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Praying for Death: Blood Sacrifice and Organized Crime in Latin America

Patrick Corcoran - InSight Crime
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January 17, 2017

Blood Sacrifices: Violent Non-State Actors and Dark Magico-Religious Activities
by Robert J. Bunker
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A new collection of essays tackles patterns of cultish behavior and ritualized violence among illegal groups across the globe, from the Zetas and the Familia Michoacana to Al Qaeda and the Lord's Resistance Army.

Edited by longtime organized crime analyst Robert Bunker, Blood Sacrifices: Violent Non-State Actors and Dark Magico-Religious Activities consists of 14 essays by 13 different authors, spread across nearly 300 pages. The tie linking the writings is revealed in the title; all of the pieces relate to different criminal groups' use of blood sacrifice, ritualized violence, pseudo-religious bloodshed, or some offshoot thereof.

Beyond that, the essays' focus varies a great deal. In addition to the groups mentioned above, readers are treated to extended treatises on Las Reglas de Kongo (an Afro-Cuban religious tradition that has gained popularity among certain traffickers); amphetamine and other drug use by members of illicit groups; and human sacrifice among Islamic terrorist organizations.

Bunker's essay, titled "Narcocultura and Spirituality: Narco Saints, Santa Muerte, and Other Entities," is easily the richest material for students of Latin American organized crime. Focusing primarily on Mexico, Bunker details the manifestations of countercultural religiosity among Mexican criminal groups, from Jesús Valderde and Santa Muerte to more obscure variants like San Simón and Juan Soldado. He describes their influence over criminal groups that dominate the nation, including the Zetas, the Knights Templar, and the Sinaloa Cartel. His essay also includes a lengthy section on La Familia founder Nazario Moreno González, an evangelical Christian whose devotion to the New Jerusalem had a substantial impact on the way his gang presented itself to the public.

Bunker's essay offers as comprehensive an overview of Mexican gangs' predilections for cult behaviors, pseudo-religious rituals, and the titular blood sacrifice as has been published to date. He presents the phenomenon as something akin to a parallel religious culture that has emerged in opposition to the orthodox Catholicism that has dominated in Mexico since its foundation. Taken in tandem with the rest of the book, Bunker's essay points to many similarities between the Mexican groups' affinity for ritualized bloodshed and those of other organizations around the world.

Read the rest at InSight Crime

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