Born in prison, the European Kindred leaves its mark on both sides of the bars
In early 2002, 21-year-old Joshua Robert Brown, his head freshly shaved and a tattoo of a shield on his calf, was released from an Oregon prison. Three weeks later Brown, who is white, killed a black man named Anthony Cleo Wilson in a downtown Portland housing project.
'Josh reached out like this. And slashed,' says one of Brown's associates, demonstrating. 'This guy went stumbling down the hall, bleeding.'
Local media briefly characterized the slaying as a drug deal gone wrong. Brown was sentenced to 13 years for manslaughter, and the killing was forgotten.
But in truth, the slaying signaled the arrival of a violent racist criminal street gang: the European Kindred. Numbering in the hundreds by some accounts and armed, the EK say they are here to stay.
According to the associate, the gang hid Brown after the killing. While the killing was in retribution for a 'bunk' dope deal, for the gang members it also represented their beliefs. The associate blames the killing on the fact that Brown was forced to live with blacks in a halfway house.
'If (Wilson) wasn't a black man,' the associate says with a shrug, 'he wouldn't have stabbed him.'
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Picture gun-toting ex-convicts with swastikas on their arms, and you have the EK, as they call themselves. Members see themselves as Viking warriors with freedom to pillage. 'Somebody's got something you want, you take it,' EK member Rocky Robison says.
According to court records, law enforcement and the EK themselves, the gang is responsible for crimes ranging from identity theft to assaults. The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force once investigated them. The FBI will not comment on the result of the investigation.
Robison's latest charges are a good example why the FBI is involved. According to court records, on June 28, Robison and two associates burst into a home near Southeast 158th Avenue and Division Street. The group allegedly threatened the woman who lived there with knives, assaulted her, robbed her and used an electric stun gun on her.
For the EK, it was business as usual. 'The modus operandi is home invasions,' says another member who asked not to be identified for fear of being considered a snitch. 'You kick in the door and take their stuff.' He says he 'can't even count' how many home invasions the gang has committed.
The gang especially targets drug dealers. 'You can look at this dope dealer,' Robison says. 'He's got 15 grand worth of drugs, you rob him and the chances are he's not going to report it.'
Few of their crimes end with prosecution. The EK is infamous for assaulting witnesses, including tying victims to chairs and keeping them captive for days. 'No one calls the cops,' boasts an EK member who tells about one such intimidation, which law enforcement officials confirm occurred.
'They are dangerous,' says Rafael Cancio, a former Portland Police officer who spent 14 years following gangs. Cancio estimates there are between 300 and 400 EK members in Portland, making it one of the leading gangs in town, though he adds that typical to gangs, only a small percentage are dedicated members.
'The EK organization is an entity that law enforcement takes seriously,' agrees Lt. Jason Gates of the Multnomah County sheriff's office.
The subject of the EK is sensitive with law enforcement. Deputy District Attorney Rod Underhill, head of the gang crime unit for the Multnomah County district attorney's office, declined to comment about the gang, citing ongoing cases.
At first glance, the EK might look similar to racist skinhead groups and, indeed, the gang has connections with local skinheads. But in practice the EK is closer to organized crime. Money and drugs drive its acts just as much as racism. 'A lot of times it's focused on nonwhites, but whites are getting hurt, too,' a member says.
'It's similar to the Aryan Brotherhood,' the member further explains, perhaps optimistically. He's referring to the racist white prison gang that began in 1964 in California prisons and expanded into a criminal empire.
Last month a federal judge sentenced two Aryan Brotherhood leaders to life without parole for murder for hire, drug trafficking and conspiracy.
Like the Aryan Brotherhood, the EK was born in prisons. Like the Aryan Brotherhood, the gang has made a transition to the streets. And members say they have no intention of going away.
Violence followed gang leader
The EK can be traced back to one man: David Patrick Kennedy.
The founder of the EK was raised in violence and while he has dreams - his eyes brighten when he talks about his music - the scope of his life has been confined to a faded white house on a corner lot near Southeast 52nd Avenue and Woodstock Boulevard, where his pit bull puppy sleeps in the raw dirt of the backyard.
One gunfight took his older brother, he says, another killed his stepmother, and a third bullet took off part of his cheek - and that was all before Kennedy left elementary school. Twice expelled for fighting, he says he is proud he made it 'all the way' to the 11th grade.
Still, his family is warm. On a recent weekend, his sister fried hamburgers on the stove. Cats slept on the table, and Kennedy stopped to pet one. 'This is Freya,' he says, named after the goddess of love and fertility in Norse myth.
