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