Republican Ed Gillespie has come under attack from some public figures, who dispute his assertion that there are over 2,000 MS-13 — Mara Salvatrucha — gang members in Fairfax County, Virginia. Gillespie is currently running for governor in Virginia, and throughout his campaign, he has underscored his opposition to sanctuary cities by highlighting the presence of violent criminal gangs in Northern Virginia, including his home county of Fairfax.
In an attempt to debunk Gillespie’s MS-13 figures, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler claimed this morning that there are in fact 1,400 MS-13 members in Fairfax County rather than 2,000 – despite having stated himself that “the plain fact is that no one knows how many MS-13 gang members are in Fairfax County.”
Kessler appears to be trying a bit too hard to find reasons to slam Gillespie, without having the necessary substance to back up his own assertions. For one thing, Jay Lanham, a retired law-enforcement officer and former executive director of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force ended up confirming Gillespie’s numbers to the Washington Post.
Lanham told WTOP in June that the number of MS-13 members was now “over 5,000 easy” in Northern Virginia. When contacted by the Post for Kessler’s report, Lanham supposedly “backed away from the number” but still said he believed 2,000 MS-13 gang members for Fairfax County was “probably pretty accurate” as an estimate. This hardly serves as a refutation of Gillespie’s talking point.
But even if Kessler’s 1,400 number is closer to the truth than Gillespie’s 2,000, that’s still a disturbingly substantial figure. That many violent gang members for just one Virginia county is surely nothing to celebrate. If there are indeed 1,400 MS-13 members in the county, that would make the MS-13 population in Fairfax County equal to the population of the county’s police force, a troubling statistic.
And the point of Gillespie’s remark clearly is not that he has somehow ascertained the precise number of violent criminal gang members in Fairfax County. Rather, his argument is that Northern Virginia is experiencing far too much violent crime, and that sanctuary cities — which explicitly shelter illegal immigrants, including those convicted of felonies, from federal law enforcement — would only exacerbate the problem. On that, he is undoubtedly correct, whether his or Kessler’s estimate is closest to the correct figure.