World's most dangerous gangs

Foreign Policy Magazine's roundup of the world's most dangerous gangs kind of stretches the definition of "gang" -- 100,000 armed men, operating in the open with impunity? I'm thinking "army," not gang.
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), United States and Central America

Membership: 70,000 worldwide (60,000 in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, plus 10,000 in 42 U.S. states and Washington, D.C.)

Stronghold: Central America and U.S. suburbs

Known for: elaborate tattoos (which makes ending gang membership almost impossible), suburban bloodshed, and a loose but widespread network of subsidiary groups, perfect for disseminating drugs and brutal violence

Why they’re dangerous: The MS-13 grew out of a posse (mara) of street-tough Salvadorans (Salvatruchas) who fled to Southern California in the 1980s in the wake of El Salvador’s bloody civil war. With each new wave of vulnerable immigrants from Central America, MS-13 grew in strength and breadth, forming a lose cohort of semiautonomous subsidiary gangs across the United States and Central America. Though their hallmark tattoos and violent outbursts dot North America, analysts are still uncertain just how interconnected the maras really are. In the United States, the strongest maras are based in Southern California, the northeast, and the mid-Atlantic, including the Washington, D.C., metro area. Just last spring, Salvatruchas hacked away at a rival gang member in the D.C. suburb of Alexandria, Virginia. But U.S. maras are nothing compared with their counterparts further south. Fueled by gang members deported from the States, maras in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala terrorize police and residents in hundreds of communities across the region.

Link (via Beyond the Beyond)

(Image: Jose CABEZAS/AFP/Getty Images)


  1. On BART the other day, I sat next to a gentlemen who I am pretty sure was one of these fellows. The tear under the eye was particularly unnerving, although he was very polite when he needed to climb past me for his stop.

  2. I seem to think the world is a tad more chaotic of late. Is it any wonder that governments might want to watch their populations with more advanced technology? I’ll take more government intrusion than tolerate more Thug life. I’m too close to it as it stands and it has been shown to be far more detrimental to the local culture than Big Brother has or in all likelihood–would.

  3. This article is a bit light on the background, sensationalizing the violence done by these “gangs” without really any explanation of what they’re about.

    To me, it seems to play into the western idea that gangs are just groups of randomly violent, sociopathic youths.

    For example, Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) can be considered a gang, but they were founded with explicit political demands, and their most well known actions are in pursuit of reform of the corrupt Brazilian prison system. To me, this is important information, and changes my understanding of the group significantly.

    Actually, their coordination of over 70 prison rebellions simultaneous with an urban insurrection using cell phone communication is a pretty fascinating story on it’s own. But my point is that lumping them in with MS-13 is kind of like calling the Black Panthers a street gang.

  4. I haven’t read the full article yet….does it talk about the Bush gang currently holding our country hostage? Because I mean really, is there anyone more dangerous than these bastiges? I don’t think so.

  5. The MS-13 grew out of a posse (mara) of street-tough Salvadorans (Salvatruchas) who fled to Southern California in the 1980s in the wake of El Salvador’s bloody civil war.

    Ahhhh, so we have Ronnie Raygun to thank for these clowns, thanks!

  6. Jeff

    we meet again . . . .

    I’ll take more government intrusion than tolerate more Thug life.

    As evinced frequently on this site and elsewhere, government intrusion and Thug life are getting to be pretty much the same thing. The difference is that the thugs with badges are here for your ‘protection’ as where the thugs described in the article (and the National Geographic doco) are clear about what they’re here for.

  7. Junior Mad Scientist: the irony is horribly entertaining, I know. When the authorities out-thug the criminals, then you know something has gone terribly wrong. I see what’s happened in Detroit which was taken over by thugs. Not nice. I think I would like to see what happens when Judge Dread-esque police take over the place. Just to give it a try. It can’t be worse than what we have now. I’m telling you, rich cities have their troubles, but poor ones are even worse. The criminals run Detroit and no one is going to tell them different. Not our governor, that’s for sure.

  8. Jeff —

    I concur: It’s a shame what’s happened to Detroit. With it’s location, history, and architecture, the city should be a garden spot. Instead . . . *shudder*

    I heard that, before appointing Judges, Detroit was going to test some new-fangled law enforcement initiative called “Robo-Cop.” Sounds interesting. Maybe that will help stabilize things on both sides of the thin blue line. Keep us posted.

  9. Kind of makes you shudder to think about what might happen if the United States ends up accepting a lot of refugees from Iraq…

  10. Jeff
    I would like to see what happens when Judge Dread-esque police take over the place. Just to give it a try. It can’t be worse than what we have now.

    Jeff, you’re a moron and a consistent apologist for the police state. And yeah, it can get a hell of a lot worse, it always does.

    The reason that gangs proliferate is because the rich have decided they are just fine in their private enclaves and that the likes of you and me can go to hell. They reject the taxes needed to properly police a large population. They won’t even pay for bridge maintenance leading to collapsing infrastructure across the country.

