An Infamous Murder and Asatru in Prison

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  May 3, 2013 — 13 Comments

On March 19th, 2013, a man who officials believe to be Evan Ebel went to the home of Tom Clements, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, and assassinated him in his doorway. The alleged killer, shot dead during a high-speed chase, was a member of a white supremacist prison gang, and officials are still trying to determine whether this was an ordered “hit” on behalf of a client, or if it stemmed from some personal motivation. The nature of the murder shocked many, and garnered national attention due to a recent rash of law enforcement assassinations. Now, as the Colorado Department of Corrections releases more documents relating to Ebel, we now discover that he considered himself a Heathen, and made a complaint relating to acquiring religious literature.

Evan Ebel

Evan Ebel

“New documents released by the Colorado Department of Corrections show the man believed to have killed Colorado Prison Chief Tom Clements practiced a controversial form of religion behind bars. While behind bars before he became a murder suspect, Evan Ebel adopted a religion that is popular among white supremacists. In documents filed with the Department of Corrections he complains about religious literature that was taken from his cell. That literature was related to what’s called Asatru; Ebel called it his official religion.”

That was from a CBS Denver affiliate, who also interviewed Valgard Murray of the Asatru Alliance.

“You cannot practice the religion of Asatru and be a hateful, bigoted person. It’s just not part of our value system.”

The only other news outlet that has noticed Ebel’s religion (so far) is The Colorado Independent, which mention it in the context of a number of grievances he had made while incarcerated in solitary confinement.

“The subjects of his grievances included problems sending and receiving mail and DOC’s decision not to let a woman visit him on grounds that her driver’s license wasn’t valid. Ebel complained about what he called inadequate medical treatment for a knee problem, tremors and spasms, intestinal issues, a colostomy bag and a persistent eye infection. He grieved that the prison censored his “Resistance” magazines, a publication popular among white supremacists. And he decried the confiscation of his literature about Asatru, a faith based on Northern European white lineage that Ebel listed as his religion. He complained about the cost of canteen items, and the lack of food products with protein for sale to prisoners. He grieved about his laundry going missing.”

While Ebel was certainly a troubled and violent individual who had earned his time in prison, some are now questioning whether the treatment Ebel was given pushed him over the edge. Unbalanced to a point where he was completely unready for freedom, once given, and filled with a rage he could not control.

“Anderson’s long history of mental illness and the 16 years he has spent in so-called administrative segregation were the subject of a federal lawsuit against the Department of Corrections, which he won in September. Anderson sued the state for depriving him of sunlight, fresh air and mental health treatment, including medications that would help him earn his way out of isolation. The prison’s refusal to provide outdoor exercise to prisoners at the facility amounted to what U.S. District Judge Brooke Jackson ruled was cruel and unusual punishment.”

Ebel himself requested help in transitioning to the outside world, requests that were denied on procedural grounds.

“Do you have an obligation to the public to reacclimate me, the dangerous inmate, to being around other human beings prior to being released and, if not, why?”

No doubt some will use the revelations of Ebel’s religion as further proof of a racist and violent ideology, but I see it as a tragic and lost opportunity. What if Ebel had access to regular chaplaincy services from an reputable Asatru organization dedicated to helping him reintegrate?  Could the alleged murders he committed, and his own death, have been avoided given proper medical treatment and counseling from leaders in his chosen faith? Perhaps Ebel was too twisted by his gang affiliations, and his own instability, to have been helped, but would it have hurt to allow him supervised religious fellowship? Individuals who loved that same gods, but rejected the violent and racist path he had traveled?

This is not a “bleeding heart” argument, but a pragmatic one. If prison merely makes murders, rapists, and other criminals more hardened, more entwined with criminal organizations, then how can we ever expect to make society better by sending hundreds of thousands of men and women there each year? It is common sense to want prisoners to be rehabilitated, and one method is to allow more robust access to minority religion chaplains. To give them a lifeline that is not tied to gangs or extremist ideology.

According to available data, there could be as many as 40,000 modern Pagans currently incarcerated in the United States and more than a third of prisons say their Pagan populations are growing. Yet the vast majority of prison chaplains are Christian, and of that number an impressive 44% are Evangelical Christians. If we are to reach these troubled Pagans and Heathens behind bars we must advocate for better access, equal treatment behind bars, and build better chaplaincy-building infrastructures within our own communities. If we don’t we will simply revisit the accusations that Pagan faiths in prison are tied to extremism, and lurid details to flesh out tabloid reporting, each time a crime is committed by a former inmate.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Kullervo

    First, all of your data comes from the Pew survey of prison chaplains, which tells us a lot about prison chaplains’ perceptions of inmate religion, but is in no way a reliable census or other primary source of data regarding actual inmate religion.
    Second, you are comparing the religious demographics of prison chaplains (vast majority Christian, 44% evangelical) to (hypothetical) raw numbers and growth of pagan inmates. That’s not comparing apples to apples.
    The issues are (1) whether the religious demographics of prison chaplains match the religious demographics of inmates (if 43-46% of inmates are evangelical, then the numbers may actually be perfectly appropriate), and (2) whether inmates have appropriate access to chaplains of their religion (which numbers don’t necessarily tell us the whole story about).

  • GimliGirl

    Great coverage, and an excellent point is made in the second last paragraph there. We need to push for better chaplaincy services for ALL people, and better prison conditions period, if we want prisons to be more than just punishment.

    • Charles Cosimano

      Of course the taxpayers don’t want the prisons to be anything more than punishment and really could not care less what happens to the inmates.

      • Hecate_Demetersdatter

        I pay a lot of taxes and I disagree.

        • Yes, I do as well. But I think Mr. Cosimano is perfectly correct in his assumption that this is the attitude of the general public right now. Inmate advocacy is very low on the list of priorities for the average citizen, and rehabilitation as an idea is non-existant to a prison system that is quickly turning into a for-profit business.

  • Charles Cosimano

    Given the demographics of the prison population, it would be surprising if the actual numbers of Pagan inmates would be much higher than the Pew numbers indicate.

  • “You cannot practice the religion of Asatru and be a hateful, bigoted person. It’s just not part of our value system.”

    Cue the chorus of predictable “No True Scotsman!” blather. The thing is, either Heathens and Pagans have principles that we believe in, or we don’t. I say we do.

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    This is not a “bleeding heart” argument, but a pragmatic one

    I agree.

  • Anonymous Pagan Organizer

    Sometimes prisoners contact my org looking for religious resources. We run background checks before deciding whether to help them. I advise people to do this before allowing prisoners to affiliate. While some are unjustly imprisoned, or nonviolent offenders who can be helped, many more are there because they have committed brutally violent crimes and will re-offend when released. Think of how it will look if they re-offend while telling the press they belong to your group. Or if they decide to re-offend on someone in your group. Or if your children are their next victims. Sadly, I have seen this happen.

    We have heard from prisoners who’ve made themselves sound like great guys, then the criminal check reveals they “great guy” raped a kid or similar. Help those who can be helped, but don’t be naive or open to being victimized. Some of the prisoners who will write are very skilled at manipulating and looking to re-offend.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Surely it is the ‘dangerous’ ones that need the most help?

    • yrathbone

      Surely this is true for all chaplains. The threat of violence from a violent offender isn’t limited to just the Pagan/Heathen inmates yet somehow the “Big 5” minister to all. I’m not saying this isn’t an issue, just that a mature chaplaincy (which we won’t be able to grow into until after the Five Faiths limitations are put down) has developed ways of working with all prisoners.

  • Chas

    Colorado has Pagan prison chaplains — has anyone asked them?

  • aa