America is home to some dangerous places. We have our sketchy cities and states where you’ll want to watch your back, even though the “bad” parts of the United States tend to be much friendlier than the dangerous areas in other countries. Still, we have a culture that has ingrained a “watch your back” type of mentality. While generally trusting and friendly, we Americans retain a sense of skepticism. We know that anybody could turn out to be a cloaked villain of some sort. Or, they might even be in a gang.
And when it comes to gangs, America’s collective conscious has evolved over the decades. Back in the 1980s and 90s, there was a lot of concern about street gangs and keeping your kids from joining one. While those concerns haven’t completely disappeared, we now view gangs with a bit more sense of awe, thanks in part to TV shows like Sons of Anarchy, and movies like Goodfellas.
Gangsters can be funny and relatable, and their crews embody a sense of freedom that few of us rarely get to experience. But that doesn’t mean that real gangs — the street gangs, prison gangs, and outlaw motorcycle clubs that are rooting around among us — are full of nice guys. In fact, many are extremely dangerous.
Below, we’ll take a look at 15 of the most dangerous and notorious gangs in the U.S. The list isn’t ranked in any way, as it’s hard to try and come up with some sort of parameters for how “dangerous” something is. But in law enforcement circles, these are the gangs that can be dangerous if you somehow find yourself face to face with them.
1. Latin Kings
The Latin Kings started up in Chicago in the 1950s.
With an estimated 20,000-35,000 members, the Latin Kings is mostly comprised of Latinos from a number of different countries. Originally, the gang started up in Humboldt Park in Chicago, with the coming together of Latino groups to defend themselves against discrimination and violence. Since then, though, the gang has adopted violence as its own. Look out for the colors black and gold, and the group’s famous “sacred crown” insignia.
2. The Mongols
The Mongols Motorcycle Club was originally founded in California in the late 1960s.
For more information on the Mongols, you can check out their official website. You can even order merch and check out chapters. They’ve even trademarked their logo. It’s an outlaw motorcycle club that’s a bit more privy to the law than you’d think. The club is estimated to have between 1,000 and 1,500 members and operates mostly in the American West. It’s also known to be involved in all sorts of criminal activity, including engaging in violence with other biker clubs.
3. 18th Street Gang
18th Street goes by a variety of names, including Calle 18, Barrio 18, Mara 18, and La 18.
If anybody is willing to give MS-13 a run for its money, it’s 18th Street. The gang has a presence in numerous states, spanning the whole country. It’s mostly comprised of Latinos from Mexico and Central America, but its main base of operations (and birthplace) is Los Angeles. It was originally founded in the ’60s and has been tied to numerous organized crime activities.
4. Los Zetas
Operating along the U.S. border, the Zetas have been called “the most technologically advanced, sophisticated and dangerous cartel operating in Mexico.”
You’ve likely heard of the Zetas before, as they’re one of the most brutal drug cartels in the world. We’ll spare you the details, but they’re famous for making rather gory “examples” out of people — including children. Their history is fascinating too, as, at one time, many members were actually a part of the Mexican army which fought against the cartels. But learning their methods, those military members became their own cartel and took over.
5. Aryan Brotherhood
This band of white supremacists has an estimated 15,000 members in and out of prison.
White supremacists have been in the news lately, and that includes people associated with the Aryan Brotherhood. Founded as a prison gang more than 50 years ago in the notorious San Quentin State Prison, the Aryan Brotherhood makes up a small percentage of inmates around the country. But the group is responsible for 18-25% of all the murders within state and federal prisons.
6. Hells Angels
The Hells Angels may be the most famous outlaw motorcycle club and were founded shortly after the end of World War II.
Another motorcycle gang with its own website and incorporations, the Hells Angels have a worldwide presence. Officially established in 1948 in California, the Hells Angels now have a presence in 56 countries. The history of the Hells Angels is long and rich — with too much detail to go into here. Suffice it to say that they’ve been involved in just about everything you can think of, and it’d be worth it to pick up a book about the club, like the one written by Hunter S. Thompson.
