"Gang conflicts have become a form of urban-guerilla warfare over drug trafficking. Informers, welchers and competitors are ruthlessly punished; many have been assassinated."

Newsweek (Jan. 28, 1988: p. 23)


The Potential Terrorism Threat From Gangs in America


George W. Knox, Ph.D.


Gang violence and conflict has been previously described as guerilla warfare (Short and Strodtbeck, 1974: p. 200). The Crip gang member who gave his glamorized story of gang life in the book Monster similarly describes himself as a trained combat veteran and freedom fighter in an undeclared urban guerilla war. The rebellion theme has similarly been common in the gang literature (Hagedorn, p. 164;) as is the relationship of gangs to various forms of social conflict (Tannenbaum, 1938). The gang member as warrior (Pound, 1930: 178-179) is a similar theme corresponding to the book title of Keiser (1971).(2) Is it only that, a simple analogy?(3) Or do gangs represent the highest threat yet seen in terms of maintaining the security of our nation's communities and public institutions and, comparably, do gangs represent a continuing threat(4) or menace in terms of the essence of what is implied by "terrorism" (Davis, 1978)? Similarly, calling gangs "urban terrorists" as an official criminal justice council in California did (California Council on Criminal Justice, 1989: p. viii) is strong language, but again does labelling gangs terrorists make them terrorists?

This issue exemplifies one of the intellectual debates about gangs today. Some authors had concluded earlier that gangs --- whatever their rhetoric --- were simply not well organized and in no sense constituted a revolutionary group. Some contemporary gang analysts in direct contradiction of such assertions may point to groups like the Black Guerrilla Family as a clearcut example of such a revolutionary gang. As in some of the other debates about gangs, what we must realize is that there are sufficient variations in group function and organizational capability that all dimensions (apolitical to that of revolutionary, rightwing to that of leftwing, etc) can probably be found in the modern reality of American gangs. The "debate" in this and other instances is more often than not simply a problem of authors overgeneralizing from inadequate previous research. It is an error to consider all "gangs" equal --- either in terms of the threat they may represent, or in terms of the potential for intervention.

For those who have studied guerilla warfare and unconventional combat forces there is a striking commonality between the basic affinity group represented by the typical urban street gang, of whatever stage of organizational development, and guerilla combat operations. Further, the nature of the conflict --- its direction, its intensity, the means by which it is moderated and controlled --- is also of some comparable interest. At least this provides the rationale for introducing to the reader the gang "study/research/experimentation" by Lieut.-Col. W.H. Sleeman from Calcutta in 1849 and other authors and views in the analysis of social conflict.


Jeff Fort the leader of Chicago's El Rukn gang seemed to follow a historical pattern in organizational emulation. When Louis Farakhan was able to get a five million dollar no interest loan from Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, Jeff felt he could get some too, and proceeded to seek $2.5 million to engage in domestic terrorism inside the United States on behalf of Gadhafi:

"In five years, Federal agents taped some 3,500 hours of conversations. Eventually they heard what sounded like an extraordinary transaction: Fort was trying to cut a deal with Moammar Gadhafi. For $2.5 million ("two dinners and half a lunch" in El Rukn code), the El Rukns would bomb government buildings and commit other terrorist acts in the United States, the Feds believed.

But they needed proof. It came when an El Rukn bought a rocket launcher from an undercover agent. And the icing came when Trammel Davis, an El Rukn amir, agreed to turn state's evidence in return for $10,000 for his family."(5)

Had Jeff Fort's Chicago gang, the El Rukn's, not contemplated seriously the ideological exploitation value of being a terrorist for hire organization for a foreign nation hostile to America (Useem and Kimball, 1989: p. 77), do you think Jeff Fort would still be operating on the streets of Chicago, indeed perhaps throughout America today? In the late 1960s, during a time of intense ideological strife in America, much of it having to do with civil rights and the anti-war movement in reaction against the war in Viet Nam, was it not the Black Panther's who were attacked rather than Jeff Fort's gang of thugs and robbers? That gangs in America, whatever their skin color, have previously had the overall characteristic of being rightwing, and reactionary, supportive of the status quo, tends to be supported from most of the extant literature.(6) But that may have changed today with the advent of greater sophistication in the organizational structure of gangs.

Some early gang authors (e.g, Campbell) have said that gangs are anything BUT revolutionary organizations --- they are rather thugs and exploiters, mostly opportunist, often reactionary. Unthinking. Unreflective. Functionary operatives. Grand scheme of things followers. Defenders of the social order. They seek not to overthrow and revise, rather they seek their fair share. They seek the equal opportunity to exploit.(7) But let me remind you, that has been the preceding historical variation. There are, obviously, some alternative social-political variations. What we see now may not be what we get in the long term. Gangs, as armed peasants, could become a larger problem than they are now. Some of the level three gangs in America today have well articulated political beliefs, some formalized, and they are well armed as well.

Also, many of the recent researchers who have contributed to our prior literature on this issue have focused almost exclusively on African-American gangs. White gangs may be different as implied earlier. Groups like the KKK, Aryan Brotherhood, and many others can be assumed to have a clear and unmistakable rightwing ideology or philosophy. And yet even among African-American gangs there do exist at least some contemporary forms that take on what amount to essentially leftwing beliefs.

The early 1970's Krisberg (1975) study provided an excellent analysis of gang views on racism and revolution. Interviews with gang members showed, as might be expected, a projection that most white prison guards are racist (Krisberg, 1975: p. 16). That is, there was little more than enmity towards white people with the noted exception that "if some rich white man will buy guns for Black revolutionaries, then he would be spared" (Krisberg, 1975: p. 16).

Apparently, the group studied by Krisberg saw themselves ready for revolution, where revolution meant "a large rumble (gang fight)" (ibid). Said one of the gang members "we're the experts in revolution...I know how to stab, he knows about dynamite, and none of us is afraid to use a gun" (Krisberg, 1975: p. 16).


The author of Monster in a "60 Minutes" interview (July 31, 1994) outlined a chronology of how he gave up the life of "Crips" as "Monster Cody" and converted to a revolutionary ideology supportive of the New African Republic. Prison, he said, was just a place for studying revolutionary science. He denied he was a sociopath, "I am just an ordinary guy" he said, in response to a sound bite from the prosecuting attorney who put Monster in prison. "He is extremely intelligent" and uses his cunning and personal power to manipulate others is what the prosecuting attorney implied.

Since writing the book he has gained much attention in the mass media. He renounced any loyalty to the United States in the interview, but vowed support for revolutionary ideals. With tears dripping from his eyes during a period of questioning about his football star legend father, whom Monster said he hated for essentially "not being there", he was quick to point out how he can be regarded as a political prisoner because he was a "political organizer" in the California prison system prior to being transferred to Pelican Bay.

The book Monster is highly stylized and superbly edited to defend this Crip gang member and present him in the most embellished positive light in a way that he avoids taking any responsibility for his behavior because he was a freedom fighter in an urban war. To the extent that apologists for gangs are themselves fair in terms of a policy of equal time coverage, we should therefore expect a Blood version of the same book. And in order to give fair play to midwestern gangs this could, naturally, rest on the bookshelf next to "The Historic Rehabilitation of a Criminal Gang Into A Prosocial Gang: Changing the Gangster Disciples into The Growth Developers".


No one disputes the fact that gang members and gangs were actively involved in the Los Angeles riots after the "not-guilty" verdict regarding Rodney King. Gang rights activist and advocacy views tend to downplay the role of gangs in the riots and point to the widely viewed television news footage showing entire families and many diverse individuals who were looting stores. The record shows that during the riot over 800 buildings were torched resulting in property losses exceeding $750 million dollars. Among the subsequent arrests made for arson related to the riot, about a third were gang members or gang-affiliated(8).

In a riot situation, a condition of civil disorder and the breakdown of legal regulations, it is the individual "one-time" rioter or the novice (e.g., a homeless person, a mother, etc) who is most likely to be arrested. A gang member could be expected to operate with members of his/her own gang; and thus, acting as a group they are much more formidable, and therefore less likely to actually be caught. Gangs are predisposed to criminal activity, and therefore are more likely to systematically benefit from looting in a riot or civil disturbance. Gang members were not stealing Pampers or canned food goods, they were targeting businesses like the 29 gun shops that were looted of about 5,000 firearms. Gangs in L.A. were believed to have taken most of those guns including two hundred police uniforms that were also stolen(9).


In Chicago, an ancient tradition of dealing with gangs involved simply picking up a gang member, asking for information and when not getting cooperation, driving the gang member to another part of the city, indeed an area known to be thoroughly controlled by a rival gang, and dropping the gang member off, out of the police car, right then and there. "Fend for yourself". It was a control policy reflecting the cultivation of internecine violence between rival gang members. This policy was not much more sophisticated than a "divide and conquer" approach. Without the "conquer", because these gangs were never "conquered".

Most gangs in urban America, through ill-designed social and law enforcement strategies, have been unintentionally cultivated and organizationally reinforced, if not through their imprisonment, then through their official recognition, and the legitimation accorded them. Or through the conflict that is increased which gangs thrive on. Or through ill-conceived gang programs and policies that increase rather than decrease the problem.

