Sunday’s shootout between rivaling biker gangs in Waco, Texas that left nine dead and 18 injured doesn’t seem to be just an episodic bar brawl having gone terribly awry. US experts fear that this may well be the beginning of an all-out war between highly organized crime syndicates – with the potential of going global.
The massacre in Waco had all the signs of a proxy war. It basically pitted the Bandidos against the Cossacks. But the latter group is supported by the Hells Angels, a biker gang with branches in Europe, Canada and Australia, and the archenemy of the Bandidos.
The real war will likely be fought between these two organizations. Control of Texas might be the immediate spoils, but the world might see other battlegrounds, as well.
Here is what you need to know about this lingering dangerous conflict:
Who are the main biker gangs?
The shootout in Waco was just the latest clash in a long history of rivalry. The Bandidos are generally considered the world’s second-largest biker gang, behind the popularly better known Hells Angels, with as many as 2500 members in 13 countries, according to the US authorities.
The Hells Angels were founded in 1948 in California and entertain more than 400 chapters in 50 countries, according to the organization’s own count. Other gangs are the Outlaws, the Pagans, the Warlocks and the Mongols.
The Bandidos began in 1966 in Texas, almost 20 years after the Hells Angels, but the two gangs soon became bitter rivals. Named in honor of the Mexican bandits who refused to live by anyone’s rules but their own, the Bandidos began recruiting their first members out of biker bars in various Texan cities.
But as both the Hells Angels and the Bandidos expanded, they grew from free-wheeling counterculture clubs into ruthless organized crime syndicates, according to academics who study the groups and prosecutors who pursue them in court.
What are the origins of biker gangs?
American biker gangs took root after World War II, when thousands of young, disaffected, often war-traumatized men returned to a country they didn’t recognize. Many rejected it. “Returning veterans used their severance pay to buy motorcycles and party in taverns,” writes James Quinn, a professor at the University of North Texas who has studied motorcycle gangs.
“Thrill-seeking attracted some returning veterans to choose a saloon society lifestyle centered around motorcycles”, Quinn says. “Conventional activities offered no acceptable alternatives and these men were threatened with a loss of identity, companionship, and security as military involvement ceased.”
“They call themselves Hells Angels,” began a 1965 magazine article quoted in a book by Hunter Thompson’s about the group. “They ride, rape and raid like marauding cavalry — and they boast that no police force can break up their criminal motorcycle fraternity.”
What is their principal business?
“The bikers may not be book smart, but they have their PhD in violence and intimidation”, says Jay Dobyns, a former special agent and author of “No Angel. My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels”.
Numerous police and international intelligence agencies contend that members carry out widespread violent crimes, including drug dealing, trafficking in stolen goods, and extortion, and are involved in the prostitution industry.
Gang members have continuously asserted that they are only a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who have joined to ride together, to organize social events such as group road trips, parties, and motorcycle rallies, and that any crimes are the responsibility of the individuals who carried them out.
But many bikers, especially members of the Hell’s Angels, have been accused of crimes and convicted in many host nations. The US Department of Justice considers the group an organized crime syndicate.
Did the Waco shootout come as a surprise to authorities?
Probably not. Texas law enforcement authorities warned weeks ago of growing animosity between rival motorcycle gangs. In a memo dated May 1, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) cautioned authorities about increasing violence between the Bandidos and the Cossacks, Dallas TV station WFAA reported.
The county sheriff has said all nine people who were killed in the melee Sunday were part of those two groups. The DPS Joint Information Center bulletin said the tension could stem from Cossacks refusing to pay Bandidos dues for operating in Texas and for wearing a patch on their vest that claimed Texas as their turf without the Bandidos’ approval.
“Traditionally, the Bandidos have been the dominant motorcycle club in Texas, and no other club is allowed to wear the Texas bar without their consent,” the bulletin said, according to WFAA.