One of the motorcycle gangs involved in the shootout that left nine people dead in Central Texas over the weekend presents a growing criminal threat to U.S. law enforcement by trafficking cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana, federal authorities say.
The Bandidos Motorcycle Club is a highly organized criminal organization whose members use the gang for drug and weapons trafficking and other violent crimes, according to the Department of Justice.
“They have a history of not just violence, but shootings in public places,” Julian Sher, the author of a number of books on biker gangs, told NBCNews.com.
“They relish their brutal pedigree,” said Sher, who is also a senior producer on CBC’s “The Fifth Estate.” “Among the bad guys, they are the baddest of the bad. They flout their violence which is often why they are the center of so much of it.”
At least five rival gangs met at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco on Sunday on turf and other issues, Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton told The Associated Press. All nine of those killed were members of the Bandidos or another of the gangs, the Cossacks. At least another 18 were wounded.
Formed in the 1960s, the Bandidos gang is as dangerous as the Bloods, the Crips, and the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, the Texas Department of Public Safety says.
It has up to 2,500 members in the United States and in 13 other countries and is expanding in the areas it is most active in — the Pacific, Southeastern, Southwestern and West Central regions of the United States, the Department of Justice says.
It is one of the largest of what the Department of Justice calls outlaw motorcycle gangs, more than 300 of which operate in the United States. The Bandidos as well as the Hells Angels, Mongols, Outlaws and Sons of Silence conduct most of the criminal activity linked to these gangs, particularly cross-border drug smuggling, the department says. Because they are international gangs they are able to coordinate drug-smuggling operations with major international trafficking organizations, it says.
The Bandidos and the Cossacks got into a confrontation in another restaurant parking lot in 2013 in Abilene, according to police. A Bandidos president and another gang member were charged with aggravated assault after two members of the Cossacks were stabbed, Abilene police said.
The Cossacks were formed in 1969 in Texas, taking its name from the famed Russian horsemen, according to “The One Percenter Encyclopedia: The World of Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs from Abyss Ghosts to Zombies Elite.” Its motto: “We take care of our own.”
Sher said that the Bandidos had been involved in shootings in Australia and had been part of the “Great Nordic War” in Europe with the Hell’s Angels. A cycle of wars in Quebec left 120 dead.
“They call themselves outlaws or Bandidos,” Sher told NBCNews.com. “They relish that. It’s important that people realize they are not fun-loving rascals. They are violent killers who have murdered innocent people.”