Vox and ProPublica take aim at President Trump’s heightened concern for gangs in the United States in a recently published video, claiming his harsh characterizations of MS-13 are unfair.
The gang, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, numbers in the tens of thousands and is composed primarily of outlaws from El Salvador, Honduras, and other Central American countries. Trump’s hardline stance on crime and border security has made MS-13 a more widely recognized public menace. But instead of acknowledging the rising violent threat that MS-13 poses to the American people, progressive media outlets like Vox and ProPublica are casting the Trump Administration’s actions with regard to illegal immigration and law enforcement as irresponsible, dangerous, and factually unsound.
The video — candidly titled, “Why the street gang MS-13 is an American problem” — opens by framing MS-13 as a uniquely American issue. It’s true the gang was founded in the United States during the early 1980s, but the roots of MS-13 are distinctly un-American.
Let’s review: Beginning in 1979, El Salvador was gripped by a nasty and brutal civil war between the established military junta and a newly-formed coalition of Marxist insurgents. Around a million people were displaced by the 12-year conflict and many sought asylum in the United States. The refugees, mainly anti-government sympathizers who resented American intervention in the war, illegally crossed the border and settled in southern California, mostly in Los Angeles’ Pico-Union neighborhood. Unsurprisingly, the young men from these impoverished alien communities started street gangs for personal and financial security. By 1984, they called themselves “Mara Salvatrucha” as a designation of their ties to the Salvadoran rebels.
This context is wholly absent from Vox’s presentation. The video succinctly describes the origins of MS-13 as “a group of teenagers, hanging out, smoking pot, listening to rock music” who eventually became “juvenile delinquents involved in street crimes who were stuffed into American jails.”
Vox specifically defends MS-13 against Trump’s charge that the gang is a drug-smuggling criminal cartel. The voiceover states, “that’s not really the case” and notes that the group “doesn’t have global ambitions.” Hannah Dreier, a ProPublica reporter showcased in the video, says “MS-13 is not really involved with the international drug trade.” Senior Vox reporter Dara Lind adds that “the organization doesn’t have that kind of sophistication to really play with the major players.” These assertions are made despite the fact that there is a growing mountain of evidence to the contrary.
For one thing, the video implies that the Obama-era decision to designate MS-13 as a “transnational criminal organization” had little or no factual basis. But a 2012 report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point detailed the growing cooperation between MS-13 and Los Zetas, one of the most dangerous cartels in the world. Additional reports also suggest that MS-13 actually has bigger international ambitions, popping up in Italy, Spain, Argentina, and Australia. And according to a 2015 threat assessment by the D.E.A., MS-13 also has working connections with the Gulf Cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel, and La Familia Michoacána.
For what it’s worth, Dreier has been reporting from Long Island for over a year, and she gives up a little glimpse of her personal perspective on MS-13. She says the gang members she observes “are working after-school jobs, they’re living with their parents, they get around Long Island on bicycles because they can’t afford cars …” This innocuous depiction of MS-13 indicates substantial ignorance of the recent havoc that the group has wrecked upon the citizens of Long Island.
In the past year alone there has been an arrest for 2nd degree assault, a conviction for murder threats and attempted coercion, another arrest for murder, four indictments for ordering a violent attack on a 16-year-old boy, 17 more indictments for drug trafficking and several murders (including a 13-year-old boy), as well as 24 more indictments for 15 more murders. All of these criminals are MS-13 gang members.
Additionally, nearly 40 percent of all murders from two years ago in Suffolk County were linked to MS-13 gang violence. The situation has become so treacherous and heartbreaking that just a few months ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo added $7.5 million to combat gang violence on Long Island. (While I was writing this, CNN came out with a segment about the tragic impact of MS-13 on Long Island communities.)
The national scene hasn’t fared much better. January yielded arraignments for 17 suspected MS-13 members in New York state. Authorities say that the seven-month investigation also confirmed the presence of MS-13 activity in New Jersey, Virginia, Texas, France, South Korea, and Egypt. Then in February, the city of Columbus was rocked by a new federal indictment of 23 MS-13 gangsters, which included (but was not limited to) murder, extortion, illegal immigration, obstruction of justice, assault, and drug trafficking.
In April, an East Coast kingpin for MS-13 was charged with five counts of conspiracy and three counts of drug trafficking, specifically helping the Mexican Mafia sell heroin. And just last month, a federal grand jury in Maryland hit two dozen MS-13 members with a laundry list indictment of offenses ranging from murder to robbery to money laundering.
Make no mistake about it: MS-13 is a growing criminal syndicate that directly deals with larger cartels. To suggest otherwise is wrong and downright asinine. But Vox and ProPublica claim the reality of MS-13 is not properly reflected by these recurring headlines. Dreier says that the MS-13 she reports on “has almost nothing in common with the MS-13 as portrayed by the government …”
This criticism of Trump’s characterization of MS-13 is part of a longer trend. Back in May, Trump called MS-13 members “violent animals.” The comment was seized upon by his political opponents in an effort to paint him as an anti-immigrant extremist. In the aftermath of the leftist outrage, Vox ran an article which not only compared Trump’s rhetoric to that of the Nazis and the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, but also implied that the “feelings and experiences” of these murderous gang members should be considered before casting judgement. This new video seems to be an extension of that reactionary trend, in which the Democrats are abdicating their position as a political coalition in favor of being hypersensitive moral arbiters and emotional hemophiliacs.
The video closes by saying “for any policy to work, it’s worth keeping the facts front and center.” But ironically, the left’s insistence on defending the indefensible just for the sake of spiting the president does nothing to demonstrate an honest or accurate grasp of the issue. Rather, it suggests that they view differing political opinions as tantamount to the most evil and egregious acts of violence. Once that equivalency is made, there is no more debate or discussion, only sentimental games of irrational perspectives and petulant responses.
Those who champion ethical and sensible leadership should not engage with this emotional game or its propaganda.