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The two- to three-week lockdown ended up lasting eight months, even if it was off and on.

It was never totally ‘off’. After we were liberated, we were told, whether it be in Europe, North America or the Antipodes, that we would have to not only continue to socially distance but also to start wearing masks. Then came curfews:

What about being able to open only between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.? Nicola Sturgeon — Scotland’s First Minister (SNP) — is having a laugh, only she’s deadly serious. ‘Off sales’ refers to alcoholic beverages sold in off licences (liquor stores):

Now we are approaching the Christmas season, the peak time of year for sales: parties, banquets, family dinners. A number of US states, including those with RINO governors, were on lockdown this week. As such, they missed Thanksgiving, which ushers in the holiday season in the US.

These are the tweets I ran across this week, during America’s national Thanksgiving, a day of family, friends and food.

In the US, a lot of people cannot travel at the moment. They are not even supposed to see their families, even if they live nearby. Their governors told them they mustn’t or, if they do, they’ll ‘kill Grandma’, which must have come out of a WHO pandemic handbook, because we get that in Europe, too (the UK and France).

This is very important:

Yet, so many Westerners do not mind nearly a year’s worth of restrictions — and that includes a number of Libertarians I know personally:

This is worth repeating:

And again:

How many businesses will collapse this year? Most of them are small to medium business owners who have employees.

The hospitality sector has been devastated, even though every bar and restaurant poured in their businesses’ own money to make their establishments ‘COVID-secure’. Governments said that still wasn’t enough.

Now look what’s happening. This is an example from California:

Laws — or, perhaps more honestly, ‘regulations’ (not all of which can be legally enforced) — differ from place to place. Even in England, what is allowed in one county is disallowed in another. There’s no level playing field or explanation as to why other than this graph with spurious data from America’s Centers for Disease Control and Public Health England which shows that hospitality is the main vector for COVID-19 transmission:

Pull the other one, why don’t you, guys?

The reality from England is that, as Guido Fawkes reported on October 12 (emphasis in the original):

Stockport NHS Foundation Trust shows that “Eating out/ exercise/ shopping/events” accounted for just 2.4% of transmission.

The same data show that a staggering 92.5% of coronavirus cases occurred at home!

Here’s another chart from October, showing low incidences in the hospitality sector. The Daily Mail used NHS data. Homes were excluded from this study:

Yet another study says it’s supermarkets:

In the video below, top Scottish chef Tom Kitchin explains the bankrupting costs for the average restaurateur. The clip did not show his conclusion, which was that probably 6,000 UK restaurants will have to close because of these on-off lockdowns — costing thousands of £££ each time to close and to reopen — prohibiting them from trading. Takeaway doesn’t always help:

And what are the figures for Los Angeles County, where we started?

Restaurants in Los Angeles County account for only 3.1% of coronavirus outbreaks:

Where are there more coronavirus outbreaks in Los Angeles County? Government locations:

The saddest thing is, no state needed to lock down for more than a few weeks earlier this year. South Dakota did not have any lockdown. Below is the situation in Florida, thanks to Republican governor Ron DeSantis:

A lot of US governors need to be reined in. How, constitutionally, I don’t know. Right now, they’re a law unto themselves.

European governments need to get a grip.

Career politicians need to face reality — or they will lose a lot of needed tax revenue.

Lockdowns are a crime against humanity.

My last post about the Revd John MacArthur’s ministry and church was dated October 5, 2020.

Thousands of people attend his Grace Community Church services each Sunday.

There are three services each Sunday.

MacArthur has defied lockdown regulations in Los Angeles County since July.

By way of background, here is a report from The Federalist from September 11 (emphases mine):

Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff of the Los Angeles Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction Thursday that prohibits Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church from “conducting, participating in, or attending any indoor worship services.” The ban also extends to services held outside “unless onerous restrictions are followed.”

Since the church first began meeting in-person and defying local lockdown orders in July, Los Angeles County officials have threatened fines, arrest, and even terminated the lease held between the church and the county for parking lot space claiming health and safety concerns.

A $1000 fine issued by Los Angeles County was also imposed on the church this week for signs asking congregants to refrain from entering if they were experiencing “an elevated temperature, a cough, or any flu-like symptoms.” According to the county, the signs were not placed at the proper entrances and exits and did not contain instructions asking people to “wash hands or use sanitizer, to wear face coverings and to maintain social distancing.”

Special counsel Jenna Ellis and Charles LiMandri expressed their disappointment in Thursday ruling, claiming that the court “ducked the issue” and failed “to apply the appropriate constitutional standard of review.” They also explained their belief that the church was held to a different standard than other activities during COVID-19 lockdowns.

“The court also did not properly consider the medical and scientific evidence that the current number of people with serious COVID-19 symptoms no longer justifies a shuttering of the churches. Nor do we believe that the court gave adequate consideration to the fact that churches have been treated as second-class citizens compared to the tens of thousands of protestors,” LiMandri said.

This opinion by the court, according to Ellis and LiMandri, shows that the church was unfairly targeted.

