President Donald J. Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr announced Wednesday significant cases related to Joint Task Force Vulcan (JTFV), which is an initiative that was launched in August 2019 aimed at disrupting, dismantling, and ultimately, destroying MS-13.
In a news conference Wednesday, Trump and Barr announced a number of significant cases associated with JTFV, including the first time an MS-13 member has been charged with terrorism-related offenses, a coordinated multi-district takedown of the leadership of the Hollywood clique of MS-13, and the Attorney General’s decision to seek the death penalty against an MS-13 defendant.
“In 2017, the President directed the Department of Justice to go to war against MS-13, and we did just that,” said Attorney General Barr. “In coordination with our partners at the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department’s law enforcement components have successfully investigated, charged, and arrested command and control elements of MS-13 responsible for murder. Joint Task Force Vulcan’s operations have significantly degraded MS-13 capabilities. While there is still work to be done, the Department of Justice remains committed to protecting Americans threatened by MS-13, and we will not rest until we have successfully defeated this transnational criminal organization.”
Mara Salvatrucha, commonly known as MS-13, is an international criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles, California, in the 1970s and 1980s. Originally, the gang was set up to protect Salvadoran immigrants from other gangs in the Los Angeles area. Over time, the gang grew into a more traditional criminal organization. MS-13 is defined by its cruelty, and its rivalry with the 18th Street Gang.
Many MS-13 members were deported to El Salvador after the close of the Salvadoran Civil War in 1992, or upon being arrested, facilitating the spread of the gang to Central America. The gang is currently active in many parts of the continental United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America. Most members are Central American, Salvadorans in particular.
As an international gang, its history is closely tied to United States–El Salvador relations. In 2018, the gang’s US membership of up to 10,000 accounted for less than 1% of the 1.4 million gang members in the United States, and a similar share of gang murders. The gang is often referenced by the United States’ Republican Party to advocate for anti-immigrant policies.