His 3-year-old son, Zyzmic, played Grand Theft Auto Vice City. Kennedy says the boy's name is ancient German for 'fair-haired and strong.'
Now 37, Kennedy says he started his criminal career as a 'debt collector' - an armed robber who collects drug debts. 'Some guys just start shooting. I used diplomacy,' he says with a straight face, and then cracks up.
His last conviction was in 2003, for robbery. According to the police report, Kennedy burst in a door wearing a mask and attacked two women, one of them 67 years old. He punched her in the face.
'I never had empathy for anybody when I was high on meth,' he explains.
In a clean living room, Kennedy picked up his guitar. He plays for a band called Felony Flatz.
'I don't watch TV
'The media lies promote racial harmony …
'There is a battle upon our land,
'And the tyrant's blood is going to flow …
'Do you hear the approaching thunder?'
Kennedy says he will discuss the EK, but only on one condition: He will not 'break code,' or name other members.
The EK began in 1998, he says, when he was serving time for robbery in the Snake River Correctional Institution in Eastern Oregon.
Like other convicts, Kennedy found that prisons are a throwback to Jim Crow segregation. Blacks and Mexicans sit on one side of the mess hall; whites on the other.
'You don't break bread with the blacks, you don't cell up,' he says. It was an education in racial hatred, and Kennedy was an eager student.
Alarmed at the rise in Mexican gangs inside the prison - as well as seeing an opportunity to break into the prison economic system - Kennedy and a fellow inmate decided to create a new gang.
This gang, he decided, would be a white prison gang.
'I was in my cell with my buddy, and we had been talking about it, and I said, 'How about the European Kindred?' '
And so the European Kindred was born. The official date, he says, was April 20 - Adolf Hitler's birthday.
Kennedy instituted a recruitment program he called Project Wildfire. Within a few days, he says, he had 20 recruits from one yard, and from there they moved into another yard.
The EK is organized under a rigid chain of command. The governing body is the Table of Four. Meetings are called Church.
'We got rules. It's real strict,' Kennedy says.
Rule No. 1? 'Brothers Before Others.' No. 2? 'Brothers Before Ho's.' No. 3? 'No Snitching.'
Members must be white. 'The most you can have is one-sixteenth Indian blood,' Kennedy says. 'So it will be bred out the next generation.' Relationships with blacks are not allowed. 'We don't go for that,' he says in a low voice.
New members receive the gang insignia, a shield with the letters EK, tattooed on the calf, where it can be hidden under clothing.
The gang quickly spread through Oregon prisons. Kennedy estimates there are currently 500 members in prisons. Robison says he sends 200 Christmas cards every year to imprisoned kindred. The gang has spread to prisons in Idaho and Washington.
'They're looking for the tallest trees in the forest, the screamers and the killers,' Kennedy says.
One newer member, according to those familiar with his case, is Carl Alsup, one of a street-kid 'family' that beat, stabbed and stomped to death a developmentally disabled black woman named Jessica Williams in 2003.
It was an assault that lasted for hours and culminated with Alsup and two others lighting Williams on fire while they believed she was still alive.
Other EK members speak of Alsup with awe. 'If he killed someone, they're going to want him,' Kennedy explains.
Membership must be earned
Inside prisons, the EK traffics in tobacco and drugs. According to a 2006 report published by the Oregon Department of Justice, an EK member recently tried to smuggle 20 heroin-filled balloons into the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution.
But it was the EK initiation that earned attention. 'They got to earn their shield,' Kennedy says. He explains this means assaulting either a corrections officer or one of the gang's enemies. The EK, he says, does not target inmates in the general population, and the number of assaults on corrections officials has declined.
Brian Bemus, prison-population manager with the Oregon Department of Corrections, says he is 'unable to comment' about the EK, citing administrative rules about any gangs labeled security threats.
However, internal Department of Corrections documents indicate the EK is highly organized. The gang follows a list of written policies, from mandatory workouts because they are 'in a state of war' to a required reading list that includes Patrick Buchanan and Sun Tzu, author of 'The Art of War.'
Theft and deceit are considered treason. Homosexuality and cowardice receive 'brutal punishment.' Recruits are encouraged to earn their shield through 'something spectacular.'
According to the documents, the gang flag features the EK shield on a red and black background. The white represents the white race, the black represents night, and the red represents blood. Underneath is a slogan: Through the Blood of the Night, We are the Light.
Kennedy says he has been out of prison now for nine months. This time he is prohibited from having any contact with other EK members.
