(Memphis) They are a threat to national security and they live right here in Memphis and other cities around the country.
They are street gangs that have infiltrated the military.
WREG was sent photos that set off an On Your Side Investigation.
They are pictures of a young man with a hidden double life.
He is a private first class in the Army looking sharp in his uniform.
Then, the same guy is pictured in many different settings.
He can be seen flashing big wads of cash, throwing up gang signs with his friends while showing off their big guns in the process.
Dr. Carter Smith is a professor at Middle Tennessee State University who has studied gangs in the military for years.
He was first exposed to them as a criminal investigator in the Army.
We asked him what does the military do when they find out this person is in a gang?
Smith said, “If that’s all they find out, usually nothing.”
He added, “Recruiters have been known to look the other way. With that said, if they’ve not been told we want to focus on gangs, then what is there to do anyway.”
Two years ago Airman Rico Williams, leader of the Gangster Disciples sect, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for killing Army Sgt. Juwan Johnson while the two were stationed in Germany.
It is believed Johnson, who had survived a roadside bomb injury in Iraq, died as he was voluntarily being beaten into the gang.
Six other military men were prosecuted.
We asked if the photos discovered by WREG could land this young man in trouble.
“The sad thing is unless he’s brandishing a weapon that happens to be a military weapon and it shows that he’s not in a location that’s clearly military. Not even a minimal crime seems to have occurred. It’s just gutsy. It’s bold. It’s stupid but what crime,” said Smith.
The fear isn’t in the photo for Smith but in what may come as a result of the knowledge, training and combat experience.
“Think of things in the war time of the things many people in the military are doing. They have rifles up and they and several of their colleagues are kicking down doors and telling people to get down or ordering them around in another way. Reminiscent of a bank robbery, right. It is also reminiscent of a home invasion,” said Smith.
He said the biggest threats may not even involve weapons.
“It could be trucks across the planet. You think they can do that with tons of hash or tons of heroine? All day long, ” said Smith.
Smith says one independent study shows less than 1% of service members are in gangs.
Sounds low but here’s the problem with that.
“If there’s a million and a half people in the military, less than 1% is how many? 15,000. Are you okay with 15,000 people trained to kill, maim,” questioned Smith.
More thorough background checks might help weed out gang members.
In most cases, Smith says the military only checks for convictions and at times even those with felony arrests are allowed to join.
Smith says he believes most gang members join the military to get away from the gang, but because the military is not into brainwashing, they remain true to the gang’s creed while still serving their country.