Chicago is instructive in this instance regarding law enforcement policy. For a period in Chicago, the gang abatement/control policy hinged on using the "disorderly conduct" statute to simply arrest and detain, for whatever short period of time, any conspicuous accumulation of persons on a "street corner" who looked like a gang formation --- most characteristically, persons of color from inner-city neighborhoods. When the federal court later ruled this unconstitutional, and ordered the Chicago Police Department to: (1) go back to their files and notify each such person so unlawfully arrested that they had the right to bring suit against the City of Chicago for false arrest, and (2) to erase 800,000 such records of unconstitutional arrests for disorderly conduct, this approach of "street gang control" was modified.(10)


Vold (1958) reviewed the shortcomings of anomie theory and gang formations via Cloward and Ohlin as well as the work of Cohen. More importantly, however, Vold advanced the discussion of crime as minority group behavior (see Vold, 1981: pp. 288-292) as well as discussing the political nature of crime (pp. 292-296). It is here that Vold argues that the gang as a collective enterprise is by its very nature a minority group, not necessarily a racial minority group, but one that is clearly at odds with the larger society.

The nature of this structural conflict is one where the gang is the outgroup and legitimate society is the ingroup. Similar to underclass theory, the gang member becomes defined as being marginally important to his/her society, and with different values come different goals and methods to attain those goals. As Vold indicated:

From a more general point of view, however, this prevalence of collective action in crime may reasonably be interpreted as an indication of the banding together for protection and strength of those who are in some way at odds with organized society and with the police forces maintained by that society (Vold, 1981: p. 289).

In essence, the gang is normal in wanting to exert power over resources for the benefit of its individual members. In seeking to expropriate the wealth of others, by the use of illegitimate or coercive power, the gang therefore is in a natural state of combat with the criminal justice system. States Vold further:

The delinquent boys' gang is clearly a minority group in the sense that it cannot achieve its objectives through regular channels, making use of, and relying for protection on, the police powers of the state (Vold, 1981: p. 289).

Vold was clearly aware of how for white gang members in America the gang maturation process often meant a springboard for entering the legitimate opportunity structure, of escaping from the competitive sector of the economy, such as Chicago's famous Mayor Richard J. Daley, the "Boss" who was a member of the Hamburg street gang in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood which later became a powerful political organization.(11)

Thus, at the individual level this conflict with larger society can be accommodated under conditions of white skin privilege. For the individual who is a person of color, however, who faces racism in daily life as well as institutional racism, the social structure is less accommodating in the transition to adulthood legitimacy. Says Vold:

The juvenile gang, in this sense, is nearly always a minority group, out of sympathy with and in more or less direct opposition to the rules and regulations of the dominant majority, that is, the established world of adult values and power (Vold, 1981: p. 290).

Further, the use of coercive force such as imprisonment or any such label as "treatment/intervention" by the majority group is not likely to succeed with a minority group. It is similar to the typical resistance that any prisoner-of-war experiences who holds loyalty to ones own group (see Vold, 1981: p. 291).

Gang members, then, do not accept the definition of the situation offered by the criminal justice system of their behavior, however illegal or violent, as being anything other than honorable and acceptable to their own group code. As Vold says, the gang as a microcosm of larger society manifests a larger and more general problem of conflict:

The more basic problem, therefore, is the conflict of group interests and the struggle for the control of power that is always present in the political organization of any society (Vold, 1981: p. 202).

Herein is the problem that gangs appear to seek control of the streets, of a street corner, of an area of "turf", of exerting influence over a particular institution such as a public school, or a recreational area they seek to dominate and control for their own. According to Frantz Fanon(12), violence is power as well.

To the extent that a gang entity is highly predictable in its behavior in terms of its propensity to want to exploit any valuable resource, then the gang functions normally in a quest for such power and control. It is equally of interest to note that for those persons of color who may be objectively and materially powerless in terms of economic and social power, this is an even more escalated function. It accounts for the relative importance of something as simple as a "status threat" as the precipitating factor in serious acts of violence.(13)

Vold clearly speaks to the racism-oppression hypothesis as one of the four variations of the political nature of crime. Basically, much crime arises from attempts to induce social change in the context of institutional racism. For example, both South Africa and the United States are cases in point where the person of color is historically expected to assume a subordinate role and position in society. Attempts to rock the boat of the "caste system of racial segregation" (Vold, 1981: p. 295) therefore often result in various crime charges.

As we will see, social caste subjugation in ethnic status was also highly associated with the robber gangs of India as well.


Here we shall rely on the wealth of information on robber gangs operating in India reported by Sleeman (1849). This is an oversized, 433+ page military government document describing the nature of the "Budhuk" gangs of India and their suppression by the military(14). Here we find, among other things, an assortment of "confessions" or depositions taken from gang members and gang leaders about their exploits. The clear difference between these and later American "oral history" methods is not in the content, because they have been meticulously transcribed and translated into English; what differs is that these were taken by force.

The basic structural elements of these gangs had some factors in common with American gangs today and some very important differences. The commonality is that these gangs reflected a constituency of those at the very bottom of the social ladder with little hope of legitimate advancement in society. Gang membership was very much intergenerational through the family. Additionally, in and outside of the periodic episodes with prison life the gang members generally considered themselves more adept at crime than their non-gang counterparts. The commonality, to reiterate, between these early 19th century gangs in India and those in America today had much to do with the surplus population theory of crime: both were marginally tied to their society, both were surplus to having a productive role to play in the overall economy. The major difference is that these gangs were, like guerrilla forces, based in very "wild" or dense jungle type of rural areas(15). In fact, they located their entire families in these swamp/wood regions where it was difficult for government troops to effectively pursue them. When government military troops did pursue them into these jungles, they often had high casualties (mortality losses) from fever.

Their specialty, to give it a historical update, was that of what might be comparable today to robbing "big scores", either treasuries, or Brink's trucks, and secondly, home invasion of the rich. Theft, kidnapping, murder were commonplace to these gangs. Their notoriety was for being "robbers" or "decoits". Like gangs today, they had their own subcultural argot, and could communicate in the presence of a potential victim without alerting the latter of their intent.

These were very professional and dedicated criminals: they would often travel hundreds of miles, in disguise, to "pull a job" based on their intelligence gathering capabilities, and would take over an entire section of town while the "score went down", doing so typically at night under cover of darkness, with swift and unexpected violence against all who might resist. Often, in these frays, they would never lose a single fellow gang member. They carried out highly organized attacks on specific pre-identified targets of crime opportunity.

The life style of these gang members, was therefore, one of the ideal-typical contemporary income-oriented criminal: they would make a score, and live the rest of the year in their version of luxury --- drinking, feasting, having fun with as many wives as they could support.(16) What this revealed about the effectiveness of the gang organization, and its high level of morale on such criminal expropriation "quasi-military/insurgency" maneuvers, was that the wealth from such "scores" was shared with all in the gang. The wives got a share, all children got a share, if a member was killed or in jail, he still got a share. It was the primary source of economic support for a large number of persons and their families. None of them worked legally, they condemned "hard work" with great ferocity.

That these gangs continued from one generation, in a family, to the next was clearly evident. The gang was an organization with a clear leader, no necessary written code, but an extensive oral code including subcultural language/argot that allowed them to communicate with others. The gang was rarely in conflict with other gangs. Their targets were not the street corner, their targets were often chosen within the city for example, home invasion of an important "banker", but would equally focus on the informal calculation of risk/benefit ratios designed to maximize their ability to get away with the crime --- to be able to move as rapidly as possible out of the area of the crime undetected and with the loot intact.

If there is a primer on how to be an effective gang, this military report by Sleeman (1849) is it. When your gang membership numbers fall to prison, sickness, death in action, etc --- take new children into the "family fold". These gangs were often accused of kidnapping babies and youths. The economic incentive was clearly there: the women in the clan would receive an extra portion of the share of booty if they had more children, it did not matter if they were their own children. The children would, if they survived, be raised to serve the gang. The haunting question for America is, then, have any of our Nation's many missing children "disappeared into the gang"?

Like the modern gang member counterpart, these Indian gang members were prone to engage in conspicuous consumption with the spoils of their successful income-producing crimes. They did not mind paying higher rents, when the landlord knew they were gang members, because the landlord became that way a confederate and supporter, someone whose best interest was in having the gang member stay "as long as you like". Paying in cash, such merchants then as now are upstream economic beneficiaries of gang crime.

Like similar accounts of American gangs on their way, en masse, to a foray, conflict, or event --- they never travelled so as to draw police attention, they travelled "separately, by two or three and four" (Sleeman, 1849: p. 33). These gangs also provided quasi-political control functions of a repressive nature for local property owners or officials of significance. They provided "protection" to the status quo and the local ruling elite from depredations by outsiders by their conspicuous presence.

These gangs had small arms comparable to those in use by the military and police, but lacked the artillery which the military was able to employ frequently to successfully attack their forts and demand their surrender. With the spoils of their "war on society" they simply outfitted themselves with rifles and pistols in the open market.(17) If they needed a boat to pull off a job, they would buy it and sink it later to cover their tracks.

These gangs were not about theatrics, and "representing" their colors. They were about business. The business of income-producing crime. They were unlike many contemporary gangs that conspicuously allow their identification, such as the El Rukn's who during Jeff Fort's reign were easily identified even on a name search by computer because they would in addition to wearing their colors daily add the "-el" to their last name such that "Jackson-el" was readily identified to anyone cognizant of this "put on". These Indian gangs would more frequently adopt a variety of disguises that allowed them to more effectively travel and commit their crimes. A common variation was the "religious/holy person" journey ---- to bury a persons remaining ashes, to attend a wedding, to a pilgrimage, etc., all the time enacting a role of religion to avoid critical scrutiny. They would frequently "hire" genuine such "holy men" for front-line effect in these deceptions.

