Police see rise in activity of white supremacy gangs
Deseret News, Sep. 7, 2002
By Pat Reavy
They say they don’t like attention. Nevertheless, they bring a lot of it to themselves simply by their appearance.
And lately, white supremacists in Utah have been in the public eye:
- Scott Biswell, a leader with the Soldiers of Aryan Culture (SAC), was shot and killed by a SWAT team Aug. 11 in a Provo motel.
- David Fink was arrested by Salt Lake County sheriff’s deputies Aug. 27 after allegedly breaking into a house and then attempting a carjacking in the same neighborhood. Fink is a member of SAC, police say.
- Jeremy B. Williams, another member of SAC, was arrested in Richfield Aug. 29. He was wanted in connection with two drive-by shootings in Sandy.
Police say these cases are high-profile examples of the recent activity by SAC and other white supremacist groups along the Wasatch Front.
While white supremacists, their philosophies and their activities are not new, they have been more visible in northern Utah in recent years. Concern over their activity prompted officers from a dozen police agencies to meet in Salt Lake City to address their multiplying encounters with the law.
“It’s become a statewide problem,” said detective Brent Jex of the Salt Lake Metro Gang Unit.
Numerous forgeries, check frauds, home invasions and, in some cases, homicides, have been linked to them. Examples:
- The U. S. Postal Service estimated that as of this week, white supremacists in Utah were responsible for $98,000 worth of stolen checks from mailboxes, Jex said.
- Quinton Hurlick, a documented white supremacist, was sentenced in 2000 to five years to life for shooting a Murray police officer during a failed attempt to cash a forged check.
- In May, Ogden police revealed they had broken up a plot by members of two white supremacist groups to deliver pipe bombs to Jewish athletes during the Winter Olympics.
Gang detectives have documented 352 white supremacists in Utah, but they believe that number is low. The figure only represents those who have been in prison.
It used to be that white supremacists were almost always recruited in prison. Today, police say, recruitment is happening in and out of the Big House.
“They’re out ‘patching’ right and left,” Jex said.
“Patching” refers to the tattoos white supremacists receive, one of their most distinguishing features.
White supremacists typically have heavily tattooed bodies. From literally the tops of their heads to the bottoms of their feet, members will use any open space of skin to apply a “patch.”
Most of the tattoos they choose have specific meaning to them and, by their code, can’t be randomly applied. An act or a deed, usually of a violent nature, must be completed to earn the right to wear a specific tattoo.
Mostly, police say, white supremacists like to cover their bodies in tattoos as a way of intimidating others.
In one disturbing case, a home-care nurse in Logan recently came across an infant with a tattoo: A swastika, about the size of a quarter, had been tattooed on the 8-month-old child’s head, Ogden Police Lt. Loring Draper said.
There are four principal white supremacist groups in Utah: SAC, Silent Aryan Warriors (SAW), 4th Reich and Krieger Verwandt (KV). The origins of these groups can be traced to Utah correctional facilities in the 1990s.
Police say most people who join a white supremacist group in prison do it for protection and survival, not necessarily because they share racist beliefs.
Despite the accusations of violence that surround them, white supremacist members will try to pass off their organizations as nothing more than a fraternity, Johnson said. But, he added, they’re only doing that to try to divert attention.
“These people are dangerous,” Johnson said. “These groups are not fraternities.”
SAC is the biggest Aryan Nation group in Utah — and the most violent, Draper said. There are estimated to be more than 150 SAC members in the state.
Members have established a SAC chapter in Sunset, where many members head after they are paroled, Davis County sheriff’s detective Ty Berger said. There are also reports that SAC wants to use Box Elder County as its home base and has secured a compound in a secluded area, Brigham City police Cpl. Jeff Johnson said.
SAW is the second-biggest group, followed by 4th Reich and KV. Because KV isn’t as well-organized as the other gangs, Draper said that group is apparently being taken over by 4th Reich. Police say 4th Reich has been the most active in recruiting members in and out of prison.
American Peckerwood and Lone Wolf are two other small white supremacist gangs in Utah that are merging with 4th Reich, according to law enforcers.
Organized — and paranoid
In addition to violence, detectives say what makes white supremacists more dangerous than other gangs is they’re a little more organized. Indeed, in many instances there are written rules and by-laws that all members supposedly follow.
What’s working in favor of law enforcement officers is that most group members aren’t very smart, Draper said.
Most white supremacists, Jex said, are quite paranoid because they’re often high on methamphetamines. Because of that paranoia, they like to carry guns. Then, when supremacists who are parolees are arrested for a violation, they automatically face federal charges since, as restricted persons, they are prohibited from being in possession of firearms.
But drug use is also what makes them dangerous.
And, detectives say, the commitment of white supremacists to “meth” far outweighs their commitment to securing a homeland for the white race. Despite their professed beliefs, many will even make alliances with minority gangs simply because of the trade in drugs. National Aryan Nation groups have been known to work closely with the Mexican Mafia in drug trafficking.
In Utah, drugs seem to be the driving force that keeps white supremacists together. In fact, a speech scheduled today by controversial white racist leader the Rev. Matt Hale of Illinois was not expected to be heavily attended by local white supremacists simply because they don’t subscribe to his ideologies, which focus on building a “white nation” rather than on things they are more focused upon, like drug use and trafficking, Jex said.
Hale was also in Utah to speak in 2001, but police jokingly say only a dozen people showed up — and 10 of them were cops.
Police said they intend to be at the Sprague Library Saturday to hear what Hale has to say this time.
Local store owners placed signs in their windows this week banning “hate” and “hate speech” from their stores as a form of non-confrontational protest against Hale’s appearance.
The Deseret News tried contacting several white supremacist members either directly or through law enforcement sources. But police said the leaders of the local white supremacist groups recently put a “gag order” on their members. In light of recent publicity due to the Biswell incident and an interview with FOX 13 News, Aryan Nation members have been told not to talk to police or reporters, according to a police source.
“Quiet is the key word,” Johnson said. “They don’t want any attention.”
But police say it’s too late to avoid detection. And they are watching Utah’s white supremacists very closely.