On a bright Thursday in June 2011 in north Texas, a man named Terry Sillers led police on a high speed chase. Riding a motorcycle, Sillers sped along nearly empty freeways. The wind whipped up the back of his untucked shirt. Police cars trailed behind him, and several helicopters followed him overhead, capturing his joyride on video.As far as police chases go, it was a relatively tidy one. It ended after Sillers pulled over into a breakdown lane. An unmarked police pickup truck pulled up behind him, and a plainclothes officer leapt out, ran up to Sillers, and tackled him. They both tumbled to the ground, and then several more officers descended on Sillers.
The chase received some press attention at the time, and an 11-minute clip of the chase, taken from one of the helicopters, was uploaded to YouTube and has been watched more than 1.2 million times. What the video can’t tell you, and what the contemporary news reports did not mention, was that Sillers wasn’t some stick-up guy in a panic or a road-rager having a bad day. The “suspect on a Harley,” as he’s called in the description written by whoever uploaded the video to YouTube, was actually one of the most powerful members of one of the most notorious white supremacist prison gangs in the county. Two days earlier, he had fled from a halfway house in Fort Worth.
Almost exactly one year after the chase, Sillers did something in some ways much more dramatic. This time, the action occurred far from any television cameras. In fact, it occurred in secret. In May 2012, Sillers was charged by federal prosecutors with conspiracy to participate in racketeering activities, including murder, attempted murder, and drug trafficking. On June 28, 2012, Sillers pleaded guilty in the case as part of a plea deal, and agreed to cooperate with the government as well as to testify as needed in cases brought against other members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. After more than a quarter century in the gang, during which time he’d been in and out of prison and risen to the top of the gang’s ranks, Sillers was out.
Sillers’ cooperation only became public in November of last year, after federal prosecutors unsealed and announced a huge racketeering case brought against 34 other members of the gang, including much of its leadership. That case, in turn, hit the national radar only after the recent killings of two county prosecutors in Kaufman County, Texas. The Kaufman County District Attorney’s office was part of the multi-agency task force — which included the FBI, the ATF, the Texas Rangers, and the Texas Department of Public Safety — that worked on the racketeering case. While no hard evidence has been found, or at least announced, tying the gang to the killings, investigators have conducted prison interviews with gang members, and speculation about the gang’s involvement has persisted.
Whether or not the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas had anything to do with the Kaufman killings, the gang’s violent nature is not in question. Members have been accused of a range of serious crimes, including murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, assault, narcotics distribution, weapons trafficking, arson, and counterfeiting. By one count, the gang’s members have been responsible for more than 100 killings since its formation, many of which have been internal. Last year, the Anti-Defamation League called it the “most vioÂlent extremÂist group in the United States.” And last week, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Texas who had been working on the racketeering case withdrew, citing security considerations in an email to defense lawyers. Sillers, meanwhile, has been in protective custody since the summer, his location a mystery even to his attorney.
“He’s probably the biggest target the Aryan Brotherhood has right now,” Siller’s court-appointed lawyer, Katherine Scardino, told TPM in an interview this week.
Several years ago, while he was a prisoner at a medium-security federal prison in Beaumont, Texas, Sillers had a profile page on the website of a group called Voice for Inmates, which facilitates correspondence with prisoners. On his page, Sillers’ height was listed as 5 feet 6 inches, his weight as 180 pounds, and his race as Caucasian. He indicated that he was looking for a female pen pal.
“Old School Peckerwood doing time in the Federal system,” Sillers wrote, describing himself in a message included on the page. “Born & Raised in Ft. Worth Texas… You write I’ll respond.”
In booking photographs taken years ago, a young Sillers appears trim and clean cut, with thick brown hair and soft brown eyes. But Sillers, who goes by the name “Lil Wood,” is 48 years old now, and the years have started to show. In more recent photographs, his face is fuller, the lines in it deeper, bits of grey just starting to sneak into his hairline. Somewhere along the way, he picked up a tattoo on the front of his neck: the letters “AB,” for Aryan Brotherhood, inset in the state of Texas, which is on fire.
As detailed in the federal indictment filed against him last May, Sillers’ association with the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas stretches back almost three decades, to the gang’s early years in the 1980s. In the indictment, federal prosecutors provided a terse account of the violence Sillers both administered and received over the years, and traced his steady rise through the gang’s ranks.
