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On Monday, police in Waco, Texas, charged about 170 people in connection with Sunday’s deadly shootout. Nine people were killed and 18 were wounded when a brawl that began inside a restaurant spilled out to the parking lot. The killings were reportedly sparked by a long standing feud between rival motorcycle gangs. Those arrested have been charged with organized crime in connection to capital murder. The violence is the latest in a number of deadly encounters in recent years among motorcycle gangs in the U.S. We look at what’s behind the violence among bikers and their links to organized crime.
- Randy McBee Associate professor of history and associate academic dean, Texas Tech University; author of the forthcoming book "Born to Be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist."
- Carlos Canino Special agent, LA Field Division, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).
- George Rowe Author of "Gods Of Mischief: My Undercover Vendetta To Take Down The Vagos Outlaw Motorcycle Gang."
- Manny Fernandez Houston bureau chief, The New York Times.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts of George Washington University sitting in today for Diane Rehm. She'll be back next week. Investigators are sifting through evidence in Waco, Texas, to try to determine how and why a gathering of biker gangs turned into a massacre in broad daylight on Sunday. Nine people were killed, 18 were wounded and about 170 have been arrested.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSJoining me to talk about what happened in Waco and trends in biker gang violence, from a studio in Lubbock, Texas, Randy McBee, professor at Texas Tech University. His forthcoming book is called "Born To Be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist." By phone, we have one-time ATF informant, George Rowe. He's the author of "Gods of Mischief: My Undercover Vendetta To Take Down The Vagos Outlaw Motorcycle Gang."
MR. STEVE ROBERTSAnd by phone from Los Angeles, special agent Carlos Canino of the ATF L.A. field division. Welcome to you all. Nice to have you on "The Diane Rehm Show." First, before we join those gentlemen, I'm gonna turn to Manny Fernandez. He's the Houston Bureau chief of the New York Times. You can call us at 1-800-433-8850. Email us, email@example.com. Of course, join us on Facebook or Twitter.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSAnd Manny Fernandez, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. MANNY FERNANDEZThank you for having me. I appreciate it.
ROBERTSAnd you wrote this morning, part of the team that wrote the front page article in the New York Times this morning. What's the latest on the investigation that we know now?
FERNANDEZWell, some of the big questions are still unanswered. Some of those big questions being sort of, you know, who shot who, you know. How many of the bikers were killed by police? How many were killed by one another? So some of those sort of big questions are unanswered. Basically, you have the police kind of sifting through a massive crime scene while also trying to sort of process and book, like you said, 170 people.
FERNANDEZSome of those 170 people are going through the court process. There is some bond reduction hearings have been set. And then, at the scene, you know, again, there's -- it's just a huge scene. The police brought in some flatbed trucks to take away about 200 motorcycles that were parked outside. The police said they've collected more than 100 guns, more than 100 knives.
FERNANDEZAnd so they're still sifting through a lot of this. And so a lot of those big questions haven't been answered yet.
ROBERTSBut in reading your accounts and others, I gather that the basic face-off there in that restaurant, Twin Peaks, outside of Waco, was between two gangs, the Bandidos and the Cossacks who have been rivals for a long time and that the police had warning that there was a possibility of a violent confrontation, which is why there was a police presence established right outside the restaurant on Sunday.
ROBERTSWhat do we know about the rivalry between these two gangs and what set off this fight?
FERNANDEZSo it's a very sort of deep-seated rivalry. I mean, in a sense, it was as if there was a meeting at this restaurant between the Bloods and the Crips. This was a, you know, a rivalry that goes back decades. Different conflicts have happened in different states, in different cities, between these two gangs. Both of these groups started in Texas in the 1960s and the rivalry pretty much sort of set off from there.
FERNANDEZIt's never really sort of disappeared. It flares up again and it dies down. And what's interesting is that, you know, it's still not clear what the initial spark behind the fight was. It happened in a restaurant bathroom. But it's also clear that, you know, one law enforcement official told me, you know, it doesn't matter what the spark was 'cause it's probably so inconsequential because these guys just, whenever they get anywhere near each other, that, you know, it's just oil and water.
FERNANDEZAnd, you know, so it's unclear what the initial spark is, but in a way, it may not be that relevant.
