National Security

Trump Says Violent MS-13 Gang Has ‘Literally’ Taken Over Towns

“The gang has killed numerous people over the years and likes to intimidate rival gang members by chopping their fingers off with machetes.”

Yesterday, President Donald Trump made a claim that MS-13, a violent transnational street gang, has “literally” taken over towns. While this might be an exaggeration, it is hard to deny the gang’s growing influence and the grave threat it presents to law enforcement and local communities.

Trumps full statement highlights how dangerous the group is:

“MS-13, likewise, a horrible, horrible large group of gangs that have been let into country over a fairly short period of time are being decimated by the Border Patrol and by ICE and by our incredible local police forces and they are getting out of our country or in some cases, going directly into prisons throughout our country. But they’ve literally taken over towns and cities of the United States.”

Who is MS-13 and Where Did They Come From?

MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha in Spanish, has been around for decades. First formed by Salvadorans fleeing their home country’s civil war, MS-13 took root in Los Angeles in the 1980s. The gang focused primarily on recruiting Latin immigrants and descendants from Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, and elsewhere.

Most of the American-based recruits were descended from Central America, which is vital for drug trafficking. The group is particularly prominent in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. While originally founded in America, more of its members now reside overseas. However, the gang frequently sends gang members from Central America to the United States illegally.

What makes MS-13 especially dangerous is the fact that it’s “home-grown” and was originally founded in the United States. As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently pointed out, it is ultimately American demand that drives the Latin American drug market. MS-13’s close ties to the United States have made it easier for them to distribute drugs.

It’s believed that the gang numbers around 30,000 members, with about 10,000 of them residing in the United States. It’s estimated that approximately 1.4 million people are members of gangs in America. The gang is believed to be active in 40 states, plus Washington, D.C. While the gang may have originated in the United States, it is increasingly controlled by Central American leaders, who in turn have proven to be quicker to violence.

Is MS-13 a Major Threat?

Of course. However, it remains unclear if the gang is any more of a threat than other US street gangs, such as the Bloods and Crips. The gang has killed numerous people over the years and likes to intimidate rival gang members by chopping their fingers off with machetes. In 2016, the gang killed three high schoolers, two teenage girls, and an 18-year-old male MS-13 member whom gang leaders thought was cooperating with authorities.

Meanwhile, ICE crackdowns have rounded up some foreign gang members who were in the country illegally. However, with so many of the members being domestic, deportation on its own won’t be enough to rid America of the gangs. Further, while the gang is immensely violent, there is no evidence of them having taken over entire towns.

Brian Brinker

Brian Brinker is an OpsLens Contributor and political consultant. Brinker has an M.A in Global Affairs from American University.

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