The Mexicans are coming! The Mexicans are coming!

Fears of a gun-toting death cult overrunning the United States drives Middle America’s fear of illegal immigration from Mexico.

No, I am not a loonie. I am merely repeating a sentiment expressed in a recent item in the Daily Telegraph’s political news blog. The article, entitled “A Mexican death cult is fuelling America’s anti-immigration backlash. This is about crime, not race,” discusses the effects on U.S. opinion on the prevalence of the Mexican cult, Santa Muerte, among drug dealers.

Perhaps I should not be so critical of an article slotted into the news blog section of the newspaper, but this story just doesn’t cut it. This piece combines faulty logic with a lack of political and religious sensibility about the North American scene. It is also an object lesson in wasted opportunity and of stepping on a story by letting untested assumptions drive the narrative.

The Telegraph’s argument is: Some illegal aliens from Mexico are devotees of the Santa Muerte cult. Americans do not like illegal immigration from Mexico. Therefore, fears of Santa Muerte lie behind opposition to illegal Mexican immigration.

Sorry.  This won’t do.

The bottom line: Correlation does not imply causation.

Cum hoc ergo propter hoc, my old Latin master used to say. This is a logical fallacy: “A occurs in correlation with B. Therefore, A causes B.” Passage of a quarter century has not erased my memories of having had to write this 100 times in my copy book. But enough about me; let’s turn to the story.

The article has a nice opening that details the connection of some Mexican drug dealers with the Sante Muerte cult. The author then gives his view of what this all means.

Europeans complain mightily that Muslim immigration has introduced fundamentalism to their secular continent. Yet they tend to look upon Middle America’s fear of illegal Hispanic immigration with contempt, as if its paranoia was motivated entirely by racism. Reporting on new legislation designed to drive illegal immigrants out of the Deep South, The Guardian’s Paul Harris writes that it heralds, “The prospect of a new Jim Crow era – the time when segregation was law – across a vast swath of the old Confederacy. [The legislation] will ostracise and terrorise a vulnerable Hispanic minority with few legal rights.”

Indeed it will, and that is a tragedy. But the debate about illegal immigration isn’t just about competition over jobs or lingering white racism. Many Americans share the European fear that mass migration is subverting their democratic culture from within. In the same way that exotic cells of Jihadists have established themselves in London and Paris, criminal gangs motivated by bloodlust and kinky spiritualism have been found living in the suburbs of Boston and Atlanta. One of its many manifestations is the cult of Santa Meurte.

The author advances some strong claims. Now let’s see him defend his argument. He begins with a description of Santa Muerte.

Santa Muerte is part Virgin Mary, part folk demon. The image of a cloaked saint wielding a scythe is supposed to offer those who venerate it spiritual protection.  .. For the poor of Mexico – a nation torn between extremes of wealth and injustice – Santa Muerte is a very pragmatic saint. Like the gang leaders who offer hard cash in return for allegiance, she provides material blessings that the Catholic Church can no longer afford to bestow.

Tens of thousands of Mexicans living in America venerate Santa Muerte and have no association with crime. Nor is the cult purely ethnic .. But the prevalence of Santa Muerte imagery among drug traffickers injects an interesting cultural dimension to the debate over illegal immigration. It accentuates American fears that the drug war in Mexico is turning into an invasion of the USA by antidemocratic fanatics.

The article turns to a discussion of the Mexican gangs and their drug wars, and notes the “warring cartels are bound by a perverse ideology, with Santa Muerte as a unifying icon that terrifies opponents into submission.” However, this is not substantiated.

Having started off hard left, the article closes hard right, stating:

Nevertheless, Americans of every ethnicity are legitimately concerned about their country being poisoned by a criminal subculture that blends political corruption with ritualised murder. Europeans should not be so quick to judge their transatlantic friends. Americans face a vicious threat of their own.