ROBERTSWell, Manny, you're based there in Texas and I gather that one of the flashpoints between these two gangs -- and I know there were several other gangs involved as well. But in this rather arcane world of bikers, the patches and the logos people wear on their vests are very important and I gather that Bandidos have long laid claim to the word Texas, as a patch, what's called a bottom rocker, the patch toward the bottom of their vests and that the Cossacks have taken to wearing that patch.
ROBERTSAnd we've seen photos from the crime scene of Cossacks wearing a very visible patch that says Texas. And how much of this is rooted in a turf war and how much of it is pride of being the dominant gang in Texas?
FERNANDEZI think I, you know, I think a lot of it stems from there. I think that essentially kind of what you have is a turf war. You know, a turf war, you know, over Texas, you know. It's -- the Bandidos take all of that sort of stuff about the colors, you know, very seriously. They, you know, in El Paso, they allegedly beat up some bikers in another gang because that other gang didn't come to the Bandidos to get permission to even wear their colors.
FERNANDEZAnd so the Bandidos sort of strength is such that, you know, other gangs would have to go to them to say, you know, hey, we're a new gang. We want to wear our colors and we're in El Paso and, you know, they have to get permission to do that. And so it's this idea that the colors, it's not just a patch, you know, to the Bandidos. It says something about their whole entire history.
ROBERTSAnd Manny Fernandez, the police were there. They had warning and fairly large numbers gathered outside this restaurant. Why weren't they able to prevent this explosion of violence?
FERNANDEZYou know, that's a good question. And the police spokesman has not really sort of directly sort of addressed that yet or answered in enough detail to sort of address that. You know, they were there outside the restaurant. They knew there would be trouble. They claim that there had been, you know, previous trouble in the past at this restaurant, at some of these biker events.
FERNANDEZYou know, they say that it took them, you know, 30 to 45 seconds to sort of respond once the shooting occurred. But that is a good question, you know. You know, nine dead, you know, even after they respond 30 to 45 seconds later. You know, there are questions about sort of, you know, could they have done more to prevent this. And I think it's a little bit unclear right now.
ROBERTSAnd also, the news reports indicate that fears of further violence, I've read that the Bandidos and perhaps the other gangs are calling in reinforcements from other places. What is your best reading on the possibility of further violence and what are the Waco police doing to try to deter it?
FERNANDEZYes. You know, I mean, it's hard to say, but I think it's fair to say that the police are very much on guard. I mean, the sheriff, yesterday, called it being in a state of high alert. You know, they are anticipating, you know, other problems. They're expecting Badidos and Cossacks, you know, members and supporters to come to Waco, you know, armed to either, you know, retaliate against the police or retaliate against other gang members.
FERNANDEZNothing has happened so far. So far, it's been, you know, very sort of peaceful, but I think that there is a lot of tension and I think that the police are sort of on guard here.
ROBERTSAnd I read one quote from one of the gang members who was at the scene saying, this is gonna set our reputation back 20 years. I know many of these gangs, although Justice Department describes the Bandidos as an organized crime gang and a threat to public safety, the Bandidos and the other gangs claim that they're peace-loving and that they're misunderstood.
ROBERTSBut do you have any sense, Manny Fernandez, of the public fallout here? Is this biker right, that the whole image of biker culture has taken a tremendous hit here?
FERNANDEZWell, I mean, yes, I think he's right in a sense. I mean, I think it's interesting that, you know, these bikers are concerned about their reputation, you know. In a sense they are concerned about public relations. And I think that that's interesting and sort of says something about the gangs, that they are, you know, again, it is hard to get a read on them. They do operate in this sort of criminal underworld and, yet, they do, you know, sponsor these charity runs.
FERNANDEZThey do toy drives. They're out in the public. They, you know, help escort, you know, at different funerals. They'll be sort of an escort. And so, you know, I think that it is interesting and I think that certainly any time the Bandidos get together for any sort of public event in Texas, the police will take that very seriously and I think that this will sort of damage their reputation in that way.
ROBERTSAnd has there been any reaction, Manny, from other bikes, biker clubs? The outlaw gangs, as they're called, call themselves 1 percenters, the implication being that 99 percent of the other folks who join bike clubs for recreation and hobbies are not part of this criminal underworld. Is it important to differentiate the groups that were involved in Waco with the normal Sunday hobbyist?
FERNANDEZIt is, yeah. I mean, I think that it is night and day and I think that when you start sort of looking at the history and looking at some of the criminal cases of some of the other members who've been prosecuted and have been -- or are now in prison, you see that, you know, some of them have a long prison record and they are clearly, you know, have spent time in prison before and have the prison tattoos and others kind of don't and other's don't have a criminal history and, yeah, I think there is a...
