White Supremacy and Prisons

United States Women’s Soccer Team star Megan Rapinoe has become the most recognizable figure of that team, not just because of her play, but because of her outspokenness on issues ranging from race to LGBTQ+ rights. She was also the most controversial figure, because she knelt when the American national anthem was played before games.

But one side of her that some people may not know is that she has a brother—a brother she loves dearly, but a brother who has been on the wrong side of the law numerous times, who has spent time in prison, and who became a white supremacist for part of his time in prison.[1]

But here’s the thing—Megan Rapinoe’s brother, Brian, is far from a microcosm. He’s far from a microcosm because white supremacy has become increasingly widespread in prisons.

The Anti-Defamation League, back in 2016, observed the spread of and increase in white supremacy in our prison system, to the point that at least 35 states had at least one white supremacy prison gang at the time. These supremacy gangs have perpetrated violence; most notably, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, which is one of the most prominent prison gangs in the United States, was responsible for 33 murders in Texas between 2000 and 2015.[2] And the violence is not isolated to Texas, either—Aryan Brotherhood prison gang people were also responsible for directing killings and drug smuggling from prisons in California.[3]

And yet, in spite of all the white supremacy in the American prison system, this is an issue that doesn’t seem to get that much attention. There are some racial justice and criminal justice organizations attuned to the realities of white supremacy in American prisons, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Vera Institute of Justice, but it’s an issue that I’ve never heard come up in mainstream dialogues about criminal justice reform.

But that should change. And here is why this issue needs more attention from all of us:

  1. It is a criminal justice reform issue, because if we want prisons to be a place for people to reform, we should not have prisons full of white supremacy groups that ruin lives instead of restoring them.
  2. It is a public safety issue, for white supremacist actions in prisons kill people.
  3. It is a national security issue, because violent white supremacists are terrorists, too.
  4. It is an issue of use of taxpayer money, because having prisons that perpetrates white supremacy (whether it be intentional or unintentional) is a dreadful use of taxpayer money.
  5. It is a racial justice issue, for white supremacy is antithetical to racial justice.

But how do we get this change, from a prison system where white supremacy is allowed to thrive to a system which doesn’t allow for this? I think that it needs to start with getting more knowledge about white supremacy in prisons. For most readers of this piece, getting more knowledge means knowing that white supremacy in prisons exists in the first place. For local and state governments, getting more knowledge about white supremacy in prisons means: a) figuring out what a prison gang is in the first place[4] and then b) figuring out the nature of what white supremacy prison gangs are like (and how much white supremacy in prisons is gang-related or not). For the Anti-Defamation League and similar organizations devoted to religions, ethnic, racial, and/or social justice issues, getting more knowledge about white supremacy in prisons just means continuing their work and hopefully learning more.

As much as I have a desire to end pieces on this blog with big solutions to big problems, I can’t really do that here. Before talking about solutions,[5] governments in particular really need to gain a better understanding of this problem than what they currently seem to have.


[1] https://www.espn.com/soccer/fifa-womens-world-cup/story/3878587/why-megan-rapinoes-brother-brian-is-her-greatest-heartbreakand-hope

[2] https://www.adl.org/resources/reports/white-supremacist-prison-gangs-in-the-united-states

[3] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/leaders-of-white-supremacist-prison-gang-charged-in-killings

[4] On page two of the Anti-Defamation League report on white supremacy in prisons, it is noted that “there is not even agreement among prison officials as to what constitutes a prison gang.” Considering the fact that the problem with white supremacy in prisons may be related to white supremacy gangs in prisons, it seems like governments may not fully understand this problem, let alone have solutions:  https://www.adl.org/sites/default/files/documents/assets/pdf/combating-hate/CR_4499_WhiteSupremacist-Report_web_vff.pdf

[5] The Anti-Defamation League talked about potential solutions. My personal opinion is that, while they seem to have interesting ideas, not a single suggestion seems to be preventative in nature (in other words, preventing people behind bars from getting taken in by white supremacy ideology in the first place): https://www.adl.org/resources/reports/white-supremacist-prison-gangs-in-the-united-states