To those interested in the nature of social conflict and its relationship to exchange theory, the "pay off" matrix was such that many officials would not hazard an attack on the gangs, because of the direct costs associated with it and the obvious risk to life and limb, while the same officials in taking a Laissez-Faire attitude or "hands-off" position, had benefits without risks. To attack the gangs is to risk much loss ---- personal and political, to acquiesce to the gangs (that is, to permit them relative freedom of operation or a zone of comfort for their staging area) means benefiting indirectly with no risk at all. It is here that Sleeman (1849) makes the assertion that many of "the first nations in Europe, countenanced and supported the Algerine pirates, from the same feelings and views" (Sleeman, 1849: p. 79). Gang members can spend their money too, seems to be the general drift. And today, of course, gang members and their families also represent a political vote sector as well.


"Pirates: Gangs in Boats"

Gangs who do their business on motorcycles are called "motorcycle gangs", so what do we call criminal gangs who operate out of speed boats or ships? Answer: pirates, and yes, they would have to be classified as a gang.

In the year 1999, there were 258 raids or attempted raids by pirates on the high seas according to the International Maritime Bureau. This was an increase from 202 such incidents, world wide, in the year 1998. Knives and guns are the primary weapons used by pirates in these raids. These raids resulted in 78 deaths in 1998.

Source: David Rennie, "Raids on Yachts and Ships on the Rise", Chicago Sun-Times, Jan. 25, 2000, p. 21.


The value of Sleeman is showing the continuity with gangs of modern America. Sleeman (1849) showed that in some instances the gang leader "assumed the character of the high priest, and all the rest that of his followers and disciples" (pp. 80-81). This is not dissimilar from some variations of American gang formation reported in the literature, including Jeff Fort and the El Rukns. And, of course, just as the "gang-breaking" philosophy has characterized much of the American law enforcement response to gangs (see Needle and Stapleton, 1983: p. 30) which involves targeting gang leaders, this was also essentially the mission of Sleeman.(18)

Gangs then were nomadic when they had to be, that is they would leave their encampment and establish a new one if cause necessitated it. What we know about urban gang members, urban felony offenders generally, is that they too have a high level of residential mobility. They are the counterpart in being urban nomads. Probation and parole officers often remark that they seem to move as frequently as they have to submit monthly reports. From my experience in interviewing gang members, many shared something in common with these Indian gang members: their behavior being influenced significantly by superstition. They also had in common the societal-wide social stigma: not of color, but of being "eaters of anything", e.g., pork, meat, even snake in a culture that was rather reverent towards the cow.

What the British military did was of some significance in law enforcement policy for gang control(19). One law passed in 1836 made it an imprisonable offense to be a member of such a gang:

ACT No. XXX of 1836. It is hereby enacted, that whoever be proved to have belonged, either before or after the passing of this Act, to any gang of Thugs, either within or without the Territories of the East India Company, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, with hard labor (Sleeman, 1849: p. 353).

The military also recognized the value of separating these gang members from their territory of operation and legislation was passed in 1843 (Act No. XVIII) to allow a more federalist approach, because local jurisdictions lacked the capability for secure detention, and this 1843 legislation allowed for the confinement of gang members in other parts of India. Another law, Act No. XXIV made it illegal for any person to receive economic benefit from the gang, in the language of "the offense of unlawfully and knowingly receiving or buying property stolen or plundered" by the gang (Sleeman, 1849: p. 354-355).

"Habitual association" with like-minded individuals was the key definitive ingredient in defining who was or was not a gang member in the 1848 law instituted for the suppression of Indian gangs (Sleeman, 1849: p. 357).(20) Here again, child stealing, was a major emphasis or concern of the established social order; there was at least the widespread fear that these gangs routinely engaged in "child stealing", using murder if necessary, in order to replenish their members lost in combat or to the criminal justice system.

Of vital significance is the effort reported by Sleeman (1849) to experiment with these organized gangs. One proved effective: it meant, offering conditional pardons to those who would become informants, called "approvers", and rather than seeking to suppress them all, asking them once in custody to submit to what was an elaborate oral history method to identify all other names of gang members operating in India, and in this way develop a very large gang data base.(21) This was effective for the military in repressing the gangs and in carrying out even assassination against key gang leaders, and mostly, of effecting their eventual capture. It amounted to a kind of informal social network analysis, where the interrogators had means to cross-check the validity of such self-reports. Again, as recommended earlier in this book, the focus was not on the individual, but rather on what the individual knew about the gang organization and their previous exploits. It proved to be a powerful mechanism of law enforcement.

Secondly, another experiment was somewhat less successful, but appeared to have some positive effect, and that involved what to do with all the gang members in custody. The military established a "school of industry" where the gang leaders' children and the "approvers" (snitches) were held in a somewhat more comfortable facility and the hard core gang members and leaders were housed in a more secure facility. The idea was to have the inmates produce goods for sale. Mostly they produced textiles; rugs, tents, clothing, etc. Like many modern prison industries in America, they made little profit, but it looked good.(22) Evaluation research and "recidivism" had not yet come into the terminology of such corrections personnel, so we have little knowledge of whether this really "worked". The idea of separating confidential informants, snitches, "approvers", from the gang they have turned on has apparently come back into vogue recently. California now uses the Pelican Bay Security Unit involving a no-human contact status to encourage gang members to "debrief". Other states have created "snitch farms", physically separate facilities for informants.

Clearly, during the "interrogation"/"plea bargaining" version of the oral history data collection phase of military intelligence gathering on gang force strength and social network analysis, another frequent question that appeared in the "depositions" was to the effect "how much money, per diem, do you think it would take to get these gang members to be happy with their life style and stop their gang crimes?". This was used to formulate the school of industry approach, and to provide a rough approximation of what was needed to contain and control the gang members once they were in custody. Curiously, there is no mention of whether these gang members, including the snitches (approvers) were allowed conjugal rights.

What must be emphasized here is that this was a national problem for India, it meant during the time frame from 1803 to 1848 some 516 persons killed, and 1,270 wounded in gang attacks (Sleeman, 1849: p. 429). And this was official data: it was clearly recognized that many such gang crimes never got recorded. What constituted "gang related crime", then, has as much relevancy in the 19th century in India as it does today in America. No one really knows. Or if they do, they are not talking.


"12-Year-Old Boys Lead Armed Rebellion in Burma"

In early 2000, the ongoing battle against the military dictatorship in the country of Burma got renewed attention when "God's Army" commanded international headlines.

"God's Army" is a band of Karen freedom fights, heavily armed insurgents or guerrillas, who fight against the Burmese military dictatorship. What is unique about this particular army? They are led by two twins who are only twelve years old.

The two young twins, Johnny and Luther, actually began leading "God's Army" when they were about nine years old. The two twins have developed a mystique to the effect that they have mystical powers, i.e., bullets cannot "hit them".

Sources: Terry McCarthy, "Leading God's Army: The Bizarre Tale of Boy Twins With Mystical Powers Who Command a Rebellion", Time, Feb. 2, 2000, pp. 60-61. Patrick McDowell, "Myanmar's Twin Rebel Leaders on Run After Loss", Chicago Tribune, Jan. 28, 2000, section 1, p. 13.



Not to confuse those who thought up to this point they had a complete grasp of the "Chicago school of criminology" through the recognition of the recurrent prefix of "differential" this and that, let me add at this point, with some obvious risk of confusion, the introduction of a non-Chicago school use of the "differential" logo, another such "differential" theory. This use of the term comes from the political science area dealing with guerilla warfare, terrorism(23), and violent conflict. It is called "differential access", a derivative of deprivation theory. As Nieburg (1970) describes it:

Differential access focuses on the disparities in political influence and power as the most salient and influential factors. The less access to a remedy for its grievances a group has, the more violent it tends to become in demanding such access (Nieburg, 1970: p. 40).

It is an issue of dispute resolution as well. Where can the gang member go to resolve a conflict? To the police? To the court system?

In light of this "differential access" is it not possible that much of what might appear on its surface to be utterly senseless violence, devoid of value for human life, might such, unfortunately, ongoing incidents in America actually represent another possible view of reality? Before interpreting this in best light of those who are gang members please note that this may also imply that routine offenses, from drive by shootings, adjudicated as "manslaughter" may more forcefully be conceived of as being, more seriously, premeditated "murder one" offenses.

That gangs are more prone to internecine violence rather than random violence against civilians seems to be the evidence to date on the American scene. Most accounts of gang victimization show that there are innocent victims, but other gang and former gang members seem to be the target (see Rothman, 1974: p. 10). These victims, too, are typically of the same social status of the gang member pulling the trigger. These drive-by shootings are not occurring in our most lavish and wealthy areas. They occur, indeed recur, one feeding on the other in an endless succession of retaliatory feuding, in our more impoverished inner city areas. Areas where the quality of life has and continues to be a problem for us all.


A gang may use "guerilla tactics" but most gangs in America today certainly could not, in their present form, be regarded as a guerrilla army. As Janowitz said "guerrillas are a part of an organization, proceed with a plan, prepare paths of withdrawal, and develop sanctuaries (Janowitz, 1970: p. 182)." To other authors, they also seek to control a given area or territory at a successful stage of development. Oppenheimer (1969) was one of the few authors on urban guerilla warfare to at least address the unique nature of gangs and social conflict.

