Gangs and criminal organizations come into creation for a number of reasons or motives. Usually they revolve around money, and use fear, crime and extortion. They can be loosely controlled with no apparent structure, or they can be highly efficient with military like organization. In contrast to general media conception, gangs have been around for centuries in one shape or another, the Chinese Triads for example were started as a resistance to the Manchu Emperor of the Qing Dynasty in the 1760s. Here are just 5 of the biggest gangs and criminal groups in existence today.
The Crips are a primarily, but not exclusively, African American gang founded in Los Angeles, California in 1969 by 15 year old Raymond Washington. What was once a single gang is now a loosely connected network of individual sets, often engaged in open warfare with one another. The gang is known to be involved in murders, robberies, drug dealing, among many other criminal pursuits. They have been popularized in many movies, thousands of songs, and even video games like GTA 3.
Through the years the gang has grown to be one of the largest and most powerful gangs in the United States with a membership that exceeds well over 30,000 gang members. Since affiliation is lose and unofficial, the number may be much higher.
The gang is notorious for flamboyant use of the color blue in their clothing. However, this practice has waned due to contentious police crackdowns on gang members. It’s thought to be from the school colors of Washington High School in South L.A. Another theory is the co-founder, Stanley Williams, had a good and close friend called “Buddha”, who wore blue shirts, khakis, shoes, and a blue bandanna from his back left pocket. When Buddha died, Williams made blue the Crip color in honor of Buddha.
Due to the infamous rivalry with the Bloods, some Crips will change words containing the letter B or choose another word to replace it, the best being a word with a C. If no word can reasonably be substituted, the letter B may be crossed out. Sometimes excessive use of the letter C also occurs, such as “be right baCC” to refrain from using the initials “ck” which stands for “Crip Killer”. Also, the letter B can be written Bk as in “Blood Killer”.
The Crips are known to have an intense and bitter rivalry with the Bloods as well as with some Chicano gangs.
Many famous entertainers have Crip affiliation including:
- Ice T
- Snoop Dogg
One of the most international groups, Hells Angels are more of a club than a criminal organization, and shouldn’t be considered a gang. In fact in the USA and Canada they even have their own copyrights as the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation. Generally considered to have started up in San Francisco around 1950, virtually all Angels ride a Harley and their website states that members travel on average 20,000 miles per year, come rain or shine. Although the media has always viewed the Angels as a criminal organization, and indeed in the past much crime and even murders were performed by Angels, or on their behalf, they are no longer seen as a major threat to society and organized charity events have been held by the Angels.
The Hells Angels insignia is called the Deathshead (pictured above). They also utilize the number 81, 8 for the eighth letter of the alphabet: H, and 1 for the first: A. HA being Hells Angels. They also use the colors red and white.
Due to the secretive nature of the Hells Angels, there is no way to accurately tell how many members they have.
The MS13 Gang
MS13 or Mara Salvatrucha are a huge international gang comprised mostly of Salvadorans, Hondurans and Central Americans, but have also aquired followings throughout most parts of the Western World. Activities typically include drug smuggling and sales, black market gun sales, human trafficking, assassinations for hire, theft, and assaults on law enforcement officials and as such are one of the most hated gangs by police forces and FBI, who declared them the greatest internal threat to national security. In 2005 the FBI began wide-scale raids on suspected gang members and arrested 600 members.
Most Mara Salvatrucha gang members from the Los Angeles were deported either because of their illegal status in the United States, or for committing crimes as non-citizens, or both. This resulted in a huge recruitment drive in the deportees home countries. Some contend deportation policies have contributed to the size and influence of the gang both in the United States and in Central America.
Former gang member Brenda Paz said that MS is well structured, with multiple leaders, and that the gang’s goal was to become the top gang in the United States. Currently the gang is estimated to be at least 100,000 members strong and growing fast.
Sign: The “devil’s head” hand signal, which forms an “M” when displayed upside down, is similar to the same symbol common in hard rock. The founders copied this symbol they saw on their visits to rock concerts.
Most Mara Salvatrucha members often cover themselves in tattoos. Common markings include “MS”, “13″, “Salvadorian Pride” the “Devil Horns” and the name of their clique.
“Mara” refers to the Spanish word for army ant.
The Provisional IRA (Irish Republican Army) or PIRA, are commonly referred to as the IRA and have existed in one form or another since around 1916. They are a left wing republican paramilitary organization who sought home rule and independence from the United Kingdom for a United Ireland. Since 1969 it’s main goal has been the overthrow of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with their replacement by a sovereign all-Irish state. They are heavily political yet the United Kingdom continues to class them as an illegal terrorist group. The IRA are recognized as professional, dedicated, highly skilled and resilient by official British Military documents.
The IRA refers to its ordinary members as volunteers. Up until the late 1970s, IRA volunteers were organized in units based on conventional military structures. Volunteers living in one area formed a company, which in turn was part of a battalion, which could be part of a brigade, although many battalions were not attached to a brigade.
In the early years their strategy was to use as much force as possible to cause the collapse of the Northern Ireland administration and to inflict enough casualties on the British forces that the British government would be forced by public opinion to withdraw from Ireland and as such decades upon decades of violence, murder and rioting have been commonplace.
