When most North Carolinians think of terrorism, ISIS and al-Qaida come to mind. But there is another form of terrorism closer to home — right here in North Carolina — and that’s the violent, vicious street gang known as Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.
If you’re not familiar with MS-13, according to Wikipedia, the gang originated in Los Angeles. It was founded in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants who came to the United States after the Central American wars.
Today, MS -13 has a base of operations in Charlotte, along with a significant presence on both coasts, including San Francisco, Washington D.C., and its suburbs, Queens N.Y., parts of New Jersey, Boston, and Houston.
MS -13 is involved in drug trafficking, robbery, larceny, human trafficking, extortion, racketeering, kidnapping, and arms trafficking. They have allies in the Mexican drug cartels and they are brutal and unforgiving.
Gang members are known by the tattoos that cover their bodies, including their faces.
As former Gov. Pat McCrory pointed out to me, North Carolina’s vast interstate network of highways and our explosive population growth has allowed MS-13 to spread into rural and urban areas in our state.
MS-13 preys on the illegal immigrant community. The gang enlists many young illegal immigrants into their ranks, using extortion and threats to murder family members if those tapped for membership don’t join.
In May 2015, 37 MS-13 members were arrested in Charlotte for participating in gang activities. Most lived in Charlotte, others lived Rock Hill, S.C., Kannapolis, and Concord. At the time, all were charged with racketeering and conspiracy.
According to a federal affidavit, Homeland Security agents found that one MS-13 gang member had Charlotte Metropolitan Police Department documents about a robbery case against him. The documents contained the names of officers, victims, and witnesses in the case and were either circled or crossed out — allegedly indicating they would be targeted for extortion or murder. The documents also mentioned meetings the gang members had in Charlotte hotels or parks.
During one meeting, according to investigators and news reports, the gang members discussed the gang’s structure and its expansion plans, the need to identify individuals co-operating with law enforcement, using an apartment to hold individuals they kidnap, and “collecting rent” by getting a share of the proceeds of drug deals.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has vowed to “devastate” MS-13. He has called it one of most “violent gangs in the history of our country, no doubt about it.”
Sessions says his goal is to “demolish” MS-13 and that it should be designated a terrorist organization as El Salvador did in 2015.
Clearly, the MS-13 gang is a growing threat to the citizens of North Carolina and the nation.
Here’s wishing Attorney General Sessions and the law enforcement agencies fighting MS-13 godspeed in their efforts to rid this blight upon our land.
Marc Rotterman is host of “Front Row,” a weekly public affairs program on UNC-TV. Follow him on Twitter @FrontRowmarc.