The Wild Bunch

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Two years after a deadly Waco shoot-out, the local district attorney is trying to take down the Bandidos and Cossacks biker clubs. It won’t be easy.

It started off as a Texas version of the Sharks versus the Jets. In 2013, the Bandidos, the oldest, biggest, and most-feared outlaw motorcycle club in the state, learned that members of the Cossacks, a rapidly growing rival club, had begun wearing patches on the backs of their vests that read “Texas” in capital letters. For decades, the Bandidos had decreed that the Texas “bottom rocker” patch belonged only to them. If another club wanted to wear the patch, it would have to receive permission from the Bandidos and pay them dues. But the Cossacks contended that the Bandidos had no right to tell them what to do.

For two years, the clubs skirmished. Outside a steakhouse in Abilene, ten Bandidos and their associates assaulted and stabbed at least four Cossacks. In the town of Lorena, a group of Cossacks forced a Bandido off Interstate 35 and beat him with chains and metal pipes. At a gas station near the town of Gordon, an estimated twenty Bandidos confronted a Cossack, and when he refused to give them his vest with its Texas patch, he was beaten and struck in the head with a claw hammer.

In May 2015, word got out that Bandidos and Cossacks from around the state would be coming to Waco for the quarterly meeting of the Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents, a bikers’ organization. The meeting was being held at, of all places, a Twin Peaks, one of those Hooters-like “breastaurants” where waitresses dress in midriff-baring and cleavage-revealing outfits.


On May 17, the day of the meeting, at least sixty Cossacks (along with members of a couple of other clubs that had aligned with them) showed up early at Twin Peaks and took over most of the seats on the patio. Several Waco policemen and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, who had learned that a potential confrontation was brewing, also arrived, and positioned themselves in a grassy area overlooking the restaurant.

Close to high noon, a line of Bandidos thundered toward Twin Peaks on their Harley-Davidsons. One of the Bandidos’ bikes either struck or nearly struck a prospective member of the Cossacks in the parking lot. Cossacks bounded over the patio railings, and the Bandidos were ready for them. It looked like something straight out of a Sam Peckinpah movie. Wielding clubs, brass knuckles, baseball bats, knives, and handguns, the bikers beat, stabbed, and shot one another. Three officers grabbed their rifles and opened fire, bringing down as many as four bikers. Inside Twin Peaks, there was complete pandemonium. Waitresses, bikers, and other customers dove for cover. Several people hid in the bathrooms.

The battle lasted no longer than a minute or two. When it was over, nine bikers lay dead in the parking lot. Eighteen others were injured. “In thirty-four years of law enforcement, this is the most violent crime scene I have ever been involved in,” Waco police Sergeant W. Patrick Swanton told members of the news media. “There is blood everywhere.”

The police detained 239 people and had them taken in buses to the Waco Convention Center, which had been turned into a temporary holding facility. Reporters assumed that detectives would be arresting only those bikers who were directly involved in the fight: maybe a couple dozen of the survivors. But at the recommendation of McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna, 177 bikers—all of them Bandidos, Cossacks, or men believed to be supporters of one of the two clubs—were arrested and charged with the exact same offense: “engaging in organized criminal activity,” a first-degree felony punishable by sentences ranging from fifteen years to life. A justice of the peace set identical bonds for the bikers—$1 million each—and they were hauled off to the county jail. It was one of the largest mass arrests over a single criminal incident in American history.

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Skip Hollandsworth
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