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Gang Activity in the U.S. Military

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Gang Activity in the Military

An unidentified military member flashes gang signs.

FBI Investigative Photo
Updated March 18, 2010

According to a recently released FBI report, Gang-related activity in the US military is increasing and poses a threat to law enforcement officials and national security.

The report, Gang Activity in the U.S. Armed Forces Increasing, dated January 12, states that members of nearly every major street gang have been identified on both domestic and international military installations. Members of nearly every major street gang, including the Bloods, Crips, Black Disciples, Gangster Disciples, Hells Angels, Latin Kings, The 18th Street Gang, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), Mexican Mafia, Nortenos, Surenos, Vice Lords, and various white supremacist groups, have been documented on military installations. Although most prevalent in the Army, the Army Reserves, and the National Guard, gang activity is pervasive throughout all branches of the military and across most ranks, but is most common among the junior enlisted ranks, according to the report. The extent of gang presence in the armed services is often difficult to determine since many enlisted gang members conceal their gang affiliation and military authorities may not recognize gang affiliation or may be inclined not to report such incidences.

  • Since 2004, the FBI and El Paso Police Department have identified over 40 military-affiliated Folk Nation gang members stationed at the Fort Bliss Army Installation in Texas who have been involved in drug distribution, robberies, assaults, weapons offenses, and a homicide, both on and off the installation.

  • Fort Hood, Texas, Army Installation officials have identified nearly 40 gang members on base since 2003. Military-affiliated Gangster Disciple members at Fort Hood have been responsible for robberies, assaults, theft, and burglaries on and off base.

  • Nearly 130 gang and extremist group members have been identified on the Fort Lewis, Washington, Army Installation since 2005. These gang members are believed to be responsible for many of the criminal misconduct instances reported on base.

The FBI reports that accurate data reflecting gang-related instances occurring on military installations is limited, since the military is not required to report criminal offense statistics occurring on post to the FBI. Consequently, military data reflecting criminal instances are not incorporated into the Uniform Crime Report (UCR).

Why Do Gang Members Join the Military?

The FBI believes that gang members may enlist in the military to escape their current environment or gang lifestyle. Some gang members may also enlist to receive weapons, combat, and convoy support training; to obtain access to weapons and explosives; or as an alternative to incarceration. Upon discharge, they may employ their military training against law enforcement officials and rival gang members. Such military training could ultimately result in more organized, sophisticated, and deadly gangs, as well as an increase in deadly assaults on law enforcement officers.

  • In May 2005 an Army recruit and suspected Crip member was assigned to the US Army Finance Battalion where he engaged in drug distribution. He was eventually discharged from the Army for misconduct.

  • According to open source reporting and multiple law enforcement reporting, soldiers—including gang members—are currently being taught urban warfare for combat in Iraq, including how to encounter hostile gunfire.

  • The Defense Criminal Investigative Service reported in 2006 that gang members, particularly MS-13 members, are increasing their presence on or near US military installations.

  • Even though the policy violates Military recruiting regulations, US criminal courts have allowed gang members to enter the service as an alternative to incarceration. Several instances wherein gang members have been recruited into the armed services while facing criminal charges or on probation or parole have been documented. In many instances, a gang member facing criminal charges may be provided the option to join the military or serve a jail sentence. Furthermore, some army recruiters have been known to conceal recruits' gang affiliation to help boost their enlistment numbers.

Increased Crime

Gang membership in the armed forces can disrupt good order and discipline, increase criminal activity on and off military installations, and compromise installation security and force protection. Gang incidents involving active-duty personnel on or near US military bases nationwide include drive-by shootings, assaults, robberies, drug distribution, weapons violations, domestic disturbances, vandalism, extortion, and money laundering. Gangs have also been known to use active-duty service members to distribute their drugs.

  • The Aurora Police Department reports that in July 2006 a Marine reservist and Maniac Latin Disciple gang member who had served in Iraq was charged with attempted murder in the shooting of three teenagers in Aurora, Illinois.

  • According to FBI investigative data, in April 2006 a Blood member and active duty soldier at Fort Lewis allegedly robbed a bowling alley on base and is a suspect in a home invasion robbery in Olympia, Washington.

  • In January 2005 a Fort Hood soldier and Gangster Disciple leader was convicted of two aggravated robberies in Killeen, Texas.22 According to open-source reporting, he allegedly directed 30 to 40 Fort Hood Gangster Disciple members to commit illegal activities including drug dealing, identity theft, and armed robberies.
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