Editor’s note: Called “vigilantes” by President Bush?but cheered on by millions of Americans concerned over decades of uncontrolled illegal immigration?the all-volunteer Minuteman Project was founded in 2004 by decorated Marine veteran Jim Gilchrist. Armed with only binoculars and cell phones, Gilchrist and his fellow patriots proved that America’s porous borders could be successfully guarded, and in the process set off a national debate on an issue the Federal government had long ignored. Here is an exclusive excerpt from Minutemen: The Battle to Secure America’s Borders” by Jim Gilchrist and Jerome Corsi.
The efforts of law enforcement officials to bring criminal illegal immigrants to justice have been hamstrung by lax and lenient sanctuary laws. Governments pandering to the huge numbers involved in the “Trojan Horse invasion” have taken the deceptively easy path of political correctness. Today, across the United States, police officers risk heavy penalties if they dare directly ask an illegal immigrant how they got here in the United States.
Commenting specifically about the impact of Los Angeles Police Department Special Order 40, Heather MacDonald, a John M. Olin fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote succinctly:
Law-abiding residents of gang-infested neighborhoods may live in terror of the tattered gangbangers dealing drugs, spraying graffiti, and shooting up rivals outside their homes, but such distress cannot compare to a politician’s fear of offending Hispanics.
Our inability to enforce our own immigration laws is an open opportunity for criminal elements to exploit our weakness. Today, law enforcement at all levels of government is faced with a crisis in containing the nearly out-of-control growth of criminal Hispanic gangs throughout the United States and the movement of massive quantities of illegal drugs across our wide-open southern border.
We discussed the criminal element of the illegal immigrant population with Chris Swecker, an FBI assistant director whose responsibilities include coordinating with the FBI’s newly created MS-13 National Gang Task Force (NGTF) and the FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC).
We asked Mr. Swecker what we could best tell the American public in writing this book. He answered, “Tell your readers that the FBI is open for business. If they identify criminal gang members in their communities, give their local police or the FBI a call. People need to know that the local police and the FBI have teamed up on this. We want their information, their tips, and their calls.”
Hispanic gangs dominate
The FBI estimates that today there are approximately thirty thousand violent gangs in the United States, with 800,000 members impacting 2,500 communities. The growth in Hispanic gangs dominates the gang underground in America today. MS-13, one of the most notorious Hispanic gangs, operates in some 34 different states and the District of Columbia. Even more frightening, the Hispanic gangs in the U.S. have connected with counterparts in Mexico, Central America, and South America. The large Hispanic gangs in the U.S. are in the process of morphing into truly international gangs, causing legitimate concern for the international law enforcement and intelligence communities.
The development of MS-13 in the U.S. represents a new phenomenon in U.S. crime history. MS-13 is no longer just a Hispanic street gang of tattooed delinquents. It has become an international organized crime syndicate. In El Salvador, the country from which MS-13 originated, MS-13 is a political force of sufficient wealth and violence that the gang actually threatens to topple the El Salvadorian government.
We are forced to conclude that multi-state gangs that are becoming international organized crime syndicates are Mexico’s number-one export to the United States. The criminal violence of these Hispanic street gangs and the organized crime drug cartels working with them are the dark underside of the illegal alien invasion that its politically correct supporters want to make sure you know nothing about.
The origin of MS-13 dates back to the 1980s. Formally, the name of the group is “La Mara Salvatrucha,” which has since become slang for “The Salvadoran Gang.” This derives from “Salva,” which is short for “El Salvador,” and “trucha,” meaning “wise guy,” much like the New Jersey working-class Italian mobs have typically designated gangsters.
There are several explanations for why the number 13 became associated with the gang. Some say that the number 13 refers to the letter “M” being the 13th letter of the alphabet. MS-13 gang members, known for their idiosyncratic use of hand gestures, often identify themselves with a stylized hand gesture that forms into an “M.” Others say that the “13” is a reference to 13th Street in Los Angeles. Some claim that the word “mara” comes from a street in San Salvador. The word “mara” itself has now become slang for “gang.”
To understand the origin of MS-13, we have to go back to the 1980s revolution in El Salvador. At that time, the FMLN (the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front or, in Spanish, the Frente Farabundo Marti de Liberacion Nacional), a leftist revolutionary group, was engaged in a violent civil war against the government in El Salvador. Revolutionaries and the government’s military entered homes of opponents and killed whole families. Mutilated bodies left for dead in the street became all too commonplace as the society in El Salvador deteriorated to the point where massacres were everyday occurrences. Those who escaped El Salvador, often children who had witnessed their parents and siblings being murdered, escaped to Mexico, and ultimately to the United States.
The late 1970s through the early 1980s were a period of leftist revolutionary violence throughout Latin and Central America. Styled as revolutionary movements in the style of Fidel Castro or Che Guevara, communists and socialists gave rise to new revolutionary heroes, such as Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Refugees from Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua joined the refugees from the civil war in El Salvador. Many of these Central and Latin American families settled in Los Angeles, where they pushed out poor Mexican residents in areas like Pico-Union to make room for themselves in new Central American barrios. Among the refugees fleeing El Salvador for Los Angeles were members of the ex-revolutionary guerilla forces, who grew up knowing weapons and seeing violence. These displaced refugees from El Salvador formed the nucleus of MS-13.