During the days he works for a masonry company, and three evenings a week he attends mandatory drug treatment.
He is being monitored with an electronic bracelet. If he breaks the rules he could go back inside for six years.
On his days off, he relaxes with his girlfriend of four years, Christina Allen. She is a friendly young lady who walks behind Kennedy in public but tells him to scoot when she is sweeping the kitchen floor. She is a loving mother to their son.
Kennedy says he is lucky - he has a shot. 'I want to make it,' he says quietly. 'I don't want my son to grow up without a father.'
But the lure is there. One can see it in his eyes, and one can hear it in his voice. In the EK, Kennedy is a leader to be respected, the owner of the original shield. In his circles, this is akin to being the president.
Without the EK, he is just another convicted felon living in his mom's basement, where a rusting weight set bides time with boxes of laundry detergent.
His son comes running in, and throws himself on the floor. He folds his 3-year-old legs, dressed in blue sweatpants, under his body, and turns his bright face to his father. He listens as Kennedy sings about a coming race war.
'That's your song, daddy,' he says.
From prison to the outside
A few years after its prison birth, the EK hit the streets, thanks to paroled members like Kennedy. Depending on the account, the gang organized in 2001 to 2002, bringing its command structure to Portland.
The gang set up operations in a series of houses. One such house is near Southeast 142nd Avenue and Stark Street. An EK member painted the bottom of the empty swimming pool with a large EK symbol (the symbol has since been painted over). Inside, EK members listen to a police scanner. When they hear a friend is about to get nabbed, they call and warn him.
The gang targets the homes of other criminals and moves in on them. 'The place is taken over,' explains a member. 'That person won't call the police. They utilize that place into whatever they want it to be.'
EK members use a secret code. One begins the sentence; the other finishes. 'Every time there is a meeting it is top secret,' explains a member. As in prisons, a Table of Four controls the gang. Robison confirms that table members have included Kennedy, himself and a man called Milo.
At the meetings the followers hand over money and stolen goods. According to Robison, the leaders also direct their followers which crimes to commit.
'I told Dave and Milo we got to stop sending guys out to do things that will get them 10 to 15 years hard time,' Robison says. 'It's different in prisons because you do something to prove your loyalty and you get sent to the hole. Outside we have guys earning their shields doing things they could be going to prison for.'
Inside prisons, the EK is an exclusively male organization. But outside, women are encroaching. Robison says female associates are given a shield with the letters FW inside. F is for feather - prison slang for female. W is for wood - prison slang for white.
EK recruits new members in the community; one member claims it recruits in Portland high schools. As in prison, new members are called prospects, and have to prove themselves for a year. 'You don't ask to join the EK, you get invited,' Robison says.
A valid question, however, is just how many young men are eager to join a gang that requires committing serious crimes simply to prove themselves. In prison, the EK can be boss cons. But on the streets they need other reasons for new members to join, and the threat of prison time isn't a good one.
Robison himself is 27 and looks older, with his shaved head and cauliflower ears. The words PURE EK are tattooed on his fingers. EUROPEAN marches up one forearm; KINDRED runs up the other.
The words WHITE PRID are arched across his upper back. The E didn't quite get finished; he says he got caught getting the prohibited tattoo and sent to the hole. He has the EK shield on his calf.
Robison says his first hard time was at age 19 for carjacking. It was during his many years in prison he met the EK. He joined in 2001.
The gang offered a sense of identity and purpose. 'It was about doing things for the betterment of your race,' he says. The EK inside, he says, does lots of good things, like protecting inmates from rape.
Group has religious angle
As with Kennedy and other EK members, Robison follows a faith called Odinism. The religion plays a crucial role in EK beliefs.
In an odd twist, a series of legal rulings allowing inmates to worship as they please has contributed to the rise of the EK. Prison doors have been opened to religions from Krishna to Odinism.
An Oregon Department of Corrections handbook on religious beliefs defines Odinism as a 'pagan religion' based on Norse mythology. Followers worship Norse gods such as Thor and Odin, and celebrate European heritage. Robison says they have blots, or ceremonies, in prisons.
While Odinism outside prisons is not inherently racist - many followers say they are folkish, not racist - the faith is popular with white supremacists. The Portland skinhead group Volksfront, for instance, is largely Odinist.
Inside prisons, the EK has found Odinism a recruitment tool for white inmates. 'They go inside, discover their heritage,' Kennedy says. 'Then they join the EK.'
When Robison was released he was ornamented with racist tattoos. He regrets the tattoos on his hands: They made it hard to get a job. It was easier, as it turned out, to commit crimes.
