But the leaders of the Bandidos have long maintained that their international network of biker clubs are social organizations that help the community.
Now, it's a case they'll have to make in court.
On Wednesday, authorities arrested three Texas men they describe as the highest-ranking members of the organization: 60-year-old Jeffrey Fay Pike, the group's national president; 56-year-old John Xavier Portillo, the group's national vice president; and 31-year-old Justin Cole Forster, the group's national sergeant at arms.
They're accused of "directing, sanctioning, approving and permitting other members of the organization to carry out racketeering acts including murder, attempted murder, assault, intimidation, extortion and drug trafficking to protect and enhance the organization's power, territory, reputation and profits," the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Texas said in a statement.
If convicted, they could face life in prison, prosecutors said.
Kent Schaffer, an attorney who represents Pike, said he isn't buying it.
The allegations against Pike are "extremely thin," he said, "and it seems like an extremely weak case for a racketeering indictment." He accused the U.S. government of using the indictment to protect the Bandidos' rivals, the Cossacks.
"The government has targeted every single president of the Bandidos organization over the last 40 or 50 years or so, since the club has been in existence," he said.
An attorney who represents the group was not immediately available for comment. It was not immediately clear whether Portillo and Forster had retained legal representation.
Something was brewing, prosecutors allege, long before a feud between the Bandidos and the Cossacks apparently spilled over into a violent clash that left nine people dead
at a restaurant in Waco, Texas, last year.
According to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed Wednesday
, Portillo declared in 2013 that the Bandidos and the Cossacks were "at war." It was something he repeated numerous times, the indictment alleges.
A number of violent acts allegedly followed.
The indictment makes no mention of the now-notorious Waco biker brawl, but it details alleged violent acts and assault plots involving the Bandidos that occurred before and after the incident, including:
• In November 2013, a group of about 10 Bandidos members and their associates confronted a group of Cossacks in Abilene, Texas, the indictment alleges.
"After taking the whips off of the parked motorcycles owned by Cossacks OMO members, Bandidos OMO members and associates began assaulting Cossacks OMO members, including stabbing some Cossacks OMO members with knives, resulting in serious injuries."
Afterward, according to the indictment, the Bandidos' Abilene chapter president allegedly threatened the Cossacks members, saying, "This is our town. If you come back, I will kill you."
• In March 2015, about 20 Bandidos members and associates confronted a Cossacks member at a gas station in West Texas and demanded he hand over his vest, according to the indictment.
After he refused, the indictment alleges, the Bandidos members assaulted him, striking him "in the head multiple times with a claw hammer, causing serious injury." They then allegedly removed his vest and took it, along with his telephone.
• In August 2015, Bandidos members assaulted Cossacks members in Port Aransas, Texas, "by kicking and hitting them," the indictment alleges.
The assault, according to the indictment, was later discussed with Portillo by a chapter leader in a coded conversation. "The assault was referred to as a 'fishing trip;' according to the Corpus Christi Chapter Sergeant at Arms, 'everyone got to catch a fish.' "
Club or criminal enterprise?
Federal prosecutors didn't mince words in their statement announcing the Bandidos' leaders arrests, describing the group as a "criminal enterprise."
The 23-page indictment details the organization's hierarchy, symbols and dues structure.
"Allegiance to this organization and their fellow brothers is valