Conflict & Justice

A Catholic bishop in Mexico takes on the Knights Templar drug cartel

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Credit:

Apatzingan Tourist Bureau

Apatzingan, Mexico

The Knights Templar cartel is known for its brutality.

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It's also known for having a cult-like following. The crime syndicate has grown into Michoacán state's most powerful mafia.

Knights Templar members sometimes wear ceremonial white robes with red crosses, much like Knights Templar in the Middle Ages.

"I think what makes them most interesting is that they have kind of a cult following, or at least they have a religious aspect to them," said Washington Post correspondent Josh Partlow. "The spiritual leader of the group, who may or may not have been killed by the police a couple of years ago — many residents believe that he's still alive — is a man who gives sermons and is said to have religious writings and that sort of thing. People build shrines to him."

The cartel took its name from the medieval Catholic crusaders, but that's where the similarities end.

"Most people say this is the dominant drug gang at the moment," said Partlow. "They make millions of dollars both extorting businesses all over the state and local politicians, as well. And they control the movement of meth chemicals from a port on the Pacific through Mexico."

The violence has escalated so much in recent years that groups of local vigilantes have taken up arms against the gang with the support of Catholic Bishop Miguel Patino Velasquez.

Partlow interviewed the bishop about his efforts to stop the violence.

"He has talked about how the level of organized crime has gotten to the point where it needs to stop, the local government is involved," said Partlow. "He really jumped into the national spotlight with these statements."

Bishop Patiño has written open letters condemning the Knights Templar. But Patiño’s comments have raised fears that he could become a target of the cartel.

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