Although many movies and television series attempt to display the numerous dangers of involvement with a criminal organization, the glamorous myth of the gangster lifestyle still endures in 2015. Productions portray a sense of power, drawing audiences into the story by allowing them to vicariously live without compromise, make fast money and run the streets with a squad.
The same myths that lure audiences to fictional shows about criminal groups can also seduce vulnerable, impressionable or power-hungry people who decide that they want to join a gang - especially those who grow up in poverty and broken families. In addition to power and money, recruits feel a sense of security in the fact that they have a new family ready to fight and die together under the same banner.
Loyalty and respect are two of the biggest social currencies within gangsterism, both of which are required to live in the criminal underworld. In order to earn respect and show loyalty, new recruits who wish to join gangs often have to submit to rituals that prove their mettle to the entire crew.
Depending on the group, initiation may involve getting a tattoo, swearing an oath of allegiance or a donation of resources. The most brutal gangs and prison groups up the ante considerably for new recruits, requiring acts of terrifying violence and barbarity to make it as a full member.
Trigger warning: Explicit, violent descriptions follow
14 Baptism In Urine: Hell's Angels
The Hell's Angels are one of the most famous gangs in the world, becoming a household name after numerous run-ins with violence and crime that have cemented their devilish reputation.
Embedding himself into the gang for a year to research Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, Hunter S. Thompson revealed surprising, intimate details about the destructive lives and rituals of Hell's Angels members. Hunter's research ended when he was randomly stomped by a few gang members.
He wrote that the initiation ritual to become a Hell's Angel involved "a bucket of dung and urine...collected during the meeting, then poured on the newcomer's head in a solemn baptismal." Even worse, members are expected to avoid laundering their freshly desecrated gear.
13 Drinking Blood: Traditional Chinese Triad
Chinese Triads rule the underground in much of China, including Macau and Hong Kong. Their traditional initiation rites follows an elaborate set of rituals involving a lot of sacred items from the gang, also requiring a lot of space to perform correctly.
Even though security problems curtailed the detailed ritual for modern inductees, the shortened version of Chinese Triad initiation kept one of the most unsavoury parts of the ceremony.
Those new to the Triad have to drink a potent concoction that contains the blood of other new recruits mixed with his own plasma.
For some new members of the Triad, the worst part of initiation is the memorization and recitation of Triad poems that help identify them as part of the gang.
12 United Blood Nation
The history of New York's United Blood Nation can be traced to Rikers Island prison in 1993, where Deadeye and OG Mack started gathering fellow inmates together. This chapter of the gang grew quickly, becoming one of the largest in the New York state prison system, including at least 500 members. The next largest prison crew are the Latin Kings with 345 or more members.
In order to join the Bloods, members have to prove their loyalty to the gang by successfully pulling off the 'blooding in' part of the initiation. 'Blooding in' happens when a new recruit draws the blood of another inmate, usually by slashing the face with a boxcutter. Blood members identifying an opportunity by yelling "013" before the attack, telling the new recruit to go ahead and draw some blood.
11 Junky Funky Kids
The Junky Funky Kids are one of many gangs in the Cape Flats region of Cape Town, South Africa. This and other gangs in the area end up recruiting boys in high school, especially those who want to escape difficult family and living situations.
Initiation for The Junky Funky Kids follows the 'jumped in' or 'beat in' tradition of gang initiation, requiring the new recruit to survive a beating at the hands of full members for a set amount of time.
The Junky Funky Kids take this to the next step by arming themselves with planks, clubs and other weapons instead of using fists and feet. Gang members form two lines across from each other and the new recruit has to make it through the gauntlet intact in order to prove that they're strong enough to help out a fellow gangster when in need.
10 Mac Baller Brims
Located in the Bronx, the Mac Baller Brims are linked with the Bloods of New York. However, according to news reports, membership in the Mac Baller Brims requires more extreme violence than their affiliates.
In addition to being jumped in, YGs, known in the group as young gangstas, also have to perform a task to prove their worthiness as part of the crew. Sometimes, this involves carrying out an assassination.
One YG, only 14 years old, was required to perform a hit in order to join the gang. He ended up completely missing his target and was eventually hunted down and shot by the police.
9 Elite Boys – Drinking and Hazing
They are not your typical gang-like group, what with all the tattoos, piercings and weapons. In fact, they are practically the exact opposite, yet they have initiation rituals that could easily be compared to those seen in a gang like the Hell’s Angels.
These gang members are a part of a high social class of people in elite schools such as Cambridge University and are regarded as the future influential people of the world. While they may not engage in any criminal activity, what these elite students make prospects do is downright unlawful.
Is there anything more enjoyable than funneling urine down your throat? How about eating a live goldfish? Drinking, eating disgusting combinations of food (raw fish, vinegar and chili milkshakes, anyone?) drinking some more, public humiliation and even more drinking are just a few of the debaucherous rituals needed to gain entry into these prestigious gangs. Some have ended up hospitalized. Others have ended up in France without a single clue of how they got there in the first place. For these prospects, it’s not about the journey, but the destination. Once you’re in, you’re golden.
