03/23/2013 12:16 pm ET Updated May 23, 2013

Mental Illness and Racist Prison Ties Yield Clues to Fatal Rampages


Evan Ebel, 28, the primary suspect in the brazen murders of Colorado Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements, 58, last Tuesday and a Domino's Pizza delivery driver on March 17 was tied not only to a violent white supremacist prison gang called the 211 Crew, but also to years of apparent mental illness as well. Ebel died yesterday in a Fort Worth hospital after leading police on a wild 100 mile per hour car chase that ended in a crash and gun battle in Decatur, Texas. A pizza delivery box and uniform found in Ebel's car, as well as other evidence is being investigated for its connection to the two Colorado killings.

Ebel reportedly became associated with the 211 Crew gang while serving time in a Colorado prison, where he became increasingly violent and disturbed. The name 211 refers to the California Penal Code section on robbery. 211 also refers to the first two letters of the alphabet, which are an abbreviation for Brotherhood of Aryan Alliance according to former skinhead T.J. Leyden. White supremacist groups routinely use numbers as shorthand for letter abbreviations. A book immensely popular in the organized hate world called The Turner Diaries, glorifies the violence of a neo-Nazi gang called the Order that engages in robberies, bombings and assassinations of prominent citizens as part of a an anti-government race war. In a violent fictional attack recounted in the book the assailant disguises himself as a deliveryman to bomb FBI headquarters.

"The 211 Crew is known for its paramilitary structure, with members using titles like major, captain and lieutenant, and for elaborate verbal and written codes that all members are required to learn," the Southern Poverty Law Center's Mark Potok explained on a blog posting. The violent group was founded in 1995 in Denver by inmate Benjamin Davis. Davis was subsequently convicted for running a violent criminal enterprise from prison in 2007 and sentenced to 108 years, following a major sweep that netted dozens of other defendants.

The group first made national headlines in 1997 after its members spontaneously killed Oumar Dia, 38, a West African immigrant at a Denver bus stop and severely injured a good Samaritan who came to his aid. Jeremiah "Hooligan" Barnum, a 211 crew leader involved in the Dia killing and convicted of being an accessory, was killed by police in February 2012 following a confrontation. The 211 Crew or its members have been implicated in drug dealings, murders, battery, sexual assault, and racketeering. White supremacist inmates or ex-cons have also been speculated as being behind the recent killing of a Texas prosecutor, although that case remains open.

Like the group he joined in prison, Ebel has a violent history as well that dates back to his late teenage years, shortly before the tragic death of his sister in a car accident in 2004. These include carjacking, self-inflicted gunshot wounds, armed robbery, and assault on a correctional officer. Ebel was released from prison earlier this year after six years confinement, where he was denied parole for being part of the prison gang. In 2011, his father Jack Ebel, testified before the state senate that his son suffered from mental distress that was amplified by years in solitary confinement:

My son, if he were released today, he could not go get a driver's license... He just couldn't. He would not be able to stand in line. If you could get him in there, he'd be paranoid about something...

He may have had mental conditions going on... But they are exacerbated to the point that I hardly recognize my son sometimes. We are creating mental illness. We are exacerbating mental illness.

At the closed 2011 Countering Violent Extremism state/federal law enforcement conference the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism recounted scores of violent incidents involving hate group and anti-government members, as well as the danger of lone wolf shooters with mental illness. Violent psychologically dangerous offenders were highlighted as one of the three main threats of domestic extremists. The ADL on its blog pointed out that there were at least 30 shootouts with law enforcement involving domestic extremists since 2009 including another fatal one this month in Florida.

Ebel, who signed his name "Evil Evan" and sported a tattoo that said "Hopeless," appeared to have been both, despite the best efforts of a nonracist single father. While some are plausibly speculating that the murder of Director Clements was possibly a direct organized hit by a violent gang, the 211 Crew's role could also have been a more nuanced one, of creating a violent lone wolf, from an unstable youth, who would later act on his own against a list of shared perceived enemies.