A handbook for new members of the Knights Templar reflects the unique space the gang has carved out for itself in Mexico's criminal landscape.

The document, a copy (download here in pdf or using link below story) of which was obtained by InSight Crime, is a PowerPoint presentation consisting of scores of prohibitions and commandments, with images of the original Knights Templar decked out in chain mail and armed with medieval weapons interspersed throughout. The presentation appears to be aimed at new and prospective members of the organization, outlining what will be expected of them upon joining.

The handbook emerges as the Knights' operations have not only led to waves of violence, but also insurgent-style attacks on infrastructure and the emergence of vigilante groups opposed to the gang. As a result, some say the turmoil stemming from the Knights' activities has left their home state of
Michoacan without a properly functioning state government.

There are clues within the document as to why this group would clash so much with the Mexican authorities, as well as multiple examples of the Knights' singularity.

With over 53 dictates and a further handful of sayings, the presentation paints the picture of the Knights Templar as a band of Robin Hoods, selflessly fighting for the security and prosperity of Michoacan. The second commandment proclaims the highest mission of the Knights the "protection of the people and the sacred territory of...Michoacan." The need to defend Michoacan reappears throughout.

The manual also goes out of its way to highlight the moral obligations demanded of Knights. Some of these square with the basic expectations of a peaceful society. The rules prohibit the members from using drugs or kidnapping for money, they call for freedom of religion and thought, and they say that no woman or child should fear the Knights.

Other commandments speak to a required devotion to God, often in conspicuously evangelical tones. One rule says, "A Knight Templar understands that there is a God, a life created by Him, an eternal truth, and a divine purpose to serve Him and his fellow man." Another states, "A soldier of the temple cannot be enslaved by sectarian beliefs or narrow opinions. God is truth and without God there is no truth."

InSight Crime Analysis

Notwithstanding the elements that might be appealing in a vacuum, for people familiar with the Knights, much of their handbook is laughably hypocritical. While cloaking itself as the right-minded defender of Michoacan, the group says nothing about its profit motive, namely, producing and trafficking drugs. While it bans kidnapping, the manual has nothing to say about extortion, which is a notoriously important tactic for the Knights and which, like kidnapping, tends to target civilians.

The manual also makes no attempt to reconcile the concern about the security of Michoacan with the genuinely negative impact the Knights have on public safety in their state nor is there anything on their sundry acts of brutality. As noted above, the gang recently blew up a series of power plants, knocking out the electricity to some of the state's most populated areas. The group's leader, Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, has repeatedly appeared in the mass media to undermine the state's legitimate authorities. It is not clear how any of these acts, which spark an untold number of negative consequences for millions of citizens, fit with the lofty ideals set forth in the document.

SEE ALSO: Knights Templar Profile

Nonetheless, while it may be filled with self-serving and disingenuous language, the document is useful in its illustration of the Knights self-conception. That is, they genuinely see themselves as a unique group, with a higher purpose than the average drug trafficking group. While this does not entirely distinguish themselves from other groups like the Sinaloa Cartel or the Zetas, it does color their activities to a certain degree.

The handbook is largely devoted abstract aspirations, but it does include some operational prescriptions. For instance, it calls for a constant emphasis on security while groups of Knights move about. It also demands that members respect the chain of command and requires them to submit to drug testing.

Much of the manual reads like a Cold War-era left wing nationalist manifesto, which makes sense, given the prevalence of guerrilla groups in southern Mexico. For instance, the document hits out against materialism and injustice, and exhorts Knights to behave in accordance with their "ideology" and "patriotism". The document's final words declare, "Faithful to our oath and fighting for a better world," a sentiment shared by countless revolutionaries from bygone eras.

Indeed, in tandem with the manual's religious elements, the Knights Templar indoctrination is not hugely different from the spirit of Liberation Theology, the Catholic political movement that emerged in 1960s-era Latin America. This probably suits the leaders of the Knights, though it has little to do with the reality on the ground.