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Outlaw Bikers and Gunfire: What We Know About the Motorcycle Gangs in Waco

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The investigation is still underway in Waco regarding the events leading up to a massive gun battle between rival outlaw biker gangs and the police at a Twin Peaks restaurant Sunday, which left nine bikers dead and at least 16 more seriously wounded. According to reports, the restaurant had been the location of suspected gang activity in recent months, and was being monitored by officers at the time the violence began. Miraculously, no innocent bystanders or police were injured during the gun fight, rumored to have initially begun over a parking space disagreement. At this time, 170 people have been arrested for participating in the gang battle that left a heavy body count in the restaurant parking lot.

Investigators are reporting that members of at least five different motorcycle gangs were involved, most notably those belonging to the Bandidos and Cossacks motorcycle clubs, two groups who some say have had trouble brewing in recent months.

According to a Swedish Bandidos' website, the gang was originally founded in San Leon Texas, in 1966 by returning Vietnam veteran Donald Eugene "Mother" Chambers, who appropriated the Marine Corps red and gold colors for his club's own. In 1972 Chambers was sentenced to life in prison for his part in the murder of two drug dealers and was replaced as the group's leader by another ex marine named Ronald Jerome Hodge. The Bandidos were an outlaw gang from their beginning, claiming to be "One Percenters", the estimated ratio of motorcycle riders who belonged to criminal gangs, proudly contrasting themselves against the 99% who were law abiding citizens. Like other successful outlaw motorcycle gangs, the Bandidos grew both in scale and power over the next several decades, and are considered to be an organized crime group that fund themselves through a variety of criminal enterprises, particularly drug smuggling and dealing.

The Bandidos are concentrated in Texas and the Southwest, but have as many as 2,400 members in chapters throughout America, Europe, and Australia. They are widely considered to be one of the world's most powerful outlaw motorcycle clubs, second only to the Hell's Angels. The Bandidos motto is "We are the people our parents warned us about", and the gang's reputation and known criminal activities seem to back that claim.

Less is known about The Cossacks, although they were also founded in Texas in the late '60s. A YouTube video about the group includes a photo with some information about the club, indicating that they were started in Tyler Texas in 1969, their colors are gold on black, and their motto is "We take care of our own". While the Cossacks have been around nearly as long, they are a much smaller organization, and traditionally the Bandidos have had the largest outlaw presence in Texas.

Most outlaw motorcycle gangs are not hesitant to use violence, but public battles like the one in Waco last weekend are a rarity. Many outlaw motorcycle groups have attempted to gain a certain amount of public support by presenting a sanitized image and participating in occasional charity drives, but the F.B.I. and other law enforcement organizations maintain that image building initiatives such as that are just smoke screens to divert people's attention from their criminal activities. The threat of violence is still central to most outlaw motorcycle gang's ability to maintain their positions of power, but they tend to keep those actions far from the public eye whenever possible. Violence like the kind that erupted last weekend is simply bad for business.

However, one thing that outlaw groups will often use violence to control is their territory. In 2006 an Austin motorcyclist named Anthony Benesh was shot in the head and killed by an unseen sniper as he left a restaurant. Investigators announced that the primary suspects in the killing were the Bandidos, because Benesh had been trying to start an Austin Chapter of the Hell's Angels, and had received phone calls telling him to stop. In the outlaw biker subculture, territory is defended viciously, and the Bandidos are the only group allowed to wear a rocker patch claiming Texas as their own. For Benesh to try to introduce a Chapter of the Bandidos biggest rivals on their home territory would have been considered an act of war.

Although no one knows the real reason that violence erupted at the Twin Peaks in Waco yet, it is not inconceivable that members of the Cossacks and their allies might have clashed with Bandidos over a turf battle or a lack of respect for the larger club's control in the region. With authorities saying that credible threats have been made against Waco's police, and rumors that more outlaw bikers are headed into the area, anything is possible. One thing is almost certain: This parking lot gunfight, described as the worst in Waco's history, is probably not the last violent clash between the motorcycle gangs involved, and could even be the beginning of a large-scale war.

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