White supremacist gang members charged in federal drugs and weapons case
Federal authorities in Utah announced a crackdown Friday on 21 white supremacist gang members and associates in the Salt Lake City area who allegedly distributed drugs or illegally possessed guns.
The charges in 15 indictments unsealed Friday target Soldiers of Aryan Culture, Silent Aryan Warriors, and Noble Elect Thugs, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah said in a statement.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force launched an investigation last year, concluding members of the gangs trafficked methamphetamine and firearms, according to the statement.
Investigators said they purchased 1.65 pounds of meth and recovered 15 guns during the operation.
“Many of the defendants have been involved in criminal conduct in Utah communities for many years,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Lawyers for the suspects could not be located for comment, and the Federal Public Defender’s office in Utah did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said 11 of the suspects were arrested Wednesday and the remainder were already in custody this week. “Several are in state custody on other state criminal charges,” it said.
Eleven suspects were charged with distributing 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison if convicted.
Nine defendants were charged with being a felon in possession of a gun, with some facing the additional allegation of having ammunition. The former charge carries a maximum of 10 years in prison on conviction.
Last month FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress “racially motivated violent extremism,” primarily from white supremacist groups, is the most lethal threat facing the nation.
Andrew Blankstein is an investigative reporter for NBC News. He covers the Western United States, specializing in crime, courts and homeland security.
Dennis Romero writes for NBC News and is based in Los Angeles.