Church is essential, and no government agent has the runaway, unlimited power to force churches to close indefinitely. The County’s argument was basically ‘because we can,’ which is the very definition of tyranny,” Ellis said. “Without limiting government’s power in favor of freedom and protected rights, we have no liberty. We will fight for religious freedom, as our founders did when they wrote the First Amendment.”

“More than ever, California’s churches are essential,” LiMandri agreed.

Despite the court’s ruling, Pastor John MacArthur told Fox News’s Shannon Bream on Thursday night that the church would still be meeting.

“1/100th of 1 percent of Californians with a virus apparently wins over the U.S. Constitution and religious freedom for all? That is not what our founders said,” said MacArthur. “Nor is that what God says, who gave us our rights that our government—including the judicial branch—is supposed to protect. The scale should always tip in favor of liberty, especially for churches.”

The Thomas More Society also said that they will appeal it to “ultimately vindicate our clients’ constitutionally protected right to free exercise of religion.”

The Federalist‘s article also included a tweet from Jenna Ellis:

On September 25, The Federalist reported:

In a previous order by Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff, the Los Angeles Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction that was intended to prohibit MacArthur and Grace from “conducting, participating in, or attending any indoor worship services.”

“It’s tyranny to even suggest that a government action cannot be challenged and must be obeyed without question. This case goes to the heart of what our founders designed for the purpose of the legitimate government—not to be above the rule of law,” said Thomas More Society Special Counsel Jenna Ellis. “Pastor MacArthur is simply holding church, which is clearly his constitutionally protected right in this country.”

While the trial will not officially commence until 2021, the judge agreed to host a hearing in mid-November “to consider the scope of the challenge to the validity of the preliminary injunction order for purposes of the contempt trial.”

“This ruling prevents Los Angeles County’s attempted rush to judgment in its continued prosecution of Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church for courageously exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Special Counsel Charles LiMandri. “We are pleased that Judge Beckloff indicated he agreed with the major points that we made on behalf of Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church and we are very gratified that the judge’s ruling today reflects that he appreciates the importance of the constitutionally protected rights at issue in this case.”

MacArthur said:

We are holding church. The Lord Jesus requires us to meet together and we will continue to do that because we are commanded to and because it is our right.

Well said.

On October 22, the Los Angeles Times reported that three COVID-19 cases have been linked to Grace Community Church, which receives 7,000 worshippers each Sunday:

Grace Community Church in Sun Valley has seen three confirmed cases, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Public health officials are investigating the outbreak and said they will work closely with the church to help limit transmission of the coronavirus in the church, which has an estimated attendance of 7,000. The county did not provide any further details about whether the cases were confirmed among staff or worshipers. Attorneys for Grace Community Church did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Under the county health officer’s order, places of worship must report to the county Public Health Department when at least three coronavirus cases are identified among staff or worshipers within a span of 14 days so the agency can determine whether there is an outbreak.

The conservative megachurch announced in late July that it would restart indoor services — despite a county public health order barring any house of worship from doing so. Thousands of people have attended services, with most not wearing face coverings as they sit side by side indoors, or close together outside under a tent, according to public health officials.

Pastor John MacArthur has repeatedly told the congregation that no one from the church has gotten sick with COVID-19 and claims the pandemic threat is overblown. The church does not screen congregants for symptoms before they enter or require them to follow any protocols, according to court records and interviews with members.

MacArthur has been increasingly skeptical of the pandemic, a viewpoint he has shared from the pulpit. He and his attorneys have argued that it is their constitutional right to hold church services and that meeting together in person is a crucial part of how Grace Community Church’s congregants exercise their religion.

MacArthur has been bucking the county regulations. Good for him.

On October 24, The Federalist reported that Jenna Ellis, one of the two lawyers representing MacArthur and Grace Community Church, said:

Three very mild positive tests among more than 7,000 people is hardly news. 0.0004% or 0.043% is not an ‘outbreak.’ The LA Times and others’ grossly misleading and fear-mongering headlines aim to mischaracterize Grace Community Church as irresponsible and a superspreader.

She added:

It has never been the Church’s position that it is only safe to hold services if no one ever tests positive, or for example, if no one ever gets the flu during flu season. Our position has been that LA County shutting down churches indefinitely amid a virus with a 99.98% survival rate, especially when state-preferred businesses are open and protests are held without restriction, is unconstitutional and harmful to the free exercise of religion.

The day before, Ellis retweeted this Bible verse from MacArthur’s The Master’s Seminary:

I could not agree more.

May our good Lord continue to guide John MacArthur and his congregation.

That’s Paul-ine (not as in the female name Pauline), reminiscent of the Apostle Paul.

By resisting California’s local and state government, the Revd John MacArthur is walking into St Paul’s territory.

When I last wrote about the travails of Pastor MacArthur’s Grace Community Church, he was still in battle with Los Angeles County. That was in mid-August.

His and his church’s fortunes have not improved since then.

