RUSSELLVILLE (KFSM) — Dozens of members of an Arkansas white supremacist group have been indicted in connection with a series of violent crimes.
Charges were brought against 54 people with ties to the New Aryan Empire, according to investigators. The indictment claims the group is a "corrupt organization which committed acts of violence, including solicitation of murder and attempted murder, kidnapping, and maiming." The group is also accused of drug trafficking.
Associates of the group, which identifies itself in part through Nazi swastikas and "Heil Hitler" salutes, tried to kill an informant and stabbed and maimed two other people suspected of cooperating with law enforcement, authorities said.
Cody Hiland, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, said he plans to prosecute the case under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, otherwise known as the RICO Act. It allows the leaders of an organization to be prosecuted for crimes they ordered other people to commit. It was enacted in 1970 to pursue the Mafia and other organized crime groups.
"This announcement is a little unique as it is the first RICO by card case brought in 15 years RICO focuses specifically on racketeering and allows members of an organization to be held responsible for the acts of the other members among other benefits," Hiland said. "In short with RICO if you are a member of the organization you’re in for a penny and you."
Most of the defendants are residents of Pope and Yell Counties, and most are convicted felons, according to authorities. Thirty-five were already in state or federal custody. Another 16 were previously released on federal bond.
In an affidavit, federal investigators say the group was created in 1990 by inmates inside of the Arkansas Department of Corrections Investigators believe the members used the organization to protect themselves from other inmates and to "Preserve the Caucasian race."
In detailing the group's origin, investigators said the NAE eventually expanded outside of prison walls and into surrounding communities. The group is now believed to be made up of 5,000 members.
Dylan Ison, who lives outside of Russellville said he recognizes the name of one of the members who was arrested.
"I went to school with one of them. It's surprising," he said.
Christopher Robinson said he moved to Russellville four years ago and was told once that the area is known to have white supremacist groups living in the area. He said he did not believe it until the arrests were made.
"It doesn't matter if you are white, black, Mexican, Hispanic, Asian. It doesn't matter. Anybody who promotes violence should be locked away," Robinson said.
David Rybicki, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General, called the group "a violent and highly-structured criminal organization" that has roots as a prison gang. Law enforcement officials seized 69 firearms, more than 25 pounds of methamphetamine and more than $70,000 in drug proceeds as part of the investigation.
The investigation mentions several instances of violent intimidation from group members as a way to keep a person from testifying against them or speaking to law enforcement.
Some of those tactics, according to an arrest affidavit include a $50,000 murder for hire, stabbings, kidnapping, beatings and one instance where a person was maimed with a heated knife to his head causing permanent disfigurement.