Over four weeks, Bikesure is taking a look through some of the biggest American bike gangs out there, bringing you the story of how they came about, what they’re doing today and finding out where the facts end and the fiction begins.
Last week we took a look at the Hells Angels, arguably the largest, most well known and most feared of all the biker gangs in the world.
Week two – The Bandidos and The Cossacks
May 2015 saw biker wars thrust back onto the front pages after a shootout at a Texas restaurant left nine dead, eighteen injured and nearly two hundred bikers arrested. The official narrative – one that is being contested by various parties – is that this was the culmination of a long-simmering rivalry between the two clubs.
The Bandidos formed in Texas in 1966. Early on they decided they were the only official motorcycle club in Texas, which given how large Texas is would be an impossible thing to enforce especially as they were, fundamentally, just some guys.
Their official history says they decided to allow other motorcycle clubs to exist, but that they were the final authority on what other Texan clubs could wear, with their main rule being that they were the only people who could wear a geographical bottom rocker. The other clubs in Texas went along with this, presumably because it’s nicer to not be constantly under threat of being beaten up.
Their rivals, the Cossacks, formed in 1969. For years they supported the status quo, but in the early 2000’s their membership began to grow. The balance of power was shifting. The Cossacks began making overtures towards the Bandido’s old enemies the Hells Angels with a mind to usurping their position. Other small clubs began to side with the Cossacks, tired of years of intimidation and violence from the Bandidos.
Anybody who’s read anything about the nature of inter-motorcycle club rivalry will know that these things are basically playground fights carried out by gigantic burly men, with very serious consequences spiralling out of fundamentally pointless arguments. The events of Waco were unprecedentedly large, but they were the culmination of several years of slowly escalating violence between the two sides.
In 2011, 30 Bandidos were arrested on weapons and drugs charges. After a string of attacks against rival club members another six Bandidos and their associates were arrested in 2012. The following year saw more arrests after a dust-up at a wedding. In response to this police launched Operation Hog Trap, a sixty-day operation resulting in 250 arrests, the seizure of 45 firearms and nearly quarter of a million dollars worth of drugs. This didn’t stop the stabbing of two Cossacks by Bandidos in November 2013.
Confrontations continued throughout 2014 into 2015, including an attack held during a “Toys for Tots” charity event. By April 2015 the FBI were receiving reports that 100 Bandidos were planning on travelling to the town of Odessa with the intent of “starting a war” against the Cossacks. In 2014 the Texas Department of Public Safety classified the Bandidos as a Tier 2 threat – putting them in the same category as the Aryan Brotherhood, or the Crips and Bloods.
Then in May 2015, things exploded. A chain restaurant at a mall in Waco had seen a number of minor incidents between the two sides during their regular Thursday biker nights, but nothing on the scale of the events of Sunday 17th. The restaurant was the location of a meeting for the Texan Coalition of Clubs, an organisation that lobbies for motorcyclists rights. The Bandidos are a member of this group but the Cossacks aren’t. The Cossacks were not invited to the meeting, but turned up anyway allegedly to make a point about who “owned” Waco. The two clubs instantly began picking fights with each other, and a little after midday gunfire erupted.
It’s at this point that things get even murkier. Due to the recent history of conflict the meeting was being monitored by the police, who had armed response units hidden nearby. The most consistent reports seem to indicate that the majority of the gunfire that day came from the police, but they only opened fire after the bikers had started.
The investigation is still ongoing, but at the time of writing the narrative has changed from everyone who died that day being shot by bikers, to at least four of the deaths being caused by police marksmen. People within the restaurant scrambled to take cover, hiding in the store room.
In the aftermath of the violence nearly 200 people were arrested, and over 320 weapons seized. A few months later and only four people remain in custody, with criticism over the way the police handled the incident increasing. Since then the conflict between the two clubs has subsided. Whether it reignites in the future remains to be seen.
Next week, we’ll be taking a look at the 12O’clock Boyz – the dirt bike gang that is terrorising the streets of Baltimore.