Waco shootout puts spotlight on motorcycle club culture

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Undercover Agent: Texas Gang Shootout Is Worst Biker Violence in History

Former undercover agent Jay Dobyns says people can be forgiven for thinking Sunday's biker bloodbath in Waco, Texas, was a throwback to a bad 1970s movie.

The shootout - which killed nine people and wounded 18 - seemed aberrant because the public image of many motorcycle gangs has been burnished in recent years thanks to the many largely benign bike enthusiasts who've co-opted some of the same clothing and style.

"I think, as a society, and to a large extent even in law enforcement, we fall into the sense that these guys are these big, rough-looking teddy bears that do blood drives and toy runs and are harmless," says Dobyns, who infiltrated the notorious Hells Angels Motorcycle Club for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. "These are people that have used the motorcycle culture as camouflage."

The more sinister side of biker culture was thrust into the spotlight after Sunday's shooting in the parking lot of a restaurant where members of several rival gangs were having a meeting. By Monday, authorities had charged about 170 gang members with engaging in organized crime.

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Waco shootout puts spotlight on motorcycle club culture
Authorities investigate a shooting in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant Sunday, May 17, 2015, in Waco, Texas. Authorities say that the shootout victims were members of rival biker gangs that had gathered for a meeting. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson)
WACO, TX - MAY 18: Motorcyles sit in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant, the scene of a motorcyle gang shootout, May 18, 2015 in Waco, Texas. A shootout between rival biker gangs began in the afternoon May 17, led to nine dead, many injured and 170 arrerested. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
FILE - In this May 17, 2015 file photo, authorities investigate a shooting in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant, in Waco, Texas. Six witnesses say they heard a few pistol shots before automatic fire took over during a shootout last month at a Waco Twin Peaks restaurant. Police have acknowledged firing on armed bikers, but say they cannot address how many of the nine dead and 18 wounded were shot by bikers and how many were shot by officers. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson, File)
Law enforcement continue to investigate the motorcycle gang related shooting at the Twin Peaks restaurant, Monday, May 18, 2015, in Waco, Texas, where nine were killed Sunday and over a dozen injured. About 170 gang members charged with engaging in organized crime are each being held on a $1 million bond and authorities say charges of capital murder are expected in the wake of the Central Texas shooting. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson)
People stand as officers investigate a shooting in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant Sunday, May 17, 2015, in Waco, Texas. Authorities say that the shootout victims were members of rival biker gangs that had gathered for a meeting. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson)
WACO, TX - MAY 18: Law enforcement officials stands at the scene of a motorcyle gang shootout theTwin Peaks restaurant May 18, 2015 in Waco, Texas. A shootout between rival biker gangs began in the afternoon May 17, led to nine dead, many injured and 170 arrerested. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
Law enforcement continue to investigate the motorcycle gang related shooting at the Twin Peaks restaurant, Monday, May 18, 2015, in Waco, Texas, where 9 were killed Sunday and over a dozen injured. Waco police on Monday announced the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission closed Twin Peaks for a week amid safety concerns. (AP Photo, Jerry Larson)
FILE - In this May 17, 2015 file photo, authorities investigate a shooting in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas. Police shot bikers in the deadly shootout that erupted last spring outside a Texas restaurant, though it remains unclear if their bullets caused any of the nine fatalities, according to evidence reviewed by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson, File)
Police detain and watch members of various motorcycle clubs outside the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, Sunday, May 17, 2015. A shootout among rival motorcycle gangs at a popular Texas restaurant left nine bikers dead and more than a dozen injured, a police spokesman said Sunday. (AP Photo/John L. Mone)
