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Gangs in the Military…Zero Tolerance. “Are there members of the military that belong to gangs? No doubt about it. But the military is not rampant with gang members.” - Provost Marshal Maj. Robert Ray, USA. How Big is the Problem?.

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Gangs in the Military…Zero Tolerance

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Gangs in the military zero tolerance

Gangs in the Military…Zero Tolerance

Gangs in the military zero tolerance

“Are there members of the military that belong to gangs? No doubt about it. But the military is not rampant with gang members.”

- Provost Marshal Maj. Robert Ray, USA

How big is the problem

How Big is the Problem?

  • Though the number of active duty military gang members is not large, members of nearly every major street gang, and some prison and outlaw motorcycle gangs, have been identified on both domestic and international military installations

  • Exact numbers are difficult to determine since many enlisted gang members conceal their gang affiliation and military authorities may not recognize gang affiliation

How big is the problem1

How Big is the Problem?

  • Gang members are found among all branches and most ranks, but are most common among the junior enlisted ranks

  • Military transfers have resulted in gang members, both service members and dependents, moving to new areas and establishing a gang presence

Dependent children

Dependent Children

  • Dependent children are at particular risk for gang recruitment, in part, because the frequent transfers and transient nature of their families often makes them feel isolated, vulnerable and in need of companionship

What is a gang

What is a Gang?

  • A group composed of three or more members

  • Members share an identity, often linked to a name, signs, symbols or territory

  • Collectively engage in criminal activity that creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation

    Although gangs vary extensively regarding membership, structure, age, and ethnicity, three basic types have emerged:

    Street Gangs

    Prison Gangs

    Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs

Street gangs

Street Gangs

  • Of the three gang types, street gangs pose a significant threat because they are the largest and control the greatest geographical area

  • National level street gangs have been associated with drug trafficking and other criminal organizations in foreign countries

Prison gangs

Prison Gangs

  • Prison gangs originated within the penal system, but continue to expand into the community as members are released. They are typically structured around racial or ethnic lines

  • They pose a serious domestic threat, as they are affiliated with foreign drug trafficking organizations and often maintain substantial influence over street gangs

Outlaw motorcycle gangs omgs

Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMGs)

  • OMGs use their motorcycle clubs as conduits for criminal activity. They are highly structured and known for their violence and trafficking in weapons and drugs

  • The Military Misfits is an active-duty military motorcycle club with USN and USMC members. It is not an OMG, but it serves as a support club for OMG’s.

Extremist hate groups

Extremist Hate Groups

  • Unlike gangs that tend to be linked to a name, signs, symbols or territory, extremist groups advocate supremacist causes and attempt to create illegal discrimination

  • Extremist groups advocate the use of force and are associated with hate crimes motivated by racial bias or racial/ethnic prejudice

Extremist hate groups1

Extremist Hate Groups

In January of 2004, an extremist group was addressed by its leader with the following statements:

"Don't operate like a battleship!" he shouted. "Operate like a Nazi submarine! Use your periscope! We have to infiltrate! Infiltrate the military! Infiltrate your local governments! Infiltrate your school board! Infiltrate law enforcement!"

Gang identifiers

Gang Identifiers

  • Graffiti

    • One of the first indicators of a gang’s active presence in the community

    • Marks territorial boundaries

    • Warns rival gangs and law enforcement of their presence

    • Can also be used to threaten or challenge rivals, as an advertisement the sale of drugs, or as a memorial for a fallen gang member

Graffiti interpretation

Graffiti Interpretation

Additional Gang Graffiti

Numbers rather than letters may appear in graffiti. Usually, this is a fairly easy code to break; gangs generally use the number which corresponds to the place the letter falls in the alphabet as in:

12.12.12 = L.L.L. = Love, Life, Loyalty

Gang identifiers1

Gang Identifiers

  • Gang graffiti is now being seen in Iraq

Gang identifiers2

Gang Identifiers

  • Hand Signs

    • Used by street gangs and prison gangs as a silent language to communicate with others

    • Frequently used as a means of identifying gang members or as a way of showing allegiance to their gang and disrespect to rival gangs

Gang identifiers3

Gang Identifiers

  • Hand Signs

Gang identifiers4

Gang Identifiers

  • Language

    • Like graffiti and hand signs, gang members use a unique writing system to communicate

    • The system can include pictures or a coded alphabet to write encrypted messages

    • The alphabets often vary from gang to gang and set to set

Example of a gang Alphabet

Gang identifiers5

Gang Identifiers

  • Tattoos

    • Have long been used by gang members for a variety of reasons, to include:

