When most Americans think of terrorism, they think of al Qaeda or ISIS; they equate the concept of terrorism to the Twin Towers attack or the bombings of American embassies. This is a misperception. America has had its own designated brand of terrorism, homegrown and home-owned, since the 1980s.
In the early, and especially the mid-1980s, the city of Los Angeles was a battleground of gang violence. The state’s legislature declared that California was in a “state of crisis which had been caused by violent street gangs whose members threaten, terrorize, and commit a multitude of crimes.” Between 1985 and 1986, gang-related killings increased by 24 percent in Los Angeles—and in the first six months of 1987, there were 200 gang killings in the city. In 1987, the legislature addressed this state of “terrorism” with the Street Terrorism and Enforcement and Prevention Act (“STEP”) which provides a series of enhancement penalties for those convicted of gang-related criminal activity. STEP was upheld by the California Supreme Court in 1991.
Similar anti-gang legislation has been enacted in other states since the advent of STEP. Besides enhanced penalties, lawmakers granted local authorities the right to seek court-ordered injunctions preventing gang members from associating with each other. State and local officials, like Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, turned to the federal government with requests for additional funding to fight the terrorism spawned by gang-related criminal activity. In fact, in 2007 former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a “war on gangs.” The impact was immediate: hundreds of gang-members were rounded up and arrested; prosecutors sought and secured scores of convictions and enhanced penalties; and juvenile gang members were charged and tried as adults.
Despite a continued decrease of gang-related killings across the country between 1990 and 2010, the FBI in 2011 issued an ominous “national gang threat assessment” which found there were 33,000 gangs in the United States with 1.4 million active street and prison members. These gangs ranged from the more notorious Latin Kings and Mexican Mafia to local neighborhood gangs with most being drawn on racial and ethnic lines: black, Aryan, Hispanic, African, Asian, Caribbean, and Eurasian. The FBI reported that these gangs account for 48 percent of violent crime in America, and up to 90 percent in some jurisdictions, like Chicago.
The face of gangs in America is constantly changing. They are increasingly moving into crimes like human trafficking, alien smuggling, and sophisticated white collar crime such as identity theft, counterfeiting, and mortgage fraud. Gang members in prison are becoming more violent, aggressive, and adopting radical religious views. They are exporting these behaviors back into the free communities. Gang leadership is encouraging some members to join the military, and in its 2011 report, the FBI said “at least 53 gangs [had] been identified on both domestic and international military installations.” This military training has led gangs to acquire more high-powered, military-style weapons.
It is difficult to determine which extreme groups pose the greatest terrorism threat to the U.S.—criminal gangs, right-wing patriot groups, or hate groups stockpiling weapons for the Second Coming. In addition to more than 1,000 hate-driven white supremacists groups, there are now nearly 1400 patriot groups in America and more than 300 militia groups. All of these groups/gangs have one thing in common: deep anti-government views. They all see themselves as “warriors” against the Government, and they are increasingly assuming more terroristic agendas.
But it must be said that at the end of the day the brand of terrorism attributed to today’s modern street “gangs” is what poses the greatest threat to the security of this country.
Because, according to the Center for Disease Control, roughly 80 percent of the 11,000 gun homicides in this country each year are gang-related. The CDC said that in both 2010 and 2011 gang-related homicides accounted for 8,900 of the 11,000 gun homicides committed annually in the country.
America may have taken out Osama bin Laden and have drone killed hundreds, if not thousands, of suspected terrorists around the world, not to mention those countless souls classified as collateral damage, but it has failed miserably in confronting and preventing the greatest threat of terrorism facing the nation: gang-related homicides and violence. That is the real face of terror in this country—not some Muslim-American ensnared in an FBI orchestrated plot to blow up a government building.