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Mexico's Vigilantes

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Over the past few years, drug-related violence in Mexico has driven local citizens to the breaking point. Fed up with the lack of security provided by the police, and with intimidation and attacks from members of various drug cartels and criminal gangs, people have started their own self-defense groups. Armed groups of ordinary citizens have set up security checkpoints, disarmed and chased away police they considered ineffective, and even organized ambitious manhunts to apprehend or kill suspected criminal bosses. While the vigilante groups have had some success, the Mexican government is now trying to reign in the lawless aspects by integrating these citizens into a new police group called the Force Rural State -- formally providing them with weapons, uniforms, and training. While some of the vigilantes are cooperating, others insist they won't lay down their own guns until top leaders of The Knights Templar (Los Templarios) drug cartel are arrested. [34 photos]

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An unidentified armed man from a self-defense group stands with his weapon at the entrance of Apatzingan in Michoacan state, Mexico, on February 9, 2014. Self-defense groups have grown in popularity and influence across Mexico in recent years, in reaction to widespread drug-related violence, and the seeming inability of law enforcement to provide security. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)
An unidentified armed man from a self-defense group stands with his weapon at the entrance of Apatzingan in Michoacan state, Mexico, on February 9, 2014. Self-defense groups have grown in popularity and influence across Mexico in recent years, in reaction to widespread drug-related violence, and the seeming inability of law enforcement to provide security. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)
A child tries to help his father arrange weapons at a checkpoint set up by the Self-Defense Council of Michoacan, (CAM), in Tancitaro, Mexico, on January 16, 2014. Authorities fear self-defense groups could turn into the very sort of organized crime forces they're fighting, while citizens who had been kidnapped, beaten and had land confiscated by the Knight Templar drug cartel praise the vigilantes for providing security. (AP Photo/Felix Marquez) #
Armed residents take part in a march on the first anniversary of the citizen's vigilante groups, in Ayutla de los Libres in the southeastern state of Guerrero, Mexico, on January 5, 2014. Hundreds of civilians armed with rifles, pistols and machetes decided to provide security for the communities of Guerrero, creating a vigilante force, following robberies, kidnappings and murder by gangs. Guerrero, home to the Pacific resort town of Acapulco, has been one of the states hardest hit by Mexico's drug violence, which has left more than 70,000 people killed across the country since 2006. (Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images) #
Armed men belonging to the Self-Defense Council of Michoacan (CAM) stand guard at a checkpoint set up by the self-defense group in Chuquiapan on the outskirts of the seaport of Lazaro Cardenas in western Mexico on May 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) #
Vans burn at the entrance of Paracuaro, Mexico, on January 10, 2014. Residents of villages near Paracuaro set at least six cars and trucks on fire to protest the arrival of more than 100 vigilantes to their town in the western state of Michoacan. The burning trucks blocked roads leading to the town of artisans and lime farmers until federal police and soldiers removed them Thursday. Townspeople say they oppose the vigilante group because they are forcing young men to join them. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) #
Members of a self-defense group talk to villagers after they arrive to Las Yeguas, Michoacan state, Mexico, on January 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) #
Vigilantes attack a local police officer during clashes between police and self-defense groups in the town of Tixtla, Mexico, on August 26, 2013. The vigilantes beat several police with rifle butts and machetes and handcuffed them, then stole their rifles and briefly kidnapped some municipal officials, authorities said. The clash highlighted the confusion and contradictions in the Mexican government's effort to deal with "self-defense groups" that have sprung up in parts of southern Mexico since February to fight drug cartels. (AP Photo) #
A woman embraces self-defense group spokesman Estanislao "Papa Smurf" Beltran in Tancitaro, Michoacan, Mexico, on January 16, 2014. Mexico's spreading vigilante movement announced its first big land hand-out in January, returning 25 avocado orchards to farmers whose properties had been seized by the cartel, which started in drug trafficking and expanded to extortion and economic control. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) #
Vigilantes stand outside the municipality after entering the town of Nueva Italia on January 12, 2014. (Reuters/Alan Ortega) #
Men belonging to the Self-Defense Council of Michoacan, (CAM), engage in a firefight while trying to flush out alleged members of the Knights Templar drug cartel from Nueva Italia, Mexico, on January 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) #
The window of a bank, riddled with bullet holes, in the town of Apatzingan in Michoacan state, on January 11, 2014. Residents from various towns in Michoacan destroyed property to protest the arrival of vigilantes, or members of "self-defense" groups, to their communities. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) #
Men belonging to the Self-Defense Council of Michacan take cover during a firefight while trying to flush out alleged members of the Knights Templar drug cartel from the town of Nueva Italia on January 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) #
Villagers watch injured community policeman, Lorenzo Angel, 22, who holds a slingshot while being taken for treatment in a journalist's vehicle, after gunmen ambushed a group of community policemen Angel was with, in the town of La Concepcion, Mexico, on April 4, 2014. The vigilante force was set-up by affected communities who created the Council of Communal Land Owners and Communities Against the Construction of La Parota Dam (CECOP), opposed to the construction of the La Parota hydroelectric dam. Angel later died from his wounds. (AP Photo/Bernandino Hernandez) #
A looter carries boxes of beer as a Corona truck burns at a roadblock allegedly set up by followers of the Knights Templar cartel in Tierra Caliente on January 10, 2014. Mexico's government on pledged to take control of a violent western state after days of fighting between masked vigilantes and members of one of the country's most powerful drug cartels. (Reuters/Alan Ortega) #
A priest stands while leaders of the community police, or vigilantes, speak before a march to commemorate the first anniversary of their foundation, in Felipe Carrillo Puerto city on) February 24, 2014. (Reuters/Edgard Garrido) #