Now there is a story here. Some Mexican gang members are votaries of an esoteric cult that venerates death. Mass migration to the United States is bringing this cult north of the Rio Grande. Coincidentally, it also follows a domestic political fracas surrounding revelations that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Justice Department permitted guns illegally purchased in the United States to “walk” into Mexico to arm the drug gangs in an operation called “Fast and Furious.”

I find this fascinating and would want to know more about the cult: its origins, number of adherents, relationship to folk religions or indigenous beliefs, a response from the Roman Catholic Church and the voices of its followers. Are all members of Los Zetas, one of the gangs named, devotees?

The New York Times has done some great reporting on the intersection of crime and religion in Mexican society that raises the issue of whether a church should accept money earned through criminal activities. The Telegraph does a great job in being provocative, painting Middle America in harsh, condescending tones, but it has not been true to the story. The necessary reporting is not present. Instead, we are offered a theory.

Perhaps this is permitted in an item that has strayed from the opinion pages to the halfway house of a news blog. However, to support the claim that American perceptions of Mexican migration to the U.S. are influenced by fears of this cult needs evidence. Am I being unfair? Petty? Prickly?

What say ye?

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About geoconger
  • Bishop Jordan

    Very interesting regarding these cartels. Agreed is that while debating illegal immigration in the United States, one must not tie in all latinos with drug cartels and violence. Many are God-loving people who are simply trying to find a better way of life to support their families. We should try to find better understanding of people in general and realize that the actions of a minority does not reflect the views of the masses.

  • Daniel

    Like many Americans, I am frustrated with the bureaucratic approach to illegal immigration, and I advocate legal immigration and an orderly, logical, and compassionate approach to immigration. I am able to realize that much of the problem with immigration at the Federal level lies with Congress and their attempts at show-stopping theatrics when talking about reform and discussing suggestions about how to handle this whole thing. Am I being unfair? Petty? Prickly? I don’t think so. The way the Telegraph covered this issue was like the pot calling the kettle black. The U.S. is really in the forefront when dealing with problems and issues that are going to arise for Britain and France about dealing with immigration. There would be far less controversy and criminality in the U.S. around illegal immigration if legal immigration were’nt built around a quota system with all the exceptions, amnesties, ifs, ands and buts that it involves. Any good articles written on this topic would cover and address these truths. If an article is not biased or deceptive, it would be a truthful article. I can hope for articles that cover immigration forthrightly and thoroughly, and I can reward and applaud such articles when they occur. In fact I had never heard of Santa Muerte until today, and my opinions about immigration had already formed, so I can’t see how the author could argue that my opinions were shaped by the existence of Santa Muerte. Laughable if it were’nt taken seriously!

  • Susan

    The description of a new cult as “Part Virgin Mary” … “saint … supposed to offer those who venerate it spiritual protection,” and “she provides material blessings that the Catholic Church can no longer afford to bestow” is religious nonsense! This is another example of a reporter who is ignorant of the most basic beliefs of Christianity.

    Obviously, the writer is misusing Roman Catholic language and imagery to construct an explanation of a cult that has nothing to do with Catholicism. One of the most laughable notions is that the RCC provides material blessings; that has never been a part of Catholic belief.

    I don’t understand the declaration that “Santa Muerte” offers “spiritual protection”. To what is the reporter referring? Is it simply an understandable desire to escape from being killed? If so, I don’t know that “spiritual protection” is an useful description of what is going on in this cult.

    This cult sounds like a coping response from people participating in or surrounded by a chaotic and murderous environment created by the actions of powerful drug cartels. It is a rather “primitive” and perhaps desperate response, but not so hard to explain or even understand without resorting to weaving in the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Mike

    I live in Texas about 150 miles north of Mexico. I’ve never heard of Santa Muerte. There’s no evidence whatsoever — no quotes, no stats, no reports, no nothing — to support the writer’s thesis. I realize that this was written by some academician, but he of all people should know that you’ve got to substantiate your arguments. The notion that “A Mexican death cult is fueling” an anti-immigration backlash is pure nonsense. Show me the proof before you make these assertions.

