The Soldiers of the Aryan Culture is a terrorist organization and a three-year probe could finally put it out of operation, law- enforcement officials said Thursday, a day after indictments were unsealed accusing a dozen men of carrying out drug deals, extortions and violent attacks for the Utah group.
“We’ve been able to take a big hunk out of the organization,” Chip Burrus, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Salt Lake City office, said at a news conference.
Soldiers of the Aryan Culture, which was founded in 1997, operates both inside and outside the Utah prison system, authorities said. If convicted, the defendants face up to 30 years behind bars and would be scattered around the country in different federal prisons where they no longer would be able to operate as a gang, officials said.
Ad: Vacation? City Trip? Weekend Break? Book Skip-the-line tickets
“These are tough charges for tough defendants,” Burrus said.
The 13-count federal indictment charges the defendants with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) and the Violent Crime in Aid of Racketeering Activity (VICAR) laws. The FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, began investigating the Soldiers of the Aryan Culture in 2000, Burrus said.
He said the gang came to the attention of authorities because members caused problems both in prison and out. To become a member, a recruit had to commit a violent crime, usually an assault behind bars against another inmate, Burrus said.
Members usually attacked a white victim who refused to join the gang and tried to “life flight” him, or injure him so badly he had to be taken to a hospital outside the prison, he said. Members who were released from prison often continued to commit crimes, he added.
The indictment claims Soldiers of the Aryan Culture has a white supremacist philosophy and operates with a hierarchy that includes generals, lieutenants, sergeants and soldiers. It says new members who completed a “mission,” usually a violent attack, received a tattoo of an iron cross wrapped by a swastika.
Paul Warner, the U.S. attorney for Utah, said the defendants are being prosecuted for their crimes, not their philosophy.
“We don’t prosecute people for their beliefs, no matter how reprehensible they are,” he said at Thursday’s news conference.
Warner said the racketeering case, the second time the RICO statute has been used in Utah against a street gang, could mean the breakup of the Soldiers of Aryan Culture.
“It truly is a domestic terrorism organization,” Warner said.
One of the founders of the gang, Scott Biswell, and his companion, Kortni Rae Grimm, were killed last year in Provo by officers attempting to arrest them on outstanding warrants. Biswell, who had a long criminal history that included charges of felony assault, pointed a semi-automatic pistol at the officers when they came into his hotel room, authorities said.