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Threats as a Tool of Criminal Governance

March 01, 2023
Shauna Gillooly and Philip Luke Johnson


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Shauna N. Gillooly, a postdoctoral fellow at the Global Research Institute housed at William and Mary, and Philip Luke Johnson, a lecturer at Princeton University, analyze the use of threats by criminal actors, including Águilas Negras in Colombia and Caballeros Templarios in Mexico, as well as others in Brazil.

In 2020, a university campus in Bogotá, Colombia was festooned with flyers threatening “the children of professors that indoctrinate their students into communism.” A year earlier, a campus in Medellín was plastered with pamphlets, this time threatening students that engaged in political activity instead of quietly getting on with their studies. Both messages were signed by the Águilas Negrasa notorious criminal band. While the strength of this group has been disputed, for those targeted by the threats—and many besides—these messages could hardly be dismissed as anything less than terrifying.

These messages are hardly an isolated occurrence. Hundreds of threatening messages signed by the Águilas Negras have appeared across Colombia in recent years. Gangs in Brazil have published threatening messages in newspapers, while in Mexico, criminal actors sometimes use “narco-messages” to threaten rivals, officials, or other members of the public. Although the practice is relatively widespread, it raises questions about the behavior and power of criminal actors.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.