Authorities investigate a shooting in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant Sunday, May 17, 2015, in Waco, Texas. Authorities say that the shootout victims were members of rival biker gangs that had gathered for a meeting. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson)
Authorities investigate a shooting in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant Sunday, May 17, 2015, in Waco, Texas. Authorities say that the shootout victims were members of rival biker gangs that had gathered for a meeting. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson)
WACO, TX - MAY 18: Waco Police Department Public Affairs Officer Sgt. Patrick Swanton gives a press conference in front of the Twin Peaks restaurant May 18, 2015 in Waco, Texas. A shootout between rival biker gangs began in the afternoon May 17, led to nine dead, many injured and 170 arrerested. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
Waco Police Sgt. Patrick Swanton addresses the media as law enforcement continues to investigate the motorcycle gang related shooting at the Twin Peaks restaurant, Monday, May 18, 2015, in Waco, Texas, where nine were killed Sunday and over a dozen injured. About 170 gang members charged with engaging in organized crime are each being held on a $1 million bond and authorities say charges of capital murder are expected in the wake of the Central Texas shooting. (AP Photo, Jerry Larson)
Police detain and watch members of various motorcycle clubs near a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, Sunday, May 17, 2015. A shootout among rival motorcycle gangs at the popular Texas restaurant left nine bikers dead and more than a dozen injured, a police spokesman said Sunday. (AP Photo/John L. Mone)
This combination of booking photos provided by the McLennan County Sheriff's office shows people arrested during the motorcycle gang related shooting at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas on Sunday, May 17, 2015. Top row from left; Ray Allen, Brian Brincks, Salvador Campos, Richard Cantu and David Cepeda. Middle row from left; Bohar Crump, James David, James Devoll, Matthew Folse and Juan Garcia. Bottom row from left; Mario Gonzalez, James Gray, Jim Harris, Michael Herring and Tommy Jennings. (McLennan County Sheriff's Office via AP)
This combination of booking photos provided by the McLennan County Sheriff's office shows people arrested during the motorcycle gang related shooting at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas on Sunday, May 17, 2015. Top row from left; Jonathan Lopez, Richard Luther, Michael Lynch, Sandra Lynch, Eleazar Martinez and Tom Mendez. Middle row from left; Marshall Mitchell, Diego Obledo, Danny Oehlert, Larry Pina, Jerry Pollard and Jimmy Pond. Bottom row from left; Clayton Reed, Rolando Reyes, Sergio Reyes, Kyle Smith, Jimmy Spencer and Blake Taylor. (McLennan County Sheriff's Office via AP)
This booking photo provided by the McLennan County Sheriff's office shows Martin Lewis. Lewis, a retired San Antonio police detective, was among about 170 people arrested during the motorcycle gang related shooting at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, Sunday, May 17, 2015. (McLennan County Sheriff's Office via AP)
This combination of booking photos provided by the McLennan County Sheriff's office shows people arrested during the motorcycle gang related shooting at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, Sunday, May 17, 2015. Top row from left to right; Jorge Salinas, Bobby Samford, Phillip Sampson, Andrew Sandoval and Timothy Satterwhite. Second row from left to right; Trey Short, Phillip Smith, Seth Smith, Seth Smith and Christopher Stainton. Third row from left to right; James Stallings, Andrew Stroer, Bradley Terwilliger, Michael Thomas and Christian Valencia. Fourth row from left to right; Jose Valle, Royce Vanvleck, James Venable, John Vensel and Justin Waddington. Fifth row from left to right; Daryle Walker, Glenn Walker, Steven Walker, Ronald Warren and Reginald Weathers. (McLennan County Sheriff's Office via AP)
This combination of booking photos provided by the McLennan County Sheriff's office shows people arrested during the motorcycle gang related shooting at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, Sunday, May 17, 2015. Top row from left to right: Edward Keller, Lawrence Kemp, Michael Kenes, Drew King and Jeremy King. Second row from left to right: Richard Kreder, Thomas Landers, Jarrod Lehman, Martin Lewis and Brian Logan. Third row from left to right: Narciso Luna, David Martinez, John Martinez, Josh Martin and Terry Martin. Fourth row from left to right: Benjamin Matcek, Joseph Matthews, Wesley McAlister, Dustin McCann and Billy McRee. Fifth row from left to right: Rudy Mercado, Juventino Montellano, Michael Moore, Jason Moreno and John Moya. (McLennan County Sheriff's Office via AP)
