Small Wars Journal

Societal Warfare South of the Border?

Sun, 05/22/2011 - 11:22am

Extreme Barbarism, a Death Cult, and Holy Warriors in Mexico:


Societal Warfare South of the Border?

by Dr. Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan

Download the Full Article: Societal Warfare South of the Border?

This short essay is about impression—gut feelings combined with a certain amount of analytical skill—about recent trends taking place in Mexico concerning the ongoing criminal insurgencies being waged by the various warring cartels, gangs, and mercenary organizations that have metastasized though out that nation (and in many other regions as well). The authors spent over eight hours sequestered together about a month ago on a five-hundred mile 'there and back again road trip' to attend a training conference as instructors for the Kern County Chiefs of Police. Our talks centered on Mexican Drug Cartels, 3rd Generation Gangs, 3rd Phase Cartels, Criminal Insurgency Theory, and a host of related topics most folks just don't normally discuss in polite company. In the car, and at the conference, we were bombarded by Sullivan's never ending twitter and social networking news feeds—in Spanish and English—linked to the criminal violence in Mexico. If Dante had been our contemporary, we fear, he could just have easily taken a stroll through some of the cities and towns of Mexico using those news feeds and substituting the imagery for the circles of hell he described in his early 14th century work the Divine Comedy.

The hours of conversation about the conflicts in Mexico, bolstered by the news feeds and even the Q&A from the training time provided to the Kern Chiefs, provided us both with much to reflect upon. Additionally, both authors are currently co-writing three essays for a follow-on project to the earlier Narcos Over the Border (Routledge) book, the work that found as " of the more disturbing academic works recently published in the national security field, not excluding even those monographs dealing with Islamist terrorism and Pakistan," concerning Mexico's immense problems. If this were not enough, as part of our ongoing collaboration, the authors have been trying to determine what to make of Hazen's June 2010 International Review of the Red Cross paper "Understanding gangs as armed groups." Her conclusions just don't correlate with the empirical evidence stemming from the cartel and gang related incidents regularly occurring in Mexico. That work suggests to us that American street gang researchers, whose work Hazen utilized as the basis of her analysis, are totally insulated from the reality of the conflicts in Mexico—just as are many members of the American public and their elected officials. For good or for bad, we are not so well insulated, having tracked what has been taking place in that country for some years now. The ongoing review (for the purposes of identifying cartel tattoos, cult icons, and instances of ritual killing) of the images of the tortured and broken bodies—some no longer recognizable as once ever being human beings— continually haunts us both.

Our impression is that what is now taking place in Mexico has for some time gone way beyond secular and criminal (economic) activities as defined by traditional organized crime studies. In fact, the intensity of change may indeed be increasing. Not only have de facto political elements come to the fore—i.e., when a cartel takes over an entire city or town, they have no choice but to take over political functions formerly administered by the local government— but social (narcocultura) and religious/spiritual (narcocultos) characteristics are now making themselves more pronounced. What we are likely witnessing is Mexican society starting to not only unravel but to go to war with itself. The bonds and relationships that hold that society together are fraying, unraveling, and, in some instances, the polarity is reversing itself with trust being replaced by mistrust and suspicion. Traditional Mexican values and competing criminal value systems are engaged in a brutal contest over the 'hearts, minds, and souls' of its citizens in a street-by-street, block-by-block, and city-by-city war over the future social and political organization of Mexico. Environmental modification is taking place in some urban centers and rural outposts as deviant norms replace traditional ones and the younger generation fully accepts a criminal value system as their baseline of behavior because they have known no other. The continuing incidents of ever increasing barbarism—some would call this a manifestation of evil even if secularly motivated—and the growing popularity of a death cult are but two examples of this clash of values. Additionally, the early rise of what appears to be cartel holy warriors may now also be taking place. While extreme barbarism, death cults, and possibly now holy warriors found in the Mexican cartel wars are still somewhat the exception rather than the rule, each of these trends is extremely alarming, and will be touched upon in turn.

Download the Full Article: Societal Warfare South of the Border?

Dr. Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan are frequent contributors to Small Wars Journal.

Categories: El Centro

About the Author(s)


Dr. Robert J. Bunker (not verified)

Wed, 05/25/2011 - 7:48pm

Article line correction:

Page 7:

Iconitry is also already appearing for this new cartel that includes the Templarios name with a shield with a red cross, a white battle flag with a white cross, and an armored knight holding a sword.

