Gangs in the Military: Loyalty to Homeboys or Homeland?

Web Extra: Read the National Gang Intelligence Center's Feb. 15 report on gang infiltration of law enforcement and corrections agencies.

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American military service has always been a means of adding the qualities of discipline and structure to the lives of American young people. This would especially apply to those who lacked these qualities in their home life, and might otherwise be called "youth in crisis." In my own life, and the lives of many men and women of my generation, the successful completion of military boot camp changed our lives in a positive way.

I have noted that, even many years after military service, the effects of past military service continue to positively affect my peers in the work environment, as well as the ordinary citizens I come into contact with as a cop.

I personally know of past and present police officers, probation officers, corrections offices and military policeman, who had been associates or gang members in their youth, but who left that lifestyle after military basic training. This is a good thing.

This epiphany occurs when the person involved becomes convinced that there are higher loyalties than those to his or her street, neighborhood homeboys, or own selfish interests. This loyalty to a cause greater than oneself is what creates saints and heroes. But it can also create suicide bombers.

Somewhere in the crucible of military basic training, most people make the decision to give loyalty to their nation a higher status, above the loyalty to their race, family, or neighborhood. Only the moral and ethical conscience, generally attributed to religion or the Judeo-Christian cultural training, would be held higher than national loyalty. In other words, only loyalty to God is held above loyalty to the nation.

My friend Hunter "Gator" Glass, former Army 82nd Airborne and Fayetteville gang investigator, recently reminded me that gangs are very much like religious cults, and that to the "true believer" gang member, the gang comes before God, country, race or family. That is the problem. Some gang members in the military do not give over their loyalty to the nation, but remain loyal to their criminal gangs.

This is a good way to think about criminal gangs in the military. They are like a strange religious cult that covertly exists within our national military. It is a fifth column. Its loyalty is to its own faith and hierarchy. The gang's "code of conduct" is not in agreement with our nation's cultural norms or any military code of conduct. When the interests of the nation and the gang are in conflict, the "true believer" will choose the interests of the gang over the nation. He will act to benefit the gang. This will occur even if this means killing fellow soldiers, sailors or airmen.

The signs of this misplaced loyalty must be detected early in the recruitment process and certainly weeded out in basic training. So called "passive gang members" can no longer be considered desirable targets for recruitment. And the system of "waivers," which trumps the restrictions against past criminal involvement by gang members, should be more closely controlled. A good use of discretion in considering young people, who often come from troubled neighborhoods, can be a positive thing. However, recruiters who utilize discretionary tactics such as recruiting "passive gang members" or requesting criminal waivers must be held accountable for their too liberal use of discretion.

Our federal government has apparently abandoned any common sense in its use of this discretion. The U.S. military has been infected with the pandemic of political correctness. I can think of no more perfect example of the consequences of this disease than the tragic incident at Fort Hood in Texas.

The 13 dead and 30 wounded victims of Major Nidal Malik Hasan are also victims of the Army's political correctness. It's symptoms of blindness, deafness and dumbness are the same ones that fail to see, hear or speak of the problem of criminal gangs in the military ranks. Rather than recognizing and treating this disease, the sickness is denied. Gang murders and drive by shootings have already occurred on and off many military posts, here and other countries. This problem will continue to grow unless it is honestly admitted to, and addressed.

When I last wrote and spoke about this on national news programs in 2006, I was audited by the IRS for my 2002 income tax. They seized my bank accounts and property tax impounds, saying that I did not file my 2002 income tax. This of course was not true, and I actually had received a large refund for that year. However, this seizure and additional fines and interests I incurred were a huge financial setback that I have not yet recovered from. The IRS employees I spoke to all had the same comment, "Who did you piss off?"

The wrath of Uncle Sam seems to be reserved for the messengers rather than any of the actual wrongdoers. This is another symptom of the pandemic. But I am among noble company. Many of my friends, who have spoken out on the problem, have also suffered from the wrath of Uncle Sam. I know these men; they are not motivated to speak in order to damage the reputation of our military fighting men and women. They do it, because they are patriots who have served this country. They love this country, and they want it to remain the greatest nation on earth.

In a June 30, 2008 article by Michael Webster, the investigative reporter describes the massive arrest of gang members along the El Paso-Juarez border. This was part of the U.S. Marshal-led "Operation Falcon 08." The two, in the one-two punch, came simultaneously in Los Angeles when law enforcement swept up the key players of the Drew Street clique, the most violent clique of the Avenues street gang.

This is the same gang I came to know during my time as part of the Los Angeles Federal Task Force working the Mexican Mafia. At that time, Los Angeles police arrested and convicted several of the Avenues Gang leadership either as members or significant associates of the Mexican Mafia. Much of this story is the subject of "Mexican Mafia," a book by Tony Rafael.

In this 2008 round in El Paso, Elbert Mullin and other members of the Georgia Street Boys Gang, who are associates of the Chicago Gangster Disciples and the Folks Nation, were arrested. The Georgia Boys were also linked to El Paso's Barrio Azteca prison gang. The cases involved arms and narcotics trafficking, and murders on both sides of the border. The arms trafficking case involved Arizona sources as well. "Operation Falcon 08" involved street and prison gangs from Los Angeles, Chicago, Texas, Arizona and the nations of Mexico and the U.S., but that's not all.

At least four of the more than 200 people arrested were soldiers stationed in Texas and associated with these gangs. The article goes on to say that the primary suspect, Elbert Mullin, was being investigated for his ties to both the Mexican and U.S. military.

If this subject is of interest to you, I will be at TREXPO WEST from March 29-31 to give a two-hour presentation, "Criminal Gangs in the Military." I will cover some of the history and recent cases of interest. I hope to see you there.

And as my Marine brothers often say, "Semper Fi."

Editor's Note: Read the National Gang Intelligence Center's Feb. 15 report on gang infiltration of law enforcement and corrections agencies.

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Sergeant (Ret.)
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