WACO, Tex. — Things were a little quieter Tuesday in Waco, Texas. Fewer motorcycles roamed streets around the city where, two days earlier, a brawl-turned-shootout involving rival biker gangs left nine dead. Threats against law enforcement, some of whom opened fire, had “toned down.” And with more and more vehicles and motorcycles towed away, the asphalt around the Twin Peaks restaurant looked more like a parking lot and less like a crime scene.
Does this all point to peace coming to this swath of central Texas?
A lot is still unsettled. There are 170 people locked up in the McLennan County Jail, each facing $1 million bond on charges of engaging in organized crime. Some may have capital murder charges levied against them soon. Even then, the investigation could take months to finish.
Three detainees were initially given a lower bond of $50,000, McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara told CNN’s Kyung Lah. This happened before the magistrate set the $1 million blanket bond for all 170. Those three are now being sought under the $1 million bond, and being brought back in.
Seven of the 18 people injured in the melee remained in local hospitals Tuesday, though “all are stable and most improving,” according to Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton. Those who got out of the hospital could find themselves soon confined to a jail cell, he noted.
And then there’s the very real prospect of more bloodshed. As Swanton pointed out at a Tuesday news conference, “in the gang world and the biker world, … violence usually (begets) more violence.”
“Is this over?” he asked rhetorically. “Most likely not.”
That view was seconded by a government informant who goes by the name “Charles Falco.” He doesn’t think another battle is imminent, telling CNN’s “New Day” that biker gangs prefer to lay low — something that is impossible now in Waco given the massive law enforcement response and media attention.
Still, Falco said Tuesday that these groups “like participating in war” and take assaults on their pride seriously. Their members don’t forget but are “very patient,” the author of “Vagos, Mongols, and Outlaws” said, predicting they “will back off for now” then lash out in nine months to a year.
“Anytime a biker gang war starts, it never stops,” said Falco, who infiltrated biker gangs for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “Thirty, forty years from now, you’ll still be reporting about these biker gangs fighting each other. The war will never end.”
Uninvited gang shows up, violence ensues
Authorities are still trying to sort out who exactly started it and what motivated them. But more details are beginning to emerge.
Swanton said that a coalition of motorcycle groups had reserved the outdoor bar area at Twin Peaks when “an additional biker gang, who was not invited to this meeting, showed up.”
“When those individuals showed up, there was a disturbance in the parking lot,” said the police spokesman, adding it may have involved a tiff over a spot or someone having his foot run over.
But it wasn’t confined there. Swanton said Tuesday there were “crime scenes inside and outside” the restaurant, including in the bathroom, eating area and around the bar. Most of those involved in the bloody scene came from outside the Waco area, added the police spokesman.
They used all sorts of different weapons — from brass knuckles to guns, from knives to chains — to inflict pain. And when police responded — within 30 to 45 seconds because of their proximity — some bikers turned their weapons on law enforcement, according to Swanton.
“Our officers took fire and responded appropriately, returning fire,” the sergeant said, adding that it was “most likely” that three or four of the 18 Waco officers on-site opened fire.
He refuted a report from a law enforcement source that four of the nine fatalities were felled by police bullets, saying that without autopsies completed it’s simply too early to tell. But Swanton defended their actions, including their staying at the scene for hours afterward in case other biker gang members came to pick up their brothers’ fight.
The sergeant said of his fellow officers, “They absolutely saved lives.”
A turf war
But why were lives endangered in the first place?
Arrest warrants for some suspects offer clues, noting that members of the Cossacks motorcycle gang were in the Twin Peaks parking lot when members of the rival Bandidos biker gang arrived.
The trouble started there, though really, authorities saw it coming.
A May 1 memo from the Texas Joint Crime Task Force warned that the violence between the rival groups “has increased in Texas with no indication of diminishing.”
As to why, it boils down to territory, according to Falco and Steve Cook, a Kansas City-area police detective who has also infiltrated biker gangs.
While they have members elsewhere, both the Bandidos and Cossacks call Texas home. The Bandidos have been the biggest and most dominant; as such, while they “allow other motorcycles clubs to exist, they’re not allowed to wear that state bottom rocker,” Falco said. “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.
Biker gangs and organized crime
Falco said the fight is about being able to “be the biggest man on the block (and) say, ‘This is ours.'” But Cook says it goes beyond pride, insisting biker gangs “are also claiming all the criminal activity that goes along with” being top dog.
“These guys are organized crime,” Cook told CNN on Tuesday. “They are involved in a laundry list of racketeering activities. They use (manufacture, and) sell drugs. They steal motorcycles. They extort people. They rape, rob and murder.”
These two groups, particularly, have a history of bad blood. 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.
Yet Jimmy Graves, a high-ranking Bandidos member, challenges claims his group is responsible for vast wrongdoing — calling out “lies on TV (including) telling everybody that the Bandidos are after police departments.”
“We’re not like that,” he said. “The 60s are long gone.”