Father Gregorio Lopez looks at the rifle of a resident in Acahuato February 1, 2014. Father Gregorio, or Father Goyo as he is called by his parishioners, said he openly supports the vigilantes who are battling the cartel of the Knights Templar in violence-racked Michoacan, an impoverished agricultural state about 1-1/2 times the size of Switzerland. Father Goyo, who carries a 9mm gun and is accompanied by several men who function as his bodyguards, has received permission from the military to issue handwritten licenses to residents to carry firearms. according to local media. Mexico's government recently offered to incorporate the vigilantes into formal police ranks and give them training, in tandem with job-creating development programs. (Reuters/Alan Ortega) #
Vigilantes are seen in a cave on the outskirts of Arteaga during their search for Knights Templar leader Servando Gomez, on April 26, 2014. Vigilantes entered Arteaga several days before, in search of Gomez, known as "La Tuta". (Reuters/Alan Ortega) #
Armed residents take part in a march on the first anniversary of the citizen's vigilante groups, in Ayutla de los Libres, on January 5, 2014, in Guerrero, Mexico. (Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images) #
Members of the community police walk near a deceased member of the Knights Templar cartel (Caballeros Templarios) after a clash near the village of Paracuaro in Michoacan state, on January 5, 2014. Some 100 gunmen from the community police from different towns entered Paracuaro and disarmed the federal police after multiple clashes to gain control over the town in an effort to rid the area of the Knights Templar cartel. (Reuters/Alan Ortega) #
Vigilante "El Love" walks inside the captured house of a top leader of the Caballeros Templarios, or Knights Templar, in Nueva Italia on January 16, 2014. The drug lord and his family left the house as they fled an uprising led by farmers exasperated with organized crime. (Reuters/Jorge Dan Lopez) #
A woman belonging to the Self-Defense Council of Michoacan, inspects a bedroom in the abandoned home of an alleged member of the Templar Knights drug cartel in Paracuaro, Mexico, on January 17, 2014. According to the vigilante group, the owner of the home was nicknamed "El Botas" or "the Boots". (AP Photo/Felix Marquez) #
A vigilante leaves an almost empty walk-in closet in the captured house of a top leader of the Caballeros Templarios in Nueva Italia on January 16, 2014. (Reuters/Jorge Dan Lopez) #
Armed men belonging to the Self-Defense Council of Michoacan stand guard at a checkpoint set up by the vigilante group in La Mira on the outskirts of Lazaro Cardenas, on May 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) #
Relatives stand next to the coffin of the Mario Perez, 50, killed in the recent violence in Antunez, Mexico, on January 14, 2014. The Mexican government moved in to quell violence between vigilantes and a drug cartel, and witnesses say several unarmed civilians were killed in a confrontation. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) #
A community policeman kicks a man allegedly suspected of participating in an ambush against them near the town of La Concepcion, Mexico, on April 4, 2014. The vigilante force was set-up by affected communities who created the Council of Communal Land Owners and Communities Against the Construction of La Parota Dam, opposed to the construction of the La Parota hydroelectric dam. Two vigilantes were injured and one died. At least four suspects were later detained. (AP Photo/Bernandino Hernandez) #
A woman confronts men that were detained after they allegedly participated in an ambush against community policemen near the town of La Concepcion, on April 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Bernandino Hernandez) #
Vigilantes, after a meal at a Chinese eatery in Arteaga, on April 26, 2014. The vigilantes entered Arteaga several days earlier in search of Servando Gomez, known as "La Tuta", leader of the violent Knights Templar drug cartel. (Reuters/Alan Ortega) #
A man belonging to the Self-Defense Council of Michoacan kisses a woman in the main square of the town of Nueva Italia, on January 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) #
Weapons belonging to a member of a self-defense group sit on top of documents during a weapons registration in Apatzingan, Mexico, on May 8, 2014. The confusing proliferation of false self-defense groups in Michoacan and instances of alleged looting and killings by legitimate vigilantes have led the federal government to tell the vigilantes they have to demobilize by May 10. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) #
A former vigilante is seen next to weapons in a truck after a swearing in ceremony as members of the Fuerza Rural Estatal (Force Rural State) in Tepacaltepec, Michoacan state, on May 10, 2014. The federal government organized the swearing in ceremony of 450 former vigilantes to integrate a new police group called the "Force Rural State", giving them blue uniforms, weapons and patrol routes. Force Rural State will begin operations in Tepacaltepec and Buenavista Tomatlan in the state of Michoacan, according to local media. In January, the federal government sent reinforcements into Michoacan and began cooperating with vigilantes to root out the Knights Templar. Since then, most of the gang's senior leadership has been captured or killed. The gang's frontman, former school teacher Servando Gomez, remains at large. (Reuters/Alan Ortega) #
A federal policeman looks for the assigned weapon that corresponds to the rural police's identification card before the start of a ceremony in Tepalcatepec, Mexico, on May 10, 2014. At the ceremony in the town where the vigilante movement began in February 2013, officials handed out new pistols, rifles and uniforms to 120 self-defense group members who were sworn into a new official rural police force. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) #
A member of a self-defense group smiles after receiving her assigned weapon at a ceremony in Tepalcatepec, Mexico, on May 10, 2014. Mexico's government began demobilizing the vigilante movement of assault-rifle-wielding ranchers and farmers that had succeeded in largely expelling the Knights Templar cartel from the western state of Michoacan when authorities couldn't. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) #
A federal police matches the assigned weapon that corresponds to a rural police's identification card in Tepalcatepec, Mexico, on May 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) #
Self-defense group members stand in their newly-issued uniforms before the start of a ceremony in Tepalcatepec, Mexico, on May 10, 2014. At the ceremony, officials handed out new pistols, rifles and uniforms to 120 self-defense group members who were sworn into a new official rural police force. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo) #

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