If you’ve ever listened to country music (there’s no shame in embracing your inner redneck), you’ve likely heard about cowboys modifying their trucks to have as much Big Dick Energy as possible. And when the rapper DMX died (rest in power) in 2021, his brilliant red casket was carried around his home city, New York, in a customized Ford F250 with “Long Live DMX” inscribed on its side.
But in Mexico, drug cartels are making monster trucks to use like tanks. The cartels are retrofitting pickups with battering rams, four-inch-thick steel plates welded onto their chassis complete with turrets for firing machine guns, The New York Times reports.
These clever yet criminal gangs transforming trucks include the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, who use the vehicles for gun fights with the cops. The Treasury Department described Jalisco New Generation Cartel as one of the world’s “most prolific and violent drug trafficking organizations.” Known for their ultra-violence, they primarily deal with cocaine and meth and allegedly have forced recruits to engage in cannibalism by eating the flesh of murdered victims, The Daily Beast reports.
Others, including the Gulf Cartel (one of Mexico’s oldest and original cartels) and the Northeast Cartel, bloodily enhance the vehicles to battle one another. They, too, proudly adorn the trucks with their initials, and camouflage is also a popular design (and makes it tricky to tell the monster trucks apart from the police’s vehicles). Mexican security forces call these trucks monstruos (monsters), rinocerontes (rhinos), and narcotanques (narco-tanks). Other weapons include (perhaps outfitted in the monster trucks) steel-penetrating Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifles, rocket launchers, and rocket-propelled grenades strong enough to shoot down military helicopters.
It tracks that the cartels would utilize monster trucks. They have long used mechanic skills to modify cars to smuggle drugs across borders. Monster trucks really can be the war machines demolition derbies in the U.S., with car names like Reaper or Grave Digger, want them to be. “The monsters are the way to send the message, ‘I’m in charge, and I want everyone to see I’m in charge,’” said Mr. Le Cour, senior expert at the Switzerland-based Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime. “These are commando-style groups looking to replicate special forces in how they’re armed, how they’re trained, how they look” shares The New York Times.
But what’s happening in Mexico with monster trucks makes American demolition derbies look as innocent as a trip to DisneyLand. The cartel transforms trucks like the Ford Lobo (known as the Ford F-150 in the United States), the Ford Raptor, Chevrolet Tahoe, and even bigger vehicles such as dump trucks and heavy-duty trucks with large flatbeds and two rear wheels on each side. Technically, armoring a vehicle without authorization is a crime in Mexico punishable by up to 15 years in prison. This law has not stopped the weaponization of monster trucks.
The state prosecutor’s office in Tamaulipas, the state along the border of North East Mexico, issued a statement last year citing the “danger to the safety of the community” the modified vehicles, which are especially prominent along the border, present. Since 2019, authorities destroyed more than 260 of these armored monster trucks just in Tamaulipas, one of Mexico’s 31 states, which along with Mexico City, make up the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico.
As badass as the amped-up trucks may sound, even the cartel has car problems. Weighed down by steel plates, the monstruos can be heavy, slow, and challenging to drive, especially in cities. Also, all that modification can lead to mechanical breakdowns. “They’re too slow, too heavy,” said Alexei Chévez, a security analyst based in Cuernavaca, Mexico, writes The New York Times. And the retrofitting of the vehicles means that some of their parts malfunction. “We see them constantly breaking down and being abandoned,” Mr. Chévez said.
But there’s one more weapon the cartels have at their disposal which will help ensure the deadly monster truck’s legacy: social media. The monstruos often appear on TikTok, tricked out and deadly, accompanied by cartel rap songs. While the Mexican police will continue to battle them, it’s hard to fight cool.