7. Gangster Disciples
There are an estimated 50,000-100,000 Gangster Disciples.
The Gangster Disciples is actually the sum of two smaller gangs: The High Life Supreme Gangsters and the Black Disciples. In the late 1960s, leaders of the two combined them into a larger street gang, which has been on the loose ever since. The Gangster Disciples are yet another Chicago-based gang, and though they’ve been relatively quiet in recent years, members still occasionally make headlines.
The 4,000-member Vagos motorcycle club has been making waves recently.
Yet another motorcycle gang, the Vagos can typically be found wearing green and causing havoc in and around the western U.S. Formed in California in the mid-60s, the Vagos have since expanded around the country and even internationally. They were originally called the Psychos before a few members broke off and began calling themselves “Vagos.” And like the Hells Angels, many original members were former military men.
The Trinitarios are also known as 3ni.
The Trinitarios are another gang, like the Aryan Brotherhood, that was born in prisons and has since spilled into the streets. In this case, the gang is based in New York and is mostly comprised of Dominican immigrants and their relatives. They’ve done it all, too, from murder to rape, kidnapping, and even drug trafficking. In a score for justice, however, the group’s former leader was sentenced to 19 years in prison a few years back for his role in a racketeering conspiracy.
10. Mexican Mafia
The Mexican Mafia is relatively small but packs a powerful (and frightening) punch.
The name is a bit misleading, as the Mexican Mafia is yet another product of the U.S. prison system. It’s mostly centralized in the federal and California prisons systems, but the approximately 400 individuals in the gang punch above their weight. It was originally formed by 13 Hispanic gangsters in the late 1950s and is notable for its ability to form loose alliances with groups like the Aryan Brotherhood.
The Bloods are one of the most notorious gangs in American history.
Original Blood Family, or the Bloods as they’re commonly known, are an L.A. street gang known for their distinctive hand signs and red attire. After being formed in the early 1970s, the Bloods spread all across the country. They’re also famous for their well-known rivalry with another L.A. street gang, the Crips. Today, there are an estimated 20,000-25,000 Bloods spread throughout the country.
Original Crip Homies were founded in the late ’60s in L.A.
Like the Bloods, the Crips are seemingly a relic of a bygone era. But they’re still very much around, and very active. There is as many as 50,000 still combing the streets around the country, and its members have been involved in murders, racketeering, and drug trafficking. Though they’re originally a California product, many young Crips are in and around New York, with arrests sometimes making the news.
13. Cosa Nostra
Better known as The Mob, or The Mafia.
The Mob, or Cosa Nostra, is actually the Sicilian Mafia crime syndicate. Of course, the American Mafia is an offshoot, which is what we typically think of when we discuss the Mob, and is made up of Italian-Americans and others. They’re mostly spread around the east coast, in cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, and over the years, have engaged in all sorts of criminal activity. In the U.S., there are an estimated 3,000 “made men” comprising the Five Families in New York, and groups operating around the country.
14. Florencia 13
Another L.A. street gang, Florencia 13 is allied with the Mexican Mafia.
Florencia 13 is named after Florence — the area in California from which it originates. A for the 13? The letter “M” is the thirteenth letter of the alphabet, and it’s meant as an homage to the Mexican Mafia. The gang was established way back in the 1930s by Mexican-Americans, and has a long history of attacking African-Americansin South Central L.A. There are an estimated 10,000 members currently, located all around the country.
There are as many as 10,000 members of Mara Salvatrucha operating in 46 states.
MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, is a violent gang mostly comprised of Salvadorans. They’re not a very old gang but have quickly made a name for themselves due to their distinctive tattoos and brutal crime sprees. They’re involved in trafficking and robberies, and are known to be very violent as well. Some MS-13 members have even been terrorizing communities only miles from the White House in Washington D.C.