Early on, following their appearance on the organized crime scene, the Vietnamese crime gangs were labeled "the most vicious and ruthless of the Asian criminal groups." The New Jersey State Commission in 1989 found them to be even more violent than the Chinese gangs and that their violence made them "a matter of special national concern."
After the Vietnam War, Nguyen Cao Ky, a former leader in South Vietnam, set up an anti-Communist organization in exile manned by former generals in the defeated South Vietnamese army. But rather than focusing on the battle against communism, Ky built up a force of recruits among fellow immigrants to rob, kill, sell drugs and shake down Asian businesses and gambling operations.
It was not an easy task because, unlike other Asian groups, the Vietnamese immigrants did not come out of a tradition of organized crime. As a result the Vietnamese tended to disperse over a wide area, thus keeping their organizations loose and local. These immigrants did learn the ways of organized crime quickly, however, and some were allowed to cooperate with other Asian ethnic groups, hiring out as hit men and enforcers.
On their own they were active in many fields, including extortion, robbery, auto theft, arson, gambling, prostitution, narcotics trafficking and so on. The Vietnamese could stage spectacular shootouts, such as one that occurred at a burial service in New Jersey for a gang member who had been assassinated. Automatic weapons suddenly blazed away leaving seven badly wounded.
Yet despite the Vietnamese gangsters' depredations, they were slowly eliminated. The explanation, not generally appreciated fully by the law, is that upward mobility doomed the Viet gangsters. The Vietnamese are exceedingly hard-working people and, being in small enclaves around the country, they were better assimilated into society.
As Dennis J. Kenney and James O. Finckenauer observed in Organized Crime in America, "As the Vietnam War generation of immigrants dies off or at least ages out of criminal behavior and other Vietnamese find legitimate means of upward mobility, these gangs may disappear and never become a full-blown form of organized crime."
|Nguyen Cao Ky|
Some observers see the same thing happening to some other ethnic "Mafias," that being the case because a true Mafia requires a long cultural identity, both in its country of origin and in the United States. Admittedly some of these other Mafias will produce a huge amount of criminal activity, but having real staying power in an alien environment is no simple accomplishment.