The early Indian gangs would seem to fit the definition of guerilla offered by Janowitz. Are gang members a part of an organization(24), even if it is an organization with varying degrees of formalization, sophistication, and permanence? Do some gangs direct planned activities including drug sales and retaliatory violence?(25)? Do gang members prepare paths of withdrawal --- in their own turf and in other jurisdictions? Do gangs develop sanctuaries, areas where they feel protected? Most certainly is the answer to all of these analogous factors that might fit the definition by Janowitz (1970).

What the reader must ask is this: is it just an analogy(26), perhaps a false one at that, or is it a potential scenario for American gang development? Sibley recently observed that "the police and the public are facing an enemy army with its own uniforms, weapons and rules" (1989, p. 403). Some conspiracy buffs feel gangs are being fostered by home-grown communists and the domestic violence is being allowed to develop in order to implement the National Security Act and thus suspend the Constitution. There is a lot of misinformation being published by and about gangs(27). And, of course, there are many views seeing the gang-drug connection nationwide to represent a very formidable and apparently growing problem(28).

Oppenheimer discussed gangs in several contexts, including a mention of Jeff Fort's Blackstone Rangers involved in political activities (1969: p. 38), but sees them generally, like Hobsbawm, as "bandits", with the caveat that one scenario could allow for the blurring of distinctions between criminal bandits and guerrillas, allowing for an escalation of conflict. From Oppenheimer's view:

People with guns but without ideology are bandits; people with ideology but without guns are liberals....the analogous social formation in the urban area is the gangster, or on a less organized level, the juvenile fighting gang (1969: p. 34).

Presumably gangs need only an ideology of pro-social systematic self-help to become, then, guerrillas by most definitions. The author's appraisal would suggest that this exists already.(29)

Moore's (1978) work tends to suggest similarly a "self-help" internalized ideology in the context of a visibly obvious in-group/out-group relationship between the gang member and larger society. Oppenheimer had recognized that:

From time to time urban gangs (mainly juveniles, not racketeers) go "social", that is, abandon fighting and adopt tasks of a "social welfare" character, such as recreation, clean-up campaigns, and so forth (1969, p. 35).

Perhaps what made the Symbionese Liberation Army different than the Crips or Bloods was their epitomizing this "social welfare" character in their role in food give-aways to the poor.

The haunting question, knowing that Jeff Fort's gang could be eager to carry out, for a price, terrorist activities in America, is this: How have other gangs have fared in this developmental direction(30)? Do gangs carry out political assassination?(31) Are gang members terrorists by definition?(32) Some new research on this issue is now emerging, in terms of access to military weapons by gang members, and their firearms usage patterns. This new research does show the gang member to have greater access to better firepower including fully automatic weapons, explosives, and military weapons, and a higher likelihood of wearing body armor during the commission of a crime.(33) A recent development in Chicago's gang community exemplifies this trend, several leaders of the Four Corner Hustlers gang were so angry about the effectiveness of a recent community policing initiative that was cutting into their drug operations income, that the gang members tried to acquire missiles and machineguns to blow up the local police station and wage a total war against the local police. They had turned over a large amount of cash and cocaine as their deposit on the purchase of an M72A2 LAWS anti-tank rocket. They were very serious about wanting to blow up the police station.(34)

The issues here are many. Could today's street gang be tomorrow's terrorist/urban guerilla group in armed warfare or low intensity conflict? Organizationally, the early India gangs were able to effectively function much like guerilla groups.(35) That they kept their apolitical and ethnocentric views of the world, as professional bandits, may have kept them from seizing political power. What qualitative aspects of ideology must be present before we can consider the gang as a guerilla group? In the absence of such a formalized ideology is their opposition to be interpreted as little more than mercenary behavior? Or as Taylor (1990) would call it, "quisling" behavior? Or is the typical military terminology used by higher level gang formations just a social "put on"?

For the record, several scenarios are obviously possible. The research by Hans Mattick was the basis for what we know about the "Dirty Dozen".(36) What Mattick showed was that offenders paroled to the U.S. Army fared well, and in fact, such military socialization was useful in reducing their recidivism. Again, the question seems to hinge on this: "is there a productive role for these persons to play in America?" If not, get ready for the worst case scenario.(37) Finally, some readers may find the analogy to guerilla warfare in terms of solutions, in terms of the battle against gangs. For example, the Chicago Area Project sees the struggle for community control as a "neighborhood by neighborhood" approach to provide greater community empowerment.(38) Some readers may find that not dissimilar to "house by house" military fighting often associated with urban warfare.


"The Heavily Armed Gangs in Jamaica Today"

When gang problems erupt in Jamaica, the problems are of sufficient threat-level to require calling out the military and imposing curfews. In 1999 gang violence resulted in 71 killed in a three-week period, such that Jamaica's Prime Minister P.J. Patterson called it "a spate of criminal madness".

What happens when gang wars erupt in Jamaica is that local residents flee the area like refugees, often taking up temporary residence at the nearest police station.

In Jamaica the gang leaders are called "Don's" in their respective gangland kingdoms. Jamaican gangs have a long history of being used in the traditional patron/client state sponsored crime pattern; that is, they are often used for political purposes by various factions in the political arena. These "posses", as they are known, have certainly made their mark in American cities as well, bringing high levels of violence with their involvement in illegal drug trafficking.


POLITICAL EXTREMIST GANGS: The Case of the Black Guerrilla Family

The Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) is typically found in adult prisons, but has also been reported as active by local law enforcement, in adult jails, and in juvenile correctional institutions. While it is found throughout California, the BGF has been reported in a number of other states (Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin). The written constitution of the BGF consists of 16 pages of single spaced typed text. This is one of the few gang constitutions that clearly indicates an intent to engage in armed conflict.

The BGF in its written constitution clearly regards other gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood and the Mexican Mafia (EME) as enemies; in fact, as "tools" of the penal administration. Of all the written gang constitutions, that of the BGF is clearly the most politically sophisticated. Yet much of it seems as if it could have been copied --- in terms of phrases, "pat expressions", etc --- straight out of radical leftist newspapers or periodicals. The BGF also recognizes its beginnings in the "guiding example and teachings of George Jackson". George Jackson was a famous African-American militant who died of gunfire while imprisoned. He helped ignite the "prisoner rights/reform/protest" movement of the 1970's (Jackson, 1970).

The BGF oath like that of their arch enemy (the Aryan Brotherhood) rhymes in the form of a poem(39):


If I should ever break my stride,

And falter at my comrades side,

This oath will kill me.

If ever my world should prove untrue,

Should I betray this chosen few,

This oath will kill me.

Should I be slow to take a stand,

Should I show fear to any man,

This oath will kill me.

Should I grow lax in discipline,

In time of strife refuse my hand.

This oath will kill me.

Under its section on Exemplary Punishment, the BGF constitution specifies a death sentence to any member who basically doesn't go along with the program. Several gang laws are listed, such as "use of heroin", "selling or giving weapons to the enemy", etc. Many gangs have the rights of trial for members, but not the BGF which includes this very efficient clause: "Time not permitting a chance of review, the Generals, for security reasons, may order and have a sentence of death carried out against a member for violation of one of the above laws".

In addition to its "do's" and "don'ts" in terms of expected behavior (basically political indoctrination), the BGF constitution includes a very elaborate "Party Platform". It specifically identifies the "Party" as the overall reference group, apparently the Communist Party from this paragraph in Part III of the BGF constitution:

"We use Marxism, which is positive in spirit, to overcome liberalism, which is negative. A communist should have largeness of mind, and he/she should be staunch and active, looking upon the interest of the revolution as his/her very life and subordinating his/her personal interests to those of the revolution. Always and everywhere he/she should adhere to principles and wage a tireless struggle against all incorrect ideas and actions, as to consolidate the collective life of the Party, and strengthen the ties between the Party and the masses. He/she should be more concerned about others than about himself/herself. Only thus can we be considered a Communist."

In its ideal and self-described form, then, this particular gang does in fact see itself by name and intention as a group that is "about revolution". Guerilla warfare and political terrorism are definitely potential interests of this gang.

It is of some interest, as well, that gangs behind bars in states like Illinois such as the Brothers of the Struggle (B.O.S.) refer in their internal literature to their development goals as a "movement". A number of such internal written documents of the B.O.S. gang (basically another name for the Gangster Disciples) are provided in this book. As reported elsewhere(40), this same gang that operates inside jails and adult prisons (and juvenile correctional institutions as well) has evolved to the point where it now has it own written "Disciplinary Report Forms" that it completes on its own members when they violate one of the internal rules and regulations of the gang.


While some authors may claim gangs have no ideology, emerging data shows some gangs are truly formalized. Obviously, if we are to consider groups like the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Brotherhood "gangs", as is done in the present analysis, then we must admit that some gangs do have such fairly developed ideology (Helmreich, 1973). Some gangs even have written constitutions which express this ideology. Many observers in the study of guerilla warfare and terrorism also observe that the element of ideology must be present as well. Described here are results from the survey of juvenile institutions reported more completely in a later chapter of this book.

In the Fall of 1990 all juvenile correctional institutions (training schools and camps) were sampled using a four page survey instrument designed to be completed by the Superintendent. Some 155 institutions responded representing 49 states. Below are some of the findings relevant to the present analysis.

When asked "to what extent are gang members involved in extremist political beliefs" on a scale from zero (not at all) to a high of ten (a great deal), 61 percent indicated zero. The ideology variable was then recoded to reflect a dummy variable of the presence or absence of any such reported extremist beliefs. In this fashion, its effects on other gang problems is most significant as seen in Table 9.


