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Newsom allows famous Aryan Brotherhood dropout to be paroled

By Nate Gartrell

Bay Area News Group

SACRAMENTO>> After nearly 45 years in prison for two murder convictions, a former high-ranking Aryan Brotherhood member who turned on the gang and cooperated with authorities has been freed from prison. Michael Lynn Thompson, 67, was tentatively granted parole back in April, after describing to commissioners how he did not fight back during a 2015 attempt on his life, in keeping with his, “vow of nonviolence.” Gov. Gavin Newsom could have reversed the decision, but instead took no action, allowing Thompson to be released.

Thompson was paroled Aug. 12, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. His current whereabouts haven’t been made public, and his status as a dropout makes him a target for murder by the Aryan Brotherhood or its allies. Thompson was granted parole despite denying he was directly responsible for the two murders he was convicted of in 1975.

Thompson was bestknown for participation in documentaries on the Aryan Brotherhood, including a 2007 episode produced by National Geographic. In them, he describes being granted membership into the notorious white supremacist prison gang despite being half Native American. He told the parole board he was recruited by several prison gangs upon entering the state prison system in 1975; he was 6′ 4′, could bench about 600 pounds, and was a skilled knife fighter.

“There was no sneaking behind somebody and hitting them or anything else,” Thompson said. “If I called a man out, and he didn’t have a knife, I gave him a knife and we went head up, and that’s the way you did it back then.”

The Aryan Brotherhood, also known as the AB and The Brand, started in the California prison system in the 1960s. Its members use the shamrock as a symbol, but also sport swastika tattoos and other Nazi symbolism. Its members are trained to commit horrific acts of violence that will scare others from challenging them. In June, federal prosecutors linked 24 members and associates to four murders and five murder plots throughout California.

Thompson’s decision to drop out and cooperate with police in the early 80s shook up the structure of the Aryan Brotherhood and led to several prosecutions. He cited the actions of Curtis Price — an Aryan Brotherhood hitman who killed a dropout member’s father — as his reason for leaving the gang.

Since dropping out, Thompson has testified as a prosecution witness, and in one case was snuck into a courthouse through a hollowed-out vending machine, because of concerns he would be assassinated.

After leading the gang, he vowed nonviolence, a pledge that was tested when a Mexican Mafia hitman attacked him in 2015. Thompson told the parole board he disarmed the man, but chose to lay down on top of the weapon rather than fight back.

“There was a window of opportunity. I saw it. I played it through in my head. I knew what I could do to him,” Thompson told the parole board. “And instead, I took the weapon, and I put it underneath me, and I laid down until staff got there. And that was in keeping with my vow of nonviolence.”

That incident was cited by commissioners as a reason for granting Thompson parole. It was the first time he was granted parole, after more than a dozen denials going back to the mid-1980s.

Thompson, along with John Solis, was convicted of murdering Rue Steele and Butch Nunley, two alleged marijuana traffickers who owned ranches in Southern California. According to authorities, Thompson wanted to move in with Nunley’s wife, so to get him out of the way he invented a bogus story that Nunley and Steele wanted to kidnap Solis’ children. Solis believed Thompson and told him and another man, Mike Sesma, to kill Nunley and Steele.

Thompson’s story is very different. He says he heard that Solis’ kids were in danger of being kidnapped so he warned Solis. Weeks later, he says he was working at a pigsty at the ranch when another man told him not to dig too deep because two bodies were buried there.

“I’ve never killed anybody,” Thompson told the parole board.

In April, Newsom denied parole for Rene Enriquez, who is more or less Thompson’s counterpart in the Mexican Mafia. Like Thompson, Enriquez was a high-ranking member of his prison gang, who dropped out and began cooperating with police. Like Thompson, Enriquez was convicted of two murders, and is believed to have knowledge of dozens more. Enriquez has been tentatively granted parole several times.

In April, Thompson told the parole board he planned to work with Live, Learn and Prosper, a nonprofit he founded that preaches nonviolent means to conflict resolution, with a curriculum geared toward incarcerated people.

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