An Introduction to Gangs – Part 1, by T.N.

The Threat

Unfortunately our American justice (or in-justice) system has utterly failed to curtail certain groups and organizations from threatening the safety of the American public. I am warning you that just beneath the super-thin veneer of American civil society lurks a dark and deadly threat. It’s a threat so insidious that it kills young children often times for sport and so powerful it has purchased politicians at both state and federal levels of government. Most people see very little of this threat, only catching glimpses of it as it burns through the thin layer of civility and boils over in the streets or in the sensationalized Hollywood versions glorified on our TV screens. However, the moment this façade is removed and SHTF (the “Shmuck” Hits The Fan) this threat will burst forth and affect the lives of nearly every American.

What is this threat? It’s gangs and other criminal groups, which are far more prolific and powerful than most Americans can comprehend. There are an estimated 30,000 different gangs with 800,000 members in the U.S., and according to the FBI they are responsible for 80% of all crime in America. With 800,000 members that means there are more gang members than there are members of the US Army and Marine Corps COMBINED!

My opening statement is not in anyway to disparage the hard working members of law enforcement who have spent their lives battling these groups. Rather I blame the lawyers, politicians, and judges who defend and promote these groups as well as the culture and media, which have helped them recruit and excused their behavior as “cultural differences”.

What Is A Gang And What We Need To Know

In this article I intend to give a brief but informative overview of common American gangs, how they can be identified, and how they can be expected to behave in a SHTF situation. I’ll also share some ideas on how you can protect yourself and family as well as how to deal with these groups, should you come in contact with them. Most of my experience is in dealing with groups from the west coast– primarily California, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, and New Mexico, so if anyone has any additional information from other areas that could be supplemental to this article or any corrections to information given, please feel free to sent it to SurvivalBlog for them to forward on to me so I can add it into any future articles or revisions. (I’m not perfect, though I have done my best; there probably are errors in this article.)

First, let’s talk about the definition of a gang. What is a gang? Every state and law enforcement department defines a gang in a different way; however, they all have common elements. A general definition should go something like this: “A gang is a group of people who have a common name, mode of dress, identifying mark or symbol, goal, and cooperates to further or commit criminal activities.” Now as for the difference between a gang and a criminal group, that is a little more complicated and varies by law in different parts of the country. Gangs, such as the Bloods or Crips, are usually less organized and have very little rigid command structure compared to criminal groups such as the “Mafia” or various syndicates. That being said, some groups that are considered gangs are as organized as any military in the world and as such for the purpose of this article I will refer to all criminal groups as gangs. This will only serve to simplify the discussion without loosing any significant information.

Basic Structure

Not all gangs have the same structure, and an entire book could be written on the various command structures employed by different gangs. However, there are several common structures used by the vast majority of large gangs, and these are what I will discuss here, and I will go more in depth into the structure of some gangs later when I discuss specific gangs.

Cell Or Set First:

This is arguably the most common and prolific structure used to organize gangs here in America. It is the basis for household names, such as The Crips and Bloods as well as gangs like MS-13 and nearly all small, local gangs. This structure is based on a single group of people in a region or area who have banded together. Often times they adopt names, styles, rules, and methods of a larger umbrella gang. In such you have gangs like the Crips, which are more like the United Nations of street thugs. Each neighborhood has its own “set”, such as “Rollin’ 60’s Crips”, or “Grape St. Crips”. Each is a semi-autonomous group, who has their own territory, criminal activity, and leadership.

They adopt common modes of dress and the basic behavioral standards of Crips more as an alliance amongst sets for mutual support. Even though they adopt these common ways and are supposed to work together, sets often will fight amongst themselves for territory and over personal issues, only coming together to fight common rival groups, such as Bloods. Being a Crip is more of a culture than a specific gang; loyalty and command are centered at the set level. Sets are often broken up farther into “crews”, which are small groups of friends who commit crimes together.

As most other gangs are organized, the cell or set first structure starts at the recruit. Called hang-around, peewees, prospects, associates, or many other names, these are not members but rather potential members who hang out with and commit crimes for the actual gang members. Often this recruitment process starts as young as when they’re just 10 or 12 years old in most gangs, and these young children are often used to hold drugs or guns, because they are less likely to be searched by police or they serve as messengers and lookouts near drug houses.

Next in line are the soldiers; they are the members who do most of the day to day work. Every gang has different names for each level, but the soldier takes orders and does the work. Next would be the lieutenant or “shot caller”. These are the street level guys who tell the soldiers what to do. Every set will have several people at this level who run a crew of criminals. They keep their own guys in line and make sure that work is being done, drugs are sold, and other gang needs are being carried out by the soldiers as well as making sure taxes are collected and sent up the chain of command.

