Top 20 Most Dangerous Real-Life Gangs in the World

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Top 20 Most Dangerous Real-Life Gangs in the World

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
Memberships in these crime organizations is a lifetime appointment. For this list, we'll be ranking the criminal organizations and groups from around the world that possess the most dangerous or infamous reputations. Our countdown includes Hells Angels, Aryan Brotherhood, Russian Mob, MS-13, Triads, and more!
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Script Written by George Pacheco

Top 20 Notorious Real Life Gangs


Memberships in these organizations is a lifetime appointment. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 20 Notorious Real Life Gangs.

For this list, we'll be ranking the criminal organizations and groups from around the world that possess the most dangerous or infamous reputations. These gangs don't need to be active to be considered, as we'll be taking into account gang activity from across history.

#20: Gangster Disciples

Some gangs operate on an international basis, while others tend to focus their efforts locally and on street level. The Gangster Disciples are one such outfit, specializing in crimes that directly affect the communities in which they're based. Prostitution, burglary, and drug dealing are just some of the rackets associated with the Gangster Disciples, not to mention violent crimes such as murder and assault. The gang's origins can be traced back to Chicago's South Side, when two smaller gangs, the Supreme Gangsters and Black Disciples, joined forces during the 1960s. There's even been evidence of Gangster Disciple influence within the U.S. military, when Airman Rico Williams and others were sentenced to prison for the beating and murder of Army Sergeant Juwan Johnson in 2005.

#19: 18th Street Gang

The 18th Street Gang often starts their members out young, occasionally recruiting kids from elementary and middle schools into their ranks. There's nothing childish about the level of violence associated with this outfit, however, as the 18th Street Gang has earned a reputation as one of the world's most dangerous criminal organizations. The trafficking of drugs, weapons, and human beings isn't only focused in the gang's primary operations in Southern California, either, as many members of the 18th Street Gang operate in Mexico and Central America, as well. The gangs' roots lie primarily in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, but the years have seen 18th Street expand their membership to other cultures, so long as strict obedience to the gang's code of respect is understood.

#18: Mongols Motorcycle Club

The Mongols won't be the only outlaw motorcycle club to appear on our list, but they are one of the most famous. Or... is that infamous? That's because this California-based gang has had numerous, well-publicized encounters with the law, specifically one large confrontation between groups of Mongols and Hells Angels at a Nevada casino in 2002. Today's Mongols deny that the group is a large scale criminal operation, and have expressed through their attorneys the desire to excise these negative elements from their ranks. Still, that doesn't change the Mongols reputation as a major player in methamphetamine trafficking, robbery, extortion, and murder.

#17: Jamaican Posse / Yardies

The term "Yardie" isn't by definition a gang outfit, but rather a term often used in the U.K. to describe a Jamaican national, harkening back to the crowded living conditions that were common in Jamaica's capital city of Kingston. Elsewhere, however, Yardie can also refer to the Jamaican Posse, a group of gangs that can be found within Jamaica, as well as in London, Toronto, and New York City. Violence, turf wars, and drug trafficking are their most common crimes, but Jamaican Posses have also been known to engage in localized political violence, as well. The gang isn't very well organized, however, and operates in a more disparate clandestine manner, without a central hierarchy of leadership.

#16: Russian Mob [aka Bratva]

Speaking of decentralized, the Russian Mafia may not be a well-defined, singular organization, but that doesn't make them any less dangerous. In fact, there are reportedly thousands of different factions within the former Soviet Union, although only about two hundred or so are said to possess influence outside the country. The origins of organized crime in Russia date all the way back to the Tsarist era, although the modern iteration of the mafia possesses titles and job descriptions similar to that of the Cosa Nostra in Italy. The similarities end there, however, as the Russian Mob's laundry list of crimes, including smuggling, racketeering, extortion, and murder, occurs primarily through a nebulous organization of contacts, not a hierarchy system of Capos (cah-poh) and Dons.

#15: Brigate Rosse [aka The Red Brigades]

We're expanding our definition of the word "gang" when it comes to our next entry, as Italy's Brigate Rosse, or "The Red Brigades" could also be described as a terrorist group. The Brigate Rosse terrorized Italy throughout the 1970s into the 1980s and brought with them a Far Left ideology that utilized robbery, kidnapping, and assassination to attack the country's State system. They trafficked in weapons and drugs, similar to other Italian groups such as the Camorra (cah-MORE-rrrrah), but the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro (al-doh maw/moh-roh) in 1978 serves as their most infamous crime. In fact, a phrase was coined to describe just how much impact the Red Brigades had on citizens from Rome to Venice: the "Years of Lead."

