Gang violence in the United States is a huge problem. A handful of violent gangs with internecine and brutal networks are responsible for thousands of deaths of both innocents and other gang members every year. It’s no longer a problem that local law enforcement agencies can handle – it’s much bigger than that and the Feds have known this for years. Here are a 10 of the most lethal gangs that the FBI is constantly vigilant of.
The gang known as Mara Salvatrucha or MS 13 is known to have about 10,000 members and it’s one of the most dangerous and violent gangs in operation today. They are operational in over 40 cities around the United States. This gang was founded in the Salvadoran immigrant community of Los Angeles in the 1980s, but their illicit operations stretch deep into north, east and southern states of the country. They specialize in all types of illegal behavior: drug trafficking, murder, extortion, racketeering and even child prostitution. The gang has even become a major force back in their native country of El Salvador because of the large amounts of gang members that have been deported back to their country. Their reach even influences the ruling political parties of El Salvador. In 2012, the Obama administration officially declared MS-13 to be an “International Criminal Organization.”
The 18th Street Gang goes by other nicknames like the “Barrio 18” or the “M-18” and it is a huge youth gang in the United States, Central American and even Canada. The FBI has been waging a major war on this gang since the 1990s in an attempt to root out their influence in all kinds of illegal activity: drug sales, murder-for-hire, prostitution, extortion and kidnapping. Most of their members tend to be of Mexican descent, but in recent years, they have become open to other nationalities as well. The Barrio 18 gang considers the MS 13 to be its arch rival and disputes between these two collectives have resulted in several gang murders over the years. Currently, the membership of this gang across the United States numbers in the tens of thousands and the FBI knows it always needs to keep several eyes on this group.
Unlike other gangs mentioned in this piece, the Aryan Brotherhood organization is a gang that has a major stronghold in the federal penitentiary system of the United States. According to the FBI, the gang’s members make up less than 0.1% of the prison population, but they account for 20% of all the murders that happen in jails across the United States. The Brotherhood is also known as The Brand or AB or One-Two has been in operation since the 1960s, and while they origins may have had central themes in common with Nazism, it has evolved into a true criminal syndicate. The AB is particularly scary; one inflexible rule for joining the gang is killing a Black or Hispanic prisoner. Also, once you’re in, you can never leave. The membership of this collective is about 10,000 both in and out of prison, and once you’re part of them, there is no leaving – you are “brotherhood” for life. Actually, last year, the brazen murder of two Texas prosecutors was considered to be the work of the AB. This is certainly one scary bunch.
We might watch shows like the hugely popular Sons of Anarchy on cable and think that these actors are portraying something so farfetched, but the truth is, it’s closer to reality than you might think. An example of a real life motorcycle gang that parallels the SAMCRO version on television is The Mongols Motorcycle Club which was formed in the 1970s in California. They are named of course after Genghis Khan’s ruthless Mongol empire and they are believed to have over 70 chapters spread throughout the nation. They specialize in the distribution and transportation of drugs, money laundering, extortion and armed assaults. They are not on the best of terms with the Hell’s Angels but they do have a good criminal cohort relationship with other motorcycle clubs like the Outlaws, Bandidos and Sons of Silence.
Chicago’s Splinter Gangs:
If you’ve been keeping up with the news lately, you know that the rate of gang violence in Chicago is hopelessly spiraling out of control. Even the hard-nosed mayor Rahm Emmanuel can’t seem to get a handle on the crisis. In 2012, there were 503 murders and in 2013, there were 415 murders. A huge part of this problem has to deal with the gang problem in the city – most specifically on the gritty south side of the city. In the 70s and 80s, bigger and more structured gangs like the Gangster Disciples, The Hit Squad and The Killa Ward were in control. But the Chicago PD did a major sweep and imprisoned a lot of these gang leaders. This has resulted in a more dangerous system of unsupervised splinter cliques with limited turf and no rules of operation. The scariest thing is what with these smaller gangs, there are still as many weapons on the street and the shooters are mostly young 14-year-olds. It’s truly a deplorable state of affairs.
The notorious Bloods gang started off in the 1960s in Angeles, and eventually spread to several prisons in Texas in the 1980s. Ever since its inception, the Bloods gang (whose color is red) has had an arch rival in the form of the Crips (whose turf color is blue). The East Coast Bloods started in NYC a couple of decades later and has become an influential criminal enterprise in its own right. Actually just last year, a judge in Manhattan sentenced Omar Portee, one of the founders of the East Coast Bloods to 50 years in jail. In that trial, prosecutors proved that the East Coast Bloods gang was the largest, violent street gang in New York City and that it shared similar criminal and violence ideologies with the West Coast gang of the same name.
The Mexican Mafia:
The Mexican Mafia is a gang that has deep roots in the penitentiary system of America. It traces its origins back to the 1950’s and back then it was largely centered in the California Department of Corrections. It also goes by other names like EME or Emeros. Before members can join the MM they have to pass loyalty tests and these include cruel and criminal acts like beatings, thefts or even murder. The MM is also known to maintain a strong code of intra-gang ethics. For example in 1997, after a botched robbery by two gang members in Texas, the two culprits were quickly executed. One of them was found choked, stabbed and run over by a car and the other was found stabbed to death. The Mexican mafia is active in all kinds of illegal activities: drugs, racketeering, paid hits, fraud and have operations in several states including Florida, California, Arizona and Texas.
Rollin’ 60 Crips:
The Rollin’ 60 Neighborhood Crips is one of the major gangs operating out of Los Angeles. This gang is a splinter group of the notorious Westside Crips, and their formation goes back to the late 1970s. As far as their membership, it is believed that they have more than 2,000 members mostly recruited from the Westchester and Crenshaw neighborhoods of Los Angeles. With regards to criminal activities they partake in, the 60s are known for their involvement in bank-robberies, car-jackings, deadly weapon assaults, home invasions and even rapes. They have also been known to get into blood feuds with rival gangs like Inglewood Family Gangster Bloods and the Neighborhood Pirus.
This is another gang that is certainly of major concern to local and even international law enforcement organizations. Barrio Azteca or Los Azteca is a violent street gang with several thousand members operating out of southern states like New Mexico and Texas and even East Coast states like Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. The members of this gang even wield influence in Juarez, Mexico – where they have another 5,000 or more members. The reason this gang is so dangerous is that they are affiliated with the ruthless Juarez Drug Cartel in Mexico. This cartel has a militant arm called La Linea, and this sub-collective often hires gangsters and thugs from Barrio Azteca to do their dirty work. The gang is has been implicated in cocaine trafficking, high profile murders and even prison massacres. They are definitely not the crowd you want to be mingling with.
Most of the jail gangs already discussed started in Western and southern states. However Trinitarios is a gang that was formed in New York City. The group is comprised mostly of Dominican immigrants and it officially became active in 1989. This gang is considered as one of the fastest growing in the country – there are members in all the five boroughs of the city and a slew of other states including New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio. This gang is considered to be particularly violent; in 2012, dozens of members of the Bronx chapter were rounded up for their involvement in nine murders and 24 attempted murders. They are also very active in drug trafficking, specializing in marijuana, crack cocaine, powder cocaine and oxycodone.
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