Mexican Drug Cartel Strips Man Naked, Hangs Him Upside, Saws His Genitals Off And Then Slits His Throat

A Mexican drug cartel stripped a man naked, hung him upside down, sawed his genitals off and then slit his throat. This type of killing is commonplace in how cartels deal with enemies in Mexico, and much of this brutality is part of narco occult religion. Here to talk about narco occult violence with us is Dr. Robert J. Bunker. He is adjunct faculty with the Division of Politics and Economics, Claremont Graduate University.

Mexican Cartel Occultism, Cults, and Related Violence

Question 1. What are some of the horrific rituals that cartels do to their victims? Please give us some examples.

 An opposing cartel member, innocent civilian, or even police or military personnel can die in one of many ways at the hands of a cartel or drug gang.Death can be quick by means of a bullet to the back of the head execution style, of moderate duration stemming from a force-on-force gun battle, or a long drawn out process involving days of torture with sharp implements and other abuse.

 It should be remembered however that the vast majority of such deaths, even torture-killings, related to the cartels are secular in nature. Once we get into ritualized behaviors, we are looking at a smaller subset of cartel killings just as the spirituality itself is representative of an even smaller subset of Santa Muerte or other deity followers. Hence, leaving severed heads at grave sites and shrines, using heads in ritual circles, the smoking of the ashes of victims mixed with narcotics, and the drinking of the blood of victims have all been associated only with darker Santa Muerte magico-religious practices. It should be cautioned though that the victims may have been killed initially in a secular fashion in many of these incidents and then, only after the fact, were their body parts ritually utilized. Incidents of humans skinned alive, the taking of their skins, and the removal of their hearts also exist which appear to represent ritualized behaviors. As far as actual ritual killing itself, a number of incidents related to human sacrifice have been reported over the years but these are also limited in nature—the most recent being the 2012 Sonora state incidents involving two children and an older women as victims. With regard to La Familia Michoacana (LFM), incidents of new adherents engaging in the killing of a victim and then engaging in cannibalism as part of the initiation process has been reported. Palo Mayombe is interesting because, within that form of spirituality, you do not want to murder the person whose skull you are using in your nganga (cauldron) as they can come back after you as a vengeful spirit. Thus Palo ritual killing is typically out of the question—although this did not stop the perpetrators of the 1989 Matamoros murders who utilized the skulls and spinal columns of some of their victims. Part of the difficulty of problem framing is we don’t have much information concerning many ritual killings and competing interests exist with differing policy agendas that either want to minimize the numbers of such incidents or inflate them.

Question 2. What are the different types of occult religions believed in by the narcos (such as Santeria, Palo Mayombe, Santa Muerte, Angelito Negro cult, etc) and how do they correlate with the violence of the cartels? 

This question goes definitely well beyond the unsanctioned, yet more benign, forms of saint worship focused on Jesus Malverde, Juan Soldado, and San Simon. From the perspective of the Catholic Church, occult religions move into the area of blasphemies though Santa Muerte worship exists in a continuum from folk saint worship (still broadly within Catholicism) into darker narco forms of worship with Santa Muerte becoming an actual deity (outside the Catholic paradigm). As a way of answering the question, I would say Santa Muerte (the darker variant) and Palo Mayombe (when misappropriated by traffickers) can be considered the two main occult religions followed by the narco groups.

I’m not seeing evidence of Huitzilopochtli (the Aztec War God) being more than an ideological influence for some of the Mexican street gangs. Further, Satánico (Satanist), Angelito Negro (Black Angel), Brujería Negra (Black Witch), and Voodoo (Vudú) practitioners appear pretty much separated from the more dominant narco spiritual activities, though occasionally a cartel leader may pay for a priest or witch to direct death magic against a rival. Any form of occult activity, however, tends to get labeled as being promoted by ‘satanic influences’ hence the great rise in exorcisms taking place in Mexico. Still, the syncretic mixing of beliefs has taken place so elements of varying forms of spirituality are becoming blended together— for example, Santa Muerte imagery has appeared rather satanic in some narco incident related posters and tattoos. 


Question 3. Please tell us about the Knights Templars cartel, what they believe in, and what sort of atrocities and cruelties they commit, and how they controlled much of Michoacán.

This is an interesting question because the Knights Templars (Los Caballeros Templarios) are not an occult group like those discussed earlier but instead represent a Christian cult group. This cartel cult had its origins in the predecessor La Familia Michoacana cartel from which the core of the group later broke off. These groups became more and more bizarre under the leadership of Nazario Moreno González (El Más Loco—The Craziest One) who eventually became both the dead and living god “Saint Nazario” whom everyone had presumed had been killed but wasn’t. This new saint was based on a crusader archetype with his followers worshipping at his shrines, conducting rituals while wearing white medieval tunics with red crosses on them, and utilizing special prayer books. Numerous examples of killings and executions—including the crucifixion of an alleged rapist in Contepec, Michoacán on a roadway sign in September 2012 as God’s judgment against a sinner—exist for both LFM and the Knights Templars. Typical forms of death at the hands of these groups may include shooting, throat slitting, dismemberment, suffocation, immolation, and strangulation. Actual human sacrifices, however, do not appear to have taken place—rather Templario foot soldiers, at least the true believers, simply saw themselves carrying out God’s divine judgment against sinners and other enemies of the cartel cult.

