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‘You feel that the devil is helping you’: MS-13’s satanic history

In September, an undercover informant led police into the woods of a Maryland park along trails with pastoral names like Deer Hollow and Oak Ridge, to a patch of shovel-turned earth.

Inside the shallow grave, a shredded, blood-stained sweatshirt hinted at a horrific crime.

“The victim had been stabbed over one-hundred times, decapitated, dismembered, and his heart had been excised from his chest and thrown into the grave,” Montgomery County, Maryland, detectives wrote in court papers made public last month.

The grisly details drew widespread attention.

“Satanic murder,” declared a headline in the Sun.

Authorities haven’t said why the unidentified victim was mutilated, but the British tabloid could, perhaps, be forgiven for jumping to conclusions.

According to police, the killing was the work of La Mara Salvatrucha: a violent street gang known as MS-13 with a long history of satanism.

Some of the gang’s founders were devil-worshiping metal heads, according to experts. And although the connection has waned over the past 30 years, it can still be seen in MS-13’s use of satanic nicknames, tattoos and other imagery. The gang’s devil horns hand sign is known as “la garra,” a Spanish reference to Satan’s claws. And some MS-13 members have told investigators that they committed their crimes at the behest of “la bestia,” or the Beast.

Long before it became known as MS-13, the gang was called the Mara Salvatrucha Stoners. As the name suggests, it was founded by marijuana-smoking heavy metal fans in Los Angeles in the 1970s, according to Thomas Ward, an anthropology professor at the University of Southern California who has studied the gang.

“A few of its members were hard-core Satanists who worshipped the devil and went so far as to practice gruesome animal sacrifices,” Ward writes in his ethnography of the gang, “Gangsters Without Borders.”

“Although the vast majority of these stoners never participated in these bloody ritual animal sacrifices or gave any thought to becoming Satanists, they banked on their gang’s reputation for devil worship, which gave it and them an aura of mystery and terror.”


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