“Street gang MS-13, infamous for vicious machete killings, is first to be declared an international criminal group.”
That was a headline from the Daily Mail in 2012.
“The gratuitous acts of violence these now-convicted gang members committed were intended to spread fear.” That’s a description from acting U.S. Attorney John Horn about a 2015 murder conviction in Georgia.
“Video of the mutilated bodies was sent to a girlfriend of one of the victims.” “She was walking home one evening with Nisa, a basketball teammate one day shy of her 16th birthday, when MS-13 members spotted them and attacked with a machete and baseball bats.” “A large butcher knife, a bloodstained baseball hat and three 9mm handguns were also found in the car.”
USA Today reports,
Those are all different incidents. All MS-13.
On Wednesday, President Trump was speaking as part of his roundtable discussion on California’s sanctuary laws and was asked about MS-13. His response set off a firestorm.
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims brought up the gang and her department’s ability to combat them: “There could be an MS-13 member that I know about” and yet can’t report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Trump replied, saying in part, “These aren’t people. These are animals.”
The controversy blew up when people and news organizations used the quote or clip without the context of Mims’ question. Trump wasn’t calling all illegal immigrants animals. One widely favored and retweeted response referred to Trump’s remark as the “language of ethnic cleansing.”
Quickly, though, people on the right (and some journalists) corrected the record. That it was about MS-13 was reported more widely. Even so, many on the left, including notably House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, simply recalibrated to defend the humanity of the gang itself.
“Does he not believe in the spark of divinity, the dignity and worth of every person?” Pelosi asked.
Likewise, CNBC’s John Harwood said, “However repugnant their actions, MS-13 gang members are human beings IMHO.”
The question is whether it was fair or wise of Trump to call MS-13 animals, and whether it’s a morally objectionable statement overall.
The American Heritage Dictionary third definition of “animal” is “a person who behaves in a bestial or brutish manner.” By that definition, “animal” isn’t nearly strong enough.
Today’s news spat over MS-13 is part of a longer-running drama. Since Trump took office, there has been an effort to downplay the gang’s significance even as Trump has rhetorically raised its profile.
He’s not the only president to do so. In 2012 — you know, under President Obama — MS-13 was formally designated a transnational criminal organization by the Treasury Department. At the time, this was characterized approvingly as a “crackdown” by the Obama administration.
MS-13 (or Mara Salvatrucha), a primarily El Salvador-based gang that started in Los Angeles, was believed to have about 10,000 members across the country at that time and Central America. They were known for hacking enemies to death, executing people in broad daylight in view of witnesses, and fatally beating people with bats.
That brutality has continued:
Continue reading at USA Today