Additionally, we tend to forget that certain areas of Mexico are littered with hidden bodies. It is estimated that over 25,000 people have now gone missing since this criminal insurgency began in the early 2000s. We can assume many of them have been buried in mass graves on ranches, cut up into pieces and hauled to dumps, dissolved in acid baths, or burned in ovens and trash barrels with their ashes scattered to the wind. Back in the day, some of the victims were even being fed to lions kept on ranches owed by some of the drug lords. There is a reason why vigilante groups and self defense forces have now emerged in many of the villages and towns in some of the hardest hit areas of Mexico—especially where the Knights Templars had seized control in Michoacán and local governments became co-opted by that cartel. While living under a homicidal secular cartel is awful, having to live by the rules imposed by a cult based one became just too much to stomach. As a result, the local populace mobilized and went into open armed revolt with extrajudicial killings becoming a common practice utilized by opposing groups on both side of the conflict.

Question 4.  In one article that you and John P. Sullivan wrote, you state: “Traditional Mexican values and competing criminal value systems are engaged in a brutal contest over the hearts, minds, and souls of its citizens in a street-by-street, block-by-block, and city-by-city war over the future social and political organization of Mexico.” 

I found this statement to be very fascinating and revealing, could you please elaborate and explain more on this, and how this conflict in Mexico is a religious struggle?

Narcocultura (narco culture) represents a competing life style and worldview to more traditional Mexican societal values. At its base is a secular criminal value system promoting machismo (aggressive masculinity) and outlaw lifestyles. Success is defined as possessing material goods—mansions, sports cars, beautiful women, and bling—a la the old Scarface (1983) movie archetype—combined with a ruthless approach to the illicit narcotics trade. Basically, it is better to live a short exciting life as a lion than a long boring life as a lamb. Over the course of decades, this secular criminal foundation has seen the construction of an additional layer of narco spirituality. Early on, we had the Sinaloa cowboy archetype which included their veneration for Jesus Malverde. This was a bit strange but nothing like some of the follow-on Santa Muerte and Christian cult linked narco trafficking groups. I know of no one ever being killed in the name of Jesus Malverde. He is viewed as a Robin Hood type of character. On the other hand, throwing severed heads onto a nightclub floor as ‘Divine Justice’ is in a totally different league. Ultimately, in the areas controlled by some of the more extremist cartel groups, a nastier form of narcocultura becomes the new baseline pattern for human living. We end up with the equivalent of child soldiers emerging. Those kids are totally indoctrinated with local cartel values—including its spirituality—and, as a result, can become real fanatics. This is very much akin to the ‘Cubs of the Caliphate,’ the young psychopathic killers that the Islamic State is currently producing. A couple of good documentaries to watch in order to learn about the cartel value system are Narco Cultura (2013) and Narco Land (2015).

Question 5. In all of the years that you have been in this work, what is the most horrific thing that you have seen or heard about?

Without a doubt, it has to be a narco video I viewed some years ago. It was filmed by one Mexican cartel and directed against another. The video was a torture-killing of a naked man hung upside down who was castrated, had his face peeled off, and then his throat cut which finally ended his life. What made the video even more sickening to watch was the fact the woman wielding the knife lacked both arm strength and technique, which made the botched imagery even more surreal. Interestingly, this was a secular killing—no dark spirituality was involved—and simply represented a plain old act of narcoterrorism taking place between two warring cartels.

Question 6. Can you talk about the San Fernando Massacre that took place in 2011 which Los Zetas massacred 193 people?

This incident—the best known one— was part of a cluster of massacres in Northern Mexico perpetrated by Los Zetas between 2010 and 2012, involving over 300 migrants according to declassified Mexican Attorney General’s Office documents. Los Zetas had broken off from the Gulf Cartel (Cártel del Golfo—CDG), for whom they had been the enforcement arm, and were fighting them over narcotics and human smuggling routes into the U.S. Apparently, groups of migrants either refused to become slave labor, changing circumstances meant the cartel needed to make these people disappear, and/or they wanted to make a statement. Tragically for migrants such as these, Los Zetas will squeeze every drop of revenue that they can from the illicit market place. For instance, a pretty young woman will be made to pay to be smuggled into the U.S., forced to carry a backpack with narcotics in it across the border, ransomed for more money once at a safe house inside the U.S., and then—once the additional money is secured—forced into prostitution instead of being released. However, in the case of the San Fernando Massacre, it looks like as if bulk of the migrants had been initially kidnapped off buses. It should be remembered that part of Los Zetas modus operandi is ultimately derived from their tactical and operational competency and sheer brutality. Such mass kills may represent PSYOPS (psychological warfare)/narcoterrorism directed at the populations in the regions that they control such as in Tamaulipas state, the cartels they are in competition with, and the Mexican local, state, and federal authorities that they are attempting to neutralize via intimidation and co-option.