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Today I find myself joining the rest of the nation in remembering and honoring the memory of those who died on September 11, 2001. I also find myself, like many in the nation, feeling angry and astounded that seven years after the attacks we have yet to find Bin Laden. I mean, are you kidding me? How is it possible that we, the United States of America, the strongest most powerful nation in the history of the world can’t find a 6’ 6” Islamic terrorist? Add to the mix that we “know” he’s hiding in a cave somewhere along the Pakistan border and it becomes downright ridiculous. Seriously, screw Waldo, finding Bin Laden takes the cake. Either he’s that good or we’re that bad, take your pick. Anyway, thinking about our inability to track an NBA-sized Muslim has got me thinking about what else we’re missing. I mean, really, seven years later, does it make sense to have global terrorism and the hunt for Bin Laden sit atop our national priorities list? In a word, no.

So if not terrorism and Bin Laden, then what? Gangs, that’s what. Specifically Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 as it is commonly referred to on the streets. If you’re not in the know on this one, read on because if we don’t do something about it soon you’re not only going to know about it, chances are you’re going to be personally affected by it.

Started by Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles during the 1980s, MS-13 is now prevalent in Washington DC, Oregon, Alaska, Arkansas, Texas, Nevada, Utah, Oklahoma, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, and Florida. Thanks to deportation, the Internet recruitment, and the Central American roots of its founders, the gang has gone international and expanded into Canada, Guatemala, Mexico, and the UK. Worldwide membership now exceeds 100,000 members.

While finding Bin Laden and continuing the global fight on terrorism are truly significant, this should not be our nation’s highest priority. MS-13 is known for trafficking drugs, humans, and weapons; robbery; extortion; murder; contract killing; rape; and brutal violence against men, women, and children of all ages and from all walks of life. MS-13 is bringing all of this and more to our streets, neighborhoods, and communities – it needs to be stopped.

Al Qaeda and Bin Laden struck a deadly blow and deserve to rot on a hot rock in hell as far as I’m concerned, but that’s not enough to make them US priority number one. AQ didn’t send three people to shoot, kill, and slash the throat of Jose Escobar in Virginia; it didn’t murder a father and son in San Francisco over a case of mistaken identity; and it didn’t brutally rape a 13-year-old school girl in Texas on a dare. Bin Laden was nowhere to be found during those crimes and because he wasn’t, the full weight of our nation’s resources won’t go into preventing similar atrocities or punishing those who were responsible for committing them.

There are no words to describe how terrible/horrific/wrong/tragic the attacks on September 11, 2001 were. However, in remembering the heroes and the fallen we cannot allow ourselves to be so focused on chasing the cowards that hurt us that we forget about the here and now. MS-13 and gangs like it are here, now. Bin Laden isn’t. Our national priorities need to reflect this reality. It’s a necessary step in continuing the fight for American freedom.

L. Vance Taylor has worked to advance the mission of homeland security on Capitol Hill and in the private sector. One of only approximately 250 people in the nation with a Master’s degree in Homeland Security, Mr. Taylor combines specialized educational training with real-world experience to leverage successful outcomes for clients and stakeholders. Read More