A newly released U.S. government report warns of the threat posed by members of the Juggalos music fan group, and by gang members who have supposedly infiltrated the country's military, but where is the evidence?
The National Gang Threat Assessment (NGTA) documents trends in gang activity across the U.S. The 2011 report devotes several pages to describing the phenomenon of gang-affiliated criminals who have allegedly infiltrated the military. According to the report, “members of nearly every major street gang, as well as several prison gangs and OMGs [outlaw motorcycle gangs] have been reported on both domestic and international military installations.”
The NGTA warns that these gang members, trained in combat techniques and with easy access to military-style weapons, could employ their skills and firepower against U.S. law enforcement. Despite the report's weighty pedigree, being based on intelligence from a variety of local, state and federal sources, as well as data from tribal law enforcement and corrections agencies, there is reason to question some of its assertions.
First, the NGTA claims that gang-affiliated members of the military, through transfers and deployments, have been able to expand the reach and scope of their operations to new regions, domestic and international. As illustration of this claim, the report uses a photo of a military vehicle in Iraq tagged with the graffiti message, “Support your local Hells Angel” as well as an image of a soldier in an unidentified combat zone “throwing gang signs.”
With a criminal portfolio ranging from drug trafficking to murder-for-hire, the oulaw motorcycle gang does present a genuine threat to law enforcement. However, the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is a registered corporation in the U.S. and elsewhere. Motorcycle enthusiasts have established non-criminal Hells Angels chapters since 1948, and the graffiti featured in the NGTA is more likely evidence of copyright infringement than a sign that an outlaw motorcycle gang is spreading its influence to war zones. Additionally, as highlighted in a piece in The Atlantic, although hand signals are commonly used to communicate gang affiliation, they are employed by any number of other people, including many of the young ladies featured in the YouTube video “White Chicks and Gang Signs.”
Law enforcement has identified military-affiliated members of at least 53 known gangs, according to the report. The list includes many well-known criminal gangs, like Barrio Azteca, a Mexican prison gang affiliated with the Juarez Cartel, and the notorious Zetas, who use violence to control drug trafficking routes through Guatemala and Mexico as well as distribution networks in the U.S.
The report also examines the expansion of hybrid gangs, defined as non-traditional groups with multiple affiliations. One surprising entry on this list is a group known as the Juggalos. They are dissimilar to most gangs because they are not united by territory, ethnicity or national origin. Despite being recognized in four U.S. states as a gang, the Juggalos have no hierarchical structure or command center. Instead, the “sporadic, disorganized, individualistic” Juggalos are brought together by their love of the Insane Clown Posse (ICP), a “horror-core” rap duo who paint their faces to resemble clowns.
When not consuming large quantities of drugs and Faygo soda at annual “Gathering of the Juggalos” events, they appear to take part in a variety of primarily petty crimes. While Juggalos are classified as a street gang in the 2011 NGTA, and Juggalo affiliation in the military has been documented, the inclusion of this group of misfit music fans seems out-of-place in an otherwise serious report.