ROBERTSManny, thank you very much. That's Manny Fernandez, Houston bureau chief for the New York Times. We'll be right back with more on "The Diane Rehm Show." Thanks for being with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. Our subject this hour, the shootout among rival biker gangs in Waco, Texas over the weekend that left nine dead and resulted in 170 arrests. My guests this hour: Randy McBee is an expert on gangs, written a book from Texas Tech University. George Rowe is a one-time informant for the Alcohol and Tobacco Agency. And by phone from Los Angeles, Special Agent Carlos Canino, works for the ATF in Los Angeles.
ROBERTSAnd Carlos, we were talking to Manny Fernandez from The New York Times and he was saying that there is still some concern that these rival gangs, the Bandidos, the Cossacks and others, could be calling in reinforcements to Waco and that the risk of violence is not yet over. What's your read on that?
MR. CARLOS CANINOWell, first of all, good morning. Thank you for having me on. You know, I've heard what Manny was saying and what others have been saying. But frankly, you know, one of the things I've learned in 25 years as a federal agent is never to say never. But it's highly unlikely that these motorcycle groups will band together, for instance the Bandidos or the Cossacks, and ride into town en masse. Tactically, that's -- it's not to their advantage to do that. And one thing that, you know, people need to understand, these groups are very calculating. They're very organized. They're very sophisticated. And they know right now is not a good time to poke the bear.
ROBERTSAnd what happens to the 170 who have been arrested. It's an awful lot of people to try to sort out and bring individual charges. I know you're not there and I know you're -- but as you point out, you've had a lot of experience. What -- how is that likely to play out in terms of the criminal investigation and the police activity there?
CANINOWell, I mean, obviously, you know, you have a major, major crime scene. And so, you know, the old adage: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, right? So, you know, what you have to do is, you know, you have to see what evidence you have, video evidence, forensics, ballistics, you know, witnesses, suspect interviews. You know, so you weave all that together to try to come up with a full picture of what actually happened. You know, if history's a guide, I don't expect that these outlaw motorcycle gang members are going to be too cooperative with the investigation.
ROBERTSRandy McBee, you have -- author of a new book on these outlaw gangs. And one of the things we were talking to Manny Fernandez about is trying to differentiate between what the Justice Department has labeled these OMGs, these outlaw motorcycle gangs, and the normal hobbyist. From your perspective, what is the difference here?
MR. RANDY MCBEEWell, that's a very difficult question to answer. The history of motorcyclists in the post-war period, you know, you have the rise of the sort of outlaw image, you know, that kind of really emerges after a motorcycle rally in Hollister, Calif., in '47 and another rally in '48 in Riverside, Calif. But I don't think that that image of the outlaw has a whole lot to do with what would emerge by the '60s.
MCBEEYou know, when you see the rise of the Hell's Angels and other clubs who begin to sort of embrace that image and become increasingly linked to, you know, various crimes and so forth. The constant problem motorcyclists have faced is that, you know, by the early '60s, the term Hell's Angels will be used routinely to describe anyone on a bike, anyone who's attracted the attention of the press, anyone who's attracted the attention of the police, you know, that term Hell's Angels will routinely be used to describe them as if anyone on two wheels is a potential thug or a potential, you know, problem.
MCBEEAnd so making that distinction, especially for the average guy on the streets or even for the police is often and historically been very, very complicated.
ROBERTSBut as you've studied it, what in your mind is the difference? How would you make a distinction?
MCBEEYeah, that's hard to say. You know, I think -- well, I don't know, to be honest. The distinction between the two...
ROBERTSWell, is it -- you've talked about the -- let me bring in George Rowe on this then. George, the gang that you've studied in particular and were an ATF informant -- and we should say, of course, George Rowe is not your real name because you're in the Witness Protection Program -- how do you draw a distinction between the OMGs, the outlaw motorcycle gangs, and the normal hobbyists that a lot of us see on the roads on a Sunday.
MR. GEORGE ROWEWell, the normal hobbyists a lot of times want to go and they like the looks of the outlaws and it brings them to ride. There's no comparison really. But they want to be around them and that's their mistake.
ROWEThe normal -- the people that aren't one-percenters want to go out and have a good time and everything. If they, in groups of a bunch of people, they're pretty much fine. They're just every-weekend riders.
