Russellville, solicited several New Aryan members and associates to murder a confidential informant.
In January 2016, two New Aryan members unsuccessfully attempted to murder the informant, the grand jury found.
Between May 28, 2017, and June 6, 2017, members and associates of the organization kidnapped, stabbed and maimed two people in retaliation for their giving information to law enforcement authorities about another member, the grand jury also found. The kidnapping victims were forced to write apology letters to the New Aryan Empire member and his girlfriend, authorities said.
Authorities also investigated the New Aryan Empire for methamphetamine trafficking. Officers made 58 controlled meth purchases, seizing more than 25 pounds of the drug in addition to 69 firearms and more than $70,000 in drug proceeds.
Some of the firearms, including at least one assault weapon, were on display during the news conference at the Russellville Police Department.
The New Aryan Empire, originally controlled by five members known as High Elders and later by a Supreme Council, uses various markings, among them swastikas, the Nazi lightning bolts symbol and heil Hitler salutes. Female members are called "featherwoods."
Probationary members have been required to prove their allegiance by committing crimes, the U.S. attorney's office said. Members aren't allowed to fraternize with non-Caucasians, speak with law enforcement officers, snitch on fellow members, be homosexual, or be a rapist or a molester, the office said. Offenses have been punishable by a range of actions, from fines to assaults and even death.
Members use the mantra and salutation, "Love, Honor, and Respect," the office said.
Rybicki said the Justice Department "is working to dismantle" the New Aryan Empire and compared the organization to others, such as the violent MS-13 gang.
"This case reflects a major disruption of the New Aryan Empire organization that affected the whole Arkansas River Valley area," said Warren Newman, acting resident agent in charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives district office in Little Rock. "As a result of this collaborative effort, we have effectively dismantled this violent, drug-dealing organization."
A Section on 02/13/2019
Print Headline: U.S. indicts 54 in investigation targeting Arkansas-based white supremacist group