The Gangfighters Network is an organization designed to bridge the gap between academia and the criminal justice professions. For more information, visit and The focus is on gangs, initially adult gangs as it appears they have been ignored or absorbed into the mainstream society. There's a special focus on gang members in the military.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Divided Loyalty for military gang members

  • I am an American Soldier.
  • I am a Warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States and live the Army Values.
  • I will always place the mission first.
These lines start the Soldier's Creed. They also (if tested) would end the military careers of many gang members.

When examining the various aspects of gang life, loyalty within the gang organization often receives little or no attention. It is important that this concept be recognized, since violence is often a forced product of the underlying assumptions that hold street gangs together (Ruble & Turner, 2000), and violence is something that the military trains most service members to respond to (and sometimes deliver).

Loyalty becomes an issue in many organizations, but nowhere is it more critical than in the public service sector. The military and police departments across the United States have been infiltrated by gangs who seek access to weapons or sensitive information regarding investigations (Witkowski, 2004). The threat to these organizations does not come from the traditional worker.

Those in the military who are trained to fight in battle are not the only positions in which the loyalty of a gang member would be an issue. Those who control the finances and personnel assignments, as well as those who oversee logistics shipments can exploit their positions for the gang's benefit. Those in and affiliated with policing and corrections may have access to criminal records, prisoner assignments, and transportation.

The indoctrination phase of these institutions cannot be compared to that used by the gang, and those holding dual positions (a member of the gang and the military or police) should be watched. They will not be intimidated by drill instructors. They will not admit their gang affiliation to investigators. They will not brag to their co-workers that they were able to join the military even though they were gang members.

Some military installations brief new arrivals and their family members on the dangers of gangs. Periodically, military installations will conduct tattoo inspections or publish local addresses situated near military installations of known gang hangouts that are considered off-limits to military personnel (Witkowski, 2004). Despite these briefings, many military leaders publicly deny the existence of gang members in their organizations, or at a minimum deny that their presence in the organization is a problem.

Nonetheless, 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 found throughout private and public sector employment, and even the U.S. Military. They are present in most branches and across all ranks of the military, especially the junior enlisted. Estimates of their effect on and participation in these areas are hard to obtain because many gang-related incidences are un-reported or exclude references to gang affiliation and there has been no record of a Department of Defense survey to locate military gang members.

Gang members often enter the workforce at the lower levels, but some may work their way into more career-oriented positions. Many join the military to escape their current environment or troubled gang lifestyle. Others may enlist in the military as an alternative to incarceration; to receive combat training; to obtain access to weapons and supplies; to learn basic first aid and medic skills that can later benefit their gang; or to take advantage of opportunities to commit crimes; and to recruit new members for their gang.

Those who enter the military to leave the gang lifestyle have a perfect opportunity. But those who enter the military to establish connections for drug running and weapons trafficking also have an opportunity. None of the military departments have an effective strategy for 1) identifying and 2) tracking the reformation of gang members, or truly 3) cracking the code. Current law prohibits only "active" participation, which means that those who enter or are sent to learn tactics or make connections would not be seen as active. We learned (again) with the war on terrorism that young men are quite capable of hiding their intentions.

Perhaps we should allow gang members into the military. To do so without oversight, though, is a mistake.

What do you think?


Ruble, N. M., & Turner, W. L. (2000). A systemic analysis of the dynamics and organization of urban street gangs. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 28(2), 117-132.
Witkowski, M. J. (2004). The Gang's All Here. Security Management. Arlington: May 2004, 48,(5) 95.