Trump says he's going to 'destroy' MS-13 — here's how the gang got its sinister name

MS 13 member tattoo

The street gang that President Donald Trump has said US authorities will “destroy” as part of his crackdown on crime is known by a simple moniker: Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.

And the garish tattoos that adorn the faces and torsos of its members often do more to announce the gang’s presence than the formal name.

But the somewhat sinister name and the gang’s extensive operations are a far cry from its humble origins.

Migrants from Central America, El Salvador in particular, fled civil wars in the region in the 1970s and ’80s, and a lot of them ended up in LA and Southern California.

Many of those young men, who arrived in the US without family networks or any other connections, gravitated toward gangs.

Some of them, according to Ioan Grillo’s “Gangster Warlords,” joined up with Barrio 18, an established gang that was started by Mexican immigrants but had begun letting in members of other nationalities.

MS 13 gang member signs

Other migrants, at the time just teenagers on the streets of LA, started a new gang. Citing the work of the anthropologist Juan Martinez and the dogged reporting of the Spanish-language news site El Faro, Grillo described how they arrived at their new organization’s name:

“Bizarrely, it comes from a Charlton Heston movie. Back in the 1950s, the film ‘The Naked Jungle’ was a hit in El Salvador with the weird translation of ‘Cuando Ruge la Marabunta’ or ‘When the Ants Roar.’ Following this, Salvadorans took the name Mara to mean group of friends, who like ants protect each other.”

As Grillo describes, the first wave of Maras in LA saw themselves as rockers, dressing the part, listening to heavy metal, and calling themselves the “Mara Stoners.”

Their newness and odd attire marked them as targets for other LA gangs, who attacked them throughout the early 1980s.

But by 1984, the Maras had changed.

“To sound tougher and reinforce their Salvadoran identity, the Stoners re-baptized themselves as the Mara Salvatrucha,” Grillo wrote. “People have speculated that Salvatrucha might be a play on words of Salvadoran and trucha, meaning ‘street smart.’ Others say it just sounded good.”

As the civil war in El Salvador deepened in the 1980s, more Salvadorans arrived in LA and found their way to Mara Salvatrucha.

This influx of new recruits, ones hardened by the horrors of the civil war back home, helped make the Maras better able to strike back at their rivals.

As time went on, the violence MS-13 members instigated and participated in got them thrown in jail, where, according to Grillo, the dynamics of gang life were different.


Rather than upstarts who could carve out their territory, Maras had to look for a bigger organization for protection:

“Mara inmates realized they had to join La Eme [The Mexican Mafia] to survive, and the mob was happy to add war-hardened machete wielders to its cell-block armies. The Mexican Mafia uses the number thirteen (M is the thirteenth letter of the alphabet), so as Maras joined up, they became the Mara Salvatrucha 13.”

MS-13 has only grown in the years since. As of 2012, the UN estimated that it had 19,000 members in Honduras and El Salvador. Members have been arrested as far away as Washington, DC, where the surrounding counties are believed to be home to as many as 3,000 members.

While the gang mainly focuses on local-level crime — extortion, drug dealing, and theft — it also has links to Mexican transnational drug cartels. It reportedly does street-level drug distribution for the Sinaloa cartel, helping that Mexican organization secure most of the US drug market.

SEE ALSO: Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel has reportedly teamed up with a Romanian gang to ship drugs to the UK

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Trump dictated misleading statement on son's meeting with Russian: Washington Post – Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump dictated a statement, later shown to be misleading, in which his son Donald Trump Jr. said a meeting he had with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 was not related to his father’s presidential campaign, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

Trump Jr. released emails earlier in July that showed he eagerly agreed last year to meet a woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer who might have damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as part of Moscow’s official support for his father. The New York Times was first to report the meeting.

The Washington Post said Trump advisers discussed the new disclosure and agreed that Trump Jr. should issue a truthful account of the episode so that it “couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged.”

The president, who was flying home from Germany on July 8, changed the plan and “personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said he and the Russian lawyer had ‘primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children,'” the Post said, citing unnamed people with knowledge of the deliberations.

It said the statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared to publish the story, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”

An attorney for Trump, Jay Sekulow, issued a statement in response to the Post report: “Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the Post story, nor did Trump Jr.’s attorney, Alan Futerfas.

U.S. investigators are probing whether there was collusion between the Kremlin and Trump’s Republican presidential campaign.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow sought to hurt Clinton and help Trump in the 2016 election. Russia denies any interference, and Trump has denied collusion with Russia.The president applauded his son’s “transparency” after he released the email exchanges on July 11.

“It remains unclear exactly how much the president knew at the time of the flight about Trump Jr.’s meeting,” the Washington Post said.

David Sklansky, a professor of criminal law at Stanford Law School, said that if Trump, as reported by the Post, helped craft a misleading public statement about the meeting, he may have bolstered a potential obstruction of justice case against himself.

To build a criminal obstruction of justice case, federal law requires prosecutors to show that a person acted with “corrupt” intent. A misleading public statement could be used as evidence of corrupt intent, Sklansky said.

“Lying usually isn’t a crime,” he said. But “it could be relevant in determining whether something else the president did, like firing (former FBI Director James) Comey, was done corruptly.”

Reporting by Washington Newsroom; Additional reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Peter Cooney

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