Mexico’s Seeds of Radicalism: Micro Movements with Macro Implications
Radical leaders and their followers were dismissed for years as small bands of crazies unworthy of serious study or scholarship. Most of these groups belonged to the non-state actor class and were viewed as largely inconsequential until radical, Islamic fundamentalists seized power in Iran and the micro became macro with global implications. They quickly set up shop by dispatching operatives in Lebanon. The “Party of God” engineered their Hezbollah homicide bombings in Beirut which claimed the lives of 220 U.S. marines and 21 other members of a multinational force. Indoctrination for the purpose of producing radicalized agents now made strategic sense. Al Qaeda, Palestinian networks, the Tamil Tigers and several other groups, secular and religious, realized that they could create lethal minds and wage war against the state and the trend continues. Mexican cartels are utilizing the benefits of radicalized faith in their war with the state and each other. They are seeking to implement ritualized devotion to a Higher Power and create social cohesion within their networks. Currently Santa Muerte is the deity of choice for most cartels, but La Familia Michoacana is turning to the Bible and cleverly preaching a different Gospel to further its strategic and political aims.
La Familia Michoacana, burst onto the Mexican national scene by tossing five heads onto the dance floor of a popular club in Uruapan, Michoacán. Several sources including the FRPI stated that there was a message nearby the heads reading: “The family doesn’t kill for money. It doesn’t kill women. It doesn’t kill innocent people, only those who deserve to die. Know that this is divine justice.” Many locals believed the spin. That evening La Familia claimed dual roles: crime fighting and human services for the purposes of protecting and providing for their people. National Public Radio reported that those in attendance, including the owner, supported them because they recognized the heads of the deceased, concluding that they were bad people worthy of their fate. In a short matter of time, La Familia became a skilled and deadly cartel capable of balancing both its war against Mexico’s elite security forces, and the propaganda machine it created in order to draw support.
La Familia’s propaganda extends into the realm of faith. One could argue that it is a religious movement as well. The cartel’s spiritual leader, Nazario “The Maddest One” Moreno, has solidified his status as the people’s preacher. He has produced a gospel of self-help for downtrodden supporters, justified violence for its active members, and evangelical zeal and slogans to maintain a sense of familiarity with the larger faith. La Famalia spreads its messages of hope, salvation and divine justice through various media outlets. In addition they have given gifts to the poor and employ a large number of people at ten times the national average (nearly $2000 a month). By providing things the state has not: services, money, religious identity and social mobility within the group, La Familia is winning big political points in the guise of religion. The pattern is not much different from that of Hamas, Hezbollah or many other terror networks that work to secure the favor of the people and have a religious ideology as a cover for their action. Radical networks are evolving and increasing their efforts to win the hearts and minds of the people. The cartels are operating without constraint as a law unto themselves.
Since Mexico has failed to uphold the rule of law and corruption is rampant and widespread, few Mexicans trust in the ruling political parties ability to make their lives better; they are turning to a parallel structure, the cartels. Cartel leaders have taken advantage of this and are seeking to push the state into a ceasefire. John Sullivan and Adam Elkus outline the means to the cartels’ objectives in their timely piece Mexican Crime Families: “They have engaged in a war of attrition against the Mexican government, killing low-ranking officers and high-ranking federal officials alike. Psychological operations and bribery have also been used to induce military and police to desert their posts and reap the benefits of cartel patronage. The goal? Force the Mexican government to cease its crackdown and let the cartels influence the political arena so they can move their drugs in peace.”
It is important to realize how radical movements can start out at the micro level and later compete with the state or at the very least vie for an audience with large numbers of the populace. Mexico is experiencing this and joining a number of states attempting to contain their radical movements. Don’t get it twisted. People have the right to worship whatever they choose to and that should be upheld. But experts in forensic theology warn of global radical movements taking root and inspiring people to pick up the sword and join them in a campaign against their host nations. Such movements are joining a host of other secular ones with increasing ferocity in a revolt against the authority of the state. Perhaps what is taking place in the hearts and minds of people at the smallest micro level is an innate revolt, a grasping for something to believe in, and/or an identity they can rest in. Let us hope the identity does not pursue bloodletting as a rite of passage.
Hakim Hazim is the founder of Relevant Now a nationally recognized security consultancy