How Many Motorcycle Gangs Are There In The United States? The Bandidos & Cossacks Are Just Two Of Many

WACO, TX - MAY 18: The Twin Peaks restaurant, the scene of a motorcyle gang shootout, is seen 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)
Source: Erich Schlegel/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On Sunday, a grisly shooting between motorcycle gangs in Waco, Texas closed down the Twin Peaks restaurant where the incident took place. The violence poses a larger question: Just how common are biker gangs like the Bandidos and Cossacks in the United States and the violence between them? Outlaw motorcycle gangs, or OMGs, as the Department of Justice calls them, are extremely structured crime organizations, and they're not all that uncommon.

The FBI estimates that 44,000 Americans belong to these groups, according to its 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment. These members make up approximately 3,000 gangs. There are about 500 large motorcycle gangs and 2,500 smaller, more disorganized gangs in the United States, according to CNN. 

The DOJ keeps track especially of the Bandidos, Black Pistons, Hells Angels, Mongols, Outlaws, Pagans, Sons of Silence, and Vagos motorcycle clubs. The two gangs attached to this week's alleged altercation were the Bandidos and the Cossacks, though the Waco Police Department said that five gangs were involved

The Bandidos has a membership of between 2,000 and 2,500 in the United States and 13 other countries, making it one of the two largest OMGs in the country, competing with the Hells Angels, according to the DOJ. The DOJ also says the group has 93 chapters and claims it is involved in violent crime, weapons trafficking, and drug trafficking. A leader of the Bandidos denies that there was an order to kill police officers, and the Bandidos have denied many accusations for individual crimes. The Cossacks are a smaller organization with about 200 members in the state, according to CBS News. 

According to the FBI's 2013 report, OMG members only account for 2.5 percent of total gang membership in the United States. The FBI's survey of law enforcers in that 2013 report revealed that 11 percent of respondents said OMGs were the most violent or most problematic kind of gang in their jurisdictions. OMGs were believed to be a "significant threat" by 10 percent of respondents. 

Reports from law enforcement indicate that the number of OMG participants is increasing. Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia have seen the most growth in the number of OMGs. The most threatening areas are places where gangs battle for territory: the Southwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Northwest regions, according to the 2013 report. 

According to author Charles Falco, who was undercover with biker gangs, the bikers' vests say where that gang is claiming territory. The Bandidos occupy Texas and do not allow any other gang to wear vests that claim the state. The DOJ says the Bandidos are most active in the Pacific, Southeast, Southwest, and West Central regions of the United States, indicating that they are a reason the Northwest and Southwest are threatening, but other gangs must occupy the Mid-Atlantic.

The Waco Police Department released a statement on Monday that said 192 individuals were being arrested and processed that day in regards to the shooting. The department is conducting an investigation for more information. 

A second statement posted to Facebook by the Waco, Texas, police department reads, "We can't tell you how much that outpouring of support means to us in a time of crisis. Understand each and everyone of you, we consider family and we will die to protect you."   

Image: Getty Images (3)

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