Before going into Grace Community Church’s struggle in detail, an unfortunate situation has resulted from the coronavirus. This is universal and separate, going on throughout Western countries.

It might have happened by accident or by design, through lockdown.

However, the unchurched or the formerly-churched who wished to find comfort and succour in a church community because of a pandemic were unable to do so because of lockdown.

Some Christians often say, ‘Church is everywhere you look or what you make of it personally. If you don’t, it’s your own fault’.

Those from a Calvinist tradition strongly maintain that church is not a building. The Church of Scotland holds to that tenet. Their attitude is: ‘Lockdown? So what?’ Someone from the PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) lambasted John MacArthur here a few weeks ago.

For the rest of us, however, that belief does not hold true. In fact, not being able to worship in person in community, particularly at a difficult time, can be deeply unsettling at a time when people feel the desire for a spiritual — and physical — connection more than ever.

RedState, much improved since the departure of Erick Erickson, posted an article by Kira Davis: ‘The Church Has Spectacularly Failed the COVID Test … and the Faithful’.

Ms Davis met up with a friend of hers in California. Her friend was clearly upset about not being able to go to church during lockdown. She said she thought perhaps she was having a crisis of faith.

Ms Davis diagnosed her friend’s problem differently (emphases mine below):

Listening to her in person made me realize a couple of things. For one, she wasn’t really expressing a loss of faith. She was expressing a loss of connection. Having suddenly been disconnected from all the things that kept her grounded and the community that regularly helped her explore her relationship with God, she was left floating without an anchor.

The second thing I realized is that people are suffering under lockdowns much more than we may think. My friend has a beautiful family and they’ve been able to continue working through COVID shutdowns. She has a lot to be thankful for and on the outside she might strike one as very adjusted. That is the veneer she — like many of us — has had to adopt in order to keep life as normal as possible for her children.

Davis rightly chose to put the blame where it properly lies — with our clergy. I don’t live in the United States, but even those of us in other Western countries have experienced limitations on our fellowship. In England, at least, we need to sign in to attend a religious service, wear face coverings, observe social distancing, bring our own liturgical printouts/Bibles, realise we mustn’t sing and remember to greet from a two-metre distance.

At least we can worship indoors.

In California, the state mandates outside worship, more on which later:

Church leadership has fooled itself into believing that YouTube services and drive-by food donations count as “serving” the community. Even as churches begin to accept limited permission from the state to meet, we have to make reservations and worship outside in order to enjoy the privilege of religious freedom.

Our world is currently burning around us. There are no answers to the current state of our national angst without the Church and yet the Church has voluntarily put on a muzzle. People are desperate for answers, even more desperate for connection. These are the two things we are best at.

Too right!

During normal times — the rest of our lives, bar 2020 — priests and pastors have been telling us that we must attend church for the state of our souls:

Every pastor will tell you at one point or another that we humans are born with a God-shaped hole in our hearts and we spend our entire lives searching to fill it.

Yep. Except when there’s a pandemic.

During this crisis, those same clergy — men and women– have scurried from sight, just when so many of us need them:

There are a lot of holey hearts out there right now. Space abhors a vacuum. Something will fill those empty spaces and the Church has been willingly sidelined. We no longer have community — our most powerful draw — to offer. What is left to fill the vacuum? Rage without resolution, bitterness without forgiveness, punishment without grace. Alcohol, drugs, loneliness, resentmentall of these things are filling those lost empty hearts out there without much challenge from the institutions God has appointed to lead and to serve.

With John MacArthur in mind, Davis then zeroes in on the current conflict between Church and State. She nails it perfectly:

Whatever their personal feelings about John MacArthur may be, California churches should be supporting his move to defy a state authority that has thwarted our human and constitutional right to assemble and worship. Every Sunday, we’ve heard our pastors proudly and loudly share stories of how Jesus was a revolutionary, a direct conduit of the counter culture of the Kingdom. We brag about this aspect of our God, even as we cower before state authorities who have no interest in keeping our tax-exempt sanctuaries thriving because God…the Church…is always and always has been direct competition to the gods of the state. We don’t even pay them taxes. We are worthless to them and it is beyond tragic how our pastoral leadership has, for the most part, confirmed as much.

She concludes:

The specter of losing our church properties to fines or penalties scares us more than our brethren (people like my friend) losing their faith and their communities. It is not lost on me that Peter obviously later redeemed himself by becoming one of the most influential Christians in human history. It is also not lost on me that the ultimate price Peter paid for his eventual obedience to the name of Jesus was to be crucified in an extraordinarily brutal fashion.

California church leaders aren’t even willing to incur a fine in the name of Jesus.

Nope.

Fortunately, at the age of 81, with a full life of ministry dating back to the late 1960s, John MacArthur has decided to don St Paul’s mantle.

No doubt, he and his godly wife Patricia have prayed together over this issue since July.

