Politics

Four Vicious Crimes That Explain Trump’s ‘Animals’ Comment

Pushing back against criticism, White House highlights brutal nature of MS-13 gang that prompted the chief executive's remark

Two teenage girls chased down and beaten to death on Long Island, New York. A Maryland man stabbed more than 100 times. A Houston girl sexually assaulted and “branded.” Another Long Island teenager hacked to death.

The White House on Monday detailed some of the most vicious murders MS-13 gang members have committed over the past couple of years to bolster the defense of President Donald Trump’s much-maligned use of the word “animals” to describe the gang members.

Many in the media and commentariat falsely suggested that Trump used the moniker to describe all immigrants, or even all illegal immigrants, last week during a White House roundtable with California officials upset about the state’s “sanctuary” laws. The president responded to a remark by a California sheriff about MS-13 gang members by saying that his administration has deported “animals” at a high rate.

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But even some critics who did accurately characterize Trump’s statement argued that it was wrong to call even gangbangers animals. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke of the “spark of divinity” and the “dignity and worth of every person.” Referring to people as “animals is not a good thing,” she said Thursday at her weekly press briefing.

Here are four examples of MS-13-related incidents offered by the White House:

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1.) Nina Mickens and Kayla Cuevas, a pair of teenagers killed in 2016. According to prosecutors, MS-13 gang members marked Cuevas for death because she had feuded with gang members over social media. Police found her bloody body on a tree-lined street in Brentwood, New York, one day before her 16th birthday. Her attackers had come swinging bats and machetes.

Mickens, according to authorities, simply had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her body was so badly beaten that she was unrecognizable, then-U.S. Attorney Robert Capers told reporters last year.

“The murders of these teens are particularly disturbing,” he said in what might be regarded as a gross understatement.

The police commissioner in Suffolk County was not as understated, indicating that the “murders show a level of brutality that is close to unmatched.”

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Trump this year invited the parents of both victims to attend this year’s State of the Union Address.

According to The New York Times, the four men charged in the murders, sat nonchalantly during a court appearance, barely raising their eyebrows when a judge said they could face the death penalty. One of the four, Jairo Saenz, grinned, swiveled in his chair and hardly looked at the crying relatives from El Salvador in the back of the courtroom, according to the paper.

2.) A Hispanic man who died last spring. The man, whom authorities could not identify, died after a group of gang members stabbed him more than 100 times, cut his head off and tore his heart out of his chest before burying him.

Court documents in Montgomery County, Maryland, charge Miguel Angel Lopez-Abrego of being the first to attack the man, using a 15-inch knife and then using a walkie-talkie to alert other gang members.

3.) An unidentified woman shot to death in Houston and another woman who was sexually assaulted last year. The homicide victim, according to law enforcement authorities, was the victim of a “satanic” killing.

Diego Hernandez-Rivera, 18, and the purported leader of the group, Miguel Alvarez-Flores — known as “Diabolico” — have been charged with that murder and also kidnapping and torturing a second woman. According to the Houston Chronicle, the defendants laughed, smiled and waved for the cameras as they made a court appearance.

The sexual assault victim ran away from school in February 2017. The defendants allegedly kidnapped her and held her for 14 days. Authorities allege that Alvarez-Flores held her down and tattooed an image of the grim reaper from her knee to her foot.

4.) Julio Cesar Gonzales-Espantzay, killed in January 2017 on Long Island. Authorities say several MS-13 gang members lured Gonzales-Espantzay into a car with the promise of marijuana and sex and then took him to a secluded nature preserve where they proceeded to attack him with knives and machetes.

The motive? According to law enforcement authorities, it was to boost their stature in the gang.

“These people need to talk to them. Or maybe they should look at MS-13 crime photos and see what one 16-year-old can do to another.”

“I mean, 19-year-olds hacked up and dropped in our preserves is just something that really should be shocking to residents of this county,” Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas told reporters. “It’s shocking to us in law enforcement, and we see a lot.”

Joseph Kolb, executive director of the Southwest Gang Information Center, told LifeZette on Monday that no other criminal organization in the United States currently matches the violence of MS-13.

“This is on the scale of what you’d see in cartel violence in Mexico,” he said.

Other criminal organizations engage in violence and killings, Kolb said. But he said they tend not to do so in a way to send a message like MS-13 does.

Related: Left Freaks Out as Trump Calls Bloody MS-13 Gangbangers ‘Animals’

“They don’t mutilate the bodies like MS-13,” he said. “MS-13 will kill sometimes just to kill, in order to control an area.”

The gang, which has its roots in the Salvadoran immigrant community, gained a foothold in El Salvador after the United States deported members. The recent surge of unaccompanied youths has sparked a resurgence of the gang throughout America, according to experts.

Kolb called criticism of Trump “absurd and naïve.” He said “animals” is a completely appropriate term. People who disagree ought to talk to the parents of Mickens and Cuevas, the teenagers mutilated on Long Island, he said.

“These people need to talk to them. Or maybe they should look at MS-13 crime photos and see what one 16-year-old can do to another,” he said.

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

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