ROWEBut when they start grouping up and going out with a bunch of people, now you're asking for trouble because you're going to walk into the one-percenters and they're either going to try to bring you in, have you hang around with them, or you're going to have problems. I mean, that's the way it is.
ROBERTSAnd you, George, have -- from inside the gang that you were an informant for, you agree with this description that at least the one-percenters, the most extreme gangs, are criminal enterprises? And if so, what are the crimes they're committing?
ROWEProstitution. Anything to make illegal money. Pretty much whatever you think can do illegally, that's what they're doing to make the money.
ROBERTSCarlos Canino, what's your take on the illegal side of the one-percenters? Do you agree with the Justice Department description of them as a criminal threat, a criminal enterprise?
CANINOI do. And George is spot-on here. You know, this is a subculture in our society. And these men pride themselves on, you know, living by a set of rules and values that are outside our societal norms. And frankly the currency in that subculture is just pure violence. And to George's point, he's absolutely correct. You know, these one-percenters, they -- when they gather at these places, you know, one of the things that they want to portray is: Hey, we're out here. We control this. And at the same time, you have, you know, these weekend hobbyists that, you know, want to get a little excitement in their life. You know, they try to cozy-up to them.
CANINOAnd, you know, these criminal organizations prey on these people. You know, they...
ROWEYeah, they do.
CANINOThat they, you know, try to use them for whatever means they can to further advance their criminal organization.
ROBERTSIn what sense do they -- what sense do they prey on them, Carlos?
CANINOWell, for instance, you know, you might be a business owner and, you know, they might want to use you to launder their proceeds through your business.
CANINOYou know, you might -- somebody might work at a government office that has access to information, like the DMV and places like that, you know? These organizations actively recruit these types of people so they can -- like I said, they can further their criminal organizations. You know, these individuals are -- and, you know, I'm sure George can speak to it -- you know, they're highly sophisticated and organized.
ROBERTSAnd Randy McBee, I've been reading that, in a number of cases, police officers have joined some of these, you know, some of these gangs. Not necessarily the one-percenters, but that in a number of cities there's been a real problem with an overlap here, with police officers on their own time joining these motorcycle gangs.
MCBEEWell, you know, there certainly have been cases of the police joining some of these clubs and being involved in these clubs. But I think the case of the police being involved in clubs speaks to, I think, the complication of making the distinctions that we're trying to make here. I mean, I don't know -- I mean, the folks I know who ride bikes, and I've met a lot of motorcyclists, I don't think -- I mean, I think they have a good sense of the different clubs in the area, you know, what rallies to avoid. I don't know to what extent they're trying to buddy-up to these different folks and...
ROWEWell, you've got to understand, some of the people grew up in towns where the cops are their friends. And that's how they get a lot of information too, the gangs do. Like in my book, one of the -- a sergeant joined a sister club to us, to the gang that I was in. And they would get -- they'd run names to him and he'd come back and say if they were informants or not. But that's -- most law enforcement doesn't do that. They've got their own little clubs. But that's -- they're friends. And that's how they bait them in, like he was saying earlier.
ROWEIt's like when I was in the club, they baited that cop in. And next thing you know, he's in over his head because he did something once.
ROBERTSInteresting point. Randy, you've gone into the history here and you mention that -- goes back -- some of these clubs go back to the '40s with World War II Veterans, the famous rally in Hollister in 1947. But I gather that the Bandidos, the club that we have been talking about that was sort of the -- seems to have been the main actor in the Waco shootout was formed by Vietnam Veterans in the '60s and by people who had been trained in weapons, people who had -- came back from Vietnam and were alienated from society in the way they were treated. Talk about the roots here of a group like the Bandidos and how that helps us understand who they are today.
MCBEEWell, there's long been this association or connection between veterans and motorcyclists. I mean, the first clubs that were attracting attention, you know, in the 1940s, after World War II, you know, the argument is just what you made, that they come back from the war. You know, some of them may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. You know, they're looking for the camaraderie that was missing from their lives. And motorcycle clubs provide the excitement and the enthusiasm, the sort of energy that, you know, they were looking for, but also a way just for to readjust and so forth.
MCBEEYou know, and there's been articles that have talked about this and noted both the impact of World War II and also Vietnam, but also questions about sort of what's going on today. You know, the number of veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, is the same thing going on? To what extent does it fuel this -- these clubs or contribute to this? I mean, I think we need to be very, very careful here because I think the typical stereotype about veterans, especially Vietnam Veterans, is that -- and you can look at popular culture for numerous examples. They come back. They've been trained in weapons. You know, they're sort of trigger-happy and it leads to all sorts of chaos.
