North Utah Faces Influx of Racists

The New York Times, Apr. 4, 2003

ROY, Utah — In the cold months, the stark tattoos of white supremacy are concealed beneath layers of clothing, but the ex-convicts and parolees who wear them are becoming known by their faces.

Law enforcement officials here and in other towns in northern Utah say they are grappling with a marked increase in crimes committed by men who joined white supremacist gangs while in prison and who, once released and bound by ideology and kinship, have settled in the area to pursue lives of crime.

“They’re connecting with people of like mind,” said Greg Whinham, the police chief here in Roy, an Ogden suburb of about 35,000 residents between the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake. “The mentality of white supremacy is rampant in the prison system, and now we’re seeing it in the streets.”

In response, the Roy Police Department joined forces with nine other law enforcement agencies in Weber County to track gangs and individuals who espouse white supremacist credos as well as other fringe philosophies, many of them promoted and learned in the Utah State Prison and other penal institutions.

“We’re just getting flooded with these guys,” said Lt. Loring L. Draper, a gang task force leader in Ogden, who recalled first noticing the white supremacists in late summer 2001. Since that time, Lieutenant Draper said, about 65 parolees identified as white supremacists have been arrested in the area, mostly for drug offenses, and 35 were returned to prison for parole violations.

On March 6, the police in Ogden made nine arrests in a sweep aimed at a white supremacist ring that specialized in vehicle and residential burglaries and strong-arm robberies, the police said. At least one of the arrested men was carrying a handgun and methamphetamine, a drug that the police say many white gang members produce and sell.

Altogether, the task force is tracking about 132 known white supremacists in Weber County, and there are more who have not been identified, Lieutenant Draper said. About 2,000 parolees and probationers, 31 percent more than in any other region in Utah, live among the approximately 200,000 residents of Weber County and adjacent Morgan County.

The officials say that after being released from prison, some of the supremacists may be attracted to northern Utah by a relatively low police presence and generally tolerant neighbors.

“They’re pretty prevalent,” said John Erickson, a paint contractor in Roy, said of the supremacists, whose graffiti he often sees sprayed on store walls around town. “You just look at their faces, and you know they’re trouble.”

Kirk Egan, the intelligence chief for the Utah Department of Corrections, tracks gang members among the system’s approximately 6,000 inmates. “White supremacy has absolutely exploded within our prison system since the mid-1990’s,” he said. “And it’s growing all over the nation.”

Gangs on the rise include the Aryan Circle and the White Aryan Resistance, in Arkansas; the Southern Brotherhood, in Alabama; the Nazi Low Riders, in California and Nevada; and Soldiers of the Aryan Culture, in Utah. One of the largest white prison gangs, World Church of the Creator, founded in Illinois and active here and in other states, has been tough to control, the authorities say, because of its religious underpinnings, which allow its members to gather for meetings in prison.

“Once they’re in prison, they join up with groups like this, and once they come out, they stick together,” said Vern Hairston, a coordinator for the Ogden-Weber Metro Gang Unit, which leads the 10-agency task force. “They’re out of prison, so how are they going to make some money? They turn to crime.”

Members of the antigang unit reel off the names of other groups active in Utah: the Fourth Reich, National Alliance, Hammerskins, Krieger Verwandt, Arizona Hammerheads, National Socialist White People’s Party and Silent Aryan Warriors.

“Every time you look at someone’s tattoo, you can determine how violent these guys are going to be,” Lieutenant Draper said.

Traditionally conservative, independent and avowedly religious, many Utahans have long tolerated what some people elsewhere consider to be extreme points of view, including the perspectives of conspiracy theorists and opponents of a so-called world order. The right to bear arms is revered, and government is often viewed with suspicion.

Two years ago, in La Verkin, in southern Utah, officials approved a law that forbade entry to anyone associated with the United Nations. Another southern Utah town, Virgin, passed a measure requiring every household to have at least one firearm. Efforts to pass a hate-crimes law in the Utah Legislature have failed for four consecutive years.

Some of the supremacists, while rejecting the label, have no qualms about stating their beliefs.

“White people just want to have pride in who they are without being called a racist,” said Troy Eck, 37, who sported a tattooed “A” on his neck that he said stood for “anarchy.”

Sitting in a rundown house off Ogden Avenue, Mr. Eck’s friend Dennis West, 53, said he had served 28 years in California prisons for “murder, kidnapping and mayhem.” In prison, he said, joining a gang meant survival.

“You were either with them or against them,” said Mr. West, who emerged from incarceration with the words “white power” inscribed on his stomach. “I don’t discriminate; I hate everybody equally.”

Early last year, detectives were told by an informer that two supremacist parolees in Weber County were hatching a pipe-bomb plot against Jewish sponsors and participants at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The police arrested two men, Robert Tarpley and Doc Knipe, just before the Games. No bombs were found, but the two were charged with aggravated assault and robbery in a separate case. The charges against Mr. Tarpley were dropped, but he was sent to prison for associating with criminals, a parole violation; he has since been released. Mr. Knipe pleaded guilty and is in prison.

Shara Layton, whose infant son, Jaden, was fathered by Mr. Tarpley, said Mr. Tarpley became a member of Krieger Verwandt (“warrior kindred” in German) during an earlier stint in prison. “When he first went in, he didn’t have the views,” Ms. Layton said. “He came out with all these tattoos.”

Supremacists — a word invariably pronounced here as “supremists” — are not generally held in high regard by local residents.

“People who are bigoted are everywhere,” said Suzanne Hogan, 52, a former teacher. “There’s not a lot of reason for young adults to feel positively about their world. They’re looking for someone to hate.”


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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday April 4, 2003.
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