To arms! Citizen militias rise to combat drug cartels in Mexico

The open warfare between a corruption-riddled Mexican government and brutal drug cartels is well-documented. The gangs fight one another and the government with automatic weapons and grenades smuggled through the same pipelines as the drugs that are their primary business, typically acquired from poorly-guarded military stockpiles in Africa, Asia, and South America, augmented by weapons sold by corrupt government officials to the cartels.

A much smaller number of weapons are smuggled across the border from the United States to Mexico, but these are primarily status symbols; among them compact AK-pattern pistols and FN Five-seveN pistols called “mata policias”—cop killers—by the cartels. The roughly 2,500 guns smuggled to the cartels by the Obama Administration’s ATF in Operation Fast & Furious made a good soundbite for a President trying to sell the “90-percent lie,” but amounted to a small fraction of the weapons in a Mexico awash in guns and drugs.

The biggest victims of this three-way battle are now and have always been the Mexican people, and in one state, they have had enough:

An audacious band of citizen militias battling a brutal drug cartel in the hills of central Mexico is becoming increasingly well-armed and coordinated in an attempt to end years of violence, extortion and humiliation.

What began as a few scattered self-defense groups has spread in recent months to dozens of towns across Michoacan, a volatile state gripped by the cultlike Knights Templar, a drug gang known for taxing locals on everything from cows to tortillas and executing those who do not comply.

The army deployed to the area in May, but the soldiers are mostly manning checkpoints. Instead, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is facing the awkward fact that a group of scrappy locals appears to be chasing the gangsters away, something that federal security forces have not managed in a decade.

They include a 63-year-old pot-bellied farmer mindful that he can run only 30 yards; a skinny 23-year-old raised in Oregon who said he had never used a gun before; and a man who wears a metal bowl stuffed with newspaper as a helmet. A 47-year-old bureaucrat, who is sure that she will be killed if the gang retakes her town, said of her decision to join the cause: “I may live one year or 15, but I will live free.”

Volunteer fighters who have been using old hunting rifles and even slingshots are increasingly armed with silver-plated AK-47s, armored trucks and other bounty that they said they have seized from the cartel. And although the self-defense groups had been operating independently, they are coalescing under the leadership of a tall, white-haired surgeon who once worked for the Red Cross in California.

“We are coming together with only one thing in mind: Kill or be killed,” said the doctor, JoséManuel Mireles, 55, who described what is happening as an armed social movement and estimated that thousandsof citizen-fighters are pursuing the gangsters into the hills. “The only training we have is the courage we have inside.”

Its rather amusing to hear the Washington Post call armed citizens “audacious” in Mexico, considering what the seem to think of armed citizens in their own country. Mireles and his growing band of Mexican militiamen remind us of historical fact that anti-gun Democrats are trying desperately to ignore: in the end, it is the individual—with his arms—that must bond with his neighbors to secure the peace.