MCBEEAnd I -- the extent to which that experience in the war translates into: Hey, I want join, you know, a motorcycle club that's referred to as a gang that's, you know, part of, you know, organized crime. There may be some of that but I think we have to be very, very careful in terms of thinking about the impact of those experiences and how it shapes the rise of these clubs. I think it's probably more complicated than that.
MCBEEEven though, you know, we could probably -- you know, take World War II. There were so many veterans returning from the war. You know veterans are showing up in lots of different subcultures, lots of different organizations. Is it that experience of being in the war that's fueling this? Or are more of them attracted to motorcycling than perhaps other types of subcultures?
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. We have some lines open. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and join our conversation here. And Randy, I wanted to follow up on that, that when the Bandidos were formed, they rather explicitly chose the colors red and gold, which were the colors of the Marine Corps as well. Significant to you?
MCBEEWell, perhaps. I mean, I don't want to completely downplay the influence of the previous experiences in shaping sort of, you know, how this club was organized and sort of the focus of the club and their interests. And so that may have an influence. But I'm not sure I want to leap too far from that to make this connection in terms of thinking about, you know, the training or the potential violence they experienced and how they shaped what they wanted to do with the motorcycle club.
ROBERTSOkay. Let me read some...
MCBEEEven if you look at like Sonny Barger who joined the Hell's Angels, you know? He wanted the club to ride and raise hell. He's not really talking about, you know, wanting to join a motorcycle club, you know, to get involved in sort of organized crime and to sell drugs. I mean, there's a difference there I think.
ROBERTSOkay. Let me read some Tweets and some emails from some of our callers. This is from Doug. "Any word yet on how gang shooters were supplied firearms? Any seized weapons traced yet?" Carlos, do you have any word on that?
CANINONo, I mean, I haven't talked to any of my colleagues down in Texas. But, I mean, this is -- this is the United States. That's Texas. You can get a gun in 20 minutes. So, I mean...
ROWEThe thing is, on the gun deal, if you want a gun, you're going to have a gun.
ROWEThere's -- you don't have to go buy a gun. This is a -- these are outlaw gangs. They have all the guns they need. They have more guns than ATF has got. That's sad to say.
ROBERTSLet me follow up with Carlos and George on a point that I was talking to Randy about. If you listen to the folks who are in these gangs and these clubs, one word comes up again and again and that word is brotherhood. And they say no outsider can understand how important it is for us to have -- to belong to a group like this, to feel the loyalty of this brotherhood. How important is that, as understanding the internal workings of a club like this? George, what do you think?
ROWEWell, a lot of guys get into the clubs for brotherhood. But I would say 80 percent of the club is not a brotherhood. It's all about the dollar. I've watched them take other brothers' bikes from them. I've watched them take their old ladies. I've watched them, I mean, it's not a brotherhood. They portray this to be a brotherhood. And what you've got to understand is when you're a hang-around, you're looking at the big picture that they're showing you. Now when you're a patch holder, you get to hear what the officers are telling you.
ROWEBut we've had meetings where -- we always had a meeting before we every went to church, and -- that's what they called our meetings -- and we know what's being said to them. They don't -- there's a lot behind the scene that the regular patch holder doesn't know nothing about.
ROBERTSCarlos, what's your take on this concept of brotherhood?
CANINOSure, I mean, you know, these groups are, you know, that's what they preach. And, you know, depending on the group, you know, a lot of them are very close. But, you know, George is right. You know, like any organization, there's infighting and dissention, you know? And frankly, at the end of the day, it's about the dollar, you know? And in movies, they want to, you know, portray these individuals as stand-up guys. They love their brothers and stuff like that. Sure, there is that. But, you know, at the end of the day, it's about the dollar. And frankly, you know, when you arrest a lot of these guys and they're looking at, you know, possibly life behind bars, you'd be surprised how quick brotherhood disappears.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts. We'll be back with your calls and your comments in just a minute. So please stay with us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. Our subject this hour, the shootout among rival motorcycle gangs in Waco, Texas over the weekend. With me, Randy McBee. He's an Associate Professor of History at Texas Tech University. His forthcoming book, "Born to be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist." George Rowe is on the phone with me. His former informant for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and his book is called "Gods of Mischief."