On September 16, MacArthur told Laura Ingraham of Fox News that he and his church were still under threat of fines or imprisonment. He said, ‘Bring it on’:

That day, RedState‘s Alex Parker compared him to Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry in The Enforcer: ‘Pastor John MacArthur Backs Down Not an Inch: If California Wants to Jail Him, “Bring It On”‘. Citations follow below.

It’s hard not to cheer along with the congregation at this announcement of his from August 9, because the only legitimate way to assemble en masse these days is through ‘peaceful protest’:

Returning to his interview with Laura Ingraham, he expressed his deep admiration for Paul the Apostle:

We received a letter with a threat that we could be fined or I could go to jail for a maximum of six months. Of course, my biblical hero apart from the Lord Jesus Christ is the apostle Paul, and when he went into a town, he didn’t ask what the hotel was like, he asked what the jail was like because he knew that’s where he was gonna spend his time. So I don’t mind being a little apostolic if they want to tuck me in a jail.

He also reminded Ingraham and her audience of the COVID-19 figures and the absurdity of prohibiting state-wide public worship:

We believe that the governor, the county, the city, and the health department are going against the Constitution,” MacArthur said in the Tuesday night appearance on Fox News. “And just to remove one obvious question, the rate of COVID in California is 1/100 of 1%. So 1/100 of 1% of 40 million people have COVID and that eliminates freedom to worship from the entire state.

He told Ingraham that President Trump is also on his side. Excellent news, even if MacArthur is self-avowedly apolitical:

I am so thankful that President Trump has told me personally that he supports the church as essential and the churches need to stay open. So, with the Constitution on our side and the president’s backing, we’re open.

A few days earlier, on Sunday, September 13, MacArthur appeared at the pulpit to resounding, if not deafening, applause and cheers. If you had heard only the audio, you would have thought that President Trump were standing there.

MacArthur had a long list of demands from the State of California to read to his congregation:

He thanked them and said, by way of compliment:

You people are out of control. Thank you, thank you.

The requirements follow.

Keep in mind that thousands of worshippers attend Grace Community Church each Sunday:

– No indoor meetings;

– Registration of every person on church property;

– Screening and temperature checks upon entry;

– Six feet of social distancing mandated, including in the car park and in restrooms;

– Every other parking space must be left vacant;

– Everyone must be masked;

– Restrooms must have monitors;

– Floors must have tape markings;

– Restrooms to be used during the service, rather than afterwards to prevent queues;

– Hymnbooks, Holy Communion and Bibles are forbidden;

– No one can shake hands;

– Mandatory seat covers must be in place;

– Services must be shortened (congregation laughs);

– Worship must take place in a tent with a maximum of 350 people;

Anyone who comes in contact with someone outside of their family afterwards for more than 15 minutes must self-quarantine for two weeks.

A lot of those sound like what we have in England.

MacArthur concluded:

Obviously, this is not constitutional but, more importantly, it goes against the will of the Lord of the Church.

On Thursday, September 24, Ryan Helfenbein of the Falkirk Center interiewed John MacArthur at length (26 minutes). This is the second of a two-part series on COVID-19 and the Church:

Ryan Hefelbein asks him about his critics decrying his reopening of Grace Community Church.

MacArthur says that Scripture says that the members of the Church are called out to meet together. There is no such thing as an ungathered church.

The notion that the church is scattered is an un-scriptural belief:

That is a foolish statement to make.

MacArthur and his legal counsel had appeared in court that day — September 24 — and presented the enduring infinitesimally low statistic of contracting, let alone dying from, coronavirus, especially between the ages of 30 and 60:

On the basis of statistics alone, this [lockdown] is completely arbitrary.

He says that, even though he is cautious, he believes that whether we live or die depends upon the:

purposes of God.

MacArthur says that his mission in life is to make sure that as many people as possible hear the word of God.

He said that there was only one person, a physician, who had COVID-19. The doctor recovered.

As such, word got around the congregation. MacArthur said that many wondered if the alarm surrounding the pandemic was justified. Through nothing of his own doing, people began to return to church. That would have been in July. Prior to that, he and his assistants had been doing online worship broadcasts in several different languages.

He said:

The Church should never close its doors.

He spoke about the irony of our clergy lauding the heroes of the Reformation (Martin Luther, John Knox), yet they will never run that risk of being in danger — especially surrounding a virus. He pulled a face, disapprovingly.

He took exception to the vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris comparing COVID-19 to the Second World War:

Last I knew, no one was bombing LA.

Nice one!

MacArthur said that more and more people have been attending his church’s services every week. That’s probably because there is nowhere else for them to worship normally.

He dismissed ‘conspiracy theorists’ but posited an ongoing ‘conspiracy’ in California and elsewhere in the West — pre-COVID — undoing the tenets of the Gospel as expressed in the Book of Romans:

This culture has done a massive work on destroying the law of God in the heart.

He said that the only remaining bulwark is the Church, but, that, too, has been restrained, not only this year but over the past few decades:

What the hell is going to keep this culture from going to Hell at warp speed?

He said that the only solution is to:

keep preaching, living godly lives, confronting these things

Ryan Helfenbein asked if the coronavirus had changed him.

