Despite the characterization by police that the afternoon gathering at a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas that led to Sunday’s bloody shooting incident was a gathering of criminal biker gangs with violent intent, the meeting appears to have been a legitimate, organized gathering of motorcycle riders meeting to discuss political issues.
The group that met was the Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents (CoC&I) and a look at that group’s website and history gives a very different impression of the group’s purpose and goals than what has been said repeatedly by Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton.
Swanton has been a central media figure, conducting several press conferences since shootings that left nine dead and dozens injured happened on Sunday. Swanton’s statements have been echoed by the media, creating an image of a get together of thugs converging on Twin Peaks in an event obviously fraught with danger that authorities tried desperately to stop until they were foiled by the uncooperative restaurant owner.
An AP report on Tuesday gives what has been the now-standard media narrative:
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.
“They were not here to drink and eat barbecue,” Swanton said. “They came here with violence in mind.”
The “gathering of criminal bikers” story was even used to justify the $1 million bail that the 170 arrested bikers were each handed. From the same AP report:
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.
“We have nine people dead, because these people wanted to come down and what? Drink? Party?” Peterson said. “I thought it was appropriate.”
Despite those claims by Texas officials of drinking, partying and violence in mind, the Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents website and other information give every impression that the group’s meeting on that Sunday was legitimate.
This does not mean that groups or individuals who participated in CoC&I meeting don’t have criminal connections. Some see the CoC&I as a way for clubs like the Bandidos to gain legitimacy, an assessment shared by the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Gang Threat Assessment from 2014:
Formed in the 1960s, the Bandidos Outlaw Motorcycle Gang (Bandidos OMG) conducts its illegal activities as covertly as possible and avoids high-profile activities such as drive-by shootings that many street gangs tend to commit. However, members are not covert about making their presence known by wearing the gang colors, insignia, and riding in large groups. They seek to turn public sentiment in their favor by organizing frequent charity runs. Bandidos are likely to focus on recruiting new members with no criminal history.
However, it’s not clear that everyone who attended the CoC&I meeting had criminal connections. As the Gang Threat Assessment report pointed out, even the Bandidos have recruited members with no criminal history in an attempt to clean up there reputation. As a comment on the biker site Aging Rebel suggests:
If thirty guys were fighting who were the other 140 that were arrested? The Christian Ministries, the Veterans Clubs, and everyone else who attended a COC meeting aimed at keeping bikers safe, biker legislation, and scheduling biker events? So now your local motorcycle minister is locked up on a 1 million dollar bond.
A look at the Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents website and events calendar does show a group that’s focused on legislative issues and elections.
The CoC&I site has an entire page dedicated to National, State and Local Happenings with links to various political calls to action and events.
That page features a photo of a U.S. Marine standing at attention with a group of bikers and a photo an eagle over an American flag with the motto “Don’t tread on me. I refuse to allow my civil servant to run my life.”
A look at the group’s events calendar shows that the Twin Peaks meeting was listed on the Calendar as a “Region 1 Texas COC&I Meeting”; one of a number of meeting that happen in every part of Texas on a regular basis.
Other events on the Calendar show an actual legislative purpose. For example, on April 22nd at 7am the Calendar lists a public hearing on legislation:
The Motorcycle Safety Fund Bill (SB754) will be brought to the floor for public hearing in the Transportation Committee.
Paul and Jude will be testifying in support of the bill and we need as many people as possible to attend the hearing to support our community spokesmen, Senator Watson and show we are unified in seeing SB754 passed.
Later in April was a two day “Texas COC&I Christian Unity Event”, described as:
This event is open to everyone. We want to include Christians from all traditional MC’s and not just the Christian MC’s and MM’s.
You are welcome even if you are not a Christian, but the event will be Christian by nature.
Looking beyond the group’s website, eyewitness reports are beginning to paint a very different picture than that the official version from the Waco police.
Halfway through this WacoTrib.com story comes an account from someone who was at event that claims the biker’s political event was interrupted by uninvited bikers from the Cossacks gang.:
Steve Cochran, a national bikers’ rights advocate from Waco who witnessed the melee, blamed the incident entirely on the Cossacks. Cochran, who is a founder of the Waco chapter of the Sons of the South, is an official with the U.S. Defenders Task Force, a legislative group affiliated with the Texas Confederacy of Clubs and Independents.
He arrived at Twin Peaks on Sunday to set up a sound system for the COC&I meeting, only to find that the violence already had started.
Bandidos members were to be part of the meeting, which was to focus on legislative issues common to all bikers, Cochran said. He said police gave no indication to him or other COC&I members that their lives might be in danger.
“These meetings have gone on for 20 years, and we’ve gone all these years without a single incident until Sunday,” he said.
Other reports say that about 60 Cossacks arrived at the meeting and a list of those killed indicates that only one of the victims was from Waco. Tuesday, Breitbart Texas reported exclusively on indications on social media of aggressive moves by the Cossacks, including “transfers” of bikers into Texas.
The emerging picture of what really happened on Sunday in Waco raises some doubts about the initial police explanation of the incident as well as their suggested remedy. For example, Waco spokesman Swanton has repeated blamed the restaurant for not refusing to host the event.
However, the very political nature of the Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents and its website raise troubling First Amendment questions about the police trying to pressure a business to shut down a lawful political meeting that had never led to problems previously, regardless of the people at that meeting.
Texas Law Enforcement has had a difficult job dealing with biker gangs. One frustration is that some groups like the Bandidos combine legitimate elements (with charity rides) with criminal (like meth dealing.)
Follow Lee Stranahan on Twitter: @Stranahan