WACO, Tex. — Richie was the first to die, then Diesel, then Dog.
Whatever else they were in life, the men with the biker nicknames were Cossacks, loud and proud and riders in a Texas motorcycle gang. And that’s what got them killed, shot to death in a brawl with a rival gang in the parking lot of a Texas “breastaurant” that advertised hot waitresses and cold beer.
“I saw the first three of our guys fall, and we started running,” said their brother in arms, another Cossack, who said he was there May 17 when the shooting started at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco. Nine bikers died, 18 were wounded and more than 170 landed in jail.
The Cossack, president of a North Texas chapter of the motorcycle gang, asked not to be identified because he is now in hiding and said he fears for his life. He is a rare eyewitness speaking publicly about the Waco massacre, one of the worst eruptions of biker-gang violence in U.S. history.
On Friday, law enforcement officials warned that the violence may not be over. A bulletin from the Texas Department of Public Safety warned that members of the Bandidos, the most notorious biker gang in Texas, may be planning attacks on law enforcement officials, according to CNN, which reviewed the document.
The bulletin warns that Bandidos who serve in the U.S. military may be “supplying the gang with grenades and C4 explosives” to target officials and their families with car bombs, the network reported.
A spokesman for the Waco police, Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton, said police had received an increasing number of threats in recent days. “We are taking the necessary precautions,” he said.
U.S. military ties to the Bandidos and other biker gangs were detailed in a U.S. Justice Department report published last year that concluded the gangs were using “active-duty military personnel and U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) contractors and employees to spread their tentacles across the United States.”
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives study, first reported by the Intercept, concludes that biker gangs have recruited scores of employees of federal, state and local governments, police and firefighters, National Guardsmen and reservists, some of them with government security clearances, to help them “maim and murder” in support of their “insatiable appetite for dominance.”
Since Sunday’s killings, Waco police have offered few conclusions in their complex investigation. But they have said that the violence was touched off when an “uninvited” group, presumed to be the Cossacks, showed up at a meeting of a larger confederation of motorcycle clubs dominated by the Bandidos.
In several interviews in recent days, the Cossack rider offered a different story. He said that the Cossacks were invited to the Twin Peaks patio that day — by a Bandido leader, who offered to make peace in a long-running feud between the two gangs. That invitation was a setup for an ambush, though, according to the Cossack. That’s why the dead included six Cossacks, one Scimitar (an ally of the Cossacks) and only two Bandidos.
The biker’s story could not be independently verified; most of those involved in the shootout are still in jail. But significant parts of his account square with police statements, as well as security camera videos obtained by the Associated Press.
From the outside, biker culture seems incomprehensible, a violent mash of hyper-macho tribalism, a world in which a patch on a leather vest is worth dying for. To law enforcement, the gangs are little more than heavily armed crime syndicates, masquerading as noble rebels while trafficking in drugs and weapons.
To the bikers themselves, their world makes perfect sense. It has a code of honor. It has hierarchy, discipline, thrills and camaraderie — much like the military, whose veterans birthed the biker movement after World War II and swelled its ranks after Vietnam. Now, a new generation of veterans, home from Iraq and Afghanistan, is feeding the movement.
Their world has unwritten rules that everybody knows and has predictable consequences for stepping out of line.
So when a biker from the Bandidos, the oldest gang in Texas and one of the largest in the world, ran into a young Cossack in the Twin Peaks parking lot last Sunday, everyone knew what was coming. First words, then fists, then guns. Within seconds, Richie, Diesel and Dog were dead.
“I took off,” the Cossack rider said. “I got out of there. I didn’t have a weapon. I couldn’t fight anybody.”
It started with a phone call.
About a week before Sunday’s gunfight, according to the Cossack, a leader of the Bandidos, a man named Marshall from the Longview area in East Texas, contacted Owen Reeves, the “nomad,” or leader, of the Cossacks’ Central Texas region.
