White supremacist prison gangs increase in N.M.

ALBUQUERQUE – New Mexico’s prisons have seen a rise in white supremacist gang membership as some inmates seek protection against largely Hispanic gangs, according to state officials.

State numbers show that membership in white supremacist gangs has doubled in prisons during the last 10 years, and state officials worry the numbers may keep climbing.

“Membership is increasing in white supremacist gangs affiliated with those in Texas and Arizona,” said Dwayne Santistevan, administrator of New Mexico’s Security Threat Intelligence Unit. “We think they’re banding together for protection against Hispanic gangs.”

The state estimates there are about 160 inmates connected to white supremacist gangs such as the Aryan Brotherhood and Nazi Low Riders. Ten years ago, New Mexico prisons had only around 60 to 70 members connected to such gangs, Santistevan said.

“The gangs are getting their membership from inmates from Farmington, Carlsbad, Ruidoso and Alamogordo,” he said. “It’s kind of puzzling.”

Santistevan said at least two Hispanic inmates had been identified as belonging to a white supremacist gang.

Prison officials can easily identify members of such gangs through tattoos of swastikas, Hitler’s birthdate and other racist symbols.

Still, white supremacist gang membership is small compared to the overall gang population in New Mexico prisons. Of the 6,500 inmates in those lockups, 40 percent are connected to mainly Latino gangs.

Officials worry the growing presence of white supremacist gangs could spark further violence in prisons among gangs already battling over turf, drugs and weapons trafficking.

This week, Santistevan and officials with the New Mexico Gang Task presented details of white supremacist gangs to hundreds of law enforcement officers at a conference on combating gang violence in the state.

The FBI says New Mexico has one of the nation’s highest rates of gang members per 1,000 residents. The state also has one of the highest rates of gang members to law enforcement officers in the nation, behind only California and Illinois.