He replied that, no, it hadn’t. The word of God and his ministry had not changed. Yet, the culture has certainly changed.

Incredibly, he ventured into politics, which is somewhat of an unknown frontier for him, because in past sermons he says he was not interested in the subject. Yet, today, he says that the parties have divided along moral lines (19 minutes in):

For a Christian, a real Christian, I do not believe they can vote Democratic …

Not only do Christians have to uphold righteousness, they must take the side of those that uphold religious righteousness … God wants you to take the stand for righteousness’s sake …

He reiterated not to vote for a platform — the Democrats’ — which goes against God’s will as expressed in the Bible:

Certainly not to vote for that, otherwise you have complicityMurder and perversion is not an option for a Christian on any level. I think it’s come down to that.

He says that the Republican platform — not necessarily the personal lives of their candidates — is on the side of biblical morality.

True to form, MacArthur has a can of Fresca by his side on the desk. He loves Fresca. So did my late maternal grandmother.

Fresca has a weird taste, but if you grew up with it, as I did, it brings back fond memories.

Returning to a serious note, MacArthur reminds us that Jesus Christ is King of Kings and the Ruler of the world. MacArthur warns us about the different forms of wrath that can be wrought against a culture.

In Romans 1:24-26 and 28, he says, that God will deliver persistent sinners unto their own devices: serious sin, including sexual immorality. Essentially, God gave them over to a ‘reprobate mind’ i.e, insanity.

He believes that, by and large, we are now ‘in a reprobate mind’ — not all of us, but too many — and that God has unleashed judgement. However, MacArthur says the judgement is temporary, provided that we, as a people, repent.

MacArthur ended by saying:

The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.

Part 1 of the interview is here.

I had never heard of MS-13 until last year.

Since then, I run across a mention of them nearly every week without even trying.

My post yesterday dealt with the latest strategy to fight this alarming and deadly gang.

MS-13 have had an incredible and terrifying expansion in the United States. I recently saw a History Documentary Channel film on them and would like to share it with you along with a bit of California gang history.

For my European readers, this gang might appear to be an American and Central American phenomenon, however, primary school children in North Brabant, The Netherlands, are beginning to copy MS-13’s violent behaviour (see here and here).

California gang organisation

In California, gangs operate on a North-South divide. The boundaries are marked by the towns of Delano and Bakersfield.

Gangs from the North are called Norteños: Northerners. They affiliate with the larger criminal organisation Nuestra Familia, which formed in 1968 in the Soledad Correctional Facility, located in Monterrey County. Their main income comes from drugs: cocaine, heroin, cannabis and methamphetamine. Nuestra Familia’s Wikipedia entry points out:

While members of the Norteños gang is considered to be affiliated with Nuestra Familia, being a member of Nuestra Familia itself does not signify association as a Norteño.

The number of the Norteños is 14. N is the 14th letter of the alphabet and is the first letter in Nuestra Familia. They write the number 14 as XIV or X4. They tattoo themselves with four dots. Their colours are red and black.

Sureños — Southerners, also SUR (Southern United Raza) — are gangs that operate from the southern part of the state, although some have a presence in northern California. They affiliate with the organisation Mexican Mafia, created in 1957 at what was then the Deuel Vocational Institution (now an adult prison) in Tracy. It has no original connection with Mexico, but rather Hispanic youth gangs in Los Angeles. Mexican Mafia has no connection with the New Mexican Mafia.

The number of the Sureños is 13. M is the 13th letter of the alphabet and the first letter in Mexican Mafia, also known as La Eme: The M. They write the number 13 as itself but also as XIII, X3, uno tres, trece. They tattoo themselves with three dots. Their colours are blue and grey.

In addition to drug trafficking, Sureños are also very violent. They kidnap, murder, assault and engage in human trafficking.

MS-13 is a Sureño gang.

The rift between the northern and southern gangs took place in 1968:

While La Eme had initially been created to protect Mexicans in prison, there was a perceived level of abuse by members of La Eme towards the imprisoned Latinos from rural farming areas of Northern California.[10] The spark that led to the ongoing war between Norteños and members of the Mexican Mafia involved a situation in which a La Eme allegedly stole a pair of shoes from a Northerner. This event put into motion the longest-running gang war in the state of California and the founding of Nuestra Familia.[10]

MS-13: from LA street punks to big players

Wikipedia states that the etymology of the name MS is in dispute. The gang’s full name is Mara Salvatrucha:

There is some dispute about the etymology of the name. Some sources state the gang is named for La Mara, a street gang in San Salvador, and the Salvatrucha guerrillas who fought in the Salvadoran Civil War.[8] Additionally, the word mara means gang in Caliche slang (es) and is taken from marabunta, the name of a fierce type of ant. “Salvatrucha” may be a combination of the words Salvadoran and trucha, a Caliche word for being alert. The term, “Salvatruchas” has been explained as a reference to Salvadorian peasants trained to become guerrilla fighters, referred to as “Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front.”[9]