Official documents state that the IRA have been responsible for around 1,800 deaths. Of these, roughly 1,100 were members of the security forces - British Army, Royal Ulster Constabulary and Ulster Defence Regiment, between 600 and 650 were civilians and the remainder were either loyalist or republican paramilitaries (including over 100 IRA members accidentally killed by their own bombs). It has also been estimated that the IRA injured 6,000 British Army, UDR and RUC and up to 14,000 civilians.
In the early to mid 1970s, the numbers recruited by the Provisional IRA, may have reached several thousand, but these were reduced when the IRA re-organized its structures from 1977 onwards. An RUC report of 1986 estimated that the IRA had 300 or so members in Active Service Units and up to 750 active members in total in Northern Ireland.
According to The Provisional IRA (Eamon Mallie and Patrick Bishop), roughly 8,000 people passed through the ranks of the IRA in the first 20 years of its existence, many of them leaving after arrest, “retirement” or disillusionment. The total figure for the number to have passed through the organization must therefore be higher again, once those recruited since 1988 are taken into account.
Bloody Sunday (1972) was an incident where 26 unarmed civil rights protesters were shot by the British Army in Derry, the first of which was a man running down a street away from advancing troops, who was shot in the back. Twelve further people were killed, mostly trying to aid the already injured. Fourteen others were wounded, twelve shot by the British soliders and 2 knocked down by armoured personnel carriers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloody_Sunday_%281972%29 gives an account of each victim and how they died, showing that 6 minors were killed, all unarmed, while trying to attain safety. Incidents like this helped to bolster the IRAs status amongst the Irish community.
Despite some successes by the British and Irish security services, military and police at infiltrating the IRA, as of the year 2001, the British, Irish and American governments believed that the IRA remained an extremely potent and capable terrorist organization.
The Russian Mafia had been around since the 1970’s but became highly established in and after 1991 when the Cold War ended. Many of their members are ex Soviet Army and ex KGB officers who lost their posts due to the large reduction after the end of the Cold War. They have political ties too, due to many officials being desperate for money, eventually turning corrupt or entirely to crime. They also recruit boxers, wrestlers, weightlifters, athletes and martial arts experts. Infighting is common and murders across the Russian mafia take place often. They are highly secretive and maintain this using one significantly morose tactic where they will not only murder an informer or snitch, but his entire family too.
Throughout the 1990’s they attempted and somewhat succeeded hostile takeovers of national banks. Banking executives, reform-minded business leaders, even investigative journalists, were systematically assassinated or kidnapped. In 1993 alone, members of the eight criminal gangs that control the Moscow underworld murdered 10 local bankers. Calling themselves “Thieves in Law”, Russian gangsters murdered ninety-five bankers between 1993 and 1998.
Foreign companies pay up to 20% of their profits to the Mafia as the on-going price of doing business in Russia. Ignoring shakedown threats merely invites tragedy. Most American and other western firms find it necessary to hire private security guards to protect their executives from extortion threats and roving assassins.
Intelligence reports emanating out of Russia peg the numerical size of the Russian Mafia at 100,000.
The term “Yakuza” literally derives from beginnings of the traditional words “Yattsu (Eight)”, “Ku (Nine)” and “Za (Three)” based on the worst hand attainable in the Japanese card game Oicho-Kabu.
Prospective yakuza come from all walks of life. In the past they would accept sons who have been abandoned or exiled by their parents. Many yakuza start out in junior high school or high school as common street thugs or members of bosozoku gangs. Some yakuza “goons” are actually mentally handicapped, but recruited due to their large physiques while the leadership levels of yakuza gangs usually consist of very sharp, cunning, intelligent men, as the process to rise to the top-levels in the yakuza can be very competitive and Machiavellian. Members of yakuza gangs cut their family ties and transfer their loyalty to the gang boss. They refer to each other as family members - fathers and elder and younger brothers. The Yakuza is populated entirely by men, and there are usually no women involved. However, unlike many crime groups, women are sometimes involved in its activities. When the Yamaguchi-gumi Family boss was shot in the late nineties, his wife took over as boss of Yamaguchi-gumi for a short time.
Popularized in the west in several movies, Yubitsume is the cutting off of a finger as an act of apology or humility. For a first offense the offender cuts off the tip of his left pinky, giving it to his boss. Sometimes an underboss does this to his boss in order to spare a member of his own gang from retribution. This is so prominent in Japan that when UK kids shows Bob The Building and Postman Pat were imported, the Japanese considered adding an extra finger to the characters’ four fingered hands to avoid scaring children.
Sign in a Public Bath banning Yakuza
Irezumi are full body tattoos, which many Yakuza members have and are often hand-poked, where the ink is injected using a steel or bamboo needle instead of a machine. This can be very painful and take as long as 10 years to complete.
Nationwide, there were some 84,700 known members of Yakuza. Since they are not a secretive gang, their numbers are relatively easy to track down.
Historical reports show the Yakuza to have been around since the 17th century as a low ranking derivative of the hatamoto, similar to the shogun warriors.