Significant Relationships Between Gang Political Extremism And Indicators of Gang Population Size, Reports of Gang Damage to Government Property, and Racial Conflict

Any Level of Political Extremism

Reported Among Gang Members?


Institutions Reporting 10% NO YES

or More of their Population

Are Gang Members NO 66 16

YES 35 39

Chi square = 19.1, p < .001

Institutions Reporting a

Problem of Gang Damage to

Government Property NO 67 8

YES 32 47

Chi square = 43.1, p < .001

Institutions Reporting a

Problem of Racial Conflict NO 58 20

YES 39 34

Chi square = 7.2, p = .01

What these findings suggest is that the extent to which gangs do have such an element of ideology as measured by the presence or absence of political extremism is itself significantly related to problems such as gang force strength, the damage they do to government property, and reported problems of racial conflict. Ongoing research dealing the same problems in adult institutions and other criminal justice settings is now underway by the author.


The findings reported here are based on a exploratory study of N = 91 members of a unit of the Illinois National Guard. On the morning of October 13th, 1992 a 7-year-old child named Dantrell Davis was killed by sniper fire from an AR-15 rifle in the Cabrini Green public housing complex on Chicago's near north side. The shooter who had served in the Army, was determined to be a gang member. It was a gang-related killing that occurred as the child was being walked with his mother on the way to school.

Enormous attention was given to this incident in the mass media and a public outcry ensued that gained national attention. During this aftermath several city officials were quoted as giving was serious consideration to bringing in the National Guard to help suppress the gang problem in Cabrini Green.

Outside of the official report by Sleeman (1849) documenting the role of the military in the suppression of the Budhuk gangs of India there is little in the literature that provides any linkage between the two separate issues of "gangs" and the "military"(41). One notable exception is the analysis of the Yakuza by Kaplan and Dubro (1986, p. 200) who mention how the Yakuza operating in South Korea in their production and sales of illegal drugs, more specifically methamphetamines (i.e., "speed", a drug of choice in Japan) had spread in terms of illicit use to U.S. soldiers stationed in South Korea(42). But little documentation and no indepth analysis of the possible impact that a gang can have on military personnel is provided anywhere in the public literature.

Most of the literature on gangs that provides any citation to the military is therefore cursory at best. The "Zoot suit" riots, which could have equally been called "military riots against Pachucos", are an example of this cursory treatment. Most analysts have had to rely on what was printed in the newspapers and on oral history recollections from the viewpoints of the Pachucos, with no known follow-up on the members of the military who were obviously very important actors in the fray. Similarly, the early role of the National Guard (19th century, New York City) in the suppression of gang street battles is mentioned in the literature only in passing, that is they were effective in dispersing the gangs fighting in the streets (Haskins, 1975: p. 29)(43).

A magazine called Teen Angels published since 1980 in California, describing itself as a gang rights activist news organization, routinely includes pictures and names of Hispanic members within the military and encourages military enlistment(44). It is not implied that these are "gang members"; but everyone else in the magazine indicates they are...complete with the photos the gangs send in of themselves, their arms caches, and their "placas".

It is a magazine for west coast Hispanic gangs.

The book about gangs from an evangelical view of a minister providing outreach to gang members describes the case of "Trigger", a gang member who wanted to do well in school and join the Marine Corps for the benefit of subsequent college education benefits, and the gang leader encouraged this goal (Mc Lean, 1991: p. 78)(45).

Some very limited newspaper coverage has been given to the problem of gangs near large military bases. One of the best of these journalistic efforts deserves some recognition here(46). First, military kids were considered potential risks to gang membership because they are very transient, moving from one place to the next. A local police officer near a military base in Oceanside, California stated that he knows of military children who were heavily influence by gangs, some of whom still live on the military base. Staff running youth programs for the Defense Department acknowledge such problems, although military spokespersons are quick to say they are just "wannabe" gang members. One military base commander was quoted as saying "The general has a strong policy....if you're caught in gang-related activities, you're [moved] off base" (Jowers, 1993).

An anonymous survey questionnaire was designed to measure various aspects of the gang problem. The instrument used is a one page, double-sided questionnaire. The front page contained forced-choice items and the back page contained open-ended items(47). Many of these items replicate previous research on groups that deal with gang problems (e.g., law enforcement, etc).

In mid-November 1992 the data collection began using a student who is a member of the same military unit who sought informal cooperation from other members of the National Guard unit where he was stationed. The unit sampled is located on Chicago's southside and is predominantly African-American.

Because of the sensitive nature of the questions about gangs and crime no identifying variables were included in the survey. Only one background variable was used: length of service.

The sampling technique used here qualifies only as a purposive or exploratory study and is not generalizable.

Only about one third (32.2%) of the respondents expressed the belief that the National Guard should be sent to Cabrini Green (or any other gang environment) to stop gang warfare. Half (50%) rejected this utilization of National Guard troops. Some 17.8 percent indicated they were not sure.

These National Guardsmen were asked if the armed forces should try to recruit gang members just in case the military has to be used in response to a riot situation where many gang members could be involved. About a third (34.4%) accepted the validity of this notion. The majority (65.6%) rejected the idea of recruiting gang members for use by the military.

The overwhelming majority (95.6%) of the respondents expressed the belief that the federal and state government has not done enough to try to prevent the gang problem.

These members of the National Guard were presented with the scenario where they should not be used to deal with gang problems and were asked "who should" be used instead. The single largest group (41.4%) indicated the local police should be used. Some 10.3 percent indicated the state police. Some 24.1 percent indicated federal troops. And 24.1 percent indicated "other".

These members of the National Guard were also asked to estimate based on their knowledge what percent of all U.S. armed forces personnel they believe are probably gang members themselves. Only 2.8 percent indicated "zero percent of the U.S. armed forces are probably gang members". In fact, the percent of estimated gang membership within the U.S. military ranged from a low of zero to a high of 75 percent. The mean, or arithmetic average, was 21.5 percent.

Table 10 presents the findings for a somewhat more general inquiry of "what would be your estimates for the percentage that are current or former gang members by branch of military service". As seen in Table 10, the Coast Guard is shown to have the lowest estimated current or former gang member population, followed by the Air Force. The Coast Guard are shown to have a mean estimated former or current gang membership of 6.3 percent compared with 7.8 percent for the Air Force. It is of some interest that these National Guard respondents gave their own outfit the highest mean average of former/current gang membership (mean = 25.6%).

Table 10




Low High Mean

***** ****** *****

Army 0% 90% 16.3%

Navy 0% 80% 10.9%

Marines 0% 70% 14.8%

Air Force 0% 60% 7.8%

Nat'l. Guard 2% 80% 25.6%

Coast Guard 0% 50% 6.3%

Army Reserve 1% 90% 19.8%

Asked if the National Guard can truly stop the problem of gangs in places like Cabrini Green, over half (58.2%) indicated in the negative. Only 12.1 percent expressed the belief that the National Guard could truly stop the problem of gangs in places like Cabrini Green. Some 29.7 percent indicated they were "not sure". Just over a fourth (26.7%) expressed the belief that the National Guard are adequately trained to go into a place like Cabrini Green to stop gang violence. Most (73.3%) felt the National Guard lacked adequate training for such a mission.

These members of the National Guard were also asked if they have ever, as individuals, been approached by a gang member who wanted to acquire military weapons or ordnance (e.g., grenades, etc). Most (90.8%) said no. However, some 9.2 percent indicated they had in fact been approached by such gang members seeking military weapons. It is not known, because of the brevity of this particular survey, whether any of these events were ever reported to authorities. Nor is it clear what specific reporting guidelines or policies are in place with regard to this matter.

These members of the National Guard were also asked their opinion on whether the U.S. armed forces should discharge a soldier who is determined to be a current gang member. The respondents were almost evenly divided on this issue. Some 59.1 percent felt that the military should not discharge gang members. Some 40.9 percent felt that gang members should be discharged.

These members of the National Guard were asked if they believe that gang members are depicted as an overblown "threat" by the news media, politicians, and others. Over half (59.5%) expressed the belief that gang members are not depicted as an overblown threat. However, some 40.2 percent affirmed the belief that gang members are depicted as an overblown threat.

These personnel of the National Guard in Chicago were also asked "how many of your close friends and associates are gang members". The distribution of results for this item was as follows:

How many of your close friends

or associates are gang members?

0 1 2 3 4 5 or more

N 62 1 7 3 2 11

Percent 72.1 1.2 8.1 3.5 2.3 12.8

Thus, over a fourth (27.9%) of these members of the National Guard had one or more close friends or associates who are gang members. It is unlikely that those social forces calling for the utilization of the National Guard in Cabrini Green were aware of the fact that the same military personnel might be in the situation of confronting gang members who could --- at some unknown level of probability --- be friends or associates of the soldiers assigned to such duty.

It is of some interest that 12.8 percent of this sample of National Guardsmen reported having five or more such close friends or associates who are gang members. This type of question is often a measure of subcultural integration and a predictor of gang membership itself. It is also of interest that one respondent chose to mark a large "Star of David" six-pointed star symbol on the back of his survey instrument; which is the insignia/logo used by the Disciples (BDs, GDs, BGDs, B.O.S.) in the Folks gang nation.