#14: Hells Angels

There are a number of outlaw motorcycle groups around the world, but arguably none of them with a reputation as fierce as the Hells Angels. The specific origins of the group are up for debate, but the Angels' profile rose tremendously during the 1960s and ‘70s, coinciding with the era's drug, rock and counterculture activities. While authorities have tackled the gang’s extensive involvement in prostitution, drug trafficking and murder, the group maintains that any criminal actions do not reflect the club as a whole, but instead are the actions of bad apples, and claim fundraising and charity efforts Hells Angels have sponsored as proof.

#13: Vice Lords

The People Nation was an alliance of multiple Chicago gangs that were brought together for a common criminal cause, in part, by the next group on our list, the Almighty Vice Lord Nation. The group's name is often shortened to simply "Vice Lords," and they're one of the oldest street gangs in the Chicago area. Their origins date back to a youth detention center in the late fifties, eventually expanding to target local neighborhoods via intimidating protection rackets, money laundering, and fraud. Amazingly, the Vice Lords successfully applied and received an endowment grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1970, although their attempt at ingratiating themselves into the public eye was soon uncovered, and a federal investigation resulted in multiple arrests and incarcerations.

#12: Aryan Brotherhood

Surviving any prison system is challenging and complex, and this next gang on our list keeps it that way. The Aryan Brotherhood features members both in and out of the prison system, with their influence stretching far beyond walls, barbed wire fences and armed guards. The white supremacist group focuses on day to day criminal activities within various prisons, including inmate prostitution, drug smuggling and assault. They have also been known to put out murder contracts on those living on the outside. These neo-Nazis have also been a common focus on film and television, being featured on such shows as "Sons of Anarchy" and HBO's "OZ," as well as the film "American History X."

#11: Los Zetas

This Mexican cartel was formed when deserting Mexican soldiers sought out employment as hired muscle for one of the country's oldest criminal organizations, the Gulf Cartel. It wasn't until 2010 that Los Zetas officially struck out on their own, however, making them the most recently formed gang on this list. Still, the group has managed to cause quite a stir despite their relatively recent appearance on the world radar. Los Zetas have been efficiently brutal in their dealings with rivals, utilizing beheadings and execution to punctuate their empire of sex trafficking, protection rackets, drugs and murder. As the original leadership has been picked off, however, they have lost some of their effectiveness.

#10: Sinaloa Cartel

Drugs are the name of the game when it comes to the Sinaloa Cartel, a notorious Mexican outfit which specializes in trafficking and money laundering. Cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines have all made their way into the United States thanks to the Sinaloa Cartel and its former head "El Chapo" Guzman. The DEA even named the cartel as the most active smuggling and trafficking operation when it came to getting large amounts of these illicit drugs into neighborhoods across the country. Bribery, extortion and murder are also high on their laundry list.. Their bloody rivalry with Mexico's Tijuana Cartel has resulted in deadly shootouts throughout the country. Although with El Chapo in a US jail as of 2019, the narcotraficante landscape is always shifting.

#9: Barrio Azteca [aka Los Aztecas]

Some of the gangs on this list possess histories dating back decades, but this group started comparatively recently — in 1986. The Barrio Azteca gang or Los Aztecas are a southern gang born from the Texas prison system, moving eventually into the violent and unpredictable world of drug trafficking over the U.S. and Mexico border. The members of Barrio Azteca are usually at odds with Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, serving as the muscle to assist the rival Juarez Cartel in their drug war. This gang is tough, loyal, and willing to do pretty much anything to keep the fear and respect of those around them, and their list of crimes has expanded beyond trafficking to include kidnapping, auto theft, and even murder for hire.

#8: Mara Salvatrucha [aka MS-13]

Speaking of Los Zetas, the next gang on our list were actually employed by that group to fight against their rivals. The members of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, were likely hired for this purpose due to the reputation of vicious violence which precedes them in the criminal underworld. Members of MS-13 are often heavily tattooed, and are primarily of Central American descent, specifically from El Salvador. Ironically, MS-13 originally intended to protect L.A.-based Salvadorans against other local gangs of the time. Today, however, the crimes of MS-13 range from larceny and human trafficking to the most unspeakable crime of all, child prostitution.

