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Delve into the underworld as we unveil the shadows of history’s most notorious gangs. From the operations of the Medellín Cartel to the Aryan Brotherhood, these ten criminal gangs have shaped narratives of power, crime, and intrigue.

Related: 10 Criminal Groups That Were Founded With Good Intentions

10 Hells Angels

The Hells Angels: the name itself conjures up images of roaring motorcycles, leather jackets, and a certain air of rebellion. This notorious motorcycle club has cemented its place in gang history with its colorful—and often criminal—exploits.

Founded in 1948 in Fontana, California, by a group of World War II veterans, the Hells Angels quickly gained a reputation for their loyalty to their brotherhood and no-holds-barred approach to life. They soon expanded across the United States and eventually internationally, with chapters in over 30 countries.

Infamous for their involvement in organized crime, the Hells Angels have been linked to drug trafficking, extortion, and violence. Their criminal activities have landed many of their members behind bars, and the club has faced numerous law enforcement crackdowns over the years.

Despite their outlaw image, the Hells Angels operate like a well-oiled machine with a strict hierarchy and code of conduct. Prospective members must undergo a rigorous initiation process, and loyalty to the club is essential.

Over the years, the Hells Angels have been the subject of countless books, movies, and documentaries, further adding to their mystique. While some see them as modern-day outlaws, others view them as a tightly-knit brotherhood bound by a love of motorcycles and the open road.

9 The Purple Gang

The Purple Gang, not to be confused with a bunch of grape-loving enthusiasts, was one of the most notorious groups ever to strut their stuff. Hailing from Detroit during the Prohibition era, these guys weren’t just any ordinary gang—they were the real deal, with a reputation that struck fear into the hearts of many.

Formed by the Bernstein brothers—Abe, Joe, Raymond, and Izzy—along with their partner, Eddie Fletcher, the Purple Gang ruled the streets of Detroit with an iron fist. They weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, specializing in bootlegging, extortion, and, well, just about any criminal activity you could think of.

But the Purple Gang’s ruthless efficiency and trademark violence set them apart. These guys weren’t the ones to mess around. They had a knack for making their enemies disappear without a trace.

The gang’s reign of terror ended in the late 1930s when law enforcement finally caught up with them. Many of the gang members were either killed or thrown behind bars, effectively putting an end to the Purple Gang’s reign.

8 Sinaloa Cartel

The Sinaloa Cartel is like the juggernaut of the drug trafficking world, rocking the scene with its operations and infamous leaders. Hailing from the rugged terrain of Sinaloa, Mexico, this cartel has carved out its name in crime history.

Led by El Chapo, whose real name is Joaquín Guzmán, the Sinaloa Cartel rose in the late 20th century. El Chapo’s leadership was as ruthless as it was cunning, earning him the title of the most powerful drug lord in the world at one point.

What sets the Sinaloa Cartel apart is its sheer scale. This organization doesn’t just traffic drugs. It dominates the entire supply chain, from production to distribution. Cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, you name it—they traffic it. They’ve even dabbled in other illegal activities like human trafficking and money laundering.

Despite numerous arrests and crackdowns by law enforcement, the Sinaloa Cartel seems to have an uncanny ability to adapt and survive. But behind the headlines, it’s easy to forget the human cost of their operations. Violence and bloodshed follow in their wake, leaving a trail of devastation in communities affected by their activities.

7 Mungiki Sect

The Mungiki Sect is a fascinating yet notorious group that has left a significant mark on Kenyan history. Emerging in the late 1980s, Mungiki started as a religious and cultural movement among the Kikuyu community, drawing inspiration from traditional practices and advocating for a return to those roots. However, it transformed into a powerful and feared criminal organization.

Mungiki’s criminal activities have ranged from extortion and racketeering to murder and political violence. They’ve been implicated in numerous gruesome attacks, including beheadings and mass killings. Their presence has been particularly felt in Nairobi’s slums, where they’ve established strongholds and exerted control through fear and intimidation.

The sect’s leadership has often been shrouded in mystery, with various figures claiming authority over its operations. However, one name that stands out is Maina Njenga, a former theology student who became a prominent leader of the group. Njenga’s influence over Mungiki was significant, although he eventually renounced violence and turned to Christianity, leading to a rift within the organization.

Despite crackdowns by Kenyan authorities, Mungiki continues to operate, albeit with reduced influence compared to its heyday. Its complex blend of religious fervor and criminal enterprise makes it a compelling yet chilling chapter in gang history.

6 Mongols Motorcycle Club

The Mongols Motorcycle Club might sound like a group of bikers roaming Central Asia, but they’re actually one of the most notorious motorcycle gangs in the United States. Founded in Montebello, California, in the 1960s, these guys ride Harleys, and they’ve left quite a mark on the biker subculture.

With their distinctive logo—a Mongol warrior riding a chopper—emblazoned on their jackets, the Mongols have gained a reputation for being tough and ruthless. They’ve been involved in all sorts of criminal activities, from drug trafficking to extortion and murder. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice considers them a “highly organized criminal enterprise.”

The Mongols have had their fair share of run-ins with the law. In 2008, the federal government launched Operation Black Rain. This massive crackdown resulted in the arrest of dozens of Mongol members on charges ranging from drug dealing to racketeering. But despite these setbacks, the club continues to operate, with chapters spread across the United States and overseas.