At the top of every set is a boss who may run a single set or may run several sets with one being his home set. From this position, a set’s large drug deals are organized and its business is controlled. All taxes collected from the neighborhoods that the set controls are sent up from the soldiers and lieutenants up to this level. Whoever holds this position makes all decisions for the set and coordinates activities with other sets.

Although in this structure sets often fight each other on the street, once in prison due to isolation from their set, members often go under the common “gang” banner, taking orders from whoever is the most powerful or influential member in the same facility without significant regard to who is from what set on the street. In prison a “Rollin’ 60’s Crip” is now just a Crip and being a Crip is the primary concern.

This structure generally causes the gang to be extremely prolific and numerous, but the individual sets remain rather weak by comparison and only maintain significant control over smaller geographic areas.


This is a much more organized structure used by more powerful groups, such as the Mexican Mafia, La Cosa Nostra (Italian Mafia), Mexican Drug Cartels, and 1% Biker Gangs. The structure of this organization system lends to good command of the gang and a very efficient criminal enterprise. However, it prevents large recruiting and keeps numbers relatively low.

Think of the gangs using this structure as more or less a military unit. For example, the Mexican Drug Cartels start off with the lowest level street dealer, who is usually a smaller gang or individual simply buying from the cartel. This is essentially the civilian in the area of a military operation. They give intel and support to the cartel in exchange for protection, favor, and good supply of product.

Next is the “Halcones” or “Ventanas”. These are the lowest level cartel associates, often time local neighborhood children. They serve primarily as lookouts to warn cartel soldiers of incoming law enforcement or rival cartel members.

Next you have the soldiers. There are different levels of soldiers with different names in each cartel, but they all serve the same basic function. These are the entry-level guys, who do most of the work for the cartel. They escort drug shipments, collect taxes and payments, and oversee the day-to-day operation of the drug manufacture and smuggling.

Next you have “Estacas”, which is essentially a unit or team of armed cartel soldiers, who serve as armed backup for drug deals.

Next you have “Sicario”, who are the hit men or assassins for the cartel. These are soldiers who have proven themselves to be particularly skilled and loyal. These guys rarely serve as guards for shipments but rather are sent purely to kill informants and rivals or enforce the cartel’s will upon an area.

After the hit men, you have the lower command structure. These guys are the lieutenants of the cartels. They have specific areas, crews, or smuggling routes they are in charge of. They ensure that the work in their area of operations is being done and that the cartel’s will is being carried out.

Above the lieutenants, you have the different levels of bosses, which varies from cartel to cartel but are usually a group of business men or family members who do little to no work and rarely touch illegal drugs themselves. These guys make high level decisions, buy off police and politicians, and deploy their lieutenants into the field to get things done. Most large drug deals which establish new smuggling routes are organized by these players and brokered by a trusted high level lieutenant.

The only step left is “El Heffe”. Sometimes thought of as a fictional character, El Heffe is the boss of the entire cartel. Not every cartel has one, overarching boss, but some do; a great example of a classic El Heffe who had no boss above or equal was Pablo Escobar, who ran the Medaine cartel in Columbia with an iron fist until he was finally killed by the Columbian authorities (with help from U.S. intel assets).

This structure varies from gang to gang but is always very rigid within the gang. This grants the gang a great efficiency in getting orders from the boss to the street level. It also provides an enforcement method which allows the leaders will to remain in place throughout a large territory while maintaining a relatively low number of actual members.

Hybrid Structure:

A hybrid structure is exactly what it sounds like. It is a blending of the cell or set structure and the Para-Military structure.

Usually the hybrid structure is used by a huge coalition of gangs, which are brought together under the leadership of one more powerful group. An excellent example of this would be the Mexican Mafia and the Sureno street gangs.

The Sureno street gangs are a huge group of Hispanic gangs, which originated in Los Angeles California. Much like the Crips, they are more like a culture than an actual gang. Within this culture you have individual sets which operate semi-independent criminal organizations using the set first structure. The difference is that unlike the Crips, the Surenos are not nearly as independent. In most of the western states (not all, but generally most) the Surenos are loyal to the prison-based gang called The Mexican Mafia, which employs a rigid para-military style organizational structure.

Each set has a representative who deals with The Mafia; they take marching orders from the Mafia leaders and pass them down to the street level Sureno gang members. Then, they in turn pass the gang’s taxes up to the Mafia. This arrangement was made to bring the warring factions of Hispanic gang members under a peaceful control of the Mexican Mafia who in turn provided protection to individual gang members while in prison.

This structure provides a good compromise between the two systems, allowing a decent level of control to be put out over a massive number of gang members over a vast geographical area.