By Eric Goldschein and Luke McKenna
More than 1.4 million Americans are wearing the colors of more than 33,000 gangs across the country, according to a report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Based on evidence from federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement, the FBI says gangs commit 48% of violent crime, and are only becoming more dangerous. Some even source weapons from the military.
While many of these groups are regional and only loosely organized, many gangs are expanding their ranks and establishing themselves at international levels.
The 18th Street Gang is considered the largest street gang in California
One of the most well-known of the “Sureño” gangs in Southern California, the 18th Street Gang is said to be responsible for at least one robbery or assault a day in Los Angeles County. The gang is one of the most rapidly expanding criminal groups in the country, with a reach that extends across 32 states, from Maryland to Hawaii.
Though loosely connected, the gang is thought to be the largest street gang in California, with roughly15,000 members.
18th Street gangsters have been linked to homicide, extortion, alien smuggling, drug smuggling, and auto theft,. They have also infiltrated the U.S. military.
Florencia 13 members have been caught buying weapons from U.S. military personnel
Another rapidly expanding Sureño gang, Florencia 13, works closely with the Mexican Mafia and is a rival of the 18th Street set. Based out of South Los Angeles, Florencia 13 is part of a terrifying gang war scene that has turned L.A. into one of the most dangerous counties in the country.
It also has members and influence in states like Virginia and Iowa.
The gang has racked up charges ranging from piracy to conspiracy to sell drugs and murder over the last few years. They also have been cited as another gang infiltrating the U.S. military. In 2010, six members were given life sentences out of the 94 that pleaded guilty to their crimes.
Barrio Azteca has ties to several major Mexican drug trafficking organizations
Originally based out of El Paso, Texas, Los Aztecas have become a powerful paramilitary force on both sides of the Mexico border. Now many of the gang’s members are recruited from Texas prisons, and some of its work takes place inside prison walls, such as heroin production.
In March 2011, 35 members of the gang were charged with a variety of crimes, including 10 gangsters involved in the murder of the U.S. Consulate employee and several family members.
Juggalos are somewhere between ridiculous and dangerous
Originally just the crazed and face-painted fans of the horrorcore rap group Insane Clown Posse, “Juggalos” have become a non-traditional hybrid gang with a loose structure and unclear motives.
Many Juggalos only engage in low-level crime, like simple drug possession and theft. But the FBI has noticed increasingly gang-like behavior, such as forming organized subsets and committing more serious crimes, “such as felony assaults, thefts, robberies, and drug sales.”
Though only recognized as a gang in four states, the already established Juggalo culture has aided the transition to greater violence and gang-like activity. The transient nature of the group makes it hard to locate exact pockets of influence, but Juggalo activity has been noted in states like California, Pennsylvania and Utah.
The Almighty Latin King Nation is said to be the largest Hispanic street gang in the country
Originally formed in Chicago in the 1940s, the strictly organized structure of the Latin Kings has helped them become the biggest Hispanic gang in the U.S. The gang’s influence stretches to 34 states, and there an estimated 18,000 members in Chicago alone.
Though the gang is splintered into the original Chicago clique and an east coast set, all members subscribe to being Latin Kings. All gang members subscribe to the group’s religious aesthetic, which calls for the eventual rebirth of a member as a New King, enlightened and ready to serve the downtrodden peoples of the world.
The Kings have been the subject of multiple federal operations, looking to arrest gang members and limit the group’s growing influence. Recently, the latest sting produced a conviction of Augustin “Tino” Zambrano, considered to the be the highest ranking out-of-prison member in the nation.
Somali gangs are seeing increasing influence in places like Minnesota
While some Somali immigrants adopt Blood or Crip membership, separate Somali gangs are becoming more prevalent across the country. They often experience tension with other African-American gangs, such as groups comprised of Ethiopian refugees.
Somali gangs have been involved in alien smuggling, human trafficking, credit card fraud, prostitution and violent crime.
Strangely, the biggest pockets of Somali gangs can be found in states like Minnesota, Washington, and Missouri.
MS-13 is the gang that has the FBI most worried
Mara Salvatrucha is perhaps the most dangerous gang in the country at this point. Originating in El Salvador, the gang has gone transnational, with members across the United States (in 42 states) and in countries like Guatemala and Mexico.
MS-13 has worked with Mexican drug cartels and communicates frequently with incarcerated members despite no official leadership structure.
The gang is notoriously violent, relentlessly cruel and merciless, with plenty of well-documented public crimes, such as a San Francisco member who killed a family for briefly blocking his car.
Though the gang is included in the 2011 Gang Assessment, the FBI has a separate section, and an MS-13 Task Force, dedicated to stopping the group and alerting the public of the threat it poses.