  • Harry

    There was a story about this in the National Geographic a couple of years back. From what I remember, the cult had been condemned by the Church hierarchy, which (obviously) hasn’t stopped its popularity growing among the drug gangs which infest the region. Though if you have dedicated your life to mayhem and murder, I doubt you would be much swayed by the words of your local bishop.
    As I remember, the story didn’t show the cult as a cause or exacerbater of the violence- more something that sprang up in its wake. Definatly not some kind of death cult invasion. In fact, I’m pretty sure the report was written on the basis that few knew about it outside Mexico. Though things may have changed over the years- there was a Santa Muerte statue featured in Breaking Bad.
    There was also a smidgen in the story about some Fundamentalist Christian family operating near the border- I think the story called them Bible Bashers, but I can’t be sure.

  • Dave

    This story was taken up on The Wild Hunt and promptly drew comment from the immigration-dubious quarter. Choleric rhetoric aplenty but no trace of concern about Santa Muerte. Had there been it would have been the first such reference I’d ever heard in such a discussion. The claim needs evidence; it’s not validated by experience.

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters
  • Jerry

    Thanks to this topic, I’ve learned something new! :-)

    Wikipedia has a link to a Timestory in which it’s reported that the Catholic Church in Mexico has condemned Santa Muerte in the strongest possible terms.

    So it definitely exists and has had extensive coverage although obviously not in certain media outlets as some have not heard of it before.

  • Julia

    Here’s the link to that National Geographic story from 2010 which is really pretty good.

    Be sure to look at the photo gallery with the informative captions.

    La Santa Muerte is definitely not the Virgin Mary.

    From the Nat Geo:

    Unknown to most Mexicans until recently, this death figure resembles medieval representations of the grim reaper but is fundamentally different from the playful skeletons displayed on Day of the Dead—the day when Mexicans’ departed loved ones return to share with the living a few hours of feasting and remembrance. Her altars can now be found all over Mexico, on street corners and in the homes of the poor.

    The article is entitled “Mexican Saints” because other saints are also being called on for help and protection.
    Note that the shrines of Holy Death and the the narco-saint have nothing to do with Catholic Churches. On the other hand, St Jude is viewed as legitimate.

    Let’s say, for example, that you live in one of the cities along the border taken over by the drug trade and that the crackle of machine-gun fire bursts out every night, filling you with terror of stray bullets. Is it not understandable to pray for protection to someone like the outlaw narco-saint Jesús Malverde, whom drug traffickers revere? Mexicans who retain a strong connection to the Roman Catholic faith might turn instead to St. Jude Thaddeus. At a time when no-win situations abound, he is experiencing a rise in popularity comparable only to that of La Santa Muerte, perhaps because he is known in the Catholic Church as the patron saint of desperate causes.

  • Julia

    Forgot to say: from the legitimate reports, it appears many regular Mexicans are hoping these new outlaw “saints” will give protection from the druglords and violence. If there’s any murderous cult, it only involves the druglords and their runners, sellers and enforcers. Both groups seem to be appealing to the same “saint” personages. That English reporter doesn’t seem to understand this.

  • William

    It doesn’t quite rise to propter hoc, since Santa Muerte has only very recently become a force in the world of cartels, and illegal immigration has been unpopular for long before.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    What most people said above.

    But the theme that struck out to me was the connection of “the Deep South” and Jim Crow to the current concerns over illegal immigration. I know about the Alabama law, but leadership on the illegal immigration issue has come from California and Arizona, not part of “the Deep South”. Texas was a southern state, fair enough. The complaints coming from the Southwest are about crime and social services being overrun by illegals. My own experience working in a homeless shelter and being part of a largely Hispanic Catholic parish is that the majority of illegals are here to work and send money back to their families.

    It is true that some Mexican cults are active here in Texas – chicken parts show up on the parish lawn from time to time, and once they got into our sanctuary and put curse ashes around the priest’s chair – but I’ve never heard of them being linked to drugs. And like others, I have never heard of “Santa Muerta” as a cult, although apparently it is a big deal in Mexico. I do think I’ve seen the phrase in conjunction with Day of the Dead, which is not inconsistent with the Catholic Faith.

