The Aryan Brotherhood

One of the Most Notorious Prison Gangs

aryan brotherhood tattoos

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The Aryan Brotherhood (also known as the AB or the Brand) is a white-only prison gang formed in the 1960s at San Quentin State Prison. The gang's purpose at that time was to protect white inmates from being physically attacked by Black and Hispanic inmates.

Today the AB is reportedly more interested in money and is known for its involvement in murder, narcotics trafficking, extortion, gambling, and robbery.

History of the Aryan Brotherhood

At San Quentin State Prison during the 1950s, a renegade motorcycle gang with strong Irish roots formed the Diamond Tooth Gang. The gang's main purpose was to protect white inmates from being assaulted from other racial groups within the prison. The name, Diamond Tooth, was chosen because many in the gang had tiny pieces of glass embedded in their teeth.

In the early 1960s, wanting more control, the gang expanded its recruiting efforts and attracted more white-supremacist and violent prone inmates. As the gang grew, they changed the name from Diamond Tooth to Blue Bird.

By the late 1960s, racial unrest increased throughout the nation and the desegregation within the prisons took place and stronger racial tensions grew within the prison yards.

The Black Guerrilla Family, a gang made up of Black-only members, became a real threat to the Blue Birds and the group looked toward other prison white-only gangs to form an alliance which became known as the Aryan Brotherhood.

A "Blood In-Blood Out" philosophy took hold and the AB raged a war of intimidation and control within the prison. They demanded respect from all inmates and would kill to get it.

Power Driven

During the 1980s with control intact, the purpose of the AB shifted from being merely a protective shield for whites. They also sought full control over illegal prison activities for financial gain.

As gang membership grew and members were let out of prison and re-entered other prisons, it became clear that an organized system was needed. Protection, extortion, narcotics, weapons and murder-for-hire schemes were paying off and the gang wanted to expand its power to other prisons across the country.

Federal and State Factions

Part of the AB setting up a strict organizational structure was the decision to have two factions; the Federal faction who would control the gang activities in federal prisons and the California state faction which kept control over the state prisons.

Aryan Brotherhood Symbols

  • Shamrock cloverleaf
  • Initials "AB"
  • Swastikas
  • Double lightning bolts
  • The numbers "666"
  • HH for "Heil Hitler"
  • A Falcon resembling the Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, meaning "We Ourselves"
  • Known to use Gaelic (old Irish) symbols as a method of coding communications
  • Aryan Brotherhood groups from other states often include the name of the state
  • Letters and exclamation points separated by happy faces


The Aryan Brotherhood has traditionally demonstrated a deep hatred toward Black individuals and members of Black gangs, such as the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF), Crips, Bloods, and El Rukns. They also are rivals with the La Nuestra Familia (NF) because of their alliance with the Mexican Mafia.


The Aryan Brotherhood:

  • Maintains a working relationship with the Mexican Mafia (EME).
  • Works with some Black groups in an effort to encourage possible prison disturbances and to deal drugs to the Black prison population.
  • Compatible with most motorcycle gangs as many of the AB members come from motorcycle gangs.
  • Compatible with most white supremacy groups. This often leads to confusion in distinguishing AB members from other white supremacist groups, particularly when making identification by their tattoos or symbols.
  • "Copycat" Aryan Brotherhood groups are generally tolerated by true members. However, federal and California ABs do not consider them to be legitimate and may threaten violence if AB tattoos are not burned or cut off.
  • Actively cooperates with the Dirty White Boys, an Anglo spin-off gang of the Texas Syndicate. Similar cooperation has been observed with the Silent Brotherhood.


As an attempt to break up AB gang activity, prison officials placed many of the top AB leaders in ultra-maximum security prisons such as Pelican Bay yet communications continued, including orders to kill snitches and rival gang members.

Older members had long perfected communicating with hand language as well as using codes and a 400-year-old binary alphabet system to communicate in writing. Cryptic notes would be concealed throughout the prison.​

Busting Up the AB

In August 2002, after a six-year investigation by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) nearly all suspected AB gang leaders were indicted and charged with murder, contract hits, conspiracy to commit murder, extortion, robbery, and narcotics trafficking.

Ultimately, four of the top AB leaders were found guilty and given life sentences without the possibility of parole.

  • Barry "The Barron" Mills: Alleged leader of the Aryan Brotherhood's operations in the federal prison system.
  • Tyler Davis "The Hulk" Bingham: Alleged leader who worked with Mills in the federal prison branch of the AB.
  • Edgar "The Snail" Hevle: Allegedly, a former top-level member of the three-man commission that oversaw the federal branch of the prison gang.
  • Christopher Overton Gibson: Allegedly, a member of the group in charge of the gang's day-to-day activities.

Although some felt hopeful that removing the top leaders of the AB would result in the demise of the gang as a whole, many believed it was a mere setback with vacant positions quickly filled by other gang members and business continued as usual.

Aryan Brotherhood Trivia

Charles Manson was denied membership into the AB gang because the leaders found his type of murder, distasteful. However, they did utilize the women visiting Manson as a means of smuggling in narcotics.

The Aryan Brotherhood was hired to protect mobster boss John Gotti during his incarceration after he was attacked by an inmate. This relationship resulted in many "murders-by-hire" between the AB and the Mafia.


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Your Citation
Montaldo, Charles. "The Aryan Brotherhood." ThoughtCo, Jul. 30, 2021, Montaldo, Charles. (2021, July 30). The Aryan Brotherhood. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "The Aryan Brotherhood." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).