The two gangs had been at odds for years. The Bandidos consider themselves the Big Dogs of the Texas biker world, and other gangs — or clubs, as they prefer to be called — generally don’t cross them.
The Bandidos wear their claim to the Lone Star State on their backs. Their vests say “Bandidos” across the shoulders, just above their logo, a caricature based on Frito-Lay’s Frito Bandito. At the bottom, the word “Texas” is stitched boldly in an inverted crescent.
That crescent, the “Texas rocker,” has long belonged to the Bandidos, and they consider it a provocation if someone else wears it without permission — which is exactly what the Cossacks did.
“We don’t claim any territory, but the reason that the Bandidos have such an issue with us is that we wear the Texas rocker on our back, but we don’t pay them $100 a month per chapter to do it,” the Cossack said. “When you’ve got 100 chapters. That’s a lot of money.”
The Bandidos are second in size only to the Hell’s Angels and have as many as 2,500 members in 13 countries, according to the Justice Department, which considers the group a violent criminal enterprise engaged in running drugs and guns. The Cossacks, a smaller group, do not show up on law enforcement lists of criminal gangs, but the group has been growing more aggressive in recent years. Officials have warned of the potential for violence between the two gangs.
The feud has been raging since at least November 2013, when two Bandidos, including the “sergeant-at-arms,” or second in command, of one chapter were charged with stabbing two Cossacks outside a bar in Abilene. In December, three Bandidos were arrested in connection with a shooting outside a Fort Worth bar that left one man dead and two wounded.
On May 1, the Texas Department of Public Safety issued a bulletin to law enforcement agencies across the state warning about the Bandidos having “discussed the possibility of going to war” with the Cossacks, largely over the issue of the Texas “rocker.”
The bulletin noted that on March 22, several Cossacks attacked a Bandido with chains, batons and metal pipes. On the same day, Bandidos attacked a Cossack with a hammer and demanded that he remove the Texas rocker from his vest.
After all that, the phone call from Marshall was a welcome olive branch, the Cossack said.
Marshall invited the Cossacks to Twin Peaks on Sunday when the Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents was scheduled to hold a major meeting. Those meetings are generally about bikers’ rights, safety and other administrative issues. The Bandidos dominate that organization; the Cossacks are not members.
Marshall said that the Bandidos “wanted to get this cleared up,” according to the Cossack, who was relating what he said Reeves told him. “He said, ‘Bring your brothers, hang out, and let’s get this fixed and we can all leave in peace and be happy.’ He was talking to our chapter in Waco. That’s where the heat has been at. The leader of our Central Texas chapter said, ‘Okay, I’m going to make this happen.’ ”
Reeves, who was jailed after the melee, could not be reached for comment. No members of the Bandidos could be reached for comment. Most participants in the violence, and eye-witnesses to it, are in jail, in the hospital or dead. Even waitresses on duty that day have not responded to messages.
The Cossack continued: “Anybody who is a Cossack knows this call was made because the Nomad called everyone and said, ‘We have an opportunity to make this right. I think we should take a risk.’ And everybody agreed.”
On a beautiful sunny Sunday, about 70 Cossacks on Harley-Davidsons thundered down Interstate 35 through Waco, which sits on the Brazos River about halfway between Dallas and Austin. They rolled into a commercial shopping mall, past Jo-Ann Fabrics and Cavender’s Boot City, and into the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant.
The Cossack said he and the others congregated on the outdoor patio and started ordering food and drinks. They chatted with other bikers from smaller “mom and pop” bike clubs, who were already well into their burgers and beers and margaritas ahead of the 1 p.m. confederation meeting.
Guns and other weapons are a common part of biker culture, and the Cossack acknowledged that some members of his gang were armed.
“But not all of us,” he said. “We had no reason to believe that this was going to go that way.”
The parley with the Bandidos had been set for 11 a.m., the Cossack said, but the Bandidos didn’t arrive until about 12:15, when about 100 of them pulled into Twin Peaks in a long, loud line of Harleys.
