Listen bro; you don’t ask to see Santa Muerte unless you are going to buy one. She is the real deal and I could get in trouble. It’s very Catholic here, (Cozumel) and illegal for me to sell it. I’ll show you if you are serious, but it will cost you one way or another in pesos or bad luck. ”
This was one of the responses I received from a young man during my eight day trip to the Cancun area of Mexico. The farther I traveled from the concentrated tourist parts of Cancun, Cozumel, and Playa Del Carmen, the more I would hear very candid responses regarding my questions regarding her emergence. I was asked several times if I believed in her. Each time I responded: “No, just curious.” Some looked at me with intrigue and gave more information about her, others gave me a rebuke with a stern warning not to “mess with her; she’s a devil!” I came away with one primary conviction, there is a religious revival in Mexico, and it’s a dark one.
I’ve mused and stated since 1993 that cults and extremism were on the rise. Curiosity gave birth to study and later confirmation. The world has witnessed the emergence of new versions of faith coupled with bloodthirsty gods of war and vengeance. They will remain with us far into the foreseeable future according one eminent scholar.
Martin van Creveld stated:
In the future, war will not be waged by armies but by groups whom we today call terrorists, guerrillas, bandits, and robbers, but who will undoubtedly hit on more formal titles to describe themselves. Their organizations are likely to be constructed on charismatic lines rather than institutional ones, and to be motivated less by “professionalism” than by fanatical, ideologically-based, loyalties. While clearly subject to some kind of leadership with coercive powers at its disposal, that leadership will be hardly distinguishable from the organization as a whole; hence it will bear greater similarity to “The Old Man of the Mountains” than to institutionalized government as the modern world has come to understand that term.
He, unfortunately, was right.
My research defines extremism as one symptom of the fissuring and fracturing of traditional capital cohesion (the ability of leaders to maintain influence and sway over their followers). Mexico is a perfect example of this and corruption at all levels fuels the unraveling of the state apparatus. Scholars such as John Sullivan, Adam Elkus, Robert Bunker, Pamela Bunker, David Ronfeldt, and Max Manwaring have kept a careful eye on visceral violence in this country for some time. All agree that the rule of law must be restored if Mexico is going to stabilize at anytime in the near future. In recent years extremism has added fuel to this movement. Life and death issues and the thrill of battle and bloodshed, coupled with spirituality, can prove addictive for some. Extremist movements that call for violence against the state will have no shortage of willing participants. Not only are the new leaders of these movements skilled in the art of violence; they are charismatic preachers and their followers are zealously fighting against members of different faiths.
La Familia has its version of Christianity. Los Zetas and other cartels deify Santa Muerte. Some prefer the Aztec gods of war. The ideology creates followers and binds them to a higher power than the immediate leader. In February of 2009 I wrote these words and I think they are worth revisiting:
A familiar pattern is forming; criminal soldiers are creating disciples among a disaffected Hispanic population. It’s the latest craze in radicalization. Shrewd criminal networks and gangs are now acting upon the tenets of the Saint of Death in hopes of creating an even stronger bond with their members and solidifying their claims to authority by adding religious identity. Mexico and the state of Texas are the most fertile grounds for an expanding movement toward Santisma Muerte. The new preachers may soon pose a greater threat to international security by promising a holy death to their recruits and filling them with fervor unmatched by typical criminal orgs and gangs.
The fervor has helped push the death toll pass 23,000 and Holy Death has welcomed many into her bosom.