Evan Spencer Ebel, alleged murderer of Colorado corrections chief Tom Clements (Colorado Department of Corrections)

After the recent murders of a state corrections official in Colorado and a district attorney and his assistant in Texas — all of whom were making it their mission to break up white supremacist prison gangs — Slate's Justin Peters wonders whether the killings were payback. Plus, he explains how the Aryan brotherhood operates well outside the confines of penitentiaries:

At this point, there's a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest that the prison gangs were involved in these killings. The question of whether the Colorado and Texas murders are linked is a little harder to answer.

Let's begin by noting that "prison gang" is a slight misnomer here. Though the Aryan Brotherhood and other infamous gangs were certainly founded inside prisons, they have long since extended their criminal operations — drug trafficking, extortion, other forms of violent thuggery — to the outside world. A 2006 ABC News story listed the Aryan Brotherhood's priorities as "making money, exacting revenge, terrorizing the uncooperative and maintaining thriving criminal enterprises inside and outside of prison." These gangs are tremendously violent — and, since their leaders are already incarcerated, tremendously difficult to control. They also have a history of retaliating against those who have wronged them.

In November, the FBI came down hard on the Aryan Brotherhood, indicting 34 alleged members on racketeering charges. One month later, Texas state officials announced that the Aryan Brotherhood was "actively planning retaliation against law enforcement officials." One month after that, Kaufman County, Texas assistant district attorney Mark Hasse was shot and killed while going to work. (The Kaufman County district attorney's office was part of the multi-agency task force involved in the crackdown.) On Saturday, Hasse's boss, Mike McLelland, was shot to death at his house. His wife Cynthia was also shot and killed. There have been no suspects named in the Texas murders.

Read more at Slate.

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