We all love gangs don’t we? Unless we get on their wrong side that is. Our obsession traces back to the prohibition era when they first became prominent. During that time, illegal booze pushers like Al Capone were high rollers with all of the power. Not much has changed since then. Gangs all around the world still use drugs, sex, extortion, political influence and murder to achieve power, fame, and financial gain. Here is our list of the 10 Most Dangerous Gangs.
Mara Salvatrucha (commonly abbreviated as MS-13) is an international criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles, California. It has spread to other parts of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America. The majority of the gang is ethnically composed of Central Americans (mostly Salvadorans) and active in urban and suburban areas.
In the U.S., the MS-13 has an especially heavy presence in Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area in Northern California; the Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas of Fairfax County, Virginia, Montgomery County, Maryland, and Prince George’s County, Maryland; Long Island, New York; the Boston, Massachusetts area; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Houston, Texas. There is also a presence of MS-13 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Members of MS distinguish themselves by tattoos covering the body and also often the face, as well as the use of their own sign language. They are notorious for their use of violence and a subcultural moral code that predominantly consists of merciless revenge and cruel retributions. This cruelty of the distinguished members of the “Maras” or “Mareros” earned them a path to be recruited by the Sinaloa Cartel battling against Los Zetas in an ongoing drug war south of the United States border. Their wide-ranging activities have drawn the attention of the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who have initiated wide-scale raids against known and suspected gang members – netting hundreds of arrests across the country
2. Primeiro Comando da Capital (Brazil)
The Primeiro Comando da Capital of São Paulo is generally considered to be the largest street gang in Brazil. If their 13,000 or so members over 5,000 are currently incarcerated, and the gang has as much influence inside of prison as it does on the outside. Formed by prisoners in the 1990s, the Primeiro are known for dealing drugs, committing murder, trafficking arms, and plenty of kidnapping. In 2012 after a dispute with some local police, the Primeiro Comando da Capital erupted and incited a huge riot during which they killed hundreds of people, including police officers.
3. 18th Street Gang, Los Angeles
18th Street gang, also known as Calle 18, Barrio 18, The B.E.S.T, La18 or Mara-18 in Central America,is a multi-ethnic transnational criminal organization that started as a street gang in the Rampart area of Los Angeles, California. 18th Street was formed in the 1960s, appropriately near the intersection of 18th Street and Union Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. They are considered to be the largest transnational criminal gang in Los Angeles and it is estimated that there are tens of thousands of members in Los Angeles County alone. Their wide-ranging illegal activities and notoriety has come to the attention of the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In the early 2000s, the government initiated raids against known and suspected gang members netting hundreds of arrests across the country. In the past ten years alone 18th Street has been found responsible for over 250 deaths.
4. Area Boys (Lagos, Nigeria)
The Area Boys are a gang of mostly street children and teenagers in Lagos, Nigeria. Area boys have existed in the city of Lagos since the early 1980s. However, under various names, types of Area Boys have been traced back to the 1920s. Don’t let their youthful membership fool you; although the Area Boys members are young, they are one of the most vicious gangs in the world. They are known for dealing drugs, committing extortion, and robbing people in broad daylight. They will threaten, beat, and rob people in very high-profile places like public markets and buss stops. They also hire their services out, as a sort of ‘thugs-for-hire’ business. In 2005 a Nigerian military soldier tried to stop a group of Area Boys from robbing a bus driver, they subsequently stabbed the soldier to death.
5. La Eme (Mexican Mafia)
The Mexican Mafia (Spanish: Mafia Mexicana [maˈfia mexiˈkana]), also known as La Eme (Spanish for “the M”), is a highly organized Mexican American criminal organization in the United States. La Eme are one of the most notorious prison gangs on earth. If you’ve seen the movies ‘American Me’ or ‘Blood In/Blood Out (Bound By Honor)’ then you have already seen the Hollywood version of how this gang started. Imprisoned gangsters Rodolfo Cadina and Joe ‘Pegleg’ Morgan were founding members of La Eme while serving time at the Deuel Vocational Prison in the late 50s. Since then La Eme has become the gang that most Southern California gangbangers become affiliated with when they enter the prison system. Their strict honor code includes rules against infighting, cowardice, and disrespect and they have been connected with contract killings both inside and outside the prison walls. Law enforcement officials report that La eMe is the most powerful gang within the California prison system. Government officials state that there are currently 155–300 official members of the Mexican Mafia with around 990 associates who assist La eMe in carrying out its illegal activities in the hopes of becoming full members.
6. Wah Ching
Wah Ching is an Asian street gang that was started by Chinese American youths in San Francisco in the 1960s. ‘Wah Ching’ means ‘Chinese Youth’ but today the Wah Ching has members of other asian nationalities, including vietnamese. In the 70’s the Wah Ching had a legendary shootout with the Joe Boys in what became known as the ‘Golden Dragon Massacre’, where 5 people were murdered and 11 more hospitalized. Since then the Wah Ching have kept their operation more or less quiet, but rumor has it that the Wah Ching is as active as ever and people who cross them don’t get away lightly. Over the decades, the Wah Ching has evolved from a street gang to an organized crime group.
The Yakuza is an international crime syndicate founded and focused in Japan. They are the largest and most strictly organized criminal organization in the world; there are an estimated 100,000 members in this gang! The Yakuza’s main criminal activities include political racketeering, prostitution, financial crimes, and gambling. The history of the Yakuza goes all the way back to the 17th Century when Ronin warriors ran around with swords. “Yakuza” is a term from a Japanese card game (Oicho-Kabu) which means ‘worthless’ or ‘pointless’ which reflects the way the Yakuza view themselves: as outsiders.
