MS-13 Gang Signs : What You Need to Know about Mara Salvatrucha

The MS-13 gang, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, has gained notoriety for its criminal activities. Typically, we can see they use signs and symbols more than other gangs. Understanding the meaning behind these gang signs is crucial for law enforcement agencies, researchers, and concerned citizens. In this resourceful article, we will dig up into the world of MS-13 gang signs, their meanings and all the things around those ideograms.

What is MS-13 Gang

Bunch of MS-13 Gang members throwing gang signs

MS-13, is a notorious transnational criminal gang with a very dark history. The term “Mara Salvatrucha” combines two elements: “Mara” refers to a gang, while “Salvatrucha” is a colloquial term for street smart Salvadorians. 13 signifies the loyalty and connection to the Mexican Mafia. The origins of MS-13 can be traced back to the 1980s during the civil war in El Salvador when Salvadoran refugees fled to the United States. Initially, the gang was formed as a means of protection of those Salvadoran refugees living in Los Angeles from other gangs. Then the gang spread across Central America and in the prison they get protection from the Mexican Mafia.

Over time, MS-13 grew in size and notoriety, establishing a reputation for extreme violence and criminal activities. Their criminal endeavors include drug trafficking, human smuggling, robbery, extortion, and murder. The gang’s violent tactics often involve the use of machetes and other weapons, contributing to their fearsome reputation.

MS-13 Gang Signs and Meaning

MS-13 has more popularity of using gang signals and tattoos. Gangs use these kind of symbols as a means of communication of specific things. They serve as a visual code to convey messages and establish identity within the gang subculture. Gang signs can signify loyalty, dominance, territorial claims or as a warning to rival parties.

Want to learn more about gang signs and symbols? Check out our guide on Gang Signs

MS-13 Hand Signs

The “Devil Horns” Sign

The “Devil Horns” sign, commonly known for its association with heavy metal music, has also been adopted by MS-13 gang members. It involves extending the index and pinky fingers while folding the middle and ring fingers inward. In the context of the gang, this sign can represent aggression, disobedience, or the devilish nature associated with their criminal activities. It is said, the gang adopted this sign from heavy metal music culture. They throw this gang sign with one hand or both hands together.

The “M” Hand Sign

Mara Salvatrucha gang member showing M hand sign

Another recognizable MS-13 gang sign is the “M” hand sign. It involves forming the fingers to create an “M” shape, usually by crossing the Middle finger and ring finger by thumb while extending the other two fingers. This is the same as the rotated Devil’s Horns sign. This sign represents the First letter of the name of Mara Salvatrucha gang.

The “M” and “S” sign

MS-13 member showing M and S gang sign using his both hands

MS-13 members do this by throwing an “M” sign with one hand and “S” with the other hand. Letter “S” shown by tips of the middle and index finger are touching and the thumb extends outwards, creating an “S” shape.  The meaning of this gang sign is First letters of their gang name.

MS-13 Tattoos

Mara Salvatrucha member showing his completely tatted up body

Most of MS-13 members cover themselves with tattoos, including on their head and face. They use these tattoos to show loyalty and their membership. However, currently, the gang is shifting away from facial tattoos to make it more easy to carry out criminal activities without attracting the attention of law enforcement agencies.

“MS” / “Mara Salvatrucha” or “13”: These tattoos may appear on their own or in combination with other symbols which can be seen in a variety of styles and sizes, while “13” or the letters “XIII” signifies the gang’s connection to the 13th letter of the alphabet, “M,” which stands for “Mexican Mafia”.

Devil horns sign and "MS" letters tattoos on back

One of the most well-known MS-13 tattoos is the “devil’s horns” which is a hand gesture. This gesture is often accompanied by a tattoo. Sometimes it can be an image of a devil’s head, which can be highly stylized and detailed.

MS-13 tattoos are often accompanied by other symbols or designs that have personal significance to the individual member. For example, a member may have a tattoo of their hometown or country of origin  that represents their neighborhood. Sometimes it can be a tattoo that pays tribute to a deceased loved one. Some MS members tattoo “503” which is the area code of El Salvador.

However, every person with this kind of tattoos are not active members of the gang. In some cases, individuals may have gotten the tattoos as a form of protection or as a way to identify with their cultural heritage. Nevertheless, the presence of MS-13 tattoos is often viewed as a sign of gang affiliation and can lead to increased scrutiny and suspicion from law enforcement.

MS-13 Colors & Clothing

Blue color bandana with "MS" letters

Mara Salvatrucha gang members often identify themselves through specific colors. The primary colors associated with the MS-13 gang are blue and white. But these colors can vary according to clique(subset) or area. Members may wear clothing items in these colors or incorporate them into their overall outfit. There are some other gangs like Crips also use blue as their gang color.

Want to learn more about the hand signals used by Crips?

Bandanas: The members may wear blue or white bandanas, typically tied around their heads or worn as face coverings. These bandanas often display the gang’s initials, “MS” or “MS-13,” or other gang-related symbols.

Sports team apparel: Sometimes MS-13 members may wear sports jerseys or hats that feature the colors blue and white or logos of teams associated with those colors. The Los Angeles Dodgers apparel, for example, are used by some members due to their blue and white color scheme.

Baggy clothing: Gang members often wear loose-fitting clothing, such as oversized t-shirts, baggy jeans, or athletic tracksuits. This style of clothing allows for easy concealment of weapons and facilitates mobility during criminal activities.

It’s important to note that the specific clothing and colors associated with MS-13 can vary based on regional affiliations and individual preferences.

MS-13 Graffiti

Three gang members in front of wall fully covered with MS13 graffiti

MS-13 gang also use graffiti to mark their territory, asserting their dominance in the area where it is displayed. Mainly these graffiti can be seen in blue and black color. One main form of MS13 graffiti features the gang’s name in bold, stylized letters emphasizing the gang’s primary identity. Also it can be the long form or variations of their gang name such as “Mara Salvatrucha”, “X3” or “XIII”. In some instances, these wordings may be accompanied by Devil Horns hand sign or demon-like imagery.  These symbols reflect the gang’s association with violence, fear, and a disregard for norms in the society. They serve as a warning to rival gangs or individuals who might trespass on their territory, signifying the consequences of crossing their path. 

Also MS-13 members tend to cross out rival gangs graffiti to show disrespect to them and sometimes vandalize public or private properties with their tagging. The legality of graffiti varies depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances. In many places, graffiti without permission is considered vandalism and is prohibited by law. Graffiti on public or private property without the owner’s consent is generally illegal.

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