ISIS and Local Street Gangs is a series discussing traditional local street gangs and their adopting of the ISIS brand and message as has become an emerging threat in certain communities. During the series, examples of this activity and solutions for law enforcement officers will be showcased and highlighted. Click here to see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
Spread of ISIS gangs and implications for security in U.S. communities
The 1980’s and 1990’s provide valuable lessons to U.S. law enforcement on the dangers associated with the proliferation of nationwide gang brands as adopted by local street gangs in cities across the country. A prominent example in the 1980’s were Chicago based gangs such as the Disciples (Folk Nation) and Vice Lords (People Nation). As gang members began to move with their families to other cities, these brands began to be adopted by existing local groups and gangs in other Midwestern cities. Those aspiring and current local gang members in smaller cities were drawn to these “name brand” gangs because of their history, symbolism and notorious reputation on the streets.
An example of this type proliferation occurred in East St. Louis, Illinois. As youth offenders from this community were sent to statewide detention facilities throughout the state of Illinois, they began to join the Folk and People Nation and bring the culture of these gang brands back to the streets of East St. Louis. This type growth of name brand gangs was repeated in different cities within Illinois and beyond. As previously mentioned, the Vice Lords were officially born in St. Charles (Ill) reformatory for Juvenile offenders in the 1950”s.
In the late 1980’s and into the 1990’s, the nationwide gang brand shifted to the West Coast. This proliferation went hand-in-hand with the spread of the crack cocaine epidemic. Because Crips and Blood gang members were from a cocaine “source city”, they had access to cheap wholesale prices of “raw product”. Entrepreneurs of these gangs spread out to different cities around the U.S. to take advantage of growing profits as the crack cocaine epidemic hit coast to coast. The raging gang war in 1980’s Los Angeles, as well as its portrayal in popular culture, made the LA gang culture popular with aspiring and current gang members in smaller cities. From family and drug trafficking contacts, many of these gangsters in smaller cities adopted the symbols, language, and monikers of the high profile Crips and Blood sets.
These local gangs were not off-shoots and did not take orders from LA personalities. They were autonomous by taking the culture of these LA gangs and putting it into the context of their own local street culture. Their relationship with the LA gang members was mainly transactional based on the supply of cocaine which could be cooked into “base” for distribution on local street corners and from “crack houses”. There were wars between LA members and local gang members, particularly when LA individuals attempted to conduct street-level sales. In an example from St. Louis Missouri, LA gang members attempted to set up a street corner operation in a local low rise housing project. The St. Louis drug organizations advised the LA members they had to pay protection money to conduct street-level sales in their city. The LA gang members refused and several were assassinated. Other LA gang members began to form alliances with their family members in St. Louis. LA gang member’s role in the St. Louis drug trade became relegated to just another supplier of cocaine to certain local groups.
The 1980’s and 1990’s provide valuable lessons to U.S. law enforcement
on the dangers associated with the proliferation of nationwide gang brands
as adopted by local street gangs in cities across the country.
From this history of “name brand” gang proliferation, there has to be a concern about the ISIS mass movement, its street gang associates such as Unruly ISIS and this dynamic spreading into U.S. communities. We know from FBI reporting, this Federal agency is investigating over a thousand ISIS cases in all 50 states. When looking at some of these cases in U.S. communities, these ISIS followers can only be described as very similar to gang sets as a small group of 3-4 friends radicalizing together to the ISIS ideology and beginning the process to act on the message of violence. The FBI has become very efficient at identifying these “sets”, infiltrating and creating “sting operations” to disrupt plots. But as we saw in Manhattan on Halloween 2017 and attempted suicide bombing also in Manhattan December 2017 as well as other deadly instances, this is not foolproof to stop every plot.
What happens if the ISIS message in the U.S. morphs and becomes similar to Unruly ISIS in Trinidad? If several fellow street gang members in the U.S. are radicalized in prison together and the message resonates with others when they come back on the street, this is all it takes to have a situation like Unruly ISIS develop in U.S. communities. These hybrid gangs can be more of a challenge for FBI sting investigations. As they are involved with regular street gang activity and bonding together with the ISIS message, they may not reach the threshold for a Federal terrorism prosecution. An example such as Unruly ISIS in Trinidad, they appear to be a group that all grew up together and many having family connections. A much harder investigative target to infiltrate from the outside. These gang members appear to understand the thin line to skirt but not totally cross. A federal undercover investigator could be talking with ISIS gang members daily about beheading videos and other acts committed by ISIS overseas that they follow and like. But if they are not acting on the talk, than a prosecutable terrorism case will go nowhere.
These ISIS followers can only be described
as very similar to gang sets as a small group of 3-4 friends
radicalizing together to the ISIS ideology and beginning the process to act on the message of violence.
A long-term danger from these ISIS gangs is they keep the brand and its message going and relevant. These local gang members, involved in routine acts of street violence, are celebrating this group. This becomes a pathway for some of these individual gang members, in the future, to peel off from the gang as a sub-set group and decide that just “gang banging” is not doing it for them. They have a societal perceived grievance and want to cross the threshold to commit a heinous act of mass violence on innocents. This sub-group of current and/or former members may no longer be an active federal investigative target simply because the members did not previously reach the threshold of plotting and planning terrorist. With thousands of cases to investigate, the FBI has to prioritize.
ISIS gangs developing in U.S. communities would further create an enhanced danger to law enforcement officers. In Trinidad, the threats of violence and clashes of Unruly ISIS includes conflict with T&T Police Services. Several Unruly ISIS members have been killed in shootouts with police and the gang has threatened the lives and families of officers patrolling the Enterprise area. After several arrests by police of Unruly ISIS members, roads were blocked and fires were set in the Enterprise area. A Crime Watch reporter in Trinidad reported receiving death threats from Abdul Wakeel AKA “Krysis” (who in summer of 2017 was involved in a violent resisting arrest incident with local police officers during a pedestrian stop).
Law enforcement, as a target of attacks, is a prominent theme of ISIS propaganda worldwide. There have been an assortment of plots and attacks against security forces. Many of these targeted incidents in Western Europe have been focused on law enforcement and this trend has occurred in Canada and the United States. The proliferation of ISIS gang activity is another conduit of anti-police messaging which increases the danger by the targeting of law enforcement officers during their everyday duties. There are serious considerations about the morphing of the ISIS threat and how it may impact our local communities in the future.
- The spreading of name brand gang culture has impacted a cross-section of U.S. jurisdictions over the years. There is a danger of Unruly ISIS and other similar brands – based on terrorist ideology – become the next violent gang mass movement recruiting in U.S. communities.
- It is important for local officers to become aware and learn about the diversity of global gang trends that may eventually impact the jurisdiction they protect and serve.
What can I do to protect my jurisdiction?
- Always stay current in learning and documenting gang trends in the community, particularly as connected to ISIS activity and ideology. As this develops, report to homeland security officials in your state.
In this blog article series, we continue to explore and discuss several aspects of emerging ISIS gang activity, including as a possible future growing threat in US jurisdictions. Our investigation will look at the crime-terror nexus as a very important component of ISIS and its recruitment of members. We will also discuss ongoing deadly ISIS street gang activity and its roots in a nation close in proximity and cultural ties to the U.S. Most importantly, we will discuss ways this phenomenon may impact communities in the United States and key trends for law enforcement to consider in identifying and protecting jurisdiction from this emerging trend.
Coming Soon Part 6: What can be done to protect my jurisdiction from ISIS gang activity?