  11. I spotted some MS-13 graffiti in the affluent LA suburb of Pacific Palisades about a month ago. My guess is either dumb kids who thought it was funny/cool or gang members going to the beach (?). Still unnerving though.

  12. I recall a radio report last year describing how the gangs weren’t half of what they we’re supposed to be, well not until hyper reactionary government types started screaming about them up and down.

    MS 13 went from being a bunch of nobodies to the gang affiliation of choice.

  13. As udders have mentioned, MS13 is born of Reagan policies.

    If CIA sponsored “terrorism” doesn’t work, “gangs” will be the next sponsored false flag government operation they’ll try on us and add to the mix in order to further ‘justify” our ongoing descent into a police state.

    Americans as a whole are so fucking dumbed down at this point, I bet it’ll work. The “war on terror” sure has so far.

    “Sir, do you have your pass to be out on the streets after curfew?”


    Don’t laugh, only about 4 years ago, I went to a street corner at night to take photos of a “NO U-Turn” sign for a court case I had coming up. I parked legally and shot it at night so there’d be little or no traffic to endanger anyone.

    I barely got off three or four shots, before the first cop car showed up, then two more for “backup”.

    I was forced to show my ID and was “questioned” for taking pictures of a fucking street sign.

    Welcome to America. Home of the brave. Land of the free.

  14. 11: Thank you. As a SE Michigan resident I am not in favor of Detroit or anywhere else in this area becoming a police state, thanks. Work has to be done on the demand side, not the supply. Historically the two major reasons a gang starts is because a) their region requires protection (in the U.S. this usually looks like a few neighborhoods or a section of town the police have more or less abandoned); or b) the people in said region are poor and/or have limited employment options. From there multiple gangs form and the turf wars begin. These social issues have to be addressed, which is no easy task, but without going after the “why” of gangs, they will continue to thrive, regardless of how much police you have on the gang unit.

    13: I have heard similar news, perhaps the same story. Although it makes sense really: the label “one of the world’s most dangerous gangs” is like a pre-packaged recruiting tool for them.

  15. I think one of the most significant things concerning MS-13 and the huge increase in US gang violence was left out. They were started as a response to black and Mexican gangs in LA that were beating up Salvadorians (Mexican gangs are extraordinary racist with a hispanic hierarchy that puts Salvadorians near the bottom).

    At the time US gangs were still fighting with fists bats and the occasional knives. The Salvadorians had seen violence 100 fold greater in their homeland as children. So when they organized, they violence was unimaginable not only to the average joe, but even to “hardcore” gang members.

    Just another example for those who think it is possible to ignore the world’s problems and not have them affect us.

  16. 14: You weren’t forced to show ID, you can’t be in the USofA if you’re simply standing around. The truth is that you CHOSE to bow to their demands and thus, became just another cog in the system you’re decrying.

  17. I am from El Salvador, and I see that these gangs only operates by specific zones, is not a general problem. In our case, we know where to go, and where not :D


  18. #19 posted by fiXedd

    14: You weren’t forced to show ID, you can’t be in the USofA if you’re simply standing around. The truth is that you CHOSE to bow to their demands and thus, became just another cog in the system you’re decrying.

    First of all, fiXedd, you assume (for some strange reason) that I knew at the time it wasn’t lawful for them to demand my driver’s license in that scenario. I had no clue and if you bother to read about nuances of the laws, you’ll find that that even members of the ACLU find it to be a “tricky issue” overall. Case and point:

    I suppose the ACLU is a virtual cog in the system too since they don’t outright advocate that everyone tells the cops to fuck off when asked for ID in the USofA?

    Also, in your haste to chastise me I guess you couldn’t pause to read the part where I wasn’t just “standing around”; I was taking photos in the middle of a street late at night.

    I might also mention this was the same corrupt police force within a corrupt local government (yes, even in the good ole’ USofA, can ya’ believe it, fiXedd?) that basically threatened to harm my friend who attempted to shoot video of them some time earlier while they were using excessive force. He was lucky and all they did was arrest and detain him for no reason and destroy his video tape and threaten him with harm. I can’t remember now if they ever gave him his camera back or not. They also made it clear it would be his word vs. theirs. It was a pretty traumatic experience for him because he felt powerless and it was traumatic for the rest of us who were his friends as well.

    But… would I have shown them my ID if I knew then what I know now? Shit no. I would have let them take me to jail and I would’ve immediately contacted the ACLU.

    Nonetheless, fiXedd… you are right. I am nothing more than a sheep-ass cog in the system and I should shoot myself in the head. Maybe next time I should have an armed stand-off with corrupt cops so I can redeem myself and meet your approval. I’m sure you’ll be there with your head up your ass as backup.

  19. By the way, I just remembered something kind of interesting about MS-13 that wasn’t mentioned in that article.

    They are rather easily identified by their prolific tattoos and that makes them easy targets in El Salvador where the authorities there will sometimes execute them on the spot based on their tattoos.

    The extermination has become such a problem for them that in more recent times, they’ve actually started to downplay the tatts for newer members.

    For the “world’s most dangerous gang” they sure screwed up with that tattoo thing.

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