Change to:

Iconitry is also already appearing for this new cartel that includes the Templarios name with a shield with a red cross, a white battle flag with a red cross, and an armored knight holding a sword.

Hakim Hazim (not verified)

Wed, 05/25/2011 - 1:33am

This article is timely and relevant. Both of these gentlemen have proven worth their salt since the early days of TEW. Strategic forecasting is not a game but a serious business which analysts and policy makers would do well to heed the words of proven experts in the field. We continue to hear that what is taking place in Mexico is not a major security threat, but the reality is in stark contrast. Currently we have many forms of extremism that call for violence against the state, and Mexico's cartels are adopting these practices at an alarming rate. Poverty is a constant in many countries; yet, you do not have the extreme forms of violence manifesting into deity worship that appears to be primitive, tribal and very brutal. Good work gents!

Excellent synopsis of the ritualization of drug cartel murders. I would have added another essential component to the description of terror by ritual and that is the role that police play in these organizations and events, an element that squares with the Small Wars Journal approach to analysis. In my book, "The Killing Fields: Harvest of Women," I wrote about federal agents who were involved in systematic kidnappings and gang rapes of women in Mexico City. The police were part of a unit under the command of a high-level law enforcement official, and the only logical explanations for these attacks was that they constituted training for undercover operations or to join with the drug organizations, or both. In the case of certain gangs affiliated with one or more cartels, brutal murders (sacrifices) that incorporate extraordinary mutilation are part of the initiation and bonding rites. We also saw these kind of ritual murders and kidnappings with the Matamoros cult at the U.S.-Mexico border. Again, this was an excellent portrayal of a disturbing aspect of on-demand violence in Mexico's narco wars and in other places.

[ comment also posted on <A HREF="">Zenpundit</A&gt; ]

Do you remember DH Lawrence, in _The Plumed Serpent_? All those years ago, he imagined a Mexico in which there was a renaissance of the "old ways" - of the religion of Teotihuacan, with its sacrifices:

<blockquote>It was the acquiescence in the primitive assertion. It was the renewal of the old, terrible bond of the blood-unison of man, which made blood-sacrifice so potent a factor of life. The blood of the individual is given back to the great blood-being, the god, the nation, the tribe.</blockquote>

I think Lawrence deserves a second reading at this point.


And Im reminded of Christopher Taylors little book, _Sacrifice as Terror_, in which he comments that different societies "'write their signatures onto the bodies of their sacrificial victims" (p. 127, following Kafka) and explores in detail the close correspondences between the actual brutalities inflicted in the Rwandan genocide and the symbolism and rituals of Tutsi sacred kinship - including some that "Europeans would have found difficult to accept: ritual copulation on the part of the king and his wives, human sacrifice, ritual war, and adornment of the royal drum with the genitals of slain enemies."

While the details are no doubt different, that short list touches on several of the issues that Bunker and Sullivan also discuss, and it seems from their account that a similar ritualistic and symbolic consonance with earlier mythic and ritual structures can also be found in the Mexican situation.

Jay Fraser (not verified)

Sun, 05/22/2011 - 12:06pm

This article highlights many issues that today are the underpinnings of the extreme narco-violence that has grown into the armed conflict between rival cartels. I was previously unaware of the emergence of Los Caballeros Templarios, but this morphing of splinter groups into new organizations is not unlike the way in which Los Zetas emerged from the Gulf Cartel.

IMO, when you look at Mexico and its problems, one of the factors that stands out is the extreme separation of classes in that country. The rich are rich and the poor are often destitute. This has been the case for as long as I remember (my first trip to Mexico was in 1973). Then you could see poor beggers on the street with their hands out as a limo would drive by. This was contrasted by armed patrols walking the beaches in the early morning carrying automatic weapons.

And the gov't has done little to narrow that gap. And whatever "middle class" that exists has alot more in common with the wealthy than it does with the poor. It was into this breach that the criminal enterprises that had always existed in Mexico, flourished and grew. Add the incentives of the drug cartels (both fear and opportunity), you have a society in which drugs and guns are a far better option to poverty. Narco-music glorifies the violence and the exploits of the cartels. So beneath the criminality and the violence of the cartels wars still lies the socio-economic reality of poverty and desperation among the lower class.