The survey also included the question used with other populations (e.g., police, etc) to the effect "do you believe that if many of today's gang leaders had entered the military instead of joining a gang they could put their leadership skills to better use as good soldiers"? Three-fourths (77.8%) of the respondents expressed this belief that such gang leaders could have made good soldiers. Just over a fifth (22.2%) rejected the idea that gang leaders would make good soldiers.

Almost two-thirds (65.2%) of the sample felt that they knew how --- with relative certainty --- to identify a gang member by their colors, behavior, or language. Just over a third (34.8%) did not know how to identify a gang member in this fashion.

When asked how long they themselves had served in the National Guard, the distribution showed a low of one year to a high of 21 years. The mean, or average, was 6.3 years.

About one in ten (10.2%) reported that in the last year they had been a victim of a gang crime.

A bivariate analysis was made of a number of variables in the survey. This was accomplished by recoding some of these variables the details of which are explained below. Described here are some of the significant findings from this inquiry.

Table 11 shows that, among this sample of National Guardsmen, by recoding the "gang friends" variable (none versus having one or more) and the "belief pattern about what percentage of all U.S. Armed Forces personnel are probably gang members" yields a statistically significant relationship. In other words, the profile that emerges here is that the gang friendship variable is significantly differentiated by the level of perceived gang membership throughout the armed forces. Specifically, those National Guardsmen who have one or more close friends and associates who are gang members are those more likely to perceive a higher representation of gang members in the U.S. Armed Forces. Recall that overall some 27.9 percent of this group had one or more such friends who are gang members. Table 11 shows that among the low belief pattern only 19.4 percent have one or more such gang friends; but among the high belief pattern some 44.1 percent have one or more such gang friends. There is clearly a relationship between these two variables.







Have One or More Close Friends

Or Associates as Gang Members


Belief Pattern of What

% Gang Members Are in

all U.S. Armed Forces:

Low (<=15%) 29 7 (19.4%)

High (>=20%) 19 15 (44.1%)

Chi-square = 4.93, p = .02

This finding is similar to that uncovered in gang studies in high schools where the gang member is more likely to project a higher estimate of the percentage of the student population who are gang members. In fact, this tendency for perceived gang representation levels becomes even more pronounced in relationship to having one or more gang friends when the more specific variable of gang members in the National Guard is examined as seen in Table 12.

Table 12 shows the same pattern profile where the gang-friend variable is significantly differentiated by low-high perceptions of the extent to which gang members are represented in their own ranks (e.g., the National Guard). Those who have the low perception of gang members in their own ranks show only 16.6 have one or more gang friends themselves. But among those with a high perception of gang members in their own ranks some fifty percent have one or more such close friends who are gang members.

Finally, these perceptions are clearly directly related to one another. That is, those who perceive low levels of gang representation among the ranks of the U.S. Armed Forces generally are pretty much those who also perceive low representation of gang members among their own ranks of National Guardsmen. This finding in shown in Table 12.







Have One or More Close Friends

Or Associates as Gang Members


Belief Pattern of What

% Gang Members Are in

the National Guard:

Low (<=15%) 25 5 (16.6%)

High (>=20%) 16 16 (50.0%)

Chi-square = 7.68, p = .006

As seen in Table 12, not only are the perceptions of gang penetration into the military related to having gang friends, but the perceptions overall are related to the perceptions in their own ranks. This is highly significant (p < .001).

Table 13 also shows that among those who have a low level perception of the extent to which gangs are represented in the overall U.S. armed forces most of these (22 out of 28) also perceive low levels of gang representation among their own ranks. Vice versa, those with high perceptions of the gang presence within the overall U.S. armed forces mostly see their own ranks as also penetrated by gang members.







Belief Pattern of What % Gang

Members are in the National Guard



(<=15%) (>=20%)

*********** ***********

Belief pattern of what %

gang members are in the

overall U.S. Military.

LOW (<=15%) 22 6 (21.4%)

HIGH (>=20%) 5 26 (83.8%)

Chi-square = 23.11, p < .001

Another factor that significantly differentiates the perception of gang members within their own ranks is their belief about what the military should or should not do if a soldier is discovered to be a gang member. Table 14 provides this test.







Belief Pattern of What % Gang

Members are in the National Guard



(<=15%) (>=20%)

*********** ***********

Should the U.S. Armed

Forces Discharge Anyone

Determined to Be a

Current Gang Member?

NO 13 23 (63.8%)

YES 16 10 (38.4%)

Chi-square = 3.92, p = .04

As seen in Table 14, those with the more tolerant position about gangs in the military who believe current gang members should not be discharged show some 63.8 percent with a high perception level of gang representation among their own ranks. Conversely, those with a less tolerant view and who do believe a soldier discovered to be a current gang member should be discharged show only 38.4 percent with a high perception level of gang representation among their own ranks. This factor of gang policy in the military significantly differentiates this perception of the extent to which gang members are present among their own ranks (p = .04).

The only genuine "background" factor within the data environment of this survey is years of service within the National Guard. Recoding this variable to reflect recent versus long term soldiers reveals a significant finding in relationship to perception levels of the gang presence among U.S. armed forces. This is shown in Table 15. Also, Table 15 shows that this factor of tenure in the national guard also significantly differentiates those who have one or more close friends who are gang members.

This background factor of years of continuous service in the National Guard was recoded to create roughly two groups: the young guard, and the old guard. The young guard are those with less than or equal to four years of service. The old guard are those with between five to twenty-one years of service. Therefore this difference between young and old guard does not reflect actual age, but is rather a surrogate measure of age, experience, and military socialization by measuring specifically the years of service within the National Guard.






Years of Service Within The

National Guard


Young Old

Guard Guard

(<=4 yrs) (>=5 yrs)

********** *********

Perceived Levels of Gang

Membership Overall in

the U.S. Armed Forces

LOW (<= 15%) 10 25

HIGH (>=20%) 20 15

Chi-square = 5.83, p = .01

Table 16 shows that the old guard are more likely to report a low perceived representation of gangs in the overall ranks of the U.S. armed forces. Duration of service appears to be inversely related to the perception of gang membership levels in the overall U.S. Armed Forces.

Similarly, Table 16 shows that it is the younger guard who have a statistically significant higher likelihood of having one or more close friends and associates who are gang members. In other words, the actual condition of these National Guardsmen having such gang friends itself is a factor that profiles quite differently by years of service.






Years of Service Within

The National Guard


Young Old

Guard Guard

(<=4 yrs) (>=5 yrs)

********* *********

Have one or more close

friends or associates

who are gang members?

NO 23 38

YES 16 7

Chi-square = 6.81, p = .009

It seems reasonable to believe that some gang members are present within the ranks of the U.S. armed forces. However, very little is actually known about this aspect of gangs. It would reflect what is called an adaptation of marginality: high integration into legitimate organization (e.g., the military) and high integration into an illegitimate or subcultural organization (e.g., the gang). What side is such a person really on? No one knows, this has been the first effort reported in the literature to examine the issue. So, hopefully, this study has begun to shed some light on the issue of gangs and the military.

The one respondent who did intentionally affect a gang posture by inscribing a large gang symbol on his survey may reasonably be assumed to be a gang member. However, the situation under which this data was collected did not lend itself to such self-reported gang membership research. At the time of this study these same members of the military were under consideration for being sent into a housing complex (e.g., Cabrini Green) to quell gang violence. Indeed, there is another reason this standard self-report question was not included here: if discovered, it could be cause for serious difficulty.

Therefore the present study focused only on surrogate measures of the self-report research method by asking the respondent to report on the deviance of their friends and associates not their own. This meant asking these national guardsmen how many of their close friends and associates were gang members rather than asking if the respondent was currently in a gang. Self-report research among deviants shows that they are more likely to report on the deviance of their friends and associates than their own.

A gang member in the military must be regarded as a unique condition of deviance: someone who literally marches under two sets of colors and to two different drummers, one legitimate (the military) and one illegitimate (the gang). How pervasive this situation is cannot be objectively estimated from simple perceptions or beliefs as are measured in this survey. What orders of the day would the gang member in the military actually follow if they were on a domestic mission to suppress a gang-related civil disturbance: those from the military, or if they were facing their own gang those from the gang?

While exploratory in nature, several findings from this research deserve serious attention(48).

What should be the position on gang membership among military personnel? Not all gang members have criminal records. It is real simple to understand: not all gang members who commit crimes are always caught and even if caught always convicted. The Knox (1991) textbook referred to a case where the Latin King gang member committed a possible homicide (he still to this day does not know if the person died from the gunshot wounds) as part of an initiation ceremony and later "chilled out", went to college, and is now working in the Cook County court system. He has no police record. He was never caught.

It is very similar to the situation for dealing with the marginality of some police officers. A police department cannot terminate the employment of someone who simply associates with "undesirables". It is a freedom of association and constitutional issue that has not been given much legal analysis.

No military code of conduct is known to the present author that specifically prohibits members of the U.S. armed forces from having close friends and associates who are gang members. It is an issue having enormous implications.


Could a criminal gang literally take over a legitimate organization? Yes, it is theoretically possible. The reasons why a gang might want to engage in this type of social conflict would have several potentially diverse explanations. One would be the monetary resources such a legitimate not-for-profit or membership or fraternal organization might own, resources that under the right leadership could be rapidly liquidated or exploited. Another reason might be the political platform base that such a group might represent as a target for a take over.

