Maybe you haven’t heard of the MS-13 Gang, but if you’re a regular on Donald Trump’s Twitter feed (it’s like a car crash, we can’t help but look) the name might ring a bell.
In the wake of a mass murder on Monday, four bodies found mangled in the woods on New York’s Long Island, the Donald took to Twitter to console the American people.
Jokes, he wanted to hate on Obama:
He is right about one thing – these gangs are bad.
The BBC have gone in-depth, taking a look at how they came to the US and what life inside the gang means.
The gang began in the barrios of East Los Angeles in LA during the 1980s, formed by immigrants who had fled El Salvador’s long and brutal civil war. Other members came from Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.
The MS stands for Mara Salvatrucha, said to be a combination of Mara, meaning gang, Salva, for Salvador, and trucha, which translates roughly into street smarts. The 13 represents the position of M in the alphabet.
MS-13 established a reputation for extreme violence and for killing with machetes. It took root in neighbourhoods dominated by Mexican gangs, and later expanded to other parts of the country.
The FBI says the gang now has members in 46 states, and comes complete with a disgusting set of initiation rituals:
Joining is said to require being “jumped in” – subjected to a vicious 13-second beating – and “getting wet” – carrying out a crime, often a murder, for the gang.
Leaving is potentially even more dangerous. Large chest tattoos brand members for life, and some factions are said to murder members who attempt to leave.
With the FBI estimating that there may be as many as 10 000 members inside the US, the gang is now considered one of the country’s largest criminal enterprises.
They’ve been pretty active of late, too:
Recent high-profile cases linked to the gang include the murder of two female high-school students who were attacked with a machete and baseball bat as they walked through their neighbourhood in New York last month – a revenge attack over a minor dispute, according to police.
Four alleged MS-13 members were charged with that crime. Another two alleged members were charged at the same time with the murder of a fellow gang member said to have violated gang protocol.
The same month, two alleged members of the gang in Houston, Texas were charged with kidnapping three teenage girls, holding them hostage and raping them before shooting one dead on the side of the road…
MS-13’s motto is “kill, rape, control”, according to one FBI gang specialist who investigated the group.
So should we blame Obama for these awful humans running amok in America?
Mr Trump and Mr Sessions have pointed the finger at former President Barack Obama over the spread of MS-13, alleging that his open-door immigration policies fuelled its growth.
But the gang formed and flourished in the US long before Mr Obama came to power. MS-13 was identified as a significant threat in the 1990s, and a special FBI taskforce was convened against the gang in 1994.
“The big surge was during Bush-Cheney when the drivers of illegal migration in Central America grew, when various crackdowns on crime filled prisons to bursting point, and when funding for rehabilitation programs declined,” Fulton T Armstrong, a research fellow at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University, told fact-checking website Politifact.
“I have seen no evidence that the Obama administration can be blamed in any way for the existence or activities of the gang in the US,” said Ioan Grillo, author of a book on US gang crime.
The Obama administration also prioritised the deportation of gang criminals, including MS-13 members, in an aggressive deportation program.
Don’t let facts get in the way of a good tweet, Donny D.
So, our Numbers gang versus the MS 13 gang – who’s winning the street fight?
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