12 Replies to “White Supremacy and Prisons”

  1. I’d be curious to know how many remain active in white supremacy movements after release. Given that likely a lot of men from ethnically/racially based gangs are going into the prison system, I wonder how much of the white supremacist activity is reactionary rather than based on pre-existing racial hate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Southern Poverty Law Center does have their own list of hate groups, and they list the Aryan Brotherhood as well as the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (both of which are prominent in prisons) among those hate groups: https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/groups

      However, it seems to me that there’s much more to white supremacy in prisons than Aryan Brotherhood or Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.

      Needless to say, it seems like the Southern Poverty Law Center is aware that there are white supremacist hate groups in prison. However, their knowledge of them is still very much developing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would have said “Creativity Movement” for mine and “LaRouche” – anything LaRouche does is not to be touched when it comes to hatred of that nature and variety.

        In Australia there would be for example the Southern Cross and the Australian Patriots’ Front.

        Andy Fletcher from Slackbastard/Anarchobase has lots of them on his tail; as well as many other groups of the left and right alike.

        I respect an organisation which can acknowledge its knowledge is very much developing.

        I wonder how online hate is going on in the prisons? There is an organisation for the Prevention of Online Hate and I hope there is same/similar in the USA.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m not sure if it’s online hate that’s going on in prisons, or if it’s something else.

        I’m also not sure whether there is an organization specifically dedicated to preventing online hate crimes here in the USA. There are definitely organizations that include combating online hate crime as part of their larger purview, but I’m not aware of any organizations that focus solely or primarily on combating online hate crimes.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. All races have gangs in prisons.

    Why this focus on one particular prison gang, especially one which does not seem to have much of a profile outside of prisons?

    While there are numerous gang related homicides from other prison gangs in and out of prison, why focus on the gang whose name we NEVEWR hear in relation to crimes in the community?

    And in an article on white supremacy in prisons, why the focus on outlaws and not on the endemic structural racism?

    And one guy?

    A guy from a family noted for outlier types of views and behaviours.

    Come on Brendan.

    Do better.

    Like

    1. Yes, many races and groups have gangs in prisons. However, the reason I focused on white supremacy in prisons is because of the growing (and overdue) interest in white supremacy as well as the hurt caused by white supremacy. Given this interest in trying to combat white supremacy, it’s important to combat white supremacy in ALL its manifestations, including as gangs in prisons.

      I’m a little puzzled with what you said regarding the focus on one particular prison gang. I mentioned two groups of prison gangs: Aryan Brotherhood of Texas and Aryan Brotherhood (which apparently have no relation to each other). As for the extent of their footprints, it’s large enough that they are actively involved in these murders.

      In terms of focus, one of the big themes is that these prisons are places where white supremacy is allowed to thrive.

      As for the mention of Brian Rapinoe, the only reason I mentioned him was because his story was, I felt, a good way to introduce a larger issue, which is white supremacy in prisons. We’ll probably agree to disagree there, though.

      Overall, two of the things that many people claim to be committed to are combating white supremacy and having criminal justice reform. Taking a serious look at the issue of white supremacy in prisons has implications for both.

      Like

    1. Trump, no doubt, has been problematic with the issue of white supremacy–even promoting it at times. However, it seems to me like this issue is larger than Trump. This is an issue that has existed for years before Trump and will likely exist for awhile after Trump is president. Though having a president who works to counteract, instead of support, white supremacy would help.

      Like

  3. A terrible and a hidden issue. I do know one correctional institution that works hard to counteract this — and that means being (among other things) very careful in the hiring of CO’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is quite a hidden issue. More correctional facilities need to work hard to counteract this–otherwise, efforts to really address white supremacy in all forms will be greatly compromised. Hopefully more correctional institutions will follow the lead of the one institution you’re aware of.

      Like

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