In the Hat Interview

The Mexican Mafia or Eme is one of the most notorious and powerful gangs in Southern California. They are allegedly running things from the penitentiary to the streets of LA. Not much is known about them or their operations. What little has been revealed has been in trumped up RICO indictments against the gang by the feds or in movies like American Me, which starred James Edward Olmos. But the reality is that the fallout from that movie included the murder of some of the people involved who angered Eme shotcallers with their portrayals in the film. So an aura of mystery surrounds the Mexican Mafia. Enter the In The Hat blog.

We first mentioned www.inthehat.blogspot.com in the November blog entry from 2006. The well respected website gives the 411 on gangs, crime, cops and politics in Los Angeles. Much like Gorilla Convict, In the Hat tells the stories that the mainstream media won’t. We contacted the dude who writes the blog about speaking on what he is doing or trying to accomplish with his reports. And here’s the Gorilla Convict interview with Wally Fay, the author of In the Hat.

What is In The Hat about?

It’s about Hispanic street gangs and law enforcement in So Cal and the politics that affect both of those areas. I try to keep it out of the netbanger realm. I don’t encourage “shout-outs” and gang bravado. Instead I try to get a dialog going and raise the level of discourse above the “Your neighborhood sucks, mine rules” level. The reason I focus on Hispanic gangs is because they outnumber all the other gangs by a huge margin and they’re responsible for most of the violence, drug dealing and street crimes. None of the other gang groups can compare in terms of numbers or influence on the
street.

When did you start it?

In late 2003.

Why did you start it?

I realized from my own experience and research into street gangs, crime and law enforcement that the “legitimate” media was thoroughly full of crap when it came to covering this area. The press doesn’t dig very deeply and only gives the public a top line version of the story. They never provide a back story. They don’t name names and don’t get into the detailed machinations of gang life and the motivation of individuals. I also realized that some news organizations have an agenda and only run stories that fit their world view. For instance, they have refused to run anything on the brown on black hate crimes that have been happening with more frequency in the past five years. When I tried to sell them the story, they found all sorts of excuses not to run it. One editor told me the whole thing was “unoccasioned seeming,” whatever the hell that is. Another flat out told me he didn’t want to start a race war. Another just didn’t believe that hat crimes could be committed by anyone other than white people. So basically I started the blog to tell the stories that the press refused to tell or just didn’t think were important enough to tell. I wanted to tell tales from the street.

What is the angle? Law enforcement or street?

A little of both. I try to walk right down the middle. I don’t make judgments and I’m not rooting for one side or the other. What I’m rooting for is a decline in the death toll and try in some small way to put a stop to the waste of lives.

Did you grow up around the people you write about?

I grew up in New York where I was surrounded by the original Mafia, the Cosa Nostra. Almost everybody in my old hood was connected in some way to the Mob. I moved to California in my 20s and found the street gang phenomenon both familiar and alien. They operate a lot differently here than in New York. As bad as the Italian mob is. they never put as many bodies on the street as the Surenos do in So Cal. The body counts are just radically different.

The body count seems to be inversely proportional to the amount of money at stake. A made guy in the Mob can organize a million dollar kickback scheme and not have to fire one bullet. In LA, I quickly realized that people get killed over chump change. I mean, a low level dope dealer one day decides that he doesn’t want to pay his lousy $40 a week tax money to a shot caller and the guy gets whacked. I mean, how cheap is $40 a week to stay alive? The LCN never operated at that level. Neither do the Russians. So it was kind of a gang culture shock and that alien aspect has never stopped fascinating me. I can understand criminal violence when the stakes are huge. I can’t understand it when so little money is involved.

So there’s something about this criminal culture that goes beyond greed and the lure of easy money. Some of the gangsters I’ve come across here in LA have hustled their ass off for years and years and have practically nothing to show for it. But they’re still in the life. So there’s some attraction there that goes beyond money. I’ve come to believe that some people just love the kick of the gangster life.

What are your thoughts on the Eme or Surenos?

The Eme is clearly the most powerful organized force in the prisons and on the street. There is no other organization that can compare to its power projection beyond prison walls and the number of soldiers under its command. Their intelligence network is phenomenal. Something can happen in Whittier this morning and by the afternoon, the brothers in Pelican Bay know about it. And by the next morning, they’ve already issued instructions to address the problem. The Crips, Bloods, AB, NLR — none of them have that level of command and control. Admittedly it’s chaotic and the Eme tends to rip itself apart from the inside with its politics, but it nonetheless functions on a level far above anything else on the street or in the prison system.

In the Mexican American community in Southern Call are they really prevalent? How prevalent?

Hugely present. Keep in mind that we’re now going into our fourth and fifth generation of street gangsters. Diamond Street, for instance, was one of the original players in the Zoot Suit riots in 1942. That neighborhood is still around sixty years later and still producing shot callers and brothers.