This combination of booking photos provided by the McLennan County Sheriff's office shows people arrested during the motorcycle gang related shooting at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, Sunday, May 17, 2015. Top row from left to right: Noe Adame, William Aikin, John Arnold, Ronald Atterbury and Colter Bajovich. Second row from left to right: Owen Bartlett, Jeff Battey, Michael Baxley, Timothy Bayless and Richard Benavides. Third row from left to right: Burton Bergman, Ronnie Bishop, Mitchell Bradford, Robert Bucy and Kenneth Carlisle. Fourth row from left to right: Aaron Carpenter, Christopher Carrizal, Jason Cavazos, Rene Cavazos and Nathan Champeau. Fifth row from left to right: Michael Chaney, Matthew Clendennen, Lindell Copeland, Greg Corrales and Roy Covey. (McLennan County Sheriff's Office via AP)
This combination of booking photos provided by the McLennan County Sheriff's office shows people arrested during the motorcycle gang related shooting at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, Sunday, May 17, 2015. Top row from left to right: Eliodoro Munguia, Doss Murphy, Robert Nichols, Jeremy Ojeda and Joseph Ortiz. Second row from left to right: Anthony Palmer, Melvin Pattenaude, Julie Perkins, Daniel Pesina and Ares Poinix. Third row from left to right: Marcus Pilkington, Anders Ramirez, Kevin Rash, David Rasor and William Redding. Fourth row from left to right: Jacob Reese, Owen Reeves, Theron Rhoten, Kristoffer Rhyne and Robert Robertson. Fifth row from left to right: Craig Rodahl, Christopher Rogers, George Rogers, James Rosas and Gregory Salazar. (McLennan County Sheriff's Office via AP)
This combination of booking photos provided by the McLennan County Sheriff's office shows people arrested during the motorcycle gang related shooting at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, Sunday, May 17, 2015. Top row from left to right: John Craft, Ryan Craft, Richard Dauley, Marco Dejong and Jason Dillard. Second row from left to right: Richard Donias, Christopher Eaton, Brian Eickenhorst, James Eney and Morgan English. Third row from left to right: William English, Nate Farish, Don Fowler, Justin Garcia and Lawrence Garcia. Fourth row from left to right: Lance Geneva, Nathan Grindstaff, Valdemar Guajardo, John Guerrero and Bryan Harper. Fifth row from left to right: Arley Harris, Raymond Hawes, Jarron Hernandez, Daniel Johnson and Edgar Kelleher. (McLennan County Sheriff's Office via AP)
This combination of booking photos provided by the McLennan County Sheriff's office shows people arrested during the motorcycle gang related shooting at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, Sunday, May 17, 2015. Top row from left to right: Ester Weaver, Walter Weaver, Mark White, John Wiley and Jacob Wilson. Second row from left to right: John Wilson, Gregory Wingo, Michael Woods, Ricky Wycough and Gage Yarborough. Third row from left to right: Lawrence Yager, Matthew Yocum and Gilbert Zamora. (McLennan County Sheriff's Office via AP)
DEVELOPING: 9 dead and multiple injuries following a shooting at a restaurant in Waco, Texas http://t.co/HLMqbIyPXY http://t.co/o3dXIzP37b
WACO SHOOTING: -9 Dead -Several Arrested -3 Crime Scenes -Police Fear Retaliation MORE: http://t.co/RzvgzFUeIS … http://t.co/1Ij8pf8lzV
UPDATE: Nine reported dead in #Waco restaurant melee involving #motorcycle gangs http://t.co/8wm6eD224w http://t.co/U79eB50Obl
Anarchy in Waco. Nine dead in Twin Peaks biker shooting. #khou11 http://t.co/DsJtlcCpq4 Photo: @KCENNews http://t.co/mzoSKet8jH
BREAKING! Multiple FATALITIES from biker gang SHOOTOUT in Waco, Texas: Apparently there has been a sh... http://t.co/P3A5kIZSU7 #mcgnews
Multiple people dead in Waco after argument between rival biker gangs ends in shootout http://t.co/GmRrDr4g3z via Mashable
Nine dead, others injured in Waco biker brawl http://t.co/5zkVJX0BOP http://t.co/235iKhqUhY
9 dead in Waco, TX shooting. 3 rival biker gangs open fire against each other in parking lot. http://t.co/hVvPdpaOFt http://t.co/M7IqHQwNpN
BREAKING: 9 dead, others injured after shooting between rival biker gangs in Waco, TX>> http://t.co/8VQEjDDA6r http://t.co/cnPyYjtDY6
RT CBSNews "BREAKING: Several killed in shootout between rival biker gangs in Waco, Texas, police say - … http://t.co/9L9FeRsLKe"
9 dead in Texas restaurant shootout http://t.co/10EVfoFBTJ
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Motorcycle culture's image problem goes back at least to 1947, when a race in Hollister, California, descended into two days of bloody riots. The American Motorcycle Association, the race's sponsor, responded to the coverage by declaring that 99 percent of participants were law-abiding.