8 Aryan Brotherhood
Part of the civil rights movement during the 1960s resulted in the desegregation of prisons, with inmates of all races serving their time in the same jail. Instead of state-sanctioned segregation, the inmates took matters into their own hands and segregated themselves into racially-exclusive gangs.
One of those is the Aryan Brotherhood, which started in San Quentin prison in 1964. Within prison, the criminal activities of the gang include male prostitution, drug smuggling and extortion.
New members of the Aryan Brotherhood must 'make their bones' before sharing in the profit and power of the gang. This initiation requires murdering rival gang members and even prison workers.
7 The Latin Kings
Considered one of the most dangerous gangs in the United States, the Latin Kings started in Chicago during the 1940s and has spread to at least 34 states throughout the country. Part of the gang's activities have included consorting with known terrorist groups, stealing military weapons and even the cannibalism of a disobedient member of the crew.
A significant rival of the Latin Kings are the Gangster Disciples, another crew with a large east coast presence. Part of the initiation for new Latin King gangsters involves hunting down members of the Gangster Disciples by flashing GD hand signals. Whoever responds to the hand sign is automatically targeted for a drive-by shooting and the new Latin King recruit is expected to participate in the kill.
6 Roto Gang
The Roto Gang is a crew that operates in the South African city of Randburg, specializing in home burglary and robbery of well-off residents.
A new recruit of the Roto Gang showed up to a meeting expecting to rob the rich, but ended up experiencing a horrific initiation ritual that shocked the entire country.
The leader responded to the slaying of a pair of members by another within the same crew by ambushing the offender during the meeting and shooting him to death while the others spat and kicked at the corpse. The body was then mutilated and dumped on the street with vital organs and appendages missing.
This lead to the decimation of the Roto Gang when the new recruit reported this shocking initiation to the police, resulting in jail for high-ranking members.
5 Numbers Gang
With roots that extend to the late 1800s, the Numbers Gang originated in Johannesburg as a prison gang under the authority of its creator Nongoloza, who dreamed up the laws and structure of the Numbers Gang. Separated into the 26s, 27s and 28s, each branch has specific duties that must be fulfilled.
Part of the initiation rituals involve separating potential Numbers Gang members. An established gangster asks what the new recruit would do if it was raining and he had only one umbrella. If he answers that he would share his umbrella, he's designated for sex work.
If the recruit answers that he would step into the rain with the fellow gang member, the new initiate must then attack a prison guard and endure the subsequent beating without making a sound.
4 Taitung Crime Syndicates - Bombarding Master Handan
What’s the best way to determine who’s going to be the new leader of your crime syndicate? Throwing firecrackers at the candidates, of course!
A practice known as “bombarding Master Handan”, this eccentric ritual originated from the Taiwanese Lantern Festival. Citizens of Taitung County chuck firecrackers at a shirtless man representing Master Handan, the god of wealth. Throwing these small explosive devices at him would supposedly bring people wealth and prosperity.
In honor of their culture, gangs in Taitung adopted the ritual in the 1970s. The person that would endure the barrage of firepower thrown at them for the longest was considered to have what it takes to lead the group. Police put a stop to all the fun as the act was banned in 1984. The ritual was eventually brought back, this time as a way to demonstrate economic might: industry owners would spend thousands of dollars on firecrackers to throw at the unlucky Master Handan as he roamed about their businesses.
3 Knights Templar Cartel - Consuming Children's Hearts
Composed of the remaining members of the now-defunct criminal organisation La Familia Michoacana, the Knights Templar Cartel is a notorious gang known for keeping their members in check through an ethical code based on religious discipline, mirroring the European Knights Templar of the Middle Ages. They preach respect towards women and children while prohibiting drug use and killing. So, what makes them so feared?
One of their initiation rituals involves new members eating the heart of a child procured through their own network of organ-trafficking. It’s a grisly act performed to prove the new recruit’s loyalty to the gang. There’s something inherently evil about eating a human heart, let alone a child’s. Not a single soul would want to mess with a gang who initiates its members through cannibalism.
2 Ku Klux Klan – Cross-Burning
One of the most controversial organisations in US history, the Ku Klux Klan is infamous for its racist views towards African-Americans. The group has committed despicable acts of violence and racism with the goal of “purifying” American society.
Besides their white robes and hoods, the Klan is known for their public activities that include parades and most notably cross-burning. A sacrilegious act for sure, the supposedly Christian members of the Klan justify cross-burning by describing it as “lighting” the religious symbol and not destroying it.
The purpose? Intimidation. This display of symbolism was meant to threaten and terrorize the African-Americans that lived nearby the burning grounds. The act was also featured twice in the highly controversial but critically-acclaimed silent film The Birth of a Nation, which was criticized for its interpretation of US history.
Mara Salvatrucha 13, better known as MS-13, likely started in El Salvador before spreading throughout the rest of North America. The FBI believes that around 10,000 members exist in the U.S. and up to 40,000 operate in Guatemala and Honduras.
Men joining MS-13 endure initiations like being jumped in or committing severe acts of violence. One child recruit was only 11 when he was jumped in by five of the strongest MS-13 gangsters, who beat the kid unconscious.
Females wishing to join MS-13 undergo the most horrifying initiation within the gang, involving several full-fledged MS-13 males forcing themselves on the female recruit as part of a 'sexed in' ritual.