5 Aryan Brotherhood

The Aryan Brotherhood is infamous, feared, and mysterious. These guys aren’t just a group of pals hanging out in the yard. They’re a well-organized criminal enterprise with a need for violence and white supremacist ideology.

Founded in the 1960s within the California prison system, the Aryan Brotherhood has since spread its influence like a nasty rash across U.S. correctional facilities. Members of the Aryan Brotherhood are known for their extreme loyalty to the gang, often marked by distinctive tattoos featuring Nazi symbols and the gang’s insignia. They operate on a strict hierarchy, with leaders known as “shot-callers” calling the shots from behind bars.

Their rap sheet reads like a laundry list of heinous crimes, including drug trafficking, extortion, and murder. They’ve been involved in some of the bloodiest prison riots in history and have even carried out hits on law enforcement officers.

But it’s not just their criminal activities that make them infamous. It’s their aura of intimidation and violence. Crossing the Aryan Brotherhood is like playing with fire; you will get burned. Despite law enforcement’s efforts to dismantle the gang, the Aryan Brotherhood continues to thrive behind bars.

4 Gangster Disciples

The Gangster Disciples, a notorious gang birthed from the south side of Chicago, have etched their name deep into criminal history. Formed in the late 1960s by Larry Hoover and David Barksdale, this gang quickly gained notoriety for its brutality and vast criminal empire.

Initially known as the Black Gangster Disciple Nation, the gang eventually dropped “Black” from its name to signify the inclusion of all races. However, their activities remained as dark as ever. With a hierarchical structure akin to a military organization, the Gangster Disciples controlled territory, primarily dealing in drug trafficking, extortion, and violent crimes.

One of the most infamous incidents involving the Gangster Disciples was the federal indictment of their leader, Larry Hoover, in 1997. Hoover was convicted of murder, conspiracy, and running a continuing criminal enterprise. He was sentenced to multiple life terms in prison, effectively decapitating the gang’s leadership.

Despite Hoover’s incarceration, the Gangster Disciples continue to operate in various cities across the United States, maintaining their grip on the streets through intimidation and violence.

3 Barrio Azteca

The Barrio Azteca is a notorious gang with roots in the U.S. and Mexico. Originating in the late 1980s within the Texas prison system, this gang has since evolved into an international criminal organization.

What sets the Barrio Azteca apart is its partnership with the Juárez Cartel, one of Mexico’s most powerful drug trafficking organizations. This partnership has propelled the gang into the spotlight for its involvement in drug trafficking, human smuggling, and acts of extreme violence.

The gang’s criminal activities extend beyond drug trafficking. They’re infamous for their involvement in extortion, racketeering, and even contract killings. Their cruelty knows no bounds, with reports of torture and mutilation being commonplace tactics to intimidate rivals and maintain control over their territories.

Despite law enforcement efforts to dismantle the Barrio Azteca, the gang continues to operate with a level of sophistication that makes it difficult to stop.

2 Medellín Cartel

The Medellín Cartel: If there was a gang that embodied the excesses and brutality of the drug trade in the 1980s, it was these guys. Led by the infamous Pablo Escobar, this cartel was like a real-life Scarface movie playing out in Colombia.

Pablo Escobar wasn’t just the boss. He was practically a legend. At the height of his power, he was one of the richest men in the world, with an estimated net worth of over $30 billion. But behind the flashy lifestyle and eccentricities lay a dark side – Escobar was responsible for thousands of deaths, including politicians, police officers, and innocent civilians caught in the crossfire of his bloody war against the Colombian government.

But Escobar wasn’t the only player in the Medellín Cartel. He had a whole team of lieutenants and enforcers backing him up, including notorious figures like Gustavo Gaviria and Carlos Lehder. Together, they ran a multinational drug empire that spanned the globe, flooding the streets with cocaine and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

In the end, the Medellín Cartel’s reign of terror came to a violent end, with Escobar dying in a hail of bullets during a rooftop shootout with Colombian authorities in 1993. But the legacy of the cartel lives on, immortalized in countless books, movies, and TV shows that continue to captivate audiences.

1‘Ndrangheta Mafia

When it comes to notorious gangs, the ‘Ndrangheta Mafia doesn’t just make the list—it practically wrote the book. Hailing from the southern region of Calabria in Italy, this secretive organization has carved out a reputation as one of the most powerful criminal syndicates in the world.

The ‘Ndrangheta is distinguished by its ironclad code of silence, known as omertà. Members swear allegiance for life, bound by blood oaths and a strict hierarchy. Crossing them is not just ill-advised—it’s often fatal.

Their criminal portfolio includes drug trafficking and arms smuggling to extortion and money laundering. And they don’t discriminate when it comes to targets, cozying up to politicians and businessmen alike.

But perhaps what’s most chilling about the ‘Ndrangheta is their knack for adapting to the times. While rooted in tradition, they’ve embraced modern technology with open arms, using encrypted communication and sophisticated money laundering schemes to stay one step ahead of the law.

Though exact membership numbers are hard to pin down, estimates suggest that the ‘Ndrangheta boasts tens of thousands of members worldwide, making it a force to be reckoned with on the global stage.

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