11 Common Gang Tattoos You've Probably Seen Without Knowing

You've likely seen plenty of tattoos that indicate a person's allegiance to a group or gang. But what do gang tattoos mean? Whether they're full of color or rendered in stark black ink, those pictures hide symbolism in their lines. If you're curious about their secret meanings, this list is for you.

As gang membership grew in America in the 1920s, tattoos became more popular among members. Similar to prison tattoos, gang tattoo designs became a way for members to show allegiance to particular groups. Almost every gang that exists has some specific tattoos associated with them. From Hell's Angels to the MS-13, their notable tats are included here.

Scroll through this list to see some specific gang tattoos and their meanings. The stories these designs tell are fascinating.

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  • Latin Kings

    Latin Kings
    Photo: Javier Ramirez / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    The Latin Kings are a Hispanic gang based out of Chicago. Their full title is Almighty Latin Kings Nation, so it is very common to see the letters “ALKN” tattooed somewhere on a gang member’s body.

    Their most famous symbol is likely the five-point crown, which often appears as a tattoo. The number five is significant to the group, as it represents their five tenets: obedience, sacrifice, honor, love, and righteousness.

  • Crips

    The Crips have a lot of tattoos associated with them, with a portion of them having to do with disrespecting their rival gang, the Bloods. For example, the numbers 211 on a Crip stand for “Blood Killer.” The two represents the “B” in the alphabet, and the 11 represents “K.” Similarly, the numbers “3 18 9 16” spell out "CRIP."

    Crips tattoos may also include six-pointed or three-pointed crowns, or letters - "IGC" stands for “Insane Gangster Crip,” while “BNC” stands for “Bad News Crip." Tattoos of hands forming coded symbols are also common.

  • Hell's Angels

    Hunter S. Thompson succinctly described the way of life in the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club: "They inhabit a world in which violence is as common as spilled beer."

    The infamous group has a few tattoos and symbols associated with them. The "death's head" represents the gang, while the rhombus-shaped “1%” tattoo signifies that the Hell’s Angel is a rebel. It's a direct reference to the American Motorcyclist Association, which claims that while most motorcyclists are decent people, one percent of them are outlaws.

    The letters “AFFA” may also be seen tattooed on the body of a Hell’s Angel. The letters stand for “Angel Forever, Forever Angel.”

  • Ku Klux Klan

    This tattoo from the Klu Klux Klan goes back to the '20s. The noose is meant to represent all the lynching that took place during that time. The Ku Klux Klan isn’t necessarily a gang, but this tattoo is gaining popularity among the KKK and other white supremacist gangs.

  • Mexican Mafia

    Mexican Mafia
    Photo: SPVXIII / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    The Mexican Mafia has a few tattoos that solely belong to its direct members. In Spanish, the gang is referred to as “La Eme,” so a gang member is likely to have those three letters somewhere on his or her body. This gang also uses the number 13, standing for “M,” the 13th letter in the alphabet. A 713 on gang member's body will mean that he or she is from the Houston branch (713 is the area code for Houston).

    Another common symbol for the Mexican Mafia is three dots circling the number 13. Three dots on the hand is a common general gang tattoo which represents “mi vida loca” or “my crazy life." But if those dots surrounds a 13, the symbol is most likely associated with La Eme. In this case, the dots could mean "prison, hospital, and cemetery."

    Many Mexican Mafia gang members will have the national symbol of Mexico tattooed on their body - a snake eating an eagle. But perhaps the biggest giveaway of affiliation with this gang is the “Black Hand of Death."

  • Mara Salvatrucha

    Mara Salvatrucha
    Photo: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Some call the Mara Salvatrucha the most notorious gang in the world. They are extremely violent, own their own prison, and have a number of tattoos.

    The most obvious tattoos are a combination of MS and the number 13. “Everything has to add up to 13. If you ask them about their tattoos, they’ll show you how 13 matches up on everything, which is really the magic number for them,” said criminal activity expert Douglas Farrah.