Mass Shootings and Crypto Crime: Inside the New Wave of Cyber Gang Warfare Plaguing America

Over the Memorial Day weekend, a horrific mass shooting occurred in Miami. In the wake of a shooting that left

Crypto Crime

Over the Memorial Day weekend, a horrific mass shooting occurred in Miami. In the wake of a shooting that left several dead and multiple people gravely injured, police are now turning to the internet and social media to dig up clues as to who, what and why. With gangs increasingly using the internet to communicate and coordinate online, and online arguments spilling into real-world violence, it’s clear that the lines between virtual crime and real-life crime are being blurred. And adding to that conundrum, gangs are now using crypto-currency to launder money, upgrading their operations to the next level of technology.

Miami Mass Shooting and Social Media

Cypto Crime

On Sunday, just after midnight, a Memorial Day weekend album release celebration was shattered by the sounds of gunfire at El Mula Banquet Hall. The Miami venue was hosting live performances from local rappers, including ABMG Spitta and others. Two gunmen leapt out of a white SUV and opened fire, killing 2 and injuring another 21 people, three of whom are in critical condition. The Miami Herald reports that three have been released, including a 17-year-old who was shot in the leg.

The shooters waited in their vehicle for around 30 minutes before striking. They were wearing ski masks and hooded sweatshirts to conceal their identity. Per the Miami Herald, “The scene became even more chaotic when some people in the crowd returned fire, police said. The wounded were taken to various hospitals in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The two people killed were pronounced dead at the scene.

Multiple law enforcement sources identified the deceased Monday afternoon as Desmond Owens and Clayton Dillard. The men’s ages were not immediately available.

Police are still trying to find the shooters. The Nissan was found Monday afternoon in the Biscayne Canal at Northwest 154th Street and Second Avenue, according to law enforcement sources. The vehicle was reported stolen a few weeks ago.”

It is believed that the shooting was spurred by something either in rap lyrics or written online. Police are combing the internet and scouring social media for clues as to who the shooters are and to pinpoint their motives. As is usual with gang-type violence, witnesses are reluctant to step forward because reprisals from the gang members for providing information to the police can be deadly. According to police in Miami, the people responsible for a rash of violence in the area are gang-like in organization but may not present as traditional gangs, referring to them more precisely as “groups.” 

Gangs Using Crypto-Currency

Gangs or Groups aren’t just picking beef online and taking it real life, they’re also using the digital world to support their illegal activities. Back in 2018, a former CIA analyst warned that gangs were using cryptocurrency to move money and hide their activities. At the time, FoxNews reported, “The fight against money laundering and trafficking cash is enforced with the help of mainstream financial institutions.

Credit cards, for example, require identification which law enforcement agencies can access.

But cryptocurrencies do not operate within this established system. In fact, many cryptocurrencies were invented in part to sidestep the existing regulated financial system.

While most cryptocurrency exchange businesses are getting more compliant with existing financial legislation, dEXs do not take custody of users’ tokens and do not verify customers’ identities—perfect for moving ill-gotten gains.” A dEX is a decentralized exchange, making transactions nearly impossible to trace. 

The Fox story turned out to be prophetic as in 2020, it was revealed that Latin American gangs were using crypto to move massive sums of money. In December of last year, reported, “‘Both Mexican and Colombian [transnational criminal organizations (TCOs)] are increasing their use of virtual currency because of the anonymity and speed of transactions,’ Michael Miller, spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, told Reuters. ‘It is believed the use of virtual currency will only increase in the future.’

While the amount of bitcoin used in these illegal transactions remains a small percentage of the roughly $25 billion that organized crime makes in Mexico per year, authorities are noticing larger illegally gained sums running through cryptocurrency, according to the report.

Criminals deposit cash in small amounts in different bank accounts and then use it to buy bitcoin. They can then send the currency anonymously to other members of their criminal ring around the world, according to Reuters.”

And just this week, a Yorba Linda man was arrested for operating an illegal ATM network that laundered cryptocurrency for criminals. Kais Mohammad laundered up to $25 million in cryptocurrency over 5 years through his business Herocoin. Mohammad wasn’t choosy about who he bought and sold crypto for, and admits he was aware that sometimes he was helping criminals. Mohammad’s case is a prime example of how this money is being funneled online; the gangs don’t even need to be particularly savvy or internet-capable, there are plenty of middlemen happy to work out the details for them. Whereas money was once onerous to hide and easy to trace, it’s now nearly untraceable and gang transactions are happening on the dark web, away from the eyes of the police. 

Digital Fights Become Real-World Violence

Crypto Crime

Whether gangs are using crypto to launder ill-gotten gains or picking beef online over social media posts, the line is being blurred between the digital world and the real world. And gangs aren’t the only ones taking their online beefs to the streets.

A number of murders and shootings have been seemingly sparked by online disagreements. Back in 2010, Jameg Blake was arrested in the murder of his childhood friend Kwame Dancy. Although the two had been close for years, they got into a fight on Twitter, and Blake took it real-life, murdering Dancy over the argument. 

And teen Kyle Rittenhouse murdered two and injured another in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after online rhetoric spurred him into taking action against protestors who were enraged over the officer-involved shooting of Jacob Blake

There was once a time when online bravado and chest-thumping could be done in relative anonymity. Where people could pick a fight and hash it out, then go on with their lives. Now, however, those online words are having real-world and deadly consequences. No longer relegated to the horrors of bullying, the digital/real-world blend is allowing gangs and criminals to move seamlessly between the world where they’re leaving real-life fingerprints and the digital world where they can hide themselves with much more ease. 

In Miami, hearts are broken by the most recent example. During a press conference about the Sunday shooting, the father of one of those killed by the unnamed gunmen interrupted Alfredo Ramirez III, director of Miami-Dade County Police Department. The heartbroken father screamed to the gunmen, “you all killed my kid, you must burn!” Even as police quickly intervened and ushered him off camera, the father could be heard crying out, “You’re gonna burn, you hear me! You killed a good kid. For no reason. You’re gonna burn.”

Behind Ramirez, others involved in the press conference were clearly shaken and several left to lend support to the distraught father. Ramirez, with emotion in his voice, pointed to the father’s grief as proof that they needed the public to come forward with information so justice could be served. Although it’s unthinkable that all of his horror and heartache could have started online over just words, in the end that father and the other families don’t care where it started; they just hope someday it ends.