‘Baddest of the Bad’: Inside the Bandidos Biker Gang

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(NBC News) The brawl and shootout at a Waco sports bar that left members of the Bandidos dead is the latest bloody chapter for a group with a history steeped in violence.

“We are the people our parents warned us about” is among the gang’s mottos and their fearsome reputation has been built on a history of murder, beatings and a litany of other crimes in the U.S. and abroad.

They “constitute a growing criminal threat to the U.S. law enforcement authorities,” according to the Department of Justice, which features the Bandidos on its list of outlaw motorcycle gangs. The feds allege Bandidos “are involved in transporting and distributing cocaine and marijuana and are involved in the production, transportation and distribution of methamphetamine.”

Sunday’s gunfight ended with nine people killed — all of them Bandidos or members of the Cossacks, a Texas-based rival biker gang.

With around 900 members across 93 chapters across the U.S., the Bandidos are one of the two largest outlaw motorcycle groups in America, according to federal officials. The other is the Hell’s Angels.

“The Bandidos see the Hell’s Angels as too nice,” said Julian Sher, a Canadian investigative journalist and author of two books about biker gangs. “They relish their brutal pedigree. Among the bad guys, they are the baddest of the bad.”

He added: “You don’t join an outlaw motorcycle gang because you like riding a bike. You join knowing their reputation for violence. The Bandidos go one step further. They view the Hell’s Angels as too corporate, so you are talking about extreme people who join.”

The gang has other chapters in 13 other countries — including Canada, Sweden and Germany and at least 2,000 members worldwide.

Last year, six Bandidos were convicted after stuffing the bullet-ridden bodies of eight fellow members into cars at an abandoned farm in rural southwestern Ontario in April 2006. It was one of the Canadian province’s largest mass slayings.

Sher highlighted that “the group was also involved in the cycle wars in Quebec that claimed over 120 lives” from 1994 to 2002 and that “we’ve seen them involved in shootings in Australia.”

Bandidos also fought against the Hell’s Angels in Scandinavia during the “Great Nordic War” that stretched from 1994 to 1997 and resulted in at least 11 killings and dozens of attempted murders, Sher noted.

While the gang’s U.S. website is vague about its history, the Swedish chapter’s homepage says the group was founded in 1966 by Vietnam War veteran Donald Chambers in 1966 in San Leon, Texas.

Chambers and two other members were jailed six years later after forcing two dealers who had allegedly sold fake drugs to the group to dig their own graves, before shooting them with shotguns and setting fire to their bodies.

However, former Bandidos member Edward Winterhalder insisted the group’s reputation was unfounded and most of the members joined because they liked the biking culture.

“You get a few guys whacked out on meth and everyone wants to help their brothers out and that’s how fights start,” the author of “Out In Bad Standings: Inside the Bandidos Motorcycle Club” told NBC News on Monday.

Winterhalder added: “Most of the guys, around 60 or 70 per cent are just regular guys. They all have jobs, they have families and they don’t get involved in crime … They all have visual means of support.”

Police disagree with Winterhalder’s assessment.

“This is not a bunch of doctors and dentists and lawyers riding Harleys,” Waco Sgt. Patrick Swanton said after Sunday’s gunfight. “These are criminals on Harley-Davidsons.”

The Cossacks — the other gang to suffer fatalities in the Waco incident — were founded in 1969, according “The One Percenter: The World of Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs.” Their motto is: “We take care of our own.”

The Cossacks are not thought to have international chapters, but Winterhalder said they had “a very large presence in Texas.”

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