He moved into an EK apartment, he says, where meth and crime were constants. He describes a life of drugs, money and armed robberies.
It took 18 months for him to land back in jail.
Asked what he wants the public to know about the EK, Robison talks about the gang's harsh treatment of informants. 'Other groups have a snitch, they push them out,' he says, with a level look. 'We clean up our own messes.'
This apparently includes a witness in his case, who, he claims, is planning to testify against him. 'Some of the homeboys, they're saying, 'We're going to break her jaw, we're going to cut her hair, and beat her up,' ' he says. 'I told them to stay away.'
His current charges threaten to put him away for 27 years, he says.
He doesn't seem unhappy at the idea. He is EK, after all.
'We're the biggest, most powerful gang inside,' he says with assurance, showing a broad smile.
But on the streets the EK seems under strain. Paranoia and suspicion are rampant. One week the gang accuses one member of being an informant; the next, someone else is a target.
Considering their penchant for assaulting snitches, this makes for tense times. Robison tells about an EK member who recently was punished by having his shield tattoo removed with a Dremel tool - a high-speed rotary grinder that can be used to cut steel.
Leadership in flux
With Kennedy under close supervision, the EK seems to be looking for a new top dog. Stepping into the role may be a man in his late 30s or early 40s with a face showing the seamed road of years of meth, incarceration and crime. He wears a large EK medallion around his neck.
For the purpose of this story he calls himself Olim. Spelled in reverse this is Milo.
He says he is off paper, meaning he is no longer under the supervision of the parole board. As a result, his actions go largely unwatched.
His last prison stretch was for manufacturing a controlled substance, he says. It was in prison he met the EK. Before the EK, he claims, prison guards disrespected the white inmates. 'They don't hassle us anymore,' he chuckles.
Like other EK members, he eventually left prison, but he never left the EK. He believes that the EK is about brotherhood, and white pride. He balks at the description of the group as a gang. 'It's supposed to be a movement,' he says.
Asked about the home invasions, he mutters, 'I don't like that.' He says he is 'going to clean up our backyard' and refers ominously to 'troublemakers.'
The man called Olim says he wants to take the group in a positive direction. He appears genuine in this desire. But then he begins talking about all the guns the EK has, and how he could fill a ditch with those guns.
As gangs often find, the promise of riches is an illusion. Olim might wear a gaudy medallion and brag about guns, but he doesn't have a valid driver's license, and he needs a friend to give him a ride.
He explains how most EK members come from 'destitute' backgrounds and the impact of the methamphetamine epidemic on their community. Another member says that 95 percent of the gang uses meth.
The drug consumes their earnings, leaving them crime rich and dollar poor. 'It's a bad cycle,' Robison says. 'You got to get the money for the dope and you got to get more dope to make you able to do what you need to do.'
Cops have kept track
Lights flash in the back window. Spending time with the EK, as it turns out, also means spending time with the police.
The officer pulls over the car. His name is, fittingly enough, Officer Law. He wants to know why this reporter was in a certain house, what she was doing, and who else was there. You can't really blame him.
Police have been fighting the EK since the beginning. 'I can't say enough about the cooperation between agencies. Law enforcement hopped on them before they ever hit the streets,' Cancio says. 'We've stayed on top of them.'
According to Robison, Portland police recently swept the Southeast 142nd Avenue house with a SWAT team and tear gas. Inside the house, he says, the police found an arsenal that included bulletproof vests.
As often as the police may arrest members of the EK, putting them in prison has been another challenge. 'There were no willing victims, no prosecutable crimes,' Cancio says of his years fighting the EK.
He remembers just one courageous old lady - the woman Kennedy assaulted - who was willing to stand up in court and testify.
Other witnesses scatter to the winds, unwilling or intimidated.
As of August, the woman Robison is alleged to have attacked could not be reached by law enforcement, according to court documents.
Kennedy says the gang is here to stay, and will be until there are more 'stepping stones' for white convicts to find legitimate employment after prison.
Until then, he claims, the gang will grow. 'All the white guys, they want into the EK now,' Kennedy says. He spits chaw over the side of a house he is working on. He gives his somber face. 'It's going to get worse, a lot worse.'
And then he laughs.
Rene Denfeld is the author of the forthcoming book 'All God's Children: Inside the Dark and Violent World of Street Families,' to be published in February by PublicAffairs Books. Her previous work includes two books, one of them an international best-seller, and articles for The New York Times Magazine. She lives in North Portland with her partner and three children, adopted from state foster care.