WACO, Texas (May 19, 2015) — North Texas is looking a lot like ground zero in a battle royal for rival biker gangs.
A weekend shootout that left at least nine people dead and 18 hospitalized might be just the beginning.
It could get much uglier.
The gathering storm
A memo to law enforcement warns officers warns that members of the Bandidos and Cossacks motorcycle gangs have reportedly been told to arm themselves and travel to north Texas.
With emotions still raw between the rival biker groups, authorities are concerned.
“We would encourage biker groups to stand down,” Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” on Monday night. “There’s been enough bloodshed. There’s been enough death here.”
And Swanton warned other biker gang members against coming to Waco to reignite the violence.
“We would encourage them not to, because we have plenty of space in our county jail to put them there,” he told CNN affiliate KTVT.
The turf war
Sunday’s brutal beat down at a Twin Peaks restaurant had been brewing for a while.
The gangs knew it. The police knew.
It all boils down to territory, according to an informant, who goes by the name “Charles Falco.”
“The Bandidos are the biggest motorcycle gang in Texas, and they don’t allow other motorcycle gangs to enter that state,” Falco told CNN’s Sara Sidner. “They will allow other motorcycles clubs to exist, but they’re not allowed to wear that state bottom rocker. If they do, they face the onslaught of the Bandidos.”
Not familiar with the bottom rocker? It’s the state name on the back of a biker’s vest. It kind of looks like the curved bottom of a rocking chair, hence the name.
The rocker can indicate where someone is from, but it’s also a territorial claim for that club. That’s why the Bandidos and Cossacks aren’t getting along, according to Falco.
“The Cossacks decided that they were big enough now to go ahead and wear the Texas bottom rocker, and basically tell the Bandidos that they’re ready for war,” he said.
Matters are about to get exponentially worse between the two gangs, Falco predicted.
“It’s definitely on, now,” he said. “As long as they exist, they will be at war.”
At least five biker gangs were involved in the violence, a law enforcement source said. In addition to the Cossacks and Bandidos, photos from scene also showed the insignias of the Scimitars and Vaqueros.
Still, it wasn’t clear who was involved in the fighting. Authorities wouldn’t release the names of the gangs involved.
The United Clubs of Waco billed Sunday’s event as the Texas Region 1 Confederation of Clubs and Independents meeting.
A heavy law enforcement presence was there — both inside and outside — fearing conditions were ripe for a clash between the rival gangs.
An altercation in the bathroom seems to have sparked the violence. Shots were fired inside the eatery and a brawl spilled onto the patio area, before scores of men flooded the parking lot in broad daylight. Some bikers were beaten with brass knuckles, clubs and chains, while others were stabbed or shot, Swanton said.
When police responded — within 30 to 45 seconds because of their proximity — the bikers turned their weapons on law enforcement, he said.
“Our officers took fire and responded appropriately, returning fire,” the sergeant said.
Of the nine deaths, a law enforcement source says preliminary information indicates that four of the bikers were killed by police gunfire. The investigation continues and the ballistics will be analyzed to determine for certain who was responsible for each shooting.
At least 170 people were arrested and charged. More than 100 weapons were confiscated as well, Swanton said.
Even after the chaos subsided, Waco police continued arresting people arriving at the scene with weapons.
Swanton called it “the most violent and gruesome scene that I have dealt with” in three and a half decades of law enforcement.
Scores of suspects remain locked up in the McLellan County Jail, facing charges of engaging in organized crime, Swanton said.
Prosecutors and investigators could level other charges — and capital murder charges are expected to be among them, given the body count — but the organized crime charge is “pretty serious,” he said.
“It doesn’t get much more significant than that,” he said.
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said that bond was being set at $1 million for each of the 170 people in custody.
While the U.S. Justice Department characterizes the Bandidos as a “growing criminal threat” with at least 2,000 members in 14 countries, the motorcycle club’s website highlights noncriminal endeavors such as its Easter party in Germany or its toy drive in France.
The Justice Department had no such synopsis for the Cossacks, but the book “The One Percenter Encyclopedia: The World of Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs from Abyss Ghosts to Zombies Elite” says they were founded in Texas in 1969 and have a major presence in Australia.
Bandidos President Jack Lewis was released on $125,000 bond in December 2013 after being charged with the stabbing of two Cossacks outside a restaurant in Abilene, Texas, KTXS reported.
The warning signs
Earlier this month, McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna told KWTX-TV that local police were on heightened alert for possible trouble on Thursday nights, when Twin Peaks hosted bike nights.
Reyna said trouble between two local motorcycle gangs heated up when bikers from the Dallas-Fort Worth area got involved.
There also was a memo earlier this month, pointing to problems between the gangs.
The memo from the Texas Joint Crime Task Force went out May 1 and detailed growing tensions between the Bandidos and Cossacks.
“Violence between members of the Bandidos OMG (organized motorcyle gang) and the Cossacks MC (motorcyle club) has increased in Texas with no indication of diminishing,” the bulletin read.
“The conflict may stem from Cossacks members refusing to pay Bandidos dues for operating in Texas and for claiming Texas as their territory by wearing the Texas bottom rocker on their vests.”
The finger pointing
Swanton slammed Twin Peaks after the bloodshed Sunday, saying the franchise failed to help avoid trouble and ignored the police department’s advice to try to keep biker gangs away from the restaurant.
“Are we frustrated? Sure, because we feel like there may have been more that could have been done by a business to prevent this,” Swanton said.
He said Twin Peaks has a right to deny entry to known biker gangs.
“They absolutely have a right to refuse service to people that may be a harm to their patrons and employees,” he told KTVT. “They didn’t do that, and today is the ultimate aftermath of what their decision was.”
The franchise released a statement Monday, saying it was working hard to learn the facts about the shooting, but denied ignoring police advice.
“It is important to clarify that, to the best of our knowledge, law enforcement officials did not ask either the Waco restaurant operator (with whom they spoke several times) or the Twin Peaks franchisor to cancel the patio reservation that was made on Sunday.
“Based on the information to date, we also believe that the violence began outside in the area of the parking lot, and not inside our restaurant or on our patio, as has been widely reported,” it read.