On Sunday, a deadly shootout at a restaurant in Waco, Texas, between two rival biker gangs, the Bandidos and the Cossacks, left nine people dead and many more injured. One-hundred seventy bikers were taken into police custody during the investigation. What caused this rivalry to turn into a deadly fight that cost lives? And what is life really like for those who are members of these notorious biker gangs? We asked Ed Winterhalder, a former member of the Bandidos, to answer a few questions. Winterhalder was a member of the Bandidos for more than 20 years, until he left in 2003. He is also the author of several books about the biker lifestyle.
Q. You were a member of the Bandidos for many years. What was that lifestyle like? Take us inside the lifestyle of the Bandidos for a layperson.
A. It was life in the fast lane. Every week day I took my daughter to daycare or school, and then went off to work. Every weekend, I hung out with my brothers; we usually rode our Harleys to a biker event somewhere in Oklahoma, or went to visit my brothers out of state.
Q. When and why did you make the decision to leave the Bandidos? What factors went into your decision?
A. I left the Bandidos in 2003, because I wanted to spend more time with my daughter, who was 10 at the time. I knew it would only be four or five years before she had her own life, and I wanted to be there for her. I also wanted to devote more time and energy into my construction management company, and had grown tired of the commitment that was required of me to be a member.
Q. What role do political ideologies play among the Bandidos?
A. The concept of brotherhood, camaraderie and a sense of family they never found during their childhood are core values, and the love of Harleys is the glue that holds it all together.
Q. The brawl in Waco this week between the Bandidos and Cossacks has brought much national attention to biker gangs. How do brawls like this happen?
A. They are almost always spontaneous, usually caused by months or years of tit-for-tat skirmishes between the clubs; the first punch is typically thrown by someone who is high on methamphetamine.
Q. This one was huge, but are smaller scale brawls more common?
A. This is the most violent altercation to ever occur in the history of motorcycle clubs, which have been around since 1903. Yes, smaller brawls and fistfights do happen, but usually do not result in anyone dying.
Q. What do you think about “Sons of Anarchy,” the fictional TV show about biker gangs? What do you think it gets right and wrong about the biker lifestyle?
A. Although it was good entertainment for the masses, the majority of the motorcycle club members found it to be a great comedy.