MS-13 gangster lifestyle
Members of MS-13 are identified with distinctive tattoos that frequently cover the head, arms, and upper body. The tattoos are typically done in black letter solids of blue indigo ink with letters written in Gothic script. These indelible tattoos identify permanently the person as a member of MS-13, demonstrating the person’s lifelong loyalty to the gang. Some gang members tattoo their scalps, cheeks, or eyelids, wanting easily visible body parts to identify them with MS-13. Frequently, the tattoos contain the letters “MS” or Mara Salvatrucha spelled out in Gothic letters. The number 13 appears regularly in the tattoos, as do references to girlfriends and images of knives or dice. The FBI maintains books of tattoo photos from MS-13 members whom they have interviewed or imprisoned, in an attempt to understand, identify, and catalogue the images and references.
If you are committed enough to tattoo much of your upper body, including parts that are generally visible to the public, you had better not plan on leaving the group. The tattoos are going to be hard, if not impossible, to remove. People will instantly see you as a gang member, and if they know how to read the distinctive language of gang tattoos, they will instantly recognize that you are associated with MS-13. Once you become a MS-13 pandillero (gangster), you are a MS-13 pandillero forever. The MS-13 gangster is proud to show his markings to the world. That is the MS-13 gangster way. Typically, the only ways to get out of MS-13 are to die or be killed. For the MS-13 gangster, death is the only acceptable way out.
The gangster culture celebrates the gang, especially the “fallen heroes” killed in gang warfare. A neighborhood marked by MS-13 wall graffiti is marked as MS-13 turf for everyone to see. The distinctive esthetics of the gang symbols communicated in the tattoos, the elaborate hand signals, and graphic spray-painted wall murals are very important in the life of the MS-13 gangster. Today, the MS-13 gangster lifestyle is celebrated in Spanish-language “gangsta rap” music, easily recognized and revered by Hispanic youth throughout the hemisphere.
MS-13 life of violence and crime
This MS-13 gangster subculture enforces itself violently. The machete turns out to be the distinctive MS-13 weapon of choice. The gang does not hesitate to chop off fingers of rivals or of gang members who have turned on the gang. Gang targets are chased through public areas, including shopping malls, grocery stores, and theaters, often with a horrified Middle America there to watch the bloody, terrifying drama unfold. “Green Light” orders are put out to kill informants or law enforcement officers whom gang members feel are a particular threat to the gang.
MS-13 makes money dealing drugs and dealing in stolen merchandise. The drugs come across the border from Mexico and are supplied by the Mexican drug cartels. MS-13 does a handy business in stolen vehicles that are destined for sale in Mexico or in Central or South America. It also branches out into extortion and even kidnapping, whenever the opportunity presents itself. Along the border, MS-13 controls much of the coyote activity that regulates who and what gets to cross the border into the United States. Illegal aliens with money are shaken down by MS-13. Those without money become “mules” for carrying kilo-size packages of drugs in their backpacks as their price of passage into the United States.
MS-13 is certainly not a group you want showing up near where you live. Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening in communities all over the United States. In the local communities where they settle, MS-13 gang hangouts include shopping malls, specific street corners, night clubs, and vacant buildings. If you see MS-13 gang members near where you live, call the FBI or your local police. Your safety or that of your children may depend upon your making that call.
MS-13 threatens the Minutemen
On March 1, 2005, MS-13 threatened The Minuteman Project and Jim Gilchrist personally. The threat was reported by Ernesto Cienfuegos in the Internet newspaper La Voz de Aztlan (“The Voice of Aztlan”), a radical Leftist publication dedicated to the Hispanic separatist dream of establishing a mythical Aztec idea of a “nation of Aztlan” which would comprise much of the southwestern U.S., including California. La Voz de Aztlan has close ties to the radical leftist political organization MEChA, a student organization with operating chapters in taxpayer-funded high schools and universities throughout the U.S., with a strong presence in the southwest.
Reading the challenge written by Ernesto Cienfuegos, we get again a clear flavor for the Marxist-Leninist rhetoric that subtly permeates the Reconquista movement:
It looks like there is going to be a “showdown at the OK Corral” on April 1st in Tombstone, Arizona. A high level leader of the Mara Salvatruchas, Ebner Anivel Rivera-Paz, has issued orders, from federal prison, to members of his extremely violent organization to teach the Minuteman vigilantes a lesson they will never forget, the La Voz de Aztlan de has learned.
Cienfuegos’s strategy for hyping the MS-13 threat against the Minutemen called for demonizing and ridiculing The Minuteman Project:
The amateurish Minutemen may be in for a big surprise on April Fool’s Day and on the subsequent days that they plan to patrol the border with Mexico in Arizona. The Mara Salvatruchas are known to cut the “testicles” of their enemies and feed them to vicious dogs. Other times they have cut the heads off their opponents to play football soccer with them. These are not people to mess around with.
Also clear from reading this rhetoric is the degree to which the radical Left of the Hispanic separatist movement embraces the gangster violence of a criminal gang such as MS-13. Reading La Voz de Aztlan, one gets a feel not only for the tired, old, and theoretically undisciplined Marxist-Leninism the publication spouts. Le Voz de Aztlan also warmly embraces the racism embedded in the La Raza thinking that is at the core of the Reconquista movement to establish the mythical nation of Aztlan.
At the time MS-13 made these threats, Jim Gilchrist was quoted nationally as saying he was not concerned: “We’re not worried, because half of our recruits are retired, trained combat soldiers, and those guys are just a bunch of punks.”