America’s escalating reliance on firearms as a means of settling petty arguments ratcheted up another level this weekend, when at least five biker gangs engaged in an all-out gun battle in Waco, Texas. The matter at issue: a parking spot. At least nine bikers were killed, and dozens more injured.
The original antagonists were the Cossacks Motorcycle Club of Texas, and the Bandidos Motorcycle Club, though at least three other motorcycle clubs from the Dallas/Forth Worth area rushed to the scene and participated in the shooting. The scene of the shootout was a parking lot of a shopping mall in Waco, where the Twin Peaks Restaurant (think Hooters, but with a less suggestive name) serves as a biker hangout. Management of the restaurant hosts a Bikers Night promotion every Thursday, and local police are so familiar with disputes arising between biker gangs at this restaurant, that they were at hand before Sunday’s shootout began. In the end, though, the Waco police were unwilling or unable to mobilize their paramilitary forces to stop the shooting, though the police do report that several officers exchanged gunfire with the bikers and may have injured or killed some of them.
Other restaurants in the shopping mall were put on lockdown, even after the shooting died down, because of fears that the arrival of additional bikers could cause a re-eruption of violence. As bikers rode up to the mall, police arrested them on the spot, and as many as 100 bikers may be jailed at the moment. Families with children leaving other restaurants at the mall were forced to run for cover behind cars and pickup trucks. The police say it was extremely lucky that no bystanders or police were injured in the melee. Police sergeant Patrick Stanton said, “Let’s just say it’s Sunday and someone was looking out for us.
Stanton had a number of unkind words for the bikers. “These are very dangerous, hostile criminal biker gangs. A bunch of criminal element biker members that came to Waco and tried to instill violence into our community and unfortunately did just that. This is not a bunch of doctors and dentists and lawyers riding Harleys,” Stanton said. “These are criminals on Harley-Davidsons.” He also characterized the weaponry used as “bad guy guns,” but did not specify what sort of firearms were involved. Given the number of dead and injured, it does not appear that the motorcycle gangs limited their weapons to the standard handguns used by inner-city gangs in African-American and Latino communities. Nor does race appear to be a factor in biker gang warfare. The Bandidos Motorcycle Club, for example, has nothing to do with the Latino community. The club’s motto is “We are the people our parents warned us about.” The club attracts white males and their girlfriends/wives, and is prominent in southern and western states, where members often sport the Confederate flag. The Bandidos also operate in Europe and throughout Australia and New Zealand. In America, club members are often military veterans with knowledge of sophisticated weaponry, and club warfare has sometimes involved assassinations by snipers using high-powered rifles.
The general public perception of motorcycle clubs in America is benign – retired septuagenarians spending their golden years touring the country. There is some truth to this; it takes money to buy a Harley-Davidson and maintain it, and most young people neither have that amount of money, nor the time to travel about on motorcycles. The FBI claims that certain motorcycle clubs have solved that problem by dealing in drugs, theft or other crimes, activities which are possible precisely because the club members are mobile and able to chase after illicit profits. The FBI classifies the Bandidos as an “outlaw motorcycle gang,” along with the Hell’s Angels, Cossacks, Scimitars, and other such clubs.
Motorcycle gang warfare is not new, though the rivalry between the Cossacks and the Bandidos became violent only as recently as two years ago. In some cities in Sweden and Germany, for example, the violence has forced the authorities to outlaw the outlaw motorcycle gangs, which includes shutting down their club buildings. In the U.S., it would not be easy shutting down the clubs. Both the Cossacks and the Bandidos have chapters in nearly 100 cities, and all the major clubs have additional sub-chapters which go under different names. The FBI argues that these sub-chapters operate in a manner similar to corporate shell companies, which can be used by a corporation to hide illegal activities or to launder money.
For their part, motorcycle club members claim that they are hounded by local and federal authorities wherever they go, and that the police can sometimes initiate violence, plant evidence, and encourage club rivalries. Police have been known to infiltrate clubs through undercover detectives posing as bikers, and while this is not necessarily the case in Waco, Texas, Sgt. Stanton did say ““They are a biker gang. We know exactly who they are.”
One of the Waco police officers told the media, “this is one of the worst gun fights that we’ve had in the city limits of Waco.” This seems like a very strange thing to say. What other gun shootouts has Waco, Texas hosted which killed more than nine people and injured many more? Then one thinks back to the Branch Davidian stand-off in 1993 between the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Texas National Guard, against a religious cult run by David Koresh. Koresh’s Branch Davidian cult, an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists, was said to involve underage sex perpetrated mostly by Koresh himself. The real reason for the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, however, was concerns by the authorities that Koresh was stockpiling armaments. Apparently he was. Before the combined police and FBI authorities could invade the compound, an explosive fire broke out that killed 79 of the cult members plus Koresh. An additional ten others died, mostly police officers.
So yes, Waco has indeed known worse violence from armaments. This time, however, it was not the state attacking a civilian group. Indeed, one of the complaints already made by the bikers is that the Waco police deliberately stood by and allowed the bikers to kill themselves, as long as bystanders were not at risk. This seems rather unlikely, since the police were substantially outnumbered by the bikers, as more and more bikers arrived on the scene, and especially as some of them fired on the police vans and cars.
What does seem likely, however, is that the rivalry between the Cossacks and the Bandidos no longer involves bad blood. It involves real blood, and lots of it, spilled in a parking lot in a mall in Waco, Texas, where a handful of bikers argued over where they could park their Harley-Davidsons. Apparently America isn’t big enough to provide enough parking spaces for the members of its motorcycle clubs, or put another way, it seems like tribal identity is so strong within these motorcycle clubs that men packing heat, some of them with military training, cannot avoid the temptation to begin feuding with other clubs. This time around, the feud killed and injured only biker gang members. But as the warfare continues, bystanders will be hurt, and that will be the point when the majority of Americans, meaning white Americans, will want something to be done. It’s one thing when a black child is shot and killed in their living room by a stray bullet fired by an inner-city gang member. White people can ignore that because they themselves are not at risk. But when you can’t have a meal at Cracker Barrel on a Sunday afternoon without worrying about your children being caught in the crossfire of a motorcycle gang shootout, that is something else altogether.
Calls will go out to do something about these outlaw motorcycle gangs. But these calls will be very precise: do something about the gangs themselves. Just don’t take away their guns. That would be trampling on their 2nd Amendment rights, and no politician in America is ready to do something as radical as limiting firearms.