The shootout in Waco that killed nine motorcycle gang members had its origins in violence that erupted in the weeks before Christmas, with a beating at a Toys for Tots event in Wise County and a murder in Fort Worth, according to law enforcement sources.
The backdrop is a growing turf battle between the Bandidos — which has controlled drug trafficking routes in Texas for years — and the Cossacks, a lesser-known biker gang that has been gaining power by aligning itself with Bandido rivals, the sources said.
On Dec. 12, 10 Bandidos burst into Gator’s bar in Fort Worth and "without saying a word, started punching and attacking people," according to a police affidavit.
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They then opened fire, killing one motorcycle club member, Geoff Brady of Arlington, and injuring three others, police said.
Three gang members were arrested on murder charges. They are out of jail on $100,000 bond each.
Exactly one week earlier, on Dec. 6, other Bandidos members beat a rival biker at a Toys for Tots event in Decatur, police said. The victim declined to press charges and no arrests were made.
Law enforcement sources say the two incidents and now the Waco shootout highlight a growing fight for control of those drug trafficking routes in Texas.
Groups pay a "tax" to the Bandidos for permission to operate freely without trouble, experts say, but the Cossacks are refusing to pay the Bandidos and are aligning themselves with other biker gangs, including the Bandidos’ largest rival, the Hell’s Angels.
"Like any criminal organization, it's about money, it's about control, it's about a lifestyle,” said former North Texas FBI agent Gil Torrez. "You know, be it La Cosa Nostra, or be it motorcycle gangs, if they are a criminal organization, sooner or later, they have to be dealt with."
The Texas Department of Public Safety profiled the Bandidos in an unclassified Texas Gang Threat Assessment just last year.
It identifies the Bandidos Outlaw Motorcycle Gang as a criminal enterprise, right behind the Bloods and the Crips street gangs.
"Although these gangs vary in size and structure, they are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime across urban, suburban and rural areas of Texas," the report said.
Following the Fort Worth murder, the Bandidos and Cossacks have been involved in at least a dozen violent attacks across North Texas involving hammers, chains and guns, experts said. In some cases, rival gang members have tried to literally run each other off highways.
Now, with the high-profile shootout in Waco, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are gearing up to crack down.
"Law enforcement has got to be on high alert,” Torrez said. “I'm sure they're beating the bricks and doing what they can to develop human intelligence and try to defend against this."
To prevent trouble, some North Texas bar owners are now posting signs which prohibit customers from entering with motorcycle club "cuts, colors or support T-shirts."
Others have similar dress codes.
"We don't allow any of the colors, the back patches, the knifes [sic], the chains — anything like that," said Brandon Murdoch, with Chill Sports Bar & Grill in Grapevine. "We have plenty of people that ride motorcycles that come in here, we even have a designated motorcycle parking, but none of the '1 per-centers' as they like to call themselves."
"If you bend for one or two, then five or six are going to show up, and it can be pretty intimidating for a bar owner," added Murdoch.
NBC 5's Kevin Cokely contributed to this report.