Daily Archives: November 18, 2008

More gang hype?

Every so often you’ll see someone make the case that gangs are the worst threat to the civilized world.  While I certainly agree that gangs can be dangerous and cause a great deal of harm to our society I hardly think they pose an existential threat to our civilization.  The subject of this article seems to disagree and says:

While the public and media are occupied with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the potential conflict with Iran, the downward spiral in Pakistan, and a global economic meltdown, a new, rapidly-evolving danger — narco-cartels and gangs — has been developing in Mexico and Latin America. And it has the potential to trump global terrorism as a threat to the United States.

New?  Really?  Gangs and cartels are new in Latin America and Mexico?  Perhaps if you’re measuring time in geological epochs but otherwise gangs and drug cartels have been around for decades (and, in fact, there’s some argument as to whether drug cartels as we’ve come to think of them have ever existed).

Third generation gangs like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) have transcended operating on localized turf with a simple market focus to operate across borders and challenge political structures.

While it may be possible, I haven’t yet seen any evidence that gangs like MS-13 are monolithic entities with clear hierarchies and/or command.  MS-13 has been the boogy monster of the past few years within the gang community and they have committed some pretty grisly murders.  But I’m not sure they can be considered more than a regional threat (at best) here in the U.S.

Together, the threat they pose is potentially more lethal than Al Qaeda or any other jihadist groups. The gangs and cartels have a ready supply of weapons. Their members are already “radicalized,” and accustomed to sowing mayhem. They have deep networks of support both in the U.S. and abroad. And they blend in perfectly into a thousand neighborhoods across America.

I have problems with virtually every part of this paragraph.  I imagine the threat posed by gangs is different from that posed by terrorists but I’d be interested to see the criteria he used to determine that one is worse than the other.  Yes, weapons are fairly easy to obtain in the U.S. but that does not mean that every gang member has easy access to weapons or that the weapons they do have access to are particularly good.  Once we get beyond the notion that gangs are hive like organizations where weapons, talent and skills are easily transferable with the snap of some crime lord’s fingers the fallacy of gangs sharing their ‘ready supply of weapons’ becomes apparent.   Gangs simply do not operate that way.  Sets of the same gang occasionally work together, sometimes engage in violent competition and usually ignore each other.

I would also argue with the idea that they are ‘radicalized’.  Yes, some may be willing to engage in violence but very few gangs or gang members are particularly ideological and it is exceedingly rare to hear of gang members engaging in criminal actions that were motivated by political beliefs.  Rather, the essence of criminal street gangs is that they totally buy into our current system but try to use their criminality to ‘leap frog’ to the front of the line to accrue money and power they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get.

Also, I’m not at all sure their support network is quite as extensive or deep at his statement implies.

Now, none of this should be interpreted to mean that gangs pose no threat to us but let’s face it, they aren’t the Huns or the Vandels and won’t be sacking Washington D.C. anytime soon.