Even if you’re a squeaky clean, stand-up Latino working guy, chances are there’s somebody you grew up with or in your own family that in some way is connected to a street gang. And chances are, that street gang is connected or affected by the Eme.

The gang culture, and by extension the Eme culture, has permeated deep into the Latino community. You’ve got families where one cousin is a validated shot caller and another is a decorated Sheriffs deputy or an LAPD copper. Thanks to large extended families, Erne-friendly or Eme sympathetic individuals can be found in every occupation you can imagine. There are even a few girlfriends and relatives of known shot callers who work in the DA’s office downtown, the LAPD, LASD, County Clerk’s office, the FBI field office in downtown, you name it.

Who reads your blog?

Tough to say. I know some cops read it because they email me with questions about general aspects of gang dynamics and trends. And of course, you can tell be the comments section that a lot of homies read it.

I’ve gotten emails from more than a few journalists asking about specific crimes and individuals. When I first got these enquiries, I was very helpful. Then I realized they were using me as the cheap and fast way of doing research. They were getting paid to dig this stuff up. I don’t make a nickel doing this. It’s a labor of obsession with me. They were taking advantage of my naturally cooperative nature and taking the credit from their editors without attributing it to me. So now I ask these “reporters” for either byline credit or money. They run away fast.

I’ve also gotten emails from school officials asking some fairly lame questions. These are things they should already know. It’s amazing how uninformed these people can be about something that’s staring them in the face every day, six hours a day.

What do you think readers get out of it?

They get stuff they can’t find anywhere else. For instance, I broke the Kenny Wilson, Robert Hightower, Christopher Bowser homicides on my blog 3 years before the LA media ever got wind of it. Eventually, those murders led to a Federal hate crime indictment against a bunch of Avenues gangsters that’s about to go to trial in January of 06. Once the indictment came down, the LA Times ran a few graphs on it. But the back story and everything that ramped up to that indictment is an amazing tale that I’ll only tell after the Federal case is over. I’m not giving stuff away anymore. Let them do their own homework.

I also ran a post about two kids who grew up together, played football on the same team and hung out at each other’s houses. Then one kid goes Avenues. The other kid goes Highland Park. And they become mortal enemies tothe point that one of them shot and killed his lifelong friend. Nobody has picked that up yet. It would make a hell of a magazine piece. But the media doesn’t want to hear it, at least not from me.

Is In The Hat doing for Surenos what Ganglandnews did for the Mafia?

I’m not familiar with Ganglandnews. Give me chance to look at it and I’ll let you know.

Do a lot of gang members/prisoners read your blog?

Lots. I understand that copies of some of my posts have made the rounds of the High Power unit in County Jail. One guy released from County told me that he overheard two shot callers talking about it. He said they seemed to like it. My sense is that as long as I tell the truth and don’t spin it or try to put cases on people or make speculations that could hurt a guy’s case, then they’re okay with it. That’s where Olmos got his tit in a wringer. He made stuff up about Cheyenne Cadena and the brothers disapproved with extreme prejudice. Three people were killed over Olmos’ “creative license.”

Tell me about your book that is coming out and when? What is the title? What does it cover?

The publisher and I haven’t finalized the title yet. The book is about the history of the Mexican Mafia and an up close, blow-by-blow look at a huge trial that’s making its way through the DA’s office right now.

Do you have notoriety in your community from your writing?

Nobody knows who I am and I prefer it that way. Notoriety, fame or any kind of public image is an obstacle to getting at people and the truth.

Why write under Wally Fay?

Death threats. I’ve gotten a few.

Are you an expert on Surenos/Emes?

I think so.

Do you work with law enforcement?

No. I interview and pester cops and DAs the same way I interview homies and gangsters. Sometimes I get answers and sometimes not. I rely on public records, FOIA, contacts on the street, in the jails and sometimes in police stations. Some cops think I’m too sympathetic to the hoods. And some homies think I’m a shill for the cops. So I must be doing my balancing act just right.

Are you pro Surenos or not, or do you just write?

I’m pro not having kids killed. The gang life is a dead end. The last gangster to die old and wealthy was Carlo Gambino. And that’s a one in a million shot. I write about this because I’m trying to understand it. I figure once I get a real handle on it, maybe I can be of some use trying to end it or reduce it. Every time a kid gets shot off a bike or blasted at his front door, the politicians dust off the boiler plate copy and look sternly into the cameras and say crap like, “This has to stop.” But then nothing happens. They’re clueless. I’m trying not to be.

Do the dudes up in Pelican Bay have any thoughts on your blog?

I know some dropouts are aware of it because they told me. I’ve been told that as long as I don’t make shit up or put cases on people, I’ll be tolerated. They like reading about themselves. They just don’t like lies. I don’t either.

Have you been told not to write it ever? Explain.

Yes. On several occasions. I’ll spare you the details. Somebody thought I was a cop stirring up the pot on the web and they took exception to a post. So now I finesse stories and try harder to put stuff between the lines. It’s worked so far. No death threats in quite some time.

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