    • haterboy19888 .

      no besides what many people think is not big here in mexico, its linked with whores, the poors and you know who…..

  • MT

    The British press seems to enjoy producing columns about Americans “freaking out” over issues that most Americans have never heard of. It seems to be a part of their “USA on the verge of collapse” narrative that they’ve been writing (and rewriting) for about fifty years. But hey, that’s entertainment!

  • Boniface

    Many a drug dealer is Christian, with Jesus tattooed somewhere on their body. Jesus is depicted in churches nailed to a cross. Does that make Christianity a “death drug cult?” No. So why is the depiction of Santisima Muerte any different? The Scottish Cailleach is the same deity in a different cultural context, so is the Irish Morrigan, yet no one seems worried about these cultural representations. This is just bigotry, pure and simple.

  • Carol Woolf

    As a Texan and an R.N. for many years, I’ve been in a unique position to live with and observe the changes in the Hispanic society most of my life. I say Hispanic because as a business owner, I have to tell the young Hispanic’s who work for me that they are not Mexicans, they are Americans of Hispanic descent. Granted, their relatives came from Mexico many years ago but some are related to Spanish, Portuguese, German,American Indian and other countries. One asked me, So what is a person who is of Chinese decent but born in Mexico. I say they are Mexicans of Chinese descent. How simple is that? Most of the immigration from Mexico today and for the last 40 years is the ability to partake in the freebees that the U.S. offers like having a baby in the U.S., going back to Mexico and having a child who is a U.S. citizen. Financial gain comes with that. Pretending that the husband left and the wife is saddled with 6 kids. Financial benefits come from that and the husband is usually living somewhere in the neighborhood with relatives. Cheating on income tax and sharing deductions to get a bigger return. Trading food stamps for other items including drugs. Claiming to be “bipolar” and living next door to the spouse allows cheap housing, disability payments and many other benefits. Now how do I know this, I’ve observed it in my current business and nursing practice. It’s the welfare culture that prevents so many from the useful full lives that contribution positively to society provides. As for as La Santa Muerte. That’s no different that the symbols used by Creoles and Haitians that like to practice “VooDoo” It’s a type of bologny that many uneducated in a culture are drawn to. There are many Hispanics who live in Texas who are wonderful people. Many of the poor Hispanics who have come here have actually built Texas but they are not the families who have chosen to take instead of give. Most are wonderful, family loving, religious people. I was raised around them, I know them. Right now, as we struggle to provide bilingual education in Texas, Mexican schools teach in English rather than Spanish. I learned that from a Mexican citizen who owns a business in Monterrey Mexico. She said that Mexican children speak Spanish at home and English elsewhere. Wealthy Mexicans typically send their children to England after graduation from high school so that they may learn proper English. So many of the immigrants we are getting from Mexico are not that fluent in their language in so much as they are unable to write or read Spanish. We are harming them and have been for at least 40+ years by not practicing immersion in the English language. You just have to wonder who wants to keep them STUPID! US?

  • Jettboy

    “This is about crime, not race.”

    There is more truth about the anti-illegal immigration issue in this short sentence than any other newspaper reports combined. Breaking the law by coming to the United States, drug wars, kidnapping, murder, theft, anti-Americanism, and gangs are top priorities. Race is only a concern because mostly white Canadians are satisfied with staying in their own country and mostly Latino South Americans are not.

  • rob in williamson county

    I live in Texas about 150 miles north of Mexico. I’ve never heard of Santa Muerte.

    Same here. The Spanish-speaking families that live in my neighborhood send their kids to the neighborhood school (like me), cash their checks in the family-owned corner store (like I used to do), and, in general, work hard and live quietly (also like I try to do). If it were 1840, the Know Nothings would be writing about the “Irish Catholic threat” instead of “the Santa Muerte cult.”