8. Los Zetas
Los Zetas is a violent criminal syndicate in Mexico, and is considered by the U.S. government to be the “most technologically advanced, sophisticated, and dangerous cartel operating in Mexico.” The origins of Los Zetas date back to the late 1990s when commandos of the Mexican Army’s forces deserted their ranks and decided to work as the armed wing of the Gulf Cartel, a drug trafficking organization. In February 2010, Los Zetas broke away from their former employer and formed their own criminal organization.
Los Zetas are well armed and equipped, and unlike other traditional criminal organizations in Mexico, drug trafficking makes up only around 50% of their revenue, while a large portion of their income comes from other activities directed against both rival drug cartels and civilians; their brutal tactics, which include beheadings to terrorize their rivals, torture, and indiscriminate slaughter, show that they often prefer brutality over bribery. Los Zetas are also Mexico’s largest drug cartel in terms of geographical presence, overtaking its rivals, the Sinaloa Cartel. Los Zetas also operate through protection rackets, assassinations, extortion, kidnappings, and other criminal activities. The organization is based in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, directly across the border from Laredo, Texas.
The triads are a large network of Asian gangs that date all the way back to 17th Century China, but today Triads can be found in China as well as Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, Australia, New Zealand, and even the United Kingdom and U.S. One of largest and most discreet crime organizations in the world, the Triads participate in pedestrian criminal activity like drug trafficking,, murder for hire, and prostitution, but they are also known for much more sophisticated criminal activity including counterfeiting and even a health care fraud ring that was busted up in Japan in 2012.
Triads use numeric codes to distinguish between ranks and positions within the gang; the numbers are inspired by Chinese numerology based on the I Ching. “489” refers to the “Mountain” or “Dragon” Master (or ‘Dragon Head’), while 438 is used for the “Deputy Mountain Master”, a “438” indicates “Grass Slipper” rank and the Mountain Master’s proxy, “Incense Master”, who oversees inductions into the Triad, and “Vanguard”, who assists the Incense Master. “426” refers to a “military commander”, also known as a “Red Pole”, overseeing defensive and offensive operations, while “49” denotes the position of “soldier” or rank-and-file member. The “White Paper Fan” (415) provides financial and business advice, and the “Straw Sandal” (432) functions as a liaison between different units. “25” refers to an undercover law enforcement agent or spy from another triad, and has become popularly used in Hong Kong as a slang for “snitch”, i.e. informant. “Blue Lanterns” are uninitiated members, equivalent to Mafia associates and, as such, do not have a number designation.
10. La Cosa Nostra
The American Mafia, commonly known as the Mafia, Italian Mafia, Italian Mob, or the Mob in the United States, is an Italian American criminal society that originated and evolved from the Sicilian Mafia. Similar to the Sicilian Mafia, the Italian-American Mafia is a secret criminal society without a formal name. Its members usually refer to it as Cosa Nostra (Italian pronunciation: [kɔza nɔstra]), a phrase which literally translates to “our thing,” but can be more accurately paraphrased as “our work” or “our operation.” The press also coined the name “National Crime Syndicate” to refer to the entire network of U.S. organized crime, which included the Jewish Mafia elements and the Italian-American Mafia. As revealed by the findings of a U.S. Senate Special Committee in the 1950s chaired by Estes Kefauver, it was described as a confederation of mainly Italian and Jewish-American organized crime groups throughout the U.S.
Lionized in such classic films as ‘The Godfather’ trilogy, Goodfellas, Donnie Brasco, and countless more, the mob rose to great heights in America thanks to prohibition. Prohibition laid the groundwork for smuggling and bootlegging which can largely be held responsible for laying the groundwork for organized crime drug smuggling that still exists today. Although many people think of The Mafia as a relic of the past, they are actually still very active today in activities including extortion, murder-for-hire, political corruption, racketeering and arms trafficking.
The Mafia in America emerged in Italian immigrant neighborhoods in New York’s East Harlem (or Italian Harlem), Lower East Side, and Brooklyn. It also emerged in other areas of the East Coast of the United States and several other major metropolitan areas (such as New Orleans) during the late 19th century and early 20th Century following waves of Italian immigration, especially from Sicily and other regions of Southern Italy. It has its roots in the Sicilian Mafia, but is a separate organization in the United States. Neapolitan, Calabrian, and other Italian criminal groups in America, as well as independent Italian-American criminals, eventually merged with Sicilian mafiosi to create the modern pan-Italian Mafia in North America. Today, the American Mafia cooperates in various criminal activities with the Sicilian Mafia and other Italian organized crime groups, such as the Camorra in Naples, ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria, and Sacra Corona Unita in Apulia. The most important unit of the American Mafia is that of a “family”, as the various criminal organizations that make up the Mafia are known. Despite the name of “family” to describe the various units, they are not familial groupings.
The Mafia is currently most active in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, New England, Detroit, and Chicago; with smaller families, associates, and crews in places such as Florida, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Cleveland. There have been at least 26 cities around the United States with Cosa Nostra families, with many more offshoots, splinter groups and associates in other cities. There are five main New York City Mafia families, known as the Five Families: the Gambino, Lucchese, Genovese, Bonanno and Colombo families. At its peak, the Mafia dominated organized crime in the U.S. While each crime family operates independently, nationwide coordination is provided by the Commission, which consists of the bosses of each of the strongest families.
Law enforcement still considers the Mafia the largest organized crime group in the United States. It has maintained control over much of the organized crime activity in the United States and certain parts of Canada. Today most of the Mafia’s activities are contained to the Northeastern United States and Chicago where they continue to dominate organized crime despite the increasing numbers of street gangs and other organizations that are not of Italian origin.