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Report: Texas Officials Were Aware of Growing Gang Tensions


Authorities investigate a shooting in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, May 17, 2015.

Authorities investigate a shooting in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, May 17, 2015.

Texas authorities had warned earlier this month that animosity was growing between two rival gangs, which came to a head in a deadly shootout over the weekend in a Waco restaurant that killed nine and wounded 18, and led to about 170 arrests.

The Texas Department of Public Safety's Joint Information Center issued a bulletin May 1 that cautioned authorities about increasing violence between members of a large Texas-based gang called the Bandidos and members of smaller gangs, one of which is called the Cossacks, Dallas TV station WFAA reported Monday.

The bulletin obtained by WFAA said the tension could stem from Cossacks refusing to pay Bandidos dues for operating in Texas and for wearing a patch on their vest that claimed Texas as their turf without the Bandidos' approval.

The bulletin also said the FBI had received information that Bandidos had discussed "going to war with Cossacks." It also outlined several recent assault incidents between the two groups, two as recent as March.

Waco police spokesman Sergeant Patrick Swanton said authorities knew the gangs were assembling in Waco and tracked their movements closely, having a unit on hand at a restaurant to take action in case a fight broke out.

“We were extremely fortunate to have our best, most well-trained officers here. That was our tactical unit. They were here for the specific reason that we knew there was going to be trouble at this biker event," Swanton said.

'Worst crime scene'

Still, he acknowledged, “I will tell you that in 34 years in law enforcement, this is the worst crime scene, the most violent crime scene that I have ever been involved in.”

History of Waco, Texas

Waco has been the site of some of the Lone Star State's most memorable recent history: the siege of the Branch Davidian compound, a tornado that leveled downtown and now a biker gang melee that left at least nine people dead and 18 wounded.

Background: The city of 129,000 people, standing halfway between Dallas and Austin on the Brazos River, is the birthplace of comedian Steve Martin and Dr Pepper, which is believed to have been developed in 1885 by a young pharmacist trying to bottle the collective scent of various carbonated drinks. It's also home to conservative Baylor University.

The Branch Davidians

Waco is widely known for the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in 1993, when agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms tried to arrest Branch Davidian leader David Koresh for stockpiling weapons and explosives at a ranch outside town. The confrontation led to a 51-day standoff that ended on April 19, when the complex caught fire, killing Koresh and nearly 80 of his followers. The land is still used by surviving Branch Davidians, some of whom live on a rebuilt portion of the ranch.

Presidential ranch

About 25 miles outside Waco is President George W. Bush's Prairie Chapel Ranch. Known during Bush's presidency as the Western White House, Bush entertained foreign leaders including Vladimir Putin and Tony Blair at the ranch, which is near the small town of Crawford.

Baylor University

The school with about 16,000 students is one of the nation's top Baptist universities. Ken Starr, who investigated President Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, is the school's president. The university's student conduct code banned dancing until 1996 and today still prohibits "homosexual acts."

Reality TV

Since last year, Waco has gained fame because of the hugely popular HGTV show Fixer Upper, starring Chip and Joanna Gaines, a Waco couple who rehabilitate historic properties across the city.

Historic tornado

In a state where twisters are fairly common, Waco has its own footnote in tornado history. A catastrophic twister leveled downtown in 1953, killing 114 people and injuring hundreds more. It remains among the deadliest tornadoes in Texas history.

Source: The Associated Press

Swanton said the gang members also fired at police, but no one other than gang members was wounded or killed.

The shootout at the Twin Peaks restaurant killed nine people – all gang members, police said -- also left 18 injured, and about 170 have been charged. The crowd of suspects is so large that authorities opened a convention center to hold them all before they were arrested, police said.

Police spokesman Swanton said five gangs had gathered at the restaurant as part of a meeting to settle differences over turf and recruitment. Prior meetings had been held at the restaurant, and managers there had dismissed police concerns over the gatherings, he said.

McLennan County Justice of the Peace W.H. Peterson set bond at $1 million for each suspect. He defended the high amount, citing the violence that quickly unfolded in a shopping market busy with a lunchtime crowd.

Federal and state authorities said the 2,000-member Bandidos gang is involved in drug smuggling and other types of organized crime. The gang formed in south Texas in the 1960s and now has affiliated chapters around the United States and in several other countries.

Biker gang dynamics

Sociology professor James Quinn at the University of North Texas, who has studied biker gang group dynamics, said the character of gang chapters varies.

"You can have a chapter with some guys that are pretty sophisticated and into organized crime; you can have another one that is more on the misfit, riding, drinking, carousing types, and sometimes you get a bit of both," Quinn said.

He said men also join these gangs for various reasons.

“A lot of them are looking for excitement and camaraderie and you have other people who are looking for opportunities to launch organized crime," Quinn said.

He and other experts on gangs say members are bound by an oath of loyalty to defend any member who is threatened by an outsider.

The primary rivals of the Bandidos are members of the even larger, California-based gang, known as the Hell’s Angels. Both have international affiliates and there have been violent clashes between them in Australia, western Europe and Canada, said Julian Sher, a Canadian journalist who has written two books about the biker gangs.

“More than 160 people were killed, most of them biker gang members, but some civilians, when the Bandidos and the Hell’s Angels fought it out on the streets of the province of Quebec [1994-2002]. The Bandidos and the Hell’s Angels fought it out in Europe for control of the drug trade there. So the Bandidos have a long history of violence," Sher said.

Will likely clash again

He said there may be a lull in violence following the Waco shooting, but he added, eventually, the gangs will clash again.

“The image of the biker gangs never changes. This is what they are about. This is their very nature and it was just pure luck that no innocent people were killed in that shootout, but there have been cases in which innocent people have been killed," he said.

Most of the people arrested in Waco are members of the Bandidos, and authorities there remain concerned that other members could come to town and clash with members of rival groups who are still in the city.

Swanton told The Associated Press Monday that authorities stood ready to confront any more violence after receiving threats from biker groups against law enforcement.

"We have a contingency plan to deal with those individuals if they try to cause trouble here," he said.

Both Texas state investigators and federal agents are on scene to assist in the investigation of the crime, and authorities said they have taken precautions to deal with any further disruption of the peace.

Some material for this report came from AP and AFP.

Watch video report from VOA's Zlatica Hoke:

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