ROBERTSAnd Carlos Canino is a special agent in the L.A. field office of the ATF and gentlemen, I want to turn to some of our callers and let's start with John is southwest, Texas. John, welcome.
JOHNYeah. Yes, I'm a patch holder in the NSA. And I thought I might offer a little insight.
ROBERTSExplain to us, first of all, what a patch holder means. What does that phrase mean?
JOHNWell, it's the patch on your back.
JOHNYou have to iron that patch and I think you discussed fairly well in depth, so far, but I think it's important to make a distinction between the clubs. You throw around the words gang and club kind of simul -- or, interchangeably. And even within the one percent clubs, there are different chapters that are not completely autonomous, but they kind of direct their own business. And so, you know, you can't paint all the MC's with a broad brush and you can't paint the whole club with a broad brush.
JOHNThere's different factions within the clubs that run different operations and do different things. And so, it's the same way within the MC world, different clubs got their own business. And it doesn't matter if it's red and gold, red and white, black and white, green and black. They've all got their own business and a real common phrase, or saying in the MC world is stay in your lane. You don't get in somebody else's business. I don't care what they do. You understand what I'm saying?
JOHNAnd you can't, like I said, Randy made a real good, was making some real good points about the distinction between a motorcycle enthusiast and a club member. But, between the clubs and even the different chapters within the club, there's distinction. And you know, it's easy for the media to paint everything with a broad brush.
ROBERTSWell, we appreciate your call and we appreciate your contributions to the conversation. Thank you, John. Randy, he mentioned your name. What's your reaction to John's comment?
MCBEEI think he's absolutely right. I think, you know, when you earlier talked about what's the distinction between a typical club and a one percenter, the easy answer is that, well, the one percenters are involved in drugs and guns and commit lots of crimes and I think that's just very simplistic and I think it ignores, you know, the very subtle ways in which these clubs are organized and the different, sort of, activities they participate in and the sense of brotherhood. I think we were very inclined, earlier, I think, to dismiss the concept of brotherhood, but I don't think we can ignore it that easily.
MCBEEI mean, just take what happened in Waco recently. You're faced with a potential violent situation. What's keeping you there? Is it simply the bottom dollar or is there a relationship that's taking shape within those clubs that sort of binds these men together? And this is also the way in which I think you can talk about the military's influence. You know, when people talk about the experience of combat, or talk about the experience of being in the military, they do talk about this sense of brotherhood that evolves. That nothing compares to that as closely as what you might find, perhaps, in a motorcycle club.
MCBEEAnd I think the two translate very well together and explain sort of, maybe the sort of origins of some of this. And the extent to which these clubs, you know, remain as popular as they have.
ROBERTSAnd I think we were trying very hard to make a very clear distinction between the kind of violent gangs that were involved in the shootout and the 99 percent of motorcycle enthusiasts who see this as a hobby and see this as a club and a lawful activity. And I -- we've been trying to do that, and I want to go to Holly in Long Island. She has something to contribute, and Holly, welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
HOLLYThank you for taking my phone call. I thought what you just said is very poignant to my point, is that, well, bringing up Vietnam and brotherhood and my father was 71 when he passed away, but he was a motorcycle rider for his entire life. And I grew up on his motorcycle. He was in Vietnam. He was a decorated veteran of Vietnam. He had a purple heart. He was a wounded veteran and all of his best friends were motorcycle riders and my sister rides motorcycles. And we're just a normal family from a nice neighborhood.
HOLLYYou know, I don't want your conversation and the conversation of the media, in general, to paint a bad picture for these men. They give charity, they have cancer benefits, they give toys to children on Christmas and Easter and they give food to the homeless. And, you know, we've done many things as a family on Long Island, in New York, rise to Manhattan, Connecticut where thousands of men come together, men and women come together to ride motorcycles in support of veterans and people who are in the military. And it's just very important to make that point.
ROBERTSIt is important, Holly. And I'd like to ask you a follow-up question. What, since you were so close to your dad, and saw him as a member of these clubs, what do you think drew him? What was it that was so important to him as a -- that made these clubs so much a part of his life?
HOLLYIt's 100 percent brotherhood. It's 100 percent. I mean, my father grew up in the 50s, taking care of classic cars. He got me a '66 Mustang was my first car. I don't ride motorcycles, but I grew up on motorcycles and I saw him and the way that he was with not only my family, but the families that he had in his motorcycle club. And those men, when my father passed away, hundreds and hundreds of men escorted my family, you know, for him, for his funeral and I still see these men and they're wonderful, wonderful people.
