The issue of “racial purity” within white power prison gangs can be attributed back to essential beginnings of any of these groups. Prisons provide a place for people found guilty in the American justice system to serve their time obviously, and to assume that a prison is filled with once race and one race only is an incredibly ignorant view of our society today. That being said, our prisons today are filled with many different types of races and ethnicity’s thus allowing members of these races to congregate and seek solace in each other. From here it is not hard to see how prison gangs could be formed in an attempt to control prison activities and provide protection for members of similar races. While there are many white prison gangs in in penitentiaries today, I chose the Aryan Brotherhood to focus on because they demonstrate a spectrum of how racial purity affects membership and criminal alliances.
The Brotherhood was founded in the 1950’s and was originally bonded to protect white inmates from attacks from other races within the prison (San-Quentin.) In its inception, its only purpose was to provide protection for those within their race or more easily operationalized as “racially pure.” As with any organization comprised of criminal offenders, the focus of the AB changed after several decades from racial protection to controlling illegal activities within the prison such as drug dealing, smuggling and prostitution. The movement towards controlling of prison activities has shifted the gangs focus from white supremacy ideals to a more “business like” perspective in which there is now a confirmed alliance with the Mexican Mafia and occasionally other black gangs (source 1). In my eyes this is contradictory of what the gang was founded on but its clear that greed has grasped leaders and shifted views.
Although current views have shifted, membership consistency has not in the fact that upon entering the prison system you can be easily categorized by the color of your skin. This makes it easy to find associations with gangs because obviously if you are a white inmate you could potentially fit in with an Aryan gang. As Ferber quotes in her book, White Man Falling
“throughout white supremacist discourse, whiteness is defined in terms of visible, physical differences in appearance” (71.)
While it is not completely in line to compare white supremacist actions outside versus inside of prison, there is definitely something to be said about simple qualifications it takes to be considered “white” or fit for these gangs. Obviously, the concept of “power in numbers” holds very true for prison gangs and thus recruitment for these gangs could potentially harbor members that are not “racially pure” in a sense of ethnic backgrounds or religion but more so could be looking for the protection of a dominant gang within the penitentiary.
While the quality of membership within white prison gangs can be seen as “white” from the outside, there is no real way to determine whether or not they can be truly classified as “pure white.” While the Aryan Brotherhood may not focus completely on racial purity, other, more hardcore white supremacists groups in prison such as the Aryan Circle confide their beliefs heavily in remaining faithful to the Aryan race in protecting and serving for it (source 2). The Aryan Circle follows racist philosophies of Adolf Hitler and thus can be seen as a strenuous in their membership purity.
There is a lot of variance in within white power prison gangs as far as membership and purity is concerned. As seen with the most dominant and well known white power gang, the Aryan Brotherhood, service in their organization is more about violence, control and protection more so than following white supremacist beliefs and staying true to the original purpose of the gang in protection and bonding of white inmates.