E. Eduardo Castillo and Mark Stevenson, Chron, July 20, 2011
An organized crime group calling itself the Knights Templar is distributing booklets saying it is fighting a war against poverty, tyranny and injustice, publicly appealing to hearts and minds in a part of Mexico where the government claims it has largely taken down the major drug traffickers.
But a copy of the 22-page “The Code of the Knights Templar of Michoacan,” illustrated with knights on horseback bearing lances and crosses, was obtained by The Associated Press this week. It says the group “will begin a challenging ideological battle to defend the values of a society based on ethics.”
The Knights Templar have been blamed for murders, extortion, drug trafficking and attacks on police. Analysts say the propaganda is part of an effort to transform a drug cartel into a social movement, along the lines of what right-wing paramilitary groups did in Colombia in the 1990s against leftist rebels–a fight in which both sides used the drug trade to finance their causes.
The booklet says cartel members “must fight against materialism,” and respect women and children. It prohibits them from killing for money and says, “for all members of the order, the use of any drugs or any hallucinogen is strictly prohibited.” It mandates drug testing for members.
Along with the booklet, which also preaches loyalty to family and country, police also have confiscated banners with messages from the gang, trucks emblazoned with Templar “shields,” and even white robes with red crosses like the ones worn by the original Knights Templar order.