state corrections official in Colorado. An assistant district attorney in Texas. His boss, two months later. Since January, three justice officials in two different states have been shot and killed in violent assassination-style murders. All three men had been involved in recent attempts to break up white supremacist prison gangs—the Aryan Brotherhood in Texas and the 211 Crew in Colorado. Are the killings a sort of payback? And are they linked?

At this point, there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest that the prison gangs were involved in these killings. The question of whether the Colorado and Texas murders are linked is a little harder to answer.

Let’s begin by noting that “prison gang” is a slight misnomer here. Though the Aryan Brotherhood and other infamous gangs were certainly founded inside prisons, they have long since extended their criminal operations—drug trafficking, extortion, other forms of violent thuggery—to the outside world. A 2006 ABC News story listed the Aryan Brotherhood’s priorities as “making money, exacting revenge, terrorizing the uncooperative and maintaining thriving criminal enterprises inside and outside of prison.” These gangs are tremendously violent—and, since their leaders are already incarcerated, tremendously difficult to control. They also have a history of retaliating against those who have wronged them.