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On War #113
April 21, 2005

MS-13 vs. Minutemen?

By William S. Lind

[The views expressed in this article are those of Mr. Lind, writing in his personal capacity. They do not reflect the opinions or policy positions of the Free Congress Foundation, its officers, board or employees, or those of Kettle Creek Corporation.]

One of the more hopeful signs that some life remains in the American republic is the re-emergence of Minutemen. Today’s Minutemen exist to defend us from wetbacks rather than lobsterbacks, but they are no less needed now than in the 1770s. With both political parties united in their desire to flood America with illegal immigrants, the efforts of the new Minutemen to defend our southern border are highly to be praised. Citizens acting when a corrupt government will not are signs of health in a republic; endless deference to government marks the replacement of citizens by mere subjects.

At the same time, Fourth Generation war theory cannot overlook the meaning of armed elements outside the control of the state operating on American territory. I refer here not to the Minutemen, most of whom are unarmed and whose role is to call in state forces, the Border Patrol, when they spot illegal immigrants. Rather, I am talking about a very real Fourth Generation threat, the Salvadoran gang MS-13, which reportedly has declared war on the Minutemen. According to a piece in the March 29 Washington Times,

The notorious crime syndicate Mara Salvatrucha is threatening Arizona’s Project Minuteman and reportedly plans to teach it “a lesson” . . .

It is not hard to see why Mara Salvatrucha prefers the border status quo . . . The gang grew from Salvadoran refugees in California in the late 1980s into one of the largest criminal syndicates in North America, with as many as 20,000 members . . .

If a Fourth Generation entity, which MS-13 is, has grown powerful enough to undertake military action on American soil against citizens who are helping to protect our border, then 4GW is further advanced here than many will have recognized. So far, that has not happened, and Mara Salvatrucha’s threat may be hot air. But if it does happen, it will be an act of war, strategic in nature: MS-13 needs an open border, the Minutemen threaten to close the border, so MS-13 attacks them. That is not just crime, it is war.

Yet if MS-13 does not attack the Minutemen, that too may be an act of war, and a highly sophisticated one. A common mistake that many analysts and commentators make is to think that Fourth Generation forces must replace the state or at least the government. A recent study issued by the Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, Street Gangs: The New Urban Insurgency by Max. G. Manwaring, illustrates this error. It says right up front, on page 2,

Although gangs and insurgents differ in terms of original motives and modes of operation, this linkage (between gangs and insurgents) infers that street gangs are a mutated form of urban insurgency. That is, these nonstate actors must eventually seize political power to guarantee the freedom of action and the commercial environment they want.

I would argue that, on the contrary, many Fourth Generation actors, not just gangs, will deliberately not take over the government or overturn the form of the state because they will benefit greatly by operating within the state, below the radar of the state’s armed forces. In effect, the hollowed-out sovereignty of the state is their best protection, especially against the armed forces of the United States or other outside powers. The current situation in Colombia provides an example. If the FARC or the drug lords took over the Colombian government, they would immediately make themselves subject to American attack or other action by the world community. Operating as they do, like viruses within the body of the state, they are protected by Colombia’s sovereignty. And they are quite capable of dealing with whatever the Colombian government itself can throw at them.

Looking at an internal threat, MS-13 in the U.S., I think the same logic applies. If MS-13 attacks the Minutemen in an act of open war, it will work against its own objectives, especially profit, by making itself a much higher profile target for the forces of the state. It serves its own strategic interests best by keeping the lowest possible profile while simultaneously expanding its real power in the areas of direct concern to itself, such as the Hispanic immigrant community.

It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall in meetings of MS-13’s leadership and hear if these arguments are actually being stated. I may overestimate their strategic sophistication. But if I am correct and they are debating these issues, that is not good news for the state in the old U.S.A. It would suggest that the state’s enemies are thinking more clearly than is the state itself, with its suicidal insistence on open borders.

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.