To this day, gangs like the Outlaws refer to themselves as "1 percenters," says Terry Katz, former commander of the Maryland State Police's organized crime section. Trouble is, it's sometimes hard to tell the dark side of motorcycle groups from the light.

Even the terminology is interchangeable.

Good and bad alike call their organizations "clubs." Both use the term "colors" for the emblems on the backs of their jackets and vests.

"Wear your colors with pride," advertises a California company that makes patches for biker clubs, law enforcement agencies, fire departments, even the Boy Scouts of America.

Don Chambers, founder of the Bandidos gang, modeled his club's emblem - a sombrero-wearing Mexican caricature carrying a sword and pistol - after the corn chip company's Frito Bandito mascot, says Katz, who went undercover in the 1970s as an associate to two clubs, the Pagans and the Phantoms. Other clubs that want to operate on their turf are required to wear a patch called a "support cookie," so named because it's the size and shape of a cookie.

"You have a major gang. Then you have like a puppet club or you can call it a farm team that is part of their organization. But they're not a member of the big dogs," says Katz, vice president of the International Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Investigators Association.

The names have also grown more sinister. The Boozefighters and Pissed Off Bastards of Bloomington of 1947 Hollister have given way to the Outlaws, Cossacks and Hells Angels of today.

Katz says bikers maim and kill each other all the time. The only thing unusual about the Waco confrontation was that it happened in public.

"I get that question all the time: `Are these guys still around?'" he says. "Of course, they are. But they've lowered their profile, because it's bad for business to be involved in something where you're going to attract a great deal of law enforcement attention. They've never gone away. In fact, they've grown."

Some clubs boast chapters on the other side of the globe.

"You look at crime syndicates. They come to America from other places," says Dobyns, who lives in Tuscon, Arizona. "But the biker culture? That is America's export to the ... world of crime syndicates."

Part of the problem, says Dobyns, is that the entertainment world tends to glamorize these groups.

The Hollister riots spawned "The Wild One," Marlon Brando's 1953 classic. But Johnny, with his dungarees turned up at the ankles and cap at a rakish angle, seems quaint compared to FX Networks' "Sons of Anarchy."

"They prey on the Americana of it," says Dobyns, who used his own childhood nickname of "Jaybird" in his undercover work. "And it's sexy and it's glamorous. The reality of it is that it's a very dangerous world, inhabited by violent men. And the reality of it is that it's very unsexy and it's very unglamorous."

FX spokesman John Solberg declined to respond to Dobyns' comments.

Like the Mafia, motorcycle gangs aren't interested in big public displays, says Katz. But the cornerstone of that culture is a willingness to kill - and die - for your club.

"And that's what you saw yesterday," he says. "I mean, there were marked police cars outside that event ... Once the fight started, it didn't matter."

Violent Crime Rates by County - Texas | FindTheHome
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