Among the world's most famous street gangs, one stands out for it's sheer brutality, senseless violence and disregard for the law. The MS-13, officially called the Mara Salvatrucha, are an International street gang with principle roots in Los Angeles, California and El Salvador. The gang originated in the 1980's, and is now active in different parts of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, with a global membership estimated at 75,000 people. The majority of members are of Central American ethnic descent.
Members are known for their full-body tattoos (sometimes, including their faces), their abhorrence of law enforcement, and their fearlessness in the face of violence. The gang use their own version of sign language to communicate amongst each other and certain other allied gangs.
Membership into the gang requires a brutal and intensive initiation process, which is not for the faint of heart. Once initiated, membership is for life, and all members are expected to put the gang's needs above all else. This has resulted in many arrests, and a huge population of MS-13 currently reside on the inside of the dangerous El Salvador jails. A recent crackdown in the United States has seen a similar flux of arrests and incarcerations.
Although we are fascinated with gang activity in pop culture, the realities of gang life are dark and unpredictable. Gang life is anything but glamourous. We have all of the insider information, here are the 15 Horrifying Facts About The World’s Most Notorious Gang The MS-13
15 They Take Their Symbolism Seriously
One of the most striking features of MS-13 gang members is their penchant for tattooing gang related emblems all over their bodies, often, including their faces. Facial tattoos are less and less popular within the gang limits, as they provide identifying criteria to law enforcement agents, leading to more troubles with the police. Many of the gang related tattoos pay hommage to the El Salvador roots, fallen members, or religious icons. The appeal of being heavily tattooed is akin to an image of brutality and fearlessness. Appearing rough and tough is part of the gang tradition; the image is almost as important as what the member is willing to do for his fellow gang members, in the name of defense, honour and pride.
14 Traitors Are Worse Than Enemies
It's no secret that the MS-13 have some pretty intense conflicts with rival street gangs, namely, the 18th Street Gang, another Latin ethnic gang that operates in similar zones. As much as enemies are loathed, there is one category that is seen as more offensive. Traitors. Traitors are gang members that betray the group by either giving up gang secrets to outsiders, cooperating with law enforcement, or refusing to obey the orders given by a higher ranking member. Sadly, traitors are often punished with extreme violence, and sometimes death. Prison is no refuge for those who have gone against the gang, as inside members will get tipped off of their arrival, and make their existence unbearable. The reality is that membership is for life, and a peaceful exit is just not possible.
13 Women Are Not Exempt From The Violence
Certain street gangs have very strict rules when it comes to the treatment of wives, mothers and female children. The "off limits" rule, which is unspoken, but very serious, means that all rival disputes are to be handled within the gang limits. Threats against women are not tolerated. In the MS-13, however, violence against members' families is very real, and often, very tragic. In 2014, 31 year old Milagros Canjura was killed outside of her Long Island home. She was 7 months pregnant. The brutal and senseless murder was later linked to the MS-13. Her husband, who was serving time in jail when his wife was killed, was previously involved in a crime that resulted in the death of another member. Canjura's murder was said to a retaliatory move. Revenge killings are very popular amongst the MS-13. No family members are truly safe.
12 Illegal Immigration
One of the biggest issues surrounding the MS-13 gang is their involvement in illegal immigration and human trafficking. Members have been overseeing the illegal entry of Central American migrants into the United States and Canada. The majority of the illegal aliens are males, within the ages of 15-17, which make them prime candidates for gang recruitment. With little or no contacts on American soil, these rogue teens are the perfect targets for street gangs. The influx of illegal immigrants has heavily contributed to higher membership numbers, and the United States government is cracking down. Homeland Security has beefed up its presence at key entry points, and anyone caught trying to enter the country illegally is brought into custody and sequestered until they provide information about their contacts.
11 They Have Contributed To The High Crime Rate In Central America
The large population of MS-13 members in Honduras and El Salvador has dramatically increased the crime rate, and particularly the murder rate, in these Central American countries. El Salvador has the highest rate of murder per capita in the world, with a shocking 111 murders per 100,000 citizens. This is closely followed by Honduras, who have 64 murders per 100,000 citizens. These numbers are staggering, in comparison to the 5 murders per 100,000 citizens in the United States. They typically use machetes as murder weapons in these countries, making weapon control a complicated matter. Gun laws would do little to lower the incidence of murder. Sadly, the numbers keep going up, as the number of members in this violent gang rises.
10 Many Members Are Ex-Military
One of the reasons that the Mara gang is so violent is because many of the members have military backgrounds. A violent civil war in El Salvador in the 80's and 90's resulted in military training of many citizens. The techniques used in Central American war are far more brutal and inhumane that perhaps any other region. Due to this exposure to extreme violence, gang members have no problem executing people and using extreme brutality during gang fights. When they migrated to Los Angeles, they were instantly set apart from other street gangs, due to their shocking fighting methods. Many rival gangs decided to ally with them, as they definitely didn't want to run into trouble with this powerful and brutal group of individuals. Members of the Mexican Mafia, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Gulf Cartel are amongst their allies.
9 They Have Their Own Prison In San Salvador
MS-13 gang members have their own prison facility on the outskirts of San Salvador, one of El Salvador's most dangerous cities. The prison was originally built to house around 800 inmates, but now holds close to 3,000. The MS-13 members were behaving so aggressively to non-members that they had to isolate them. Further, there are no prison guards inside the facility, as they too were being picked off one by one. The prison is essentially run by the gang, and the Salvadoran army stands guard on the outside of the complex, in the event that inmates try and escape. Despite the extremely violent nature of the gang, operations run quite smoothly on the inside. Everyone fulfills their expected roles; there are teachers, bakers and nurses, like any other prison system.
