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Army Transfers Could Trigger A Gang War

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.nysun.com/article/29230 Army Transfers Could Trigger A Gang War By JOSH GERSTEIN - Staff Reporter of the Sun March 16, 2006 Law enforcement
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 16, 2006
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      http://www.nysun.com/article/29230

      Army Transfers Could Trigger A Gang War

      By JOSH GERSTEIN - Staff Reporter of the Sun
      March 16, 2006

      Law enforcement authorities fear that the planned
      relocation of thousands of Army soldiers in Texas
      could trigger a battle the military has not trained
      for - a turf war between violent criminal gangs.

      Local police and FBI officials said they expect the
      transfer of between 10,000 and 20,000 troops to Fort
      Bliss near El Paso, Texas, to bring more members of
      the Folk Nation gang into contact with a criminal
      group that is already well-established in the area,
      Barrio Azteca.

      "What we have started looking at is which military
      units are going to be moving to El Paso," an FBI agent
      there, Andrea Simmons, said in an interview. "There is
      a potential for more gang activity, whether it be
      soldiers, or dependents and families of soldiers."

      Ms. Simmons said some gangs actually direct members to
      join the military to learn how to handle weapons. "The
      intelligence that we have thus far indicates that they
      may try to recruit young people who have clean records
      and encourage them to keep their record clean to get
      into the military. They would get great weapons
      training and other types of training and access to
      weapons and arms, and be able to use that knowledge,"
      she said. "They're taking training that is great and
      very altruistic and turning around and using it for
      criminal activity."

      Ms. Simmons said Folk Nation, which was founded in
      Chicago and includes several branches using the name
      Gangster Disciples, has gained a foothold in the Army.
      "The Folk Nation has a presence with the military
      and/or their dependents," she said.

      One FBI official, Jeremy Francis, told an El Paso
      television station, KFOX, that law enforcement had
      identified at least 80 people with military
      connections who had committed gang-related crimes. He
      said about 800 have some allegiance to Folk Nation.

      The executive director of the National Major Gangs
      Task Force, Edward Cohn, said those numbers do not
      come as a shock. "People are initially surprised that
      there are gangs in the military, but really it
      shouldn't be a surprise," he said. "For somebody to
      believe there are no gangs in the military would be
      very naive."

      Mr. Cohn also said some gang members refine their
      techniques in the Army. "There is a sophistication
      there," he said.

      An analyst of extremist groups for the Anti-Defamation
      League, Mark Pitcavage, said the military and the
      gangs both recruit from the same strata of society.

      "A lot of the young people who tend to get into street
      gangs, they tend to come from socioeconomic
      backgrounds where joining the military is very
      economically desirable," he said. The discovery of
      gang members in the military is "not uncommon at all,"
      he said.

      Officials from the Army's Criminal Investigation
      Division did not return calls seeking comment for this
      story. However, Army investigators have posted on the
      Web a PowerPoint presentation telling military
      commanders how to identify gang tattoos, graffiti, and
      paraphernalia.

      "There is ample evidence that members of the Armed
      Forces had previous, or have current and active
      contact with criminal street gangs or extremist
      groups," the presentation says. It describes
      incidents, some as far away as Europe, where military
      members or their children have been involved in
      gang-related violence.

      Mr. Pitcavage said the armed forces generally do a
      good job of trying to keep out gang members. "If
      you're in a street gang, the military doesn't want
      you. Recruiters, they want to see all your tattoos,"
      he said. "Just by virtue of there being so many
      thousands of people entering the military every year,
      they can't catch everybody."

      A member of the El Paso gang unit, Sergeant Mary Lou
      Carrillo, said some gang members join the military
      with the intent of making a clean break. "Some members
      truly want to change their life and get out of this
      situation. Then you have others who join with the
      purposes of continuing in the gang," she said. "That's
      our problem, unfortunately, a lot of people still
      having that loyalty to the gang."

      The current wave of concern was triggered by plans
      agreed on last year to move as many as 20,000 troops
      to West Texas from a variety of locations, including
      Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas. The base realignment
      process has always been fraught with political peril,
      but the suggestion that it could lead to gang violence
      seems to be a novel one.

      Ms. Simmons said the influx could upset the
      "controlled chaos" created by the dominance of Barrio
      Azteca in El Paso. Like other gangs, it controls the
      drug trade, and engages in burglaries, robberies, and
      shootings.

      "Could there be some serious turf wars?" Ms. Simmons
      asked. "We haven't seen that in El Paso. Is that what
      may be coming?"
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