Some discussion on this issue has focused on the case of the Gangster Disciples, through their political arm the "21st Century V.O.T.E." group, in late 1994 tried to wrench control of a branch of the N.A.A.C.P. in Chicago. A surrogate force was said to be used here, a group that had for a couple years established itself as an anti-drug program or drug rehabilitation/counseling program, which while very popular in some circles (No Dope Express), was actually a co-sponsor and heavily involved in the October 1993 Gang Summit meeting held in Chicago. Some have indicated that the gang in this instance is being used to divide and fractionate the political infrastructure of the African-American community, almost to a blueprint plan.

The tension that had existed in Chicago's southside branch of the NAACP reflected an induced conflict between the older vanguard of the civil rights struggle, including noted figures like Vernon Jarrett, and the new and much younger sector. Earl King, from No Dope Express, apparently had only about a year or so membership in the chapter and ran for president. By doing so, the "split" or social conflict began. When Vernon Jarrett joined in with the opposition, within a short time later, Earl King walked into the NAACP office in Chicago and handed in 5,000 newly completed applications for membership along with the $50,000 in cash. Some read this development as an effort by the gang to take over this chapter of the NAACP.(49)

The potential exists, of a gang which can rapidly generate large numbers for a turnout, for a gang to take over a legitimate organization. The disruptive legal impact of this type of tactic carries enormous implications for social conflict. The astute observer of this scene will also be able to recall examples of some political extremist groups sympathetic to and/or existing as an above ground propaganda vehicle for a terrorist group like ALF, where such activists were able to take over legitimate groups in the animal rights arena, converting their funds and assets to a different use. While in the terrorism example of ALF and its front groups was successful, the Chicago gang strategy to take over a chapter of the NAACP was much more directly combative and designed to backfire because it was not done in a quiet, subtle, fashion --- but rather in a Rambo-style display of conspicuously threatening force. Any group that can rapidly generate 5,000 to 10,000 members or associates for a picnic, like the Gangster Disciples were able to do in recent years, is obviously a group also capable of having such persons fill out membership applications to join any association legally, and literally take it over by overwhelming numbers of voters in any election of officers.


Stinchecombe's (1964) analysis of youth rebellion is useful here in coming to a summation on the matter of gangs, guerilla warfare, and social conflict. It advances the "articulation hypothesis" which amounts to this element of hope: to those who can articulate little relationship between their current socialization and relationship to dominant social institutions (e.g., the schools, etc, which are designed to train persons for such future productive roles in American society) and their subsequent life chances in the hope for a better existence --- it is among these for whom rebellion is strongest. Whether it is perceived or objective, the net effect is equally the same: alienation. In a high school context it became, ala Stinchecombe (1964), "expressive alienation". In a subsequent gang maybe it can become "active alienation" to the extent that these same persons carry on a war against their own society.

Perhaps this is all too conjectural. The cynic could say whatever the potential for gangs becoming guerilla's, undereducated drug abusers do not make good soldiers(50). So perhaps another variation would be a toned down variety of social protest, without the use of arms. There are certainly a lot of different scenarios for what could happen to America's gangs.(51) One thing we can probably rule out, however, was an option used by the military suppression effort against gangs in India: exiling the gang member for life "across the seas".

Clearly, there is a need for further and more indepth research on the potential for gang involvement in terrorism, civil disorder, and low-intensity conflict. We have much to do in the analysis of the gang crime problem in America.

The serious student of criminology knows that a wide variety of "wilderness" and "survival" programs have been used with delinquents throughout the years. If "boot camp" training is all we as a post-industrial society (where theoretical knowledge is supposed to be the principal basis for social change)(52) can come up with, then we are certainly headed for disaster. Not dissimilar from the well-intending social service program that makes its resources available to a gang for manipulating/abusing in the interest of "reaching out" to them and then finding out too late (e.g. Chicago's Fry) that something has truly "gone awry"; the correctional fad of "boot camps" when it comes to gang members should be viewed with some caution as a "solution".

Some hard historical facts remain undisputed about the role of gangs and higher levels of violence. Some of these facts remind us of how pitifully little we have done about the gang problem; and of how scant the answers are to major gang questions like "how many gang members are there in America?". The two top Catholic leaders of Mexico were gunned down in 1993 in Guadalajara, Mexico near the airport because their car resembled that of a rival drug lord targeted for assassination. The shooters that killed Mexico's Cardinal on May 24th, 1993 were American street gang members hired by a Mexican drug lord to hit a rival(53). The facts show that important linkages have been made between foreign groups and American gangs: Islamic terrorist groups and the El Rukns, the Yakuza and the Latin Kings, and the above instance of a Mexican drug lord and the 30th Street Gang in San Diego. It would seem gangs may be expected to figure prominently in such future scenarios unless our society confronts this problem most forthrightly.

It was not until February of 1998 that arrests were made in the mistaken-identity/assassination-style killing of Roman Catholic Cardinal Juan Jesus Posada Ocampo. It turned out that the Arrelano Felix drug trafficking gang based in Tijuana, Mexico recruited ten (10) gang members from San Diego, California for this "hit". The gang members were from the Logan Heights neighborhood in San Diego. They were supposed to kill Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman Loera. "Chapo" is a rival gang/drug kingpin competing with the Arelano Felix drug gang.

What happened at the Guadalajara Airport parking lot in 1993 was that seven people were killed, including Cardinal Ocampo. Guzman was there, but he escaped injury. Guzman was in an armored car. Several of the shooters are, like the Felix brothers, fugitives living somewhere today in Mexico.

The Arellano Felix drug gang is led by Ramon Arrelano Felix and his brother, Benjamin Arrelano Felix. A two million dollar reward was offered by the FBI for information leading to the arrest of these two fugitives from justice.



It is a growing trend: gang members with bombs. In early April, 1998, Rahshan Hodge, age 22, was wanted by police, having been indicted along with 43 others on drug and related charges, all those indicted were associated with the GI (Gary Indiana) Boys gang, also known as "Young Boys, Inc". While Young Boys, Inc was first established in Detroit, it eventually became active in Gary and Columbus, Ohio.

Police received a tip that Hodge might be coming into Columbus, Ohio on a Greyhound bus. Staking out the bus terminal, police spotted Hodge and arrested him. He had ten (10) pipe bombs in his possession at the time.

What do you think a gang member would do with ten bombs?


"It's Like Bosnia Around Here Sometimes", Former Chicago Police Department's Gang Crime Commander Donald Hilbring, 1998.

A place as large like Chicago with its own gang epicenter always has some kind of gang war going on. In late 1997 and early 1998, however, the gang violence became so terrifying near the Robert Taylor Homes, which are Chicago public housing buildings on Chicago's southside, that children were not attending school(54). Their parents kept the kids home: there was too much "gun fire" during school hours.

Chicago's public schools receive funding based on what is called "ADA": Average Daily Attendance. So if attendance by the vast majority of enrolled students suddenly slips, the school is going to be hurting in a big way financially. The Robert Taylor Homes are located on Chicago's southside, with the most intense gang violence appearing at about 51st Street South along State Street (which runs north and south through Chicago).

With the onset of gang gunfire, attendance at one school dropped from 90 percent to 60 percent over night.

Extra police and new emergency initiatives were put into place, including "human shields" called "walking school buses" to protect children from the gang gunfire, in an attempt to restore confidence in being able to safely walk to and from the local school which is only blocks away.

Some of this conflict was tied to the displacement of a gang called the "Mickey Cobras", who lived at "the Hole", a building in the Robert Taylor Homes that was scheduled for de-commission and demolition. The Mickey Cobras are "People" and are literally surrounded in the adjoining high rise "projects" by "folks" gangs which are rivals. During this same time frame, the trained and armed security guards working for CHA had been "cut back". Clearly, there is a need for much enhancement of the gang sophistication in terms of training and preparedness among public housing officials in the United States who work, ultimately, for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.




In Northern Ireland, the terrorism and the battles between groups like the Irish Republican Army and Protestant Military Groups has rightfully given everyone an image of this piece of real estate as being "one very violent place". But just how different is Northern Ireland and the City of Chicago with regard to such lethal violence?

In Northern Ireland, there have been more than 3,000 deaths since 1969 because of the fighting there.

But Chicago is not too far behind in terms of gang deaths alone: from 1969 to present there have been 2,334 gang-related killings in Chicago.

The combatants in Northern Ireland usually have some training in the use of weapons and the shooters there usually hit their mark. A sizeable portion of the shooting in Chicago's gang wars are "stray shots" that end up hitting innocent bystanders.

So it is true that technically Chicago is safer than Northern Ireland in regard to number of killings. But not by much.


1. I am indebted to Professor Thomas F. Mc Currie for help on establishing the interface between the gang literature and the terrorism literature and who helped co-author a closely related paper on the same subject.

2. And, of course, the gang member as "quisling" in Taylor (1990).

3. Chapter 15 discusses some of the written gang constitutions and by-laws and shows the important element of "oppressed peoples" ideology. In fact, in the Spanish Gangster Disciple Nation the language of greeting to fellow gang members is "comrade", indeed these higher level gang formations come to view their fellow members as comrades in arms.

4. As Sibley says "the police and the public are facing an enemy army with its own uniforms, weapons and rules" (1989: p. 403).

5. See: Tom Brune and James Ylisela, Jr., "The Making of Jeff Fort", Chicago, November, 1988.

6. Clearly, the strongest evidence yet to emerge that gangs have a left-wing ideological base is from the present study of gangs. In later chapters, in examining actual written gang constitutions, it will be noted how some major Chicago gangs have a common ideological component regarding their official declaration as being the avant guard for "oppressed peoples" generally, or at a minimum identifying with struggles of the oppressed groups.