#7: Latin Kings

The Latin Kings date back to the early 1950s, and originally banded together to combat racial prejudice in the area, and to move forward the lot of Latinos in Chicago. The Motherland Faction is the founding Latin King group, with a splinter cell called the Bloodline forming within the New York City prison system in 1986. What's most notable about the Latin Kings is how structured they are, similar to the Italian mafia, with a strict code of rules to be followed by members of their clearly defined chapters. Furthermore, members also have their own lore of rhetoric and tribal tales within the group that serves almost as a religious method of moving from street poverty into a state of enlightenment within the criminal organization.

#6: Bloods & Crips

It's likely you've heard of the Bloods and the Crips, even if you're not familiar with the criminal underworld. Their well known feud, with both gangs both fighting for supremacy of their Los Angeles turf, has received a lot of play. The Crips are slightly older, having been established in 1969 via an alliance between leaders Raymond Washington and Stanley "Tookie" Williams. Early incarnations of the Bloods were adversarial to Washington and Williams even back then, while today that relationship has become something akin to a deadly gangland legend. Indeed, the Bloods and Crips are among the most violent of gangs in the United States, engaging in everything from robbery and prostitution to murder.

#5: Mungiki (moon-GEEKY)

With a name that translates to a “united people" or "multitude," this is a mysterious and secretive sect. The aim of the Mungiki seems to be tied to fiercely rejecting Western influence and promoting the return of traditional Kenyan tradition. Attracting a remarkable number of young people, the Mungiki also have been known to engage in such criminal activity as extortion and murder, all the while displaying a combative, militaristic attitude. Questions have also been raised with regards to how connected the Mungiki are with local police and government, some of whom have been accused of looking the other way in exchange for a cut of the gang's profits.

#4: Medellìn Cartel

You’re probably at least aware of this gang, thanks to its infamous leader — Pablo Escobar. The Medellìn Cartel was one of the biggest traffickers of cocaine into the United States, at one point exporting a reported 85 percent of the supply. The cartel was so big that it formed multiple subdivisions to deal with varying problems that could impede their growth. Small military groups were formed to intimidate labor groups and discourage unionizing, while the power and assistance from corrupt Columbian officials enabled the cartel to thrive from the mid-seventies to the early nineties. Not even fear of extradition to the U.S. could stop Escobar from brazenly trying to keep his cartel alive via assassination and violent terrorism.

#3: Triads

The term "Triads" is often used as a blanket term for Chinese organized crime, but the truth behind this gang, or association of gangs, is much more complex. The Triads are branches of a very large and diverse overarching Chinese crime syndicate, with especially strong operations in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. However, they exist in the west as well, with San Francisco’s Wah Ching - also called "Dub C" or "Insane Dragons" - coming to mind. The everyday business of the Triads has included everything from smuggling and forgery to pornography, kidnapping and murder. Today's Triads tend to focus more on white collar crimes and also place less of a focus on ritual. Often members have been required to commit to 36 oaths of honor as part of their initiation process.

#2: Yakuza (yah-KOO-zuh)

The Yakuza are another gang primarily known for their operations in one country, in this case Japan, but are actually active on an international scale. The Yakuza origins date all the way back to the 1600s, and even today harbor a strict code of behavior and ritual which ties into this time period. Full body tattoos are also not uncommon within Yakuza culture, while the group is notable for their semi-legitimate business ventures within Japanese society. Various clans within the Yakuza hierarchy have been known to delve into everything from sex trafficking and loan sharking to gun running, although street level crimes such as armed robbery tend to be shunned by the group.

Before we name our number one pick, here are some dishonorable mentions

Mexican Mafia

Primeiro Comando da Capital [aka PCC or or 15.3.3] (pree-MAY-EE-roh coh-MAWN-doo da cappy-TAHL)

Area Boys [aka Agberos]

The Richardson Gang

Clerkenwell Crime Syndicate [aka Adams Family or A-Team]

#1: Sicilian Mafia [aka La Cosa Nostra]

Although the Sicilian Mafia, a.k.a. La Cosa Nostra, isn't the only organized crime syndicate in Italy - the Camorra in Naples is another notorious group - it's inarguably the most famous. This is thanks to the wealth of cinematic representations the Mafia has received over the years in such films as "Goodfellas," "Casino" and "The Godfather" franchise. The structure of La Cosa Nostra has shifted somewhat over the years, but generally revolves around the dividing of power between various familial groups. While they wax and wane, clan rivalries and violence have always been par for the course, with many gangland shootouts drawing front page news. Other illegal activities of the Mafia have included extortion, racketeering, smuggling and prostitution.
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