As bikers rally, police cast wary eye on 'outlaws'

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As thousands of motorcyclists roll into Galveston for the weekend’s massive Lone Star Rally, it appears some bikers are being watched rather closely.

Throughout the day Friday, radio traffic on local police channels squawked with descriptions of colors displayed by groups of people riding toward the island and the size of the groups arriving.

The speakers, who could not be identified on the scanners, regularly described the movements of people they had marked as possible members of what law enforcement considers to be outlaw motorcycle clubs.

“There’s two Bandidos center-lane coming up to the Texas City Wye,” a voice on the scanner said at 12:39 p.m., before noting there was “no PC,” or probable cause, to stop them.

Throughout the afternoon, more sightings came.

There were “red and yellow supporters” driving by the Buc-ee’s in Texas City, a reference to colors of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club. Another rider had an “OMC,” or outlaw motorcycle club, sticker on a helmet.

The eyes extended past the county line. On at least one occasion, Harris County deputies warned the Galveston watchers about a large group coming from The Woodlands.

It’s no secret nor surprise that motorcycle clubs are at the rally.

The Bandidos Motorcycle Club, one of the most well-known motorcycle clubs in the world, annually sets up tents alongside other vendors during the four-day festival. The club was founded in San Leon in 1966, but now has chapters around the world.

While the Bandidos publicly call themselves a club, state authorities often refer to the group as a criminal gang.

Which agency or agencies were doing the monitoring wasn’t clear Friday.

Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said he didn’t know of any specific efforts to track gangs or motorcycle clubs deemed to be outlaws in the county for the rally. A Galveston Police Department spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, which oversees the state highway patrol, the Texas Rangers and the Texas Violent Gang Task Force, said in a statement that it does not typically comment on security measures around large events.

The agency was “aware of possible motorcycle gang activity in and around the Galveston area this weekend,” according to the statement.

“We will continue to work closely with our partners throughout the rally and monitor suspicious activity as it becomes known to us,” agency spokesman Lt. Craig Cummings said.

Over the past year, the public safety department has made clear it believes motorcycle gangs pose a threat to public safety in Texas. In 2018, the agency included motorcycle gangs in an assessment of the state’s gang threats.

The report claims motorcycle gangs were continuing to challenge the Bandidos for dominance. The report explicitly refers to Bandidos as a gang, not a club. It points to instances of club leaders being arrested on racketeering and drug distribution charges and other criminal activities.

The gang’s territory was being challenged by other groups after a deadly 2015 shootout in Waco and after the arrest and conviction of some of the group’s national leaders.

Those actions provided other motorcycle groups, including the Mongols, room to operate in Texas, according to the report. A group of disgruntled former Bandidos, called the Kinfolk, had also participated in violent conflicts across the state, according to the report.

In terms of the threat to the public safety, the Bandidos and the Kinfolk ranked below well-known gangs, such as MS-13 and the Aryan Brotherhood.

The report also notes the sentiments that law enforcement and the public have toward some of the groups might be at odds.

The Bandidos conduct illegal activities as covertly as possible and generally avoids high-profile activities, the report said.

“Members are not covert about making their presence known, frequently wearing their gang colors, insignia and riding in large groups,” the report said. “They seek to turn public sentiment in their favor by organizing frequent charity runs.”

Police seem to be equally as careful about revealing how they are monitoring gang activity during the rally.

Not long after The Daily News asked some law enforcement officials about their gang monitoring activities, a voice on the scanner cautioned the police watchers to mind what they say over the air.

“Anyone listening, FYI other ears are listening, too,” the voice said.

The Lone Star Rally continues though Sunday.

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