InSight Crime has a good translation of a history of MS-13 which appeared in Spanish on the El Faro site. Insight Crime’s Geoffrey Ramsey explains more before going into Sanz and Martinez’s history from El Faro. Emphases mine below:

While the MS-13 is more commonly associated with menacing tattoos and violent initiation ceremonies, El Faro’s two-part investigation (See Part I and Part II, in their original Spanish) into the gang’s history shows that this was not always the case. When starting out at the bottom of the food chain in Los Angeles’ gang underworld, the Mara found itself attacked from all sides. The authors, Jose Luis Sanz and Carlos Martinez, claim that the gang’s fearsome reputation had to be earned, and was the result of persecution from white and Mexican gangs in the city …

The transition into one of the most ruthless transnational criminal gangs was not an easy one. The Mara Salvatrucha, like other street gangs, emerged from humble beginnings. While most analysts believe that the gang got its start in Los Angeles-area prisons in the 1990s, its roots date back farther than that, to a small group of teenagers in the Salvadoran community in the 1970s:

In the late ‘70s in LA, the Mara Salvatrucha was just a bunch of ragged teenagers, mostly heavy metal fans. They called themselves “stoners” in reference to rock and the influence of the Rolling Stones, as did other youth gangs — like the Mid City Stoners and The Hole Stoners — who listened to rock and smoked marijuana on street corners and parks in their neighborhoods.

No member of the Mara Salvatrucha Stoners was over 18 years. Most had come to the United States recently, with his parents fleeing poverty in El Salvador. They were the most recent batch of migrants to arrive and none could say that their “territory” was entirely theirs, with no blacks, Mexicans or Koreans.

Still, speaking within the Mara Salvatrucha of stoners is to invoke the pure, the original, the real thing. In the Mara, which maintains a blurred memory preserved by oral traditions, they say that none of these early pioneers are alive, but gangsters who cooly claim to have joined in those early days are aware of the prestige this gives them. Invoking the blurred past is a hallmark of the constant war for respect being waged in the gang.

The LAPD has records of the Mara Salvatrucha Stoners dating back to 1975. Researchers like Tom Ward, of the University of California, have documented the foundation of small cliques or core stoners of the MS in 1978.

It is uncertain when it first began, but some veteran Salvatruchos from LA in the late ‘70s claim that a dozen stoners began meeting regularly at the Seven Eleven that still exists at the intersection of Westmoreland Avenue and James M. Wood Street. There, at that Seven Eleven, is probably where the first clique of the Mara Salvatrucha began. There are still, in Los Angeles and El Salvador, gang members who belong to it.

The Salvatruchos felt tough. Their tight jeans torn at the knees, black shirts with album covers of ACDC, Led Zeppelin or Kiss, and long hair all shouted defiance. They were involved in fights with similar groups, stole car cassette players and became infamous in schools like Berendo Middle School, four blocks from the intersection of Normandie Avenue and Pico Boulevard. Some even boasted of being satanic while singing Hell Bent for Leather, by Judas Priest. But they hardly had any ambition beyond going to the next concert and feeling powerful by raising their fists into the air and raising two fingers, simulating a pair of horns. For the moment.

Sanz and Martinez explain MS-13’s evolution from petty crime into extreme violence as the gang expanded in Los Angeles. Prison served as an enabler, with members getting acquainted with each other and trading information:

Salvadorans formed their own gang to stand up to pressure from other Latinos, finding themselves looked at in disgust by Mexicans and their descendants. It is not easy being the new kid on the block and expecting others to invite you to play with them. Even if the game consists of waging war …

By 1985 most of the MS cliques had moved past their stoner identity and in the following years took up small-scale drug trafficking, or extorted money from corner drug dealers in their areas.

Controlling the street made no sense if you could not get financial benefit from it. They competed with other gangs in order to win in all categories: presence, control, violence … money. [MS-13 affiliated woman] La Chele remembers how the homies came out of jail talking in new terms about the arts of intimidation and power, learned from long cell conversations. She, herself near the end of a brief stay in a prison, found herself bringing order to her clique, which was losing money because it only taxed local drug dealers once a week.

“The homie who was in charge of extortions asked me, ‘How do you think you can improve our method, coming out of jail?’ And I said, “Simon, you got to charge rent every day, plus the corner dealers can see that red truck of yours from a mile away. When they see it they hide and that’s why you don’t·manage to get anything.”

It took a long time for MS to earn enough street cred so that they could get a powerful ally in the gang world. Sanz and Martinez tell us:

The number 13 is actually a name that indicates homage to a criminal force majeure, the Lords, the Mexican Mafia, which reigns in Southern California. The Mara Salvatrucha would take several years to build that friendship and that number.