Trouble started almost immediately, he said: One of the Bandidos, wearing a patch that identified him as a chapter president, ran his bike into a Cossack standing in the parking lot. The Cossack who was hit was a “prospect,” a man in his mid-20s who was “striving to become” a full member of the club.
“They came up really fast, and the prospect turned and faced the bikes,” the Cossack chapter president said. “He fell backward into other [parked] bikes. The guy who hit him stopped and got off of his bike and said, ‘What are you doing? Get . . . out of my way. We’re trying to park.’ ”
Cossacks quickly jumped to the prospect’s defense, he said: “Guys were saying, ‘You’re disrespecting us,’ or, ‘We’re not backing down.’ ”
In a blink, it started, he said: “Two punches: One from them, one from us.”
A Bandido with a patch identifying him as sergeant-at-arms of the same chapter threw a punch at Richard Matthew Jordan II, 31, known as “Richie,” who was from Pasadena, Tex. Jordan punched the guy back.
“At that point in time, the sergeant in arms shot Richie point-blank,” the Cossack said.
Police said Jordan died of a gunshot wound to the head.
“Then all the Bandidos standing in the parking lot started pulling guns and shooting at us,” he said. “There were maybe 60 or 70 of us in the parking lot. . . . We took off running. We scattered. Three of our guys went down instantly. They caught a couple more that tripped and fell, and Bandidos were shooting at them.”
He said that the second man to die was Daniel Raymond Boyett, 44, known as Diesel, a “road captain” in the Cossacks from Waco. Police said that Boyett died from gunshot wounds to the head.
The third man down was “Dog,” whose real name is Charles Wayne Russell, 46, of Winona. Russell’s cause of death was listed as a gunshot wound to the chest.
The Cossack said that he believes the Bandidos had no intention of making peace that day.
“It was a setup from start to finish,” he said.
The Cossack’s story has been impossible to verify, but it is largely consistent with what police have said about how the brawl began.
Swanton, the Waco police spokesman, told reporters the shooting started in the parking lot with a confrontation over a “parking issue.” A leader of the Bandidos, who goes by the name Gimmi Jimmy, told the New York Times that there had been no incident in the parking lot but that he had heard there was a fight in the restaurant bathroom. Jimmy did not respond to numerous e-mails.
The Cossack’s account is also consistent with a Twin Peaks security video viewed by the Associated Press. The wire service reported that the video shows the shooting started in the parking lot at
12:24 p.m. and that panicked bikers started running into the restaurant to flee the shooting — including several who ran into the men’s room to take cover.
The wire service reported that the video shows one shot being fired, but it did not say who fired the shot.
After the bloodshed at Twin Peaks, Texas authorities warned of the threat of further violence, saying that the Bandidos had called for reinforcements from outside the state.
“History has a way of repeating itself,” Swanton said in an interview. “Violence amongst these groups leads to more violence amongst these groups.”
The Cossack said he, too, believes more violence is brewing. He said he received a call late Thursday from a friend in Bandido leadership, who warned him to get out of his house and “spread the word” that the Bandidos were “coming hard” after Cossacks.
“They’re going to hit houses. They’re going to hit funerals. And if another Cossack or a cop gets in the way, so be it,” he said the caller told him.
The Cossack said he would stay and fight.
“I’m sending my family away, but I’m making my stand. I will fight. I will kill any one of them that comes through my doors. I’m not looking over my shoulder anymore.
“I didn’t sign up for this,” he continued. “I signed up for a brotherhood that believes in family and taking care of their communities. . . .
“I should have died with my brothers,” he said. “They stood and took what they took because they believed that everyone has the right to ride where they want, when they want — without having to pay for it.”
Madigan is a freelance writer. Sullivan reported from Washington. Peter Holley in Waco and Adam Goldman and researcher Alice Crites in Washington contributed to this report.