HOLLYAnd they ride motorcycles and they wave to each other down the road when they pass each other on either side. It doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter what you do. It doesn't matter what class you are. It doesn't matter what color you are. They ride the motorcycle, because it makes them free. My uncle would ride from Arizona to New York every summer to see my family and, you know, they just put thousands and thousands of miles on their motorcycle because it made them free. They could be outside and they could be free together. And I think that is a really important point.
ROBERTSThank you, Holly, very much, for calling "The Diane Rehm Show." We appreciate it. Carlos, your reaction to Holly's comments.
CANINOYeah, I mean, yeah, I agree with -- we're not talking -- the discussion here today was we're talking about the one percent criminal groups. You know, I have a good friend of mine who's a federal judge who is a big motorcycle rider. I ride motorcycles. That's not who we're talking about here today. We're talking about the one percent subculture. And in my 25 years as an ATF agent, investigating these groups, they're criminal organizations. Also, and I don't want to get off topic, but I need to say this.
CANINOThe police in Waco did an outstanding job in containing that scene. If they had not been there, you'd have a lot more people laying on the ground. They did a great job and, you know, the narrative right now is, in this country, is not very kind to police, but I need to say this. They did an outstanding job in putting that scene down.
ROBERTSThank you. George, I'm sorry, George, did you want to add something?
ROWEYeah. If the police -- okay, I was in an incident in California, and there was police everywhere. Okay? The outlaw doesn't care about the police and I think there would have been a whole, whole lot more damage if the police presence was not there.
ROBERTSRight. Let me turn to Marshall in Charlotte, North Carolina. Marshall, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MARSHALLHey. Thank you. Thank you for taking my call. I wanted to address something from a law enforcement aspect and even a political aspect.
MARSHALLI had run for a political office here in North Carolina and had to have a sit down meeting with members of the Hell's Angels to let them operate in a certain county in North Carolina to keep the pagans from moving in to that county. North Carolina is divided mostly between red and white and black and white and I think these gentlemen can understand what I'm talking about with patch colors of these clubs. And the Hell's Angels operate a good part in North Carolina and they have appellate clubs.
MARSHALLAnd we had to have, like I said, have a meeting with them. I almost had to take the lesser of two evils because the Hell's Angels are more organized, they're more of a business oriented organization now. And if we had to choose between one or two clubs operating in an area, we wanted to work with a club that was more willing to work towards the political goals of the area than have a club that could not necessarily be controlled in the area.
ROBERTSSo, as a candidate for public office, you felt compelled to negotiate with these clubs because they were that influential in your part of the country.
MARSHALLYes. It was a borderline area in North Carolina where both clubs were moving in to the area. Black and white was moving from the north to the south, red and white was moving from the south to the north. And this was a place in the Carolinas where they were gonna, where they were meeting up, we were having tensions and issues and fights and confrontations. And we finally said, you know, we'll meet with red and white and we'll allow them to operate in that area. We almost had to say what they could and could not do as far as guns, drugs, prostitutions and so forth, just to keep the black and white out of the area and keep tensions at an ease.
ROBERTSStay on the line, Marshall. Carlos, your reaction to Marshall's comments.
CANINOYeah, I mean, you know, I think when you start doing that, you start going down a slippery slope. And I'm gonna say, once you're telling them what they can and can't do, they're telling you what you want to hear. They're gonna do whatever they want to do. You just gave them a green light to come on in and do what they're gonna do. You're not gonna be able to stop them from doing what they're gonna do.
ROBERTSMarshall, what's your reaction to these comments?
MARSHALLNo, I think they're completely right. We were not going to stop them from doing what they're gonna do. I think the gentlemen need to understand that we had to choose the lesser of two evils and let one organization think that they could operate in the area. Understand that they're probably going to do what they want to do, anyway. But it also kept another organization that was considerably more dangerous to the local populous, out of that area.
ROBERTSSo your decision as a law enforcement officer was you were going to put sort of public peace as a high value here and that what you wanted to avoid was a gang war between these two rival gangs.
MARSHALLPretty much. And there were some support organizations including some military support organizations that were involved in that. And I understand, and I appreciate these gentlemen's background, but considering the meetings that we had to have with these clubs in the area, it was actually a very well run, very well organized. And considering the leeway that local law enforcement was willing to give and local political backing was willing to give, it all turned out pretty well.
