Monday, October 6, 2014

Criminal Insurgency: Gang Members as Warfighters, Libertarian Solutions

The war in Mexico between paramilitary drug-trafficking organizations and the government has shown the world how warfare is evolving.  With market-oriented technological advances, it’s possible for wealthy players to raise private armies.  It’s equally possible, and easy, for individuals to wage terrorist campaigns.

Jalisco New Generations Cartel declares war on the Knights Templar Cartel.
Nowadays, all it requires to be an insurgent is an AK-47, some explosives, and a laptop or tablet.  The words “terrorist” and “insurgent” are becoming synonymous as various “rebel” groups adopt both tactics at will.  Wars are being increasingly fought by non-state groups. Two examples are the separatist and nationalist militias in Ukraine, and the Kurdish guerrillas fighting ISIS in Syrian and Iraqi Kurdistan. Furthermore, the line between street gangs and organized crime syndicates is blurring.

The Mexican Drug War and other recent conflicts in show that gangs and highly organized criminal groups can also be rebel soldiers.

Take the Mexican cartels—commonly called drug gangs—once merely organized crime groups with street gang enforcers, now evolved into paramilitary organizations fighting the state and fighting rival paramilitary groups.  Their war has killed over 140,000 people in a decade.  This is called criminal insurgency.

Gang violence and organized crime activities have skyrocketed across Latin America, especially in Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador.  The main combatants in the Central American gang wars are Mara Salvatrucha [MS-13] and Barrio 18 [18th Street or M-18].  Both transnational gangs serve as auxiliaries for opposing Mexican cartels. Their hired services include distribution, shipping, and armed enforcement operations.  Street gangs all over Mexico also work for one or another paramilitary drug-trafficking organization.

The ongoing civil war in Mexico—including its spillover across Latin America—is not the first instance of gangs and organized criminal groups fighting in modern wars.  Take the following examples:

  • In Mexico, 1910, Pancho Villa turned his bandit gang into a guerrilla army.
  • In China, bandit and warlord armies were absorbed into the Peoples Liberation Army in their fight against the Nanjing government.
  • The Vietnamese organized crime network Bin Xuyen openly fought the Saigon government and was absorbed into the Viet Cong.
  • Bandits and pirates joined demobilized anti-communist armies who formed paramilitary drug-trafficking organizations in Asia’s Golden Triangle.
  • Neighborhood gangs in Lebanon became overnight militias engaged in sectarian fighting.
  • In Colombia, the drug cartels partnered with the communist guerrillas to traffic drugs and fight the government.
  • The Iraqi insurgency in Fallujah included organized crime groups.
  • Today, the Taliban is financed in part by Afghan drug lords.

MS-13 foot soldier with a machine pistol
The United States has its own gang problem. Hundreds of thousands of people are members of local, regional, and national gangs.  According to Bunker and Sullivan, third-generation gangs (founded two generations ago) have the membership and logistical capability to resist the state.  Rather than battle over petty turf like first-generation local gangs, third-generation gangs have built up international trading networks, corporate-like hierarchies, and armed foot soldiers adequate for sustainable criminal insurgency.

Given the growing numbers, logistical capabilities, and sophistication of transnational gangs and local affiliates in the United States, alongside the growing numbers and militarization of America’s law enforcement agencies, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that a low-level armed conflict might arise between gangs and law enforcement agencies.  If a low-level armed conflict ensues, there is always the possibility of escalation.

There are libertarian solutions to alleviate a credible threat to national security like the one described above.

First, the Second Amendment must be respected by all levels of government in the United States.

Statistics have repeatedly shown areas with less restricted gun laws average less violent crime than areas under strict gun control.  The police can’t be everywhere, nor would free people want them everywhere, so the only solution for self-defense against gang violence is the right for citizens to bear arms.

Take Chicago, for example.  The city with some of the strictest gun control laws in the country is also the city with the highest murder rate in the country.  The majority of the 2014 Chicago murders were gang shootings.  Too many of those killed were bystanders, not participants in the violence.  The people of Chicago deserve to protect their persons, families, and communities.

Second, America’s prison system must shrink.

Prisons are illicit trading centers and recruiting centers for gangs at all levels.  As of 2008, 90.7% of federal prisoners were incarcerated for non-violent offenses.  As of 2011, 50% of federal prisoners were in for drug-related convictions.  Such a high level of non-violent offenders would prompt expanded parole, with a work-reparations plan if necessary.  Otherwise, non-violent offenders become “criminalized” by the violent prison culture.

Third, drug crimes constitute nearly half of federal inmates, the majority of them nonviolent; this points to one solution: end the federal war on drugs.

Better yet, legalize the victimless “crimes” for which nonviolent offenders are incarcerated.  Drugs, gambling, and prostitution are booming industries, and their illegality guarantees their domination by organized crime.  Rather than enabling racketeering for criminals, why not turn these industries over to law-abiding entrepreneurs?  Especially when their success must come from quality products and customer service, not coercion or monopoly through violence.

Homeland Security agents disembark from a MRAP vehicle
Fourth, law enforcement agencies must be demilitarized. There is no reason compatible with liberty for the Department of Agriculture to have submachine guns, nor is there any reason for local police departments to have armored personnel carriers.  If the public is faced with a military-grade threat, the states have National Guards who can respond appropriately .

Demilitarization of law enforcement reduces the chances of confrontation between law enforcement and criminal networks. Through legalizing drugs and other outlawed vices, major income sources leave the criminal underground for the free market.  By shrinking the prison system, gangs have far fewer recruit for their networks as non-violent offenders are paroled.

Criminal insurgency is a credible future threat to America's national security.  Through abiding by free market principles nationwide, and strict self-defense in times of emergency, this threat can be avoided and neutralized peacefully.

* * *

JNGC image taken from a YouTube screenshot from Wikimedia Commons via Fair Use.  MS-13 photo courtesy of the "Shooting From the Lip" Wordpress blog. Homeland Security paramilitary agents photo by DHS, obtained from "Stripers Online" forum, and in the public domain.

No comments:

Post a Comment