MS-13 now an international menace

This brings us to the 45-minute film from History Documentary Channel, MS-13: World’s Most Dangerous Gang. It was made in 2016. Some dates differ to what Sanz and Martinez above documented, e.g. when the gang was founded. A summary of the film follows:

Wally

The documentary features the story of Wally, a student at Hollywood High and an Iranian immigrant, having a snack in a neighbourhood restaurant with a friend. On December 17, 2002, an MS-13 girl approached Wally and asked him where he was from, meaning what gang was he with. A few minutes later, a group of male gang members and the girl surrounded him, brutally beating him up. They fled. Bleeding, Wally got up off the floor. He thought that was the end of the incident. Suddenly, a gang member walked back in with a gun and shot him at point blank range.

The senseless attack occurred because the girl and the male gang members were angry when Wally said he was from Iran. He had no gang connection. But Wally protested his innocence in vain.

Wally survived the beating and the shooting, but was now a quadriplegic, in a wheelchair and on a ventilator 24/7. Fortunately, he was able to testify in court against his attackers. He died four months later.

Marvin ‘Spy’ Guerra was among the defendants in court. He had joined MS-13 in October 2002. Guerra was the guy who went back to the restaurant to shoot Wally. He did that to make a name for himself.

Guerra aimed the gun close to Wally’s face. Wally’s only option in a split second reaction was to put his hand in front of his face. The bullet went through Wally’s hand and into his neck. Guerra had crippled Wally for life.

Guerra received a life sentence. He is eligible for parole in 15 years, therefore, soon.

Honduras

Another senseless attack — a massacre — took place in San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras. On December 23, 2004, MS-13 members there opened fire on a bus full of families at 6:30 p.m. Women, children and the elderly died in a bloodbath. A Honduran law enforcement official said it was like ‘something out of a Hollywood movie’, so horrific it didn’t seem possible in real life.

The massacre was organised and executed by a Los Angeles MS-13 member.

Two cars blocked the bus, one from the front and the other at the back. MS-13 members first killed the bus driver. They then sprayed the bus with bullets. That wasn’t enough. The gang members then went inside the bus to make sure everyone was dead. The law enforcement official said:

It was like a war zone, because the weapons were war weapons — M16s, AK-47s.

Twenty-eight people died, six of whom were children.

Fortunately, Honduran police were able to capture all but one of the killers — the mastermind behind the attack, from Los Angeles. His name is Eber Anibal Rivera-Paz, known as El Coche, or The Tapeworm. He was part of an MS-13 clique the Normandie Locos, referencing Normandie Avenue in Los Angeles.

The Tapeworm had been deported in the 1990s back to Honduras, where he started an MS-13 clique which he headed. He ordered the bus massacre in order to get back at police who were cracking down on the gang.

He made his way back to the United States but was quickly sent back to Honduras by airport immigration. Somehow, Honduran officials were unable to identify him upon his return. Furthermore, someone should have been waiting for him at the airport. When he saw no one was there, he continued on his way.

The Tapeworm has not been seen since. He could be in Honduras. He could be in the United States. He could be anywhere.

Ex-members’ stories

Since the 1980s, MS-13 has been growing at a ‘phenomenal rate’, with a presence in 41 or 42 states today as well as in Latin America.

In its infancy, MS-13’s original members had not belonged to gangs in El Salvador. They only formed a gang once they met in Los Angeles near Lafayette Park.

By 1979, approximately 700,000 Salvadorians fled the guerilla war in their own country for the safety of the United States. They settled near MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. One law enforcement official interviewed said that more than 95% of these immigrants wanted to work hard and build a new future for themselves. However, some young Salvadorians felt the tension on the streets near the park, which a Mexican gang, 18th Street, controlled. Salvadorians were not welcome.

Julio Cabrera, a former MS-13 member, said that when he joined in 1987 as Flipper, MS-13 and some of the other gangs got along and partied together. That changed in short order once MS-13 got involved in drug dealing and violence. Eventually, MS-13 began infringing on 18th Street’s territory.

In 1990, a fight broke out at a neighbourhood party and an 18th Street member shot an MS-13 member. Some say the shooting started a fierce war between the two gangs. Gunfights took place nightly.

By then, Salvadorians who had fought in their civil war began arriving in Los Angeles. Some joined MS-13. They were tough. They had military training. A law enforcement official says that they had seen and engaged in so much ruthless and extreme violence — e.g. cutting people’s arms off with a machete, setting people alight — that it was routine.

When Charlie ‘Angel’ Vasquez’s family arrived in Los Angeles in 1979, he was eight years old. He joined the Parkview Locos, a clique of MS-13 and got two tattoos, one on each arm. One says Mara 13 and the other 213, the city’s telephone area code. He said he was an ‘adrenaline junkie’ at the time and found the gang violence ‘exciting’.

He met the aforementioned Julio Cabrera, who helped initiate him into MS-13. The initiation rite consists of getting brutally beaten up by other gang members for 13 seconds. Vasquez says that if a member is enjoying watching someone getting beaten up, he’ll count to 13 more slowly.

Such violence and notoriety, Vasquez says, attracted hundreds of new recruits around the city. Not only was MS-13 shooting people without a second thought, they also had a reputation for rape. Vasquez said that he disapproved of rape, but a lot of his fellow ‘homies’ didn’t mind.

