Police have locked down parts of Waco, Texas after a wild-west shootout between the rival Bandidos and Cossacks biker gangs killed nine men and left a couple others clinging to life.
The carnage began over a small piece of cloth bikers wear on the back of their vests, according to Ed Winterhalder, a former national officer with the Bandidos.
The Bandidos, who have 2,400 members around the world, ordered the Cossacks to stop wearing “Texas” on their backs as the Bandidos considered the state their turf, Winderhalder said.
The Cossacks continued to wear “Texas” on their backs and prepared for the worst.
“They just decided it was time for the Bandidos to stop telling them what to do,” Winterhalder said.
Here are eight things to know about Sunday’s bloody outbreak:
Who are the Cossacks?
“The Cossacks have been around in Texas since 1969,” Winterhalder said. “I would say they are a pretty tough club. No doubt about that.”
Their strength is confined to Texas and they are not connected to other biker clubs from the former Soviet Union and from Hamilton, Ontario who have also called themselves the Cossacks.
The Texas Cossacks have about 200 members as well as a junior affiliated club called the Scimitars.
Who are the Bandidos?
The Bandidos were formed in the mid-1960s by returning Vietnam veterans in the Texas Gulf area.
They’re involved in trafficking cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Bandidos have about 2,400 members worldwide, with 150-175 members in Texas, Winterhalder said.
In Australia, the Bandidos were involved in a Father’s Day shootout in 1984 that killed seven people in a suburb of Sydney, Australia.
In Scandinavia, the Bandidos fought a war with the Hells Angels between 1994 and 1997 that resulted in 11 murders, 74 attempted murders and 96 woundings.
In Canada, the Bandidos were involved in a war with the Hells Angels in Quebec in the early 2000s that began as a battle between the Hells Angels and a group of drug dealers called the Rock Machine.
Also in Canada, former Bandidos were involved in the slaughter of eight members and supporters over one night in a barn near London, Ont. in April 2006.
In a 2014 gang threat assessment, the Texas Department of Public Safety classified the Bandidos as a “Tier 2” threat, the second highest. Other groups in that tier included the Bloods, Crips and Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.
The Bandidos have about 15 support clubs, or junior affiliated clubs.
What sparked Sunday’s violence?
It began with a dispute over a small piece of cloth.
Outlaw bikers wear three different cloth patches on the back of their vests.
The top one gives the name of the club.
The middle one is the logo of the club.
The bottom patch, or rocker, one gives the location of the club.
The Bandidos decreed that only they could wear “Texas” for their bottom patch.
In 2014, the Cossacks started wearing “Texas” for their bottom rocker anyway.
This enraged the Bandidos.
“This (tensions) all started a year ago when they (Cossacks) put on the bottom rocker,” Winterhalder said.
“The Bandidos said, ‘We’ll take them off when we see them,’ ” Winterhalder said. “The (Cossacks) said, ‘Good luck with that.’ ”
Failed peace talks
Sunday’s violence began 45 minutes before a meeting of a group called the Confederation of Clubs.
The Confederation of Clubs is an umbrella group for about two dozen biker clubs in Texas.
The Confederation meeting was supposed to begin and 1 p.m. and the stabbing and shooting started at 12.15 p.m.
Usually, Confederation meetings are peaceful.
“I did hundreds (of meetings) when I was a Bandit (Bandidos nickname),” Winterhalder said. “They’ve always been peaceful. They were designed to be peaceful.”
This time, however, a couple hundred bikers showed up and many of them brought knives and guns.
The location of the shooting
Winterhalder said he wasn’t surprised by violence between the Bandidos and the Cossacks, but he was shocked that it happened in such a public setting.
The stabbing and shooting began in a restaurant washroom and spilled out into the parking lot of an upscale mall with a bath store and a Starbucks.
No Canadian Bandidos or Cossacks
The Bandidos used to have chapters in Canada, but they were all kicked out in 2006 by the Texas “Mother Chapter.”
Before that, the Hells Angels had banned the Bandidos from Quebec as part of a peace accord to end a biker war that lasted almost a decade.
The Cossacks never had a Canadian chapter.
There was a Hamilton club called the Cossacks in the 1970s, but it was unrelated.
One of the Hamilton Cossacks, Walter Stadnick, went on to become a senior Hells Angel.
Role of drugs
Winterhalder thinks that illegal methamphetamine producers and users in the Bandidos and Cossacks are at the root of the violence.
He thinks that once the violence began on Sunday, other members joined in to support their “brothers.”
“I’m pretty sure that it’s meth-heads from the Cossacks and meth-heads from the Bandidos who started this,” Winterhalder said.
There has been a massive law enforcement response to the killings.
Still, the underlying conflict over whether Cossacks can wear “Texas” on their backs continues unresolved.
This means it’s reasonable to expect more violence, Winterhalder said.
“This conflict will continue,” Winterhalder said.