7. See Campbell and Muncer (1989) for how American gangs have historically lack a revolutionary ideology, in fact, their values have tended to be those of the "mainstream" society, albeit somewhat distorted.

8. "Probers Hint Gangs Used L.A. Riots To Get Guns, But Not All Agree", Chicago Tribune, June 18, 1992: Section 1A, p. 41.

9. Chicago Tribune, ibid.

10. Hagedorn (1988: p. 203) was knowledgeable of this "street sweeping" tactic of gang repression.

11. See Royko's (1971) Boss.

12. See his The Wretched of the Earth.

13. It also accounts, across race, for the ability of sting operations to net large numbers of such offenders using a "double con" method. See also, the related honor threats resulting in gang homicides in Quebec (Cusson, 1989).

14. See Srivastava (1981) for a recent discussion of these "robbery gangs", which also links the conflict to caste and social class factors.

15. See Cole and Momen (1986) for a similar example of how urban gangs functioned in political violence and did control entire towns, involving a coalition of gangs (circa 1843, Iraq).

16. The contemporary, updated, drug-related version would therefore include drug consumption, and perhaps thereby, a shorter "crime free" time span of rest and relaxation.

17. Patrick (1973, p. 47) reports the case of a Glasgow gang routinely acquiring its firearms in the local "black market" (e.g., criminal subculture), and one case of the gang burglarizing a military installation to steal fully automatic shoulder weapons, hand grenades, and other military equipment.

18. Keiser (1969, 1979) should have been sufficient for law enforcement analysts to realize that this "gang-breaking" approach, while often "used by insurgent groups to weaken the effectiveness of organized governments, societies, and competing organizations" (Needle and Stapleton, 1983: p. 30), may not be effective with gangs at the higher end of the organizational development spectrum --- particularly the Vice Lords, which were studied by Keiser, which as a gang basically planned for their leaders to face such targeted prosecution programs and therefore to provide gang organizational continuity, the Vice Lords "institutionalized" leadership within roles. That allows for leadership succession in much the same way that the military command "passes" down the ranks to those eager to fill these positions.

19. For a contemporary version, see Sibley (1989, pp. 420-421) who describes California's 1988 Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act, a piece of anti-gang legislation passed making it a felony to "participate in a street-gang" or if convicted of a gang-related crime (p. 421), which carries another three years imprisonment.

20. William Whyte (1981: p. 255) used the same phrase "habitual association".

21. This allowed for an early form of a Targeted Offender Program; identifying those gang members most active, in leadership roles, and at large for law enforcement initiatives.

22. What we know did fail, as a third such experiment, was integrating the gangs into the military en masse into one unit. This did not work at all.

23. Most training materials would have us believe that terrorism usually implies the use of violence for political, religious, or ideological goals, with the noted exception of criminal terrorism which means the opportunistic use of violence for instrumental purposes (e.g., income motivated), planned or unplanned.

24. Some contemporary gang experts when talking about the goals of many action programs since the 1950's to present (e.g., New York City Youth Board, Chicago Youth Development Project, Community Youth Gang Services) use the term "to destabilize gang structures", as if they were small foreign countries, and such youth workers were CIA SOC/INT social engineering agents.

25. "Planning" was a necessary ingredient in Thrasher's definition of the gang and its behavior.

26. Most of such contemporary gangs would fail to even meet Cuba's revolutionary hero/theorist, Che Guevara's, three tenets of guerrilla warfare: constant vigilance, ok; constant distrust, ok; but constant mobility --- probably not, because to the extent they are "homies", bound to a specific turf or street corner or geographic "base", they are then vulnerable. Che's three guidelines (constant vigilance, constant distrust, constant mobility) were either not enough to be an effective guerrilla or he simply did not himself live up to them, having met a violent death at the hands of counter-insurgency forces.

27. In describing how large gangs get their guns and bombs, one recent book aimed at the layman audience (not a social scientific analysis or study of gangs) claimed "they buy these weapons from international arms dealers" (Webb, 1991: p. 75). Some gangs would probably like to have such a connection, but it is substantially less than factual to claim major American gangs have and use such connections now.

28. See for example the article quoting everyone from Malcolm Klein, Sgt. Wes Mc Bride, to the FBI on the nationwide expansion of the gang-drug-violence problem by Robert Mc Garvey, 1991, "Gangland: L.A. Super Gangs Target America", The American Legion (130)(2)(Feb): 25-27,60-61.

29. Recall that the California prison gang, the Black Guerilla Family (BGF), is very political and "is an adjunct of the Black Liberation Army (BLA) which operates as a Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization on the streets of America" (Jackson and Mc Bride, 1990: p. 53). But outside of the prison context, Jackson and Mc Bride see the BGF as apolitical, due to the waning of the political movement, such that this gang is "now almost totally a criminal group trafficking in narcotics" (ibid).

30. According to a gang informant a relationship does exist between a known terrorist organization (the F.A.L.N.) and a street gang (Spanish Lords). This is a cultural tie, both being oriented towards and composed of members descending from Puerto Rico. This has a prison connection as well. Luis Rosa, the informant indicated, was tied to the FALN; and is like a brother with Carlos Vega, who was said to be a leader in the Spanish Lords. Further ties become established in the prison setting when, for example, in 1988 in Stateville Penitentiary a Latin Exchange Cultural Committee (an inmate organization with outside ties) was established to increase political awareness among inmates.

31. The murder of Chicago's Rudy Lozano is one such case known and documented. But, apparently, still not completely "solved".

32. The work of Davis (1982) is worth some attention here. It is a short book filled with pictures and horror stories; everything from a prison gang rape to "how to" approaches to making explosives. It does provide much discussion about terrorism generally (Davis, 1982: p. 50) and does tend to equate gang members with terrorists (Davis, 1982: p. 52).

33. See: "Gangs and Guns: A Task Force Report of the National Gang Crime Research Center", Nov. 11, 1994. For release at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Criminology, Miami, FL. Co-principal investigators on this Task Force included: George Knox, John Laske, Jim Houston, Tom McCurrie, and Edward Tromanhauser.

34. See: "Plot To Blow Up Police Alleged Gang Sought Rocket Launcher, Feds Say", by Tom Seibel and Art Golab, Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 21, 1994, p. 1, 12. See also: "Five in Gang Accused of Plan to Blow Up Police Station", Chicago Tribune, Oct. 21, 1994, section 2, p. 10.

35. Program literature from the BUILD, Inc program in Chicago described in Chapter 17 for example states "Youth gangs are like street armies, marching to a different drummer".

36. The "dirty dozen" were more like the dirty thousands. Mattick only analyzed several hundred from the Chicago area. These felony offenders were integrated into regular units during W.W. II and did well. See his Master's thesis, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago.

37. Cynicism here would mean this: for some white gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood, Ku Klux Klan, SWP, and others, these are not persons facing racial discrimination. They are often simply right-wing extremists, and not because of any condition of their own poverty.

38. Based on personal interviews with current staff and training materials used by the Chicago Area Project.

39. I am grateful to correctional gang investigator and researcher Jeff McCaddon for internal documents and indepth analysis materials on the BGF and other major gangs.

40. George W. Knox, Ph.D., "Gang Organization in a Large Urban Jail", American Jails (January/February), 1993: pp. 45-48.

41. Lt.-Col. W.H. Sleeman, 1849, Report on Budhuk alia Bagree Decoits and other Gang Robbers by Hereditary Profession and on the measures adopted by the Government of India for their Suppression. Calcutta: J.C. Sherriff, Bengal Military Orphan Press.

42. David E. Kaplan and Elec Dubro, 1986, Yakuza: The Explosive Account of Japan's Criminal Underworld. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.

43. James Haskins, 1975, Street Gangs Yesterday and Today. New York: Hastings House Publishers.

44. Such as in Issue #107, two pages were devoted to the military men and women (including full names, rank, and photos); usually the Teen Angels magazine lists this type of material as "Green Angels", and gives the P.O. Box 338, Rialto, CA 92376 - the same address as Teen Angels magazine.

45. Gordon McLean, 1991, Cities of Lonesome Fear: God Among the Gangs, Chicago: Moody Press.

46. Karen Jowers, "Kids at Risk: The Spread of Gangs Has Some Military Communities Antsy, and Getting Involve", Life In the Times, 1992.

47. A literal and exact transcription of the responses to the open-ended items is provided in Appendix B.

48. I am grateful for the help in data collection from a member of the same military unit; who would prefer not to be explicitly mentioned in print.

49. See: "NAACP Upstart Brings in 5,000 New Members", Chicago Tribune, October 20, 1994, section 2, p. 2.

50. But they may make good surrogate terrorists. See Rachel Ehrenfeld, Narco Terrorism: How Governments Around the WOrld Have Used the Drug Trade to Finance and Further Terrorist Activities, 1990, Basic Books.

51. Another variation is intense violent partisan conflict an example in Jamaica of which is described by Harrison (1988).

52. Or so says Daniel Bell, in The Post Industrial Society.

53. Hugh Dellios, 1993, "Mexican Drug Lords Recruit U.S. Street Gangs", Chicago Tribune, July 11, Section 1, p. 3.

54. See: Rosalind Rossi, "Taylor Homes Gunfire Cuts School Attendance", Chicago Sun Times, Jan. 7, 1998, p. 20.