8 Initiation Rituals Are Savage
One of the most notable traditions of the MS-13 gang are their brutal initiation rituals. Wannabe members must survive vicious beatings and carry out brutal missions in order to be granted membership. Sometimes, initiation is so severe that it requires a would-be member to murder a rival gang member. The gang must be sure that all initiated members are willing to go to any lengths to protect and defend the club. If, during the initiation process, a prospect proves to be weak or unfit, they are not granted membership. The brutal beat-ins are not reserved for the men. Female prospects suffer the same initiation process, sometimes even worse, as the men will join in when a woman is initiated. Some of the women are subjected to gang rape and assaults that are extremely severe. All in the name of belonging to a gang.
7 Trafficking Is Not Their Primary Activity
Many people hold the misconception that the MS-13 gang are heavily involved in trafficking and distributing. Although the illegal paraphernalia business accounts for some of their income, they are primarily funded by income from prostitution rings and human smuggling. They tend to steer clear of bigger, International paraphernalia cartels, and deal more so with smaller scale street sales. Sadly, women are seen as objects within the gang, and are treated horribly. Not only are they used as bait to attract enemies to certain remote locations, the women are seen as disposable. "Trading" a woman or forcing her to do things that she doesn't want to do are all par for the course. This is a real wake-up call for young women who enter the gang expecting that they will be treated with loyalty and respect.
6 They Have A Huge Rivalry With Barrio 18
The biggest rivals of the MS-13 gang are a fellow Latin based group called Barrio 18, also known as the 18th Street Gang. They originally started as a Mexican American in Los Angeles, but over the years, they accepted members with other Latin roots, to keep their membership numbers high. In 2013, the two gangs were able to agree on a truce, but it was extremely short lived. Within a year, they were back to their old ways, and El Salvador saw the biggest rise in gang related murders in history. It was reported that in the month following the dissipation of the truce, approximately 16 people were murdered each day. The rivalry continues, and is a very significant part of the violence associated with these two groups, in the United States, and in Central America.
5 They Are Labelled As A Terrorist Group
As the MS-13 grew in membership numbers, they began to attract the attention of various International terrorist groups. Due to their reputation of violence and brutality, they were seen as potential allies for groups that wanted to infiltrate the continental United States, illegally. Ties to Al Qaida were reportedly first established in Honduras, when an Al Qaida leader visited one of the leaders of the MS-13 gang. They allegedly discussed how the groups could help each other. Although this meeting happened over a decade ago, the Salvadoran government has since designated MS-13 an official terrorist group. Due to the illegal nature of their operations, it's hard to keep tabs on what is going on between the two groups. One thing is for sure, they are both very dangerous.
4 Most Members Are Teenagers
Of the near 75,000 estimated members in the MS-13 today, almost 70% are under the age of 18. Sadly, teenagers are at high risk of joining gangs, because they are easily persuaded that the lifestyle will offer luxury and protection. Furthermore, immigrants that arrive from Latin America often have very little contacts, or prospects of work, and fall more easily into gang life. Many of the underage members are used to carry out the most violent crimes, mainly because they have a bigger chance of being given reduced sentences if caught. It is less of a liability for the gang to have young members locked up temporarily, versus older members with criminal backgrounds that would risk doing harder time. Sadly, many of these kids end up murdering, without realizing the personal and legal implications that their actions will have on their lives.
3 The American Government Is Cracking Down
In recent years, the American government has gotten more serious about the reality of street gang violence and crime rates. Many gang members are illegally entering the country and causing chaos on the streets of America. In May, 2017, a huge crackdown on illegal immigrant gang members resulted in the deportation of 1,400 people. Similar crackdowns continue to happen in the busy hubs of New York and Los Angeles. If undocumented immigrants are found, they are prosecuted and quickly deported back to their countries of origin. The number of police officers and guards at popular entry points has been seriously amplified. It's no secret that Trump wants to solve the problem of illegal immigration to the United States, but it remains a complex issue that doesn't have one simple solution.
2 They Are A Minority In The Gang World
Despite their reputation, and being Internationally recognized, the MS-13 gang is still relatively small in comparison to other violent gangs in the United States. With an estimated 10,000 members in the continental United States, they make up approximately 1% of all gang members. Although the gang's overall numbers have risen in the past years, most of this growth has happened in Central America. Heavy deportation rates are causing the gangs numbers to stay where they are, and more exposure means more arrests. The MS-13 might be violent and aggressive, but they also aren't very mysterious. Their obvious tattoos and easy to track gang hangouts make them an easy target for law enforcement agents. Further, rival gang members can easily tip off the authorities to their activities and whereabouts.
1 They Are Represented In Film
As the MS-13 gains popularity in mainstream culture, they are becoming the subjects of popular films and music. In 2009, Sin Nombre became the first film to focus almost entirely on the MS-13 gang life in Honduras and the United States. The film follows a young girl, trying to make it to America with her father and uncle. When her father dies, and her uncle is caught by authorities, she befriends a member of the MS-13, whom she continues her journey with. The film offers a very realistic and eye-opening account of the realities of life for many youth that get involved in violent gangs at a young age. Coupled with the stresses of having to flee their native countries to start a new and uncertain life in America, these kids have no choice but to be tough on the inside, and the outside.
SOURCES: abc7ny.com, ranker.com, time.com