      • Identification of gang membership

      • Intimidation

      • Record of the wearer’s personal history (such as skills, specialties, accomplishments and convictions)

      • Personal expression

    • Certain tattoo designs have developed recognized coded meanings

      • Double lightning bolts are used by white supremacists to indicate the number of stabbings they’ve committed

Gang identifiers6

Gang Identifiers

  • Tattoos

Gang identifiers7

Gang Identifiers

  • Tattoos

Gang identifiers8

Gang Identifiers

  • Clothing/Accessories

    • Sports teams, logos, brand names are often worn by gang members, not in support of a particular product or team, but because the letters or symbols have a special meaning to a gang

    • Sports apparel logos can either represent a gang or relay a specific message

Gang identifiers9

Gang Identifiers

  • Clothing/Accessories

    • Accessories can also indicate gang membership

    • Common accessories include:

      • Bandanas

      • Jewelry – necklaces, bracelets, rings

      • Pins

    • One problem today is that much of the street gang attire has crossed over into youth culture and is worn by kids with no gang affiliation

Gang identifiers10

Gang Identifiers

Clothing and Military Uniforms

  • One side starched and the other iron pressed only (gang alignment side is starched)

  • One boot is highly shined and the other is brush shined (gang alignment side is highly shined)

What is the effect of gangs in the navy and marine corps

What is the Effect of Gangs in the Navy and Marine Corps

  • If there aren’t a lot of gang members in the DON, then why are we concerned?

    • The spread of gang culture within the ranks

      • disrupts good order and discipline

      • increases criminal activity on or near installations

      • threatens base security

      • undermines the professionalism of the Department of Navy

How are gang members getting into the navy and marine corps

How are Gang Members Getting into the Navy and Marine Corps?

  • Falsifying criminal histories

  • Concealing gang affiliations

  • Recruiters turning a blind eye

  • Lack of recognition of tattoos/signs

Why would a gang member join the military

Why Would a Gang Member Join the Military?


  • To escape their current environment or gang lifestyle

  • As an alternative to incarceration


  • Encouraged by gang leadership to join in order to receive training in weapons, combat, tactics, and other related fields

  • Learn, and pass on to other members, urban warfare skills to wage war against law enforcement, rival gangs and ordinary civilians

  • Gain access to weapons, explosives, gas masks, and other materials

Dod policy

DoD Policy

  • DoD Instruction 1325.06, 27Nov09

    • Military personnel must not actively advocate supremacist doctrine, ideology, or causes that deprive individuals of their civil rights

    • Military personnel must reject active participation in criminal gangs and organizations that advocate supremacist doctrine

      • Active participation includes, but is not limited to, fundraising, rallying, recruiting, training, organizing, distributing material – including posting on-line – orany activity in furtherance of gang objectives that is contrary to good order, discipline or mission accomplishment.

The cost of gang life

The Cost of Gang Life

  • In July 2005, 25-year old Army Sgt. Juwan Johnson died in his barracks room in Kaiserslautern, Germany, following injuries sustained during a “jump in” – an initiation ceremony for a gang – which lasted 6 minutes and involved 9 soldiers and airmen dealing over 200 blows

  • After the assault, his fellow soldiers -- his new “family” -- left Johnson in his barracks room, where he subsequently died

  • His “family” partied at a local club while Sgt Johnson languished in his room

  • Juwan Johnson’s life as a gang member lasted 12 hours

Sgt Juwan Johnson

Ucmj articles

UCMJ Articles

  • When a military gang member commits a crime, the primary charges are connected to that crime (i.e. Narcotics, Aggravated Assault, Homicide, etc…), however the UCMJ allows for additional charges to increase judicial and/or non-judicial punishments:

    • Article 81 – Conspiracy

    • Article 83 – Fraudulent Enlistment, Appointment or Separation

    • Article 107 – False Official Statements

    • Article 116 – Riot or Breach of Peace

    • Article 117 – Provoking Speeches or Gestures

    • Article 134 – General Article related to conduct to bring discredit to the armed services

Gang related investigations

Gang-Related Investigations

  • NCIS has investigated a number of cases involving known or suspected gang members. The investigations concern a wide range of criminal activity, to include the following:

    • Murder

    • Narcotics (possession, transportation, distribution)

    • Assault

    • Armed Robbery

    • Communicating a Threat

    • Active Participation in a White Supremacist Hate Group



  • Be wary of stereotyping and prejudice:

    • People who disagree with you or have different beliefs are not, by virtue of that fact, extremists

    • A sailor wearing gang or extremist tattoos may be trying to leave gang life behind

    • Gang gestures, attitudes, and slang may only reflect young people being “cool”



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