MS-13 also had a well known reputation for murder, which Vasquez also participated in. In 1991, he got into a heated argument with a rival black gang member. The black punched him then ran off. Charlie caught up with him. Out of his box on drink and cocaine, Charlie couldn’t stop punching his rival. When he stood back, he saw his clothes were covered in blood. His rival died.

Police arrested Vasquez at the scene. Vasquez felt no remorse for what he had done. In fact, he said that he felt proud, especially because his victim was black:

Hispanic gang members are racist.

Whilst in Los Angeles County Jail, he contemplated his next victims (‘Chinese? Cops?’) and his next crime:

You can’t help but think of evil things to do.

Meanwhile, the war with 18th Street was escalating. Drive-by shootings were commonplace, and innocent people were getting shot, sometimes fatally.

Enter the Mexican Mafia, which decided to stop the carnage. It was bad for their business. People stopped hanging out on street corners waiting for their drugs.

The truce took place at Elysian Park. The LAPD filmed it. The Mexican Mafia divided the area around MacArthur Park between the two gangs.

That was when Mara Salvatrucha added 13 to its name. That numerical addition increased their prestige. Soon they branched outside of Los Angeles. New territory was easy to find.

Rapid expansion

By the early 1990s, police forces noticed that MS-13 random violence was taking place far away from Los Angeles.

As the LAPD began cracking down on the gang, members moved elsewhere in the US. This gave them the opportunity to lie low from the police as well as operate in a new environment.

A law enforcement official said that it is easy for the gang to blend in to new surroundings. MS-13 members work by day, often in the building trade or menial labour, so appear to be straight arrows to employers. They enjoy working hard and will move anywhere there is job growth and steady employment.

BUTwell meaning parents also move their MS-13 teenage children to other parts of the country in the belief that they will quit the gang. Joker, who was a member of the Parkview Locos (affiliated with MS-13), said that his mother told him they were going to move to Virginia, where she had family. After six months, Joker picked up where he left off when he happened to meet other LA members there. He wasted no time in setting up a new branch of MS-13 in Fairfax County, Virginia. He began recruiting in middle schools and high schools.

Joker was not alone. This happened all over the United States. By the end of the 1990s, there were 10,000 MS-13 members across the nation.

In Dallas in 2001, the body of a young man was found in the woods. He had been shot execution style — and sodomised.

In Virginia in 2003, hikers found the body of a pregnant teenager along the banks of the Shenandoah River. She had been stabbed 16 times, her head nearly severed.

My post from yesterday has more recent cases.

Illegal immigrants

The Clinton administration instituted new laws to crack down on illegal immigration in the 1990s, closely tied to gang violence.

The aforementioned Tapeworm — who ended up in Honduras — was one of the members deported.

Hundreds of other MS-13 members were deported back to their Latin American countries of origin. They quickly established and led MS-13 branches. They were big fish in a little pond.

However, there was a more pragmatic reason. They returned with no money and no job, just the clothes on their back. Many had no family, so crime and violence were the only options they knew and the ones that came easiest.

El Salvador

Around this time, MS-13 took root in El Salvador.

The aforementioned Julio Cabrera was sent back to El Salvador. The kids on the street thought he was a Hollywood movie star. He started several cliques in the MS-13 style. He had no end of recruits. The gang culture grew quickly.

Charlie Vasquez, who was doing time for beating a black gang member to death, was offered a plea bargain and was deported to his native El Salvador. Unlike a number of his fellow members, he took the opportunity to turn his life around south of the border.

Central America became a gangster’s paradise

The teenage recruits that deported MS-13 members cultivated were eager to get the full gang experience.

American culture is a big deal there, and anyone from Los Angeles earns instant respect and adoration.

Police forces in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala were overwhelmed by a sudden crime epidemic, which included families being terrorised, sometimes massacred. Victims were afraid to notify the police, and there were cases where police were afraid to confront the gang members or investigate those crimes.

California law

In 2004, laws began changing in California, making it easier not only for people to speak up but also for police to arrest gang members, even for loitering.

However, MS-13 lives on: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Law enforcement

Since 2006, the FBI has developed a good working relationship with law enforcement in Central American countries.

Conclusion

Jail and prison have served to further MS-13’s reach.

One prison in San Salvador is comprised of MS-13 members only. The inmates hide their telephones and can easily communicate with MS-13 members in the United States. Heinous crimes have been engineered and committed.

The same thing happens from US prisons to Central American MS-13 cliques.

Human trafficking, drugs and money laundering are highly likely to be international operations.

Fortunately, as some MS-13 members get older, they leave. They find jobs and raise families. Some become willing informants, a great asset to the authorities. They get their tattoos removed. Some help young teens avoid gang life. Others turn towards the Church. One former MS-13 member has become a pastor.

MS-13 is an international scourge. Let us hope that the US Attorney General and law enforcement agencies both in the US and Central America can eradicate it.

Coming up on Monday: MS-13’s surprising new market

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