Some Waco motorcyclists who showed up about noon Sunday at Twin Peaks restaurant thought they would be having lunch and discussing pending “bikers rights” legislation.
Instead, what was billed as a quarterly meeting of delegates to the Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents, Region 1, was interrupted by a bloodbath.
It remained unclear Monday whether the meeting of a political interest group was directly connected to the battle that left nine dead, 18 wounded and more than 170 people under arrest on charges of organized criminal activity.
Police said five motorcycle “gangs” were involved, and all who died were members of the Texas-based Bandidos or their rivals the Cossacks.
The confederation includes Bandidos as leaders but its membership reflects a broad coalition of biker groups, including veterans organizations. Officials with the regional group Monday did not return email requests for comment. The Cossacks are not listed as members of the COC&I.
Robert Carter of the Waco- area Legion Riders said he was shocked to hear of the violence. He had planned to attend the quarterly meeting on behalf of the group based at American Legion Post 121 in Elm Mott, but his son went instead.
Carter said he knew about tensions among motorcycle factions in Texas and thought violence could erupt between them at some point.
“We were aware it could happen at any time, but we really weren’t expecting it here,” he said. “We were expecting it to be somewhere private. . . . If we had known something was going to happen, we wouldn’t have gone.”
Johnny Snyder, vice president of the Waco chapter of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club, attended the meeting Sunday with his wife and other officials from the club.
He declined to discuss details of Sunday’s incident, but he said confrontation was not on the meeting’s agenda.
“Every meeting we have is about bikers’ rights not to be harassed and stereotyped,” he said.
Snyder said none of his group was part of the mass arrests, and he took issue with police descriptions of Sunday’s events as gang violence.
“We are not a gang, we are a motorcycle club,” he said. “We’re a group of like-minded individuals who like to ride motorcycles. . . . It’s a brotherhood, a kinship.”
He said the Boozefighters participate in charity events for veterans and disadvantaged children, and members enjoy family get-togethers.
“When you join an MC, you know the stigma that goes with it, but you surround yourself with good people and you take care of each other,” he said.
Steve Cook, a police detective in Kansas City, Missouri, who leads seminars with law enforcement groups on motorcycle gangs, said the brutal violence in Waco exposed a darker side of the motorcycle club world.
He said the COC&I may include “mom and pop” clubs that exist for recreation and fellowship, but it’s under the control of the “outlaw” Bandidos.
“It’s a control thing,” he said. “They want to control all the clubs. Bandidos are pulling all the puppet strings. It’s basically a way of telling the other clubs, ‘This is how we’re going to do things.’ It’s a way to keep track of them and make sure no one is communicating with the Hells Angels.”
Cook said he had suspected some kind of skirmish between the Bandidos and the Cossacks was brewing because the latter group has defied the Bandidos’ dominance, with some wearing a Texas “bottom rocker,” or patch, on their uniform.
“This has been festering for a while as the Cossacks have tried to go independent,” he said. “Texas is a Bandido state, and they try to keep a thumb on all the other bike clubs. The Cossacks decided they were going to do their own thing.”
He said he hopes the shootout and resulting arrests will be the “nail in the coffin” of the Bandidos, whom federal officials have tied to drug trafficking and other criminal enterprises.
“These guys are completely out of control and have been for a long time,” he said. “There’s nothing legitimate about this group. They want to compare themselves to Shriners or some frat group. Shriners don’t sit around and ingest meth and get in shootouts in public venues. These guys are gangsters, and if they say they aren’t, they’re lying.”
A 2014 gang threat assessment by the Texas Department of Public Safety included the Bandidos along with the Crips, Bloods and Aryan Brotherhood as being in the second-highest threat category.
In 1998, the president of the Bandidos pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture and sell up to 1,000 pounds of methamphetamine.
The Bandidos also were implicated in the 2006 slaying of a 44-year-old motorcyclist who was trying to start a Hells Angels chapter in Austin.
In 2013, a 46-year-old biker from Abilene who police called the leader of a West Texas Bandidos Chapter was charged with stabbing two Cossacks.
The Bandidos were formed in 1966 as a “1 percent” biker club, a proud reference to being on the extreme margins of the biker world. The other major “1 percent” groups are the Hells Angels, Outlaws and Pagans, according to a 2001 article in the journal Deviant Behavior, written by University of North Texas professor James Quinn.
Quinn wrote that some members of 1-percenter clubs are “conservatives” who aren’t involved in major illegal business activities.
“However, radicals lead the ‘Big 4’ clubs, and many of their members are deeply involved in drugs, prostitution, racketeering, stolen goods, extortion and violence,” he wrote.
In an interview Monday, Quinn said the Bandidos as a whole are “a very serious organized crime network,” but their criminal activity varies from chapter to chapter.
He said money is likely a factor in the Bandidos’ feud with the Cossacks, but it’s not the whole story.
“Ultimately, it’s about territory and honor,” he said. “It’s a subculture that’s about territory and honor. Money goes with territory. . . . These things are so intertwined, you can’t separate them.”
While some media reports have suggested that Cossacks are allies with the California-based Hells Angels, it may be more that they are united in being enemies of the Bandidos, Quinn said.
Sunday’s shootout at Twin Peaks could weaken both the Bandidos and the Cossacks, especially if the arrests lead to felony convictions. That could leave an opening for Hells Angels in Texas, he said.
Carter, the local Legion Riders official, said he has known some Bandidos and has gotten along with them.
“A lot of them are just normal people,” he said. “They do have different beliefs, but you can sit down and have a beer with them.”
He said Bandidos’ lives tend to revolve around their club, while his group is devoted to family and fellow veterans.
Carter said he hopes Bandidos will continue to be represented as part of biker coalitions such as the COC&I and the United Clubs of Waco. He said the latter group, which includes biker groups as far away as Killeen and Fairfield, fosters dialogue instead of violence.
“Their intention is to prevent what happened yesterday,” he said.