Although they've only recently reentered headlines, motorcycle clubs have been on the Department of Justice's radar for years. Sunday's Waco, Texas, incident allegedly involving members of the Bandidos and the Cossacks is just one of many violent altercations that authorities have been monitoring. In fact, a local law enforcement bulletin allegedly warned of the escalating tensions between the two gangs long before hundreds of members were arrested at Waco's Twin Peaks restaurant. The DOJ has compiled a list of eight such notorious motorcycle gangs that are on its radar, some of whose members allegedly engage in drug trafficking and distribution as well as violent crimes.
The clubs have memberships ranging from a few small chapters to the thousands, with members scattered all over the world. Five of the gangs, the DOJ claims, pose a "serious national domestic threat" because of their alleged connections to drug trafficking and smuggling. Some gangs date back to before World War II, but the most recent branch that the DOJ has its eyes on is less than two decades old, though the Department of Justice considers them just as dangerous as the more established groups. Below, we delve into the eight gangs that the DOJ has been monitoring.
The latest motorcycle gang incident to make national and international news is the altercation between the Bandidos and the Cossacks, which resulted in the death of nine men and the arrest of 170 motorcycle club members. The two groups have expressed outward animosity toward each other for years. Prior to the Sunday altercation, a Bandidos Texas Chapter President was arrested for allegedly stabbing two Cossacks members in 2013. The DOJ cites the 2,500 member group as one of the biggest drug trafficking and distribution offenders out there in regards to motorcycle gangs, allegedly heavily contributing to the methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana trade.
Perhaps the most infamous motorcycle club in American history, the Hells Angels have been the subject of countless books and documentaries, most notably the Hunter S. Thompson expose Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. The DOJ claims that nearly 2,500 members spanning 230 US chapters and countless overseas make up the notorious gang. The Hells Angels are allegedly also involved in drug distribution and transporting as well as violent crimes and money laundering. It's the Hells Angels' alleged recruitment by the Rolling Stones as security for their Altamont Free Concert in 1969 that stands out as one of the most well-known incidents of the Hells Angels. During the concert, a 21-year-old Hells Angel allegedly stabbed an 18-year-old concertgoer who apparently had a gun.
The Outlaws stand as the primary rival of the notorious Hells Angels, according to the DOJ. The 1,700-member club spans multiple countries and 176 U.S. chapters. Their alleged crimes range from drug trafficking and distribution to arson, kidnapping, and prostitution. The Outlaws date all the way back to 1935, when they were founded at Matilda's Bar in McCook, Illinois, and emerged as a biker powerhouse following World War II. The Outlaws are still making headlines in Illinois and are currently seeking the return of vests and personal items following a 2012 barroom brawl that saw the arrest of at least five Outlaws, all of whom were charged with aggravated battery.
According to the DOJ, the Black Pistons are more or less a subsection of the notorious Outlaws. More than 200 members make up approximately 70 U.S. chapters, not counting international groups scattered around the world. Though the group is just 13 years old, they've already established a criminal reputation, reportedly dealing in drug trafficking and distribution as well as violent crimes ranging from assault to theft. Little is known about the founding of the Black Pistons, though a United Kingdom chapter does cite the 2002 Daytona Bike Week as the first event in which members formally debuted after allegedly "patching over" from the Columbus, Ohio-based Satan's Syndicate. Patching over is when a motorcycle club is absorbed into a different or new club. The Black Pistons most recently made headlines in 2014 after an altercation between three members and a new Iron Club motorcycle club member, the latter of whom shot and killed 40 year old Zachariah "Nas T" Tipton.
The Mongols are described by the DOJ as "an extremely violent" gang, which the ATF further backs up by stating that they are "the most violent and dangerous [gang] in the nation." According to the DOJ, the group has formed an alliance against the Hells Angels. The alliance consists of the Mongols and fellow notorious gangs, including the Bandidos, Sons of Silence, Outlaws, and Pagans. The Mongols are based out of Southern California and allegedly also have ties to Hispanic gangs in the area. Last year, two rival motorcycle club members were convicted of killing a Mongol member in 2008 by shooting Manual Martin on his bike as he rode on the 2 Freeway.
Known as a relatively nomadic club with primary membership along the East Coast in Pennsylvania and New York, the Pagans are an incredibly violent motorcycle gang, according to the DOJ. Alleged crimes include such violent acts as bombing and murder as well as drug trafficking and distribution. Much like the Bandidos' Marty Lewis, the Pagans have their own interesting member history with leader Steven "Gorilla" Mondevergine, whose varied careers took him from the NFL to the police department. Mondevergine also worked as a vice officer just like Lewis, though it is Mondevergine's alleged protecting of gamblers that led to his dismissal and a court case against him and a fellow officer.
Sons of Silence
The Sons of Silence are one of the larger primarily U.S.-based motorcycle clubs, with a majority of their 275 members making up 30 U.S. chapters, though there are a few branches in Germany. The DOJ cites the Sons of Silence as a bike gang whose crimes allegedly include actual motorcycle and parts theft as well as drug trafficking, murder, and many other violent crimes. Little is known about the founding of the Sons of Silence, though the group is most prominently represented in the Midwest. According to South Fargo's Valley News Live, the Sons of Silence have been involved in an escalating turf war with the Hells Angels that has authorities fearing the worst.
The Vagos are primarily located in the western United States and Mexico. Their 300 members make up around 24 chapters in the U.S. and just three in Mexico. According to the DOJ, the Vagos are primarily known for drug trafficking and distribution, though they've been implicated in crimes ranging from money laundering and vehicle theft to murder and assault. The club was founded in the 1960s in San Bernardino, California. The Vagos recently made headlines in Phoenix after 11 of their members were arrested following an eight-month-long investigation known as "Operation Catch 22."