ROBERTSWhat do you mean by connections to the military?
MARSHALLSome of the support organizations are lots and lots of military veterans, as you're talking about. Some of them have -- actually, a lot of active duty military veterans. And those, considering the part of the Carolinas that was very heavily influential into what they were doing, operating within that area.
ROBERTSThank you very much for your call, Marshall. We appreciate it. I'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. We have a tweet here. Frustrating to hear the lengths taken to humanize violent criminal biker gangs, yet black protesters freely referred to as thugs. Have any reaction, Randy?
MCBEEI'm sorry. Say that again.
ROBERTSWe have a tweet from a listener who says it's frustrating to hear the lengths taken to humanize violent criminal biker gangs. I'm not sure we were doing that. But yet black protesters freely referred to as thugs.
MCBEEWell, yeah, that's an issue that's actually attracting a lot of attention on social media. The extent to which, you know, motorcycles are treated in one way, you know, images of motorcycles sitting on the curb, smoking cigarettes, you know, checking their phones while the police are trying to sort out the details and images of, you know, black men pinned to the ground and pepper sprayed in Ferguson earlier this year. And what's interesting about that is that's been a critique that's been around since at least the 1960s, that the police and these clubs have a relationship that is, in many ways, driven by concerns about race.
MCBEEAnd about the fears of urban uprisings and rebellions. Hunter Thompson makes the case in his book. There's actually a civil rights commission in Waterbury Connecticut in '69 that's making the same case, that the local police were working with the rat pack motorcycle club to sort of stop potential uprisings and to target black activists and civil rights black power. So, that's been a constant theme surrounding sort of motorcyclists, police and the black community for several decades.
ROBERTSLet me turn to Tracy in Tampa, Florida. Tracy, you're on the Diane Rehm Show. Thanks for your call.
TRACYHi, thank you for taking my call. I am, first and foremost, a biker. I am a grandmother, I am a mother. I attend events. I went to Daytona. I've been to local events in the Tampa Bay area as well. I see the one percenters. I've never been approached by any of them. None of them have bothered. I avoid. At the beginning, all of your panelists have kind of backtracked a little bit. I just was really incensed by them saying, well, when you'd ask them the difference between, you know, these clubs and then the regular motorcycle enthusiasts, none of them could come up with a good answer.
TRACYThe answer is I'm a law abiding citizen. I don't run drugs. I don't run guns. I live within the limits of the law and I do so riding a motorcycle enthusiastically.
ROBERTSAnd do you think that your hobby, your interest, your group of friends is misunderstood?
TRACYI do. I do. I belong to what's called, and I'm sure they're familiar with it, I'm a member of Harley Owner's Group. A local chapter. Largest chapter in the state of Florida. We do charity runs, including for fallen police officers. We do just fun runs. We call it, you know, the ride to eat group. That's our thing, you know. You go out for a nice ride and you meet at a restaurant and you sit down, you have a nice meal, you swap stories, you look at each other's motorcycles and, you know, that's basically what these clubs that I see and I belong to, are. And, you know, I'm not...
CANINOYou're not a gang though.
TRACY...I'm not, no. And that's my point. Is when you first started talking and he specifically asked, I can't remember which panelist, he asked, well, what's the difference between these, you know, weekend motorcycle enthusiasts and these groups, these gangs that you're talking about. And the guy sat there silent. He couldn't. He goes, I can't really think of an answer. Well, I gave you one.
ROBERTS...well, we appreciate your answer.
CANINOThat was a good answer.
ROBERTSAnd we appreciate your call, Tracy. Thanks very much. Randy, what's your reaction to Tracy's call?
MCBEEWell, I think she's absolutely right. I think when you first asked me that question, you know, the easy answer was, like I said earlier, the drugs and guns. I think what I'm thinking about is the potential fallout from incidents like this and how this will affect, you know riders like, you know, the woman who just called in. You know, that this has the potential to sort of expand upon the sort of repeated attempts to sort of regulate motorcyclists. And if you look at the history of regulation, it's not just about how much to protect riders. It was regulation to sort of pin in riders or regulate riders to keep riders off the streets.
ROBERTSThat's gonna have to be the last word. Randy McBee from Texas Tech. George Rowe is with us, author of "Gods of Mischief." Carlos Canino, special agent for the ATF in L.A. And Manny Fernandez, Houston Bureau Chief for the New York Times. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. Thanks so much for spending the morning with us.
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