“Beginning on a date unknown to the Grand Jury,” the indictment reads, “but at least as of in or about 1985, and continuing through on or about the date of this Indictment, in the Southern District of Texas and elsewhere, the defendant, Terry Glenn Sillers, a/k/a ‘Lil Wood,’ being a person employed by and associated with the [Aryan Brotherhood of Texas], an enterprise engaged in, and the activities of which affected, interstate and foreign commerce, and others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, did knowingly and intentionally conspire to conduct and participate, directly and indirectly, in the conduct of the affairs of the enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity.”
In 1985, when he was 20 or 21, Sillers became a gang “prospect.” Over the next few years, according to prosecutors, Sillers committed five assaults on prison inmates, and he earned his “blood-tie” in the gang by attempting to kill a rival gang member. By 1987, Sillers was a “fully-made” member of the gang,Â and by 1992, he had been named an “inside” lieutenant. Along the way, prosecutors said, Sillers and other members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas were also dealing methamphetamine.
By the end of 1994, Sillers was a captain and controlled all Aryan Brotherhood of Texas activities in a state prison in Dalhart, Texas, where he ordered assaults on rival gang members.Â A few years later, Sillers took control of the gang’s activities at a state facility in Mineral Wells, Texas. There, between March and September 1999, he ordered subordinates to attack and kill other inmates.
In 1999, apparently out of prison for a stretch, Sillers was promoted to “outside” major.Â He allegedly presided over regular Aryan Brotherhood of Texas meetings, known as “church,” where the gang hashed out its plans and administered punishment to members in the form of beatings.
In March 2000, Sillers attempted to kill a fellow Aryan Brotherhood of Texas member, according to federal court records. That same year, the gang split into two rival factions, each of which targeted members of the other for death. In 2005, Sillers issued an order to kill a person believed to be a member of the rival faction. Between 2007 and 2010, Sillers also sanctioned stabbings of rival gang members and prisoner inmates.
According to prosecutors, Sillers became one of gang faction’s five generals in April 2008. Sillers and the other four generals made up the gang’s “steering committee,” also called the “Wheel,” and Sillers oversaw the gang’s activity in the federal prison system. But his high rank did not make him immune to the violence that swirled around him. In January 2009, according to court documents, Sillers’ fellow gang members tried to kill him. About a year later, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas’ leadership issued an order to kill those responsible.
In January 2012, before the government announced that he was cooperating in the racketeering case, Sillers appeared at a federal sentencing hearing in connection with the previous year’s motorcycle chase. His father, Johnny Sillers, was present in the courtroom, and spoke on his son’s behalf. (Johnny Sillers declined to comment for this article.)
“I have a two bedroom home and been married 14 years,” Johnny Sillers told U.S. District Judge Terry Means. “And I would like for him to come live with us when he’s released.”
Means responded by saying it was his understanding the Sillers and his father did not have a close relationship when Sillers was young, but that they had reconciled in recent years.
“Yes, sir, that’s correct,” Johnny Sillers said.
“And you’re now stepping forward trying to help him out?” Means asked.
“Yes, sir,” Johnny Sillers said. “His mother passed away about four years ago, and he lost his sister two years ago this month.”
“All right,” Means said. “I interrupted you. Did you want to finish saying something else?
“No, sir,” Johnny Sillers said.
It’s still unclear what motivated Sillers to cooperate with the government. Just a month before the motorcycle chase, in May 2011, Sillers allegedly ordered the beating of a fellow Aryan Brotherhood of Texas member. Even Scardino, his lawyer, can’t quite say what turned him. According to Scardino, Sillers had agreed to a deal with the government before she was appointed to the case.
“I’m totally guessing,” Scardino said, “But I know the government says, ‘If you don’t talk, the other guys are going to talk. The person who talks first gets the best deal.'”
Scardino, who emphasized that she does not know where her client is being held, has not had much contact with Sillers since he went into protective custody. But they met several times before he was swept away.
“He’s a very personable, sunny guy,” she said. “He’s not an ogre. He doesn’t look — he’s obviously got tattoos, they all have tattoos — but he’s a real easy to talk to guy. Not threatening, and not criminal acting or sounding. He sounds like maybe you and me if we were just having a conversation under different circumstances.”
TPM asked Scardino how she thought Sillers felt about his decision to cooperate.
“He was nervous about it,” Scardino said. “You know, he was concerned about staying alive.”