The rise of vigilante groups in Mexico offers a hint of what happens when institutions fail and civil society collapses. America should be paying attention.
One of the most visible and insistent demands of the Black Lives Matter movement is the abolition or disbandment of the police—or at the very least defunding them, which taken to the extreme would amount to the same thing. “Abolish the police” has become a rallying cry among protesters and a litmus test for elected officials seeking to ally with them.
What comes after the police have been abolished remains unclear. Protesters and politicians alike are hazy on details, preferring instead to talk about “reimagining public safety” and throwing around vague terms like “community policing.”
Of course, in concrete terms what would happen if a city actually disbanded its police department, as the Minneapolis City Council pledged to do over the weekend, is that the county sheriff’s office or the state police—or perhaps even federal law enforcement—would step into the vacuum and the city would have almost no say in how it was policed or what policies county and state law enforcement agencies adopted.
But let’s say these ultra-progressive municipal governments could get their wish and abolish the police in their cities entirely. What would happen? Inevitably, an armed group would emerge and impose a monopoly on the use of force.
If you want an idea of how that works, look to our southern neighbor, Mexico, where over the past decade endemically corrupt police departments in some areas have been supplanted by autodefensas, or local self-defense militias. But before you get too excited about the prospect of paramilitary autodefensas policing American cities, understand that in Mexico these groups are a mixed bag at best—and at worst they’re not much better than the corrupt local police and cartel gunmen they replaced. More importantly, their mere presence in Mexico was and is a disturbing sign of societal decay.
The Rise And Fall Of Mexico’s Autodefensas
To understand why, a bit of background is needed. The modern autodefensas movement in Mexico arose during some of the most violent years of Mexico’s ongoing drug war. In 2013, a doctor from the cartel-ravaged state of Michoacán, José Manuel Mireles Valverde, organized one of the first self-defense militias to fight against the Knights Templar Cartel. He initially recruited ordinary men, shop keepers and farmers, to hunt down cartel henchmen and drive them out of their towns.
Initially, these ad-hoc militias met with some success, capturing or killing members of the Knights Templar, setting up roadblocks and ambushes, and expanding the number of militias operating throughout Michoacán. But as the violence in the region increased, the militias eventually caught the attention of the Mexican government, which deployed the military against both cartels and autodefensas. Mireles was badly injured in a plane crash in 2014 and was soon pushed out of a leadership role. Later that year the government ordered autodefensas to disarm as part of an effort to bring them under the control of state-controlled Fuerza Rural, or Rural Police Force.
By then, the line between autodefensas and cartels had begun to blur. The militias had been infiltrated by cartel members, including former members of the Knights Templar who knew the cartel was losing power. One former Knights Templar member, Nicolás Sierra Santana, known as “El Gordo,” joined the autodefensas movement early on but left when the government ordered them to disarm. He and other militia members went on to create a new drug cartel, “Los Viagras,” which today is affiliated with the powerful Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
Some of these self-defense militias were, for lack of a better term, fake autodefensas. In 2014, vigilante leader Luis Antonio Torres, nicknamed “Simón El Americano,” clashed with a lime grower named Hipolito Mora, who along with Mireles was one of the first founders of autodefensas. A large-scale shootout between the two groups in Tierra Caliente left Mora’s son dead, and later both leaders, along with some followers, turned themselves in to authorities.
The clash came just as the government was flooding the region with federal troops to prevent a regional civil war between armed vigilante groups—a move that many, including Catholic Bishop Miguel Patino Velazquez of Apatzingan, condemned, saying the government was willing to disarm self-defense groups but not the Knights Templar or its predecessor, La Familia Michoacana. Patino’s outrage underscored the deep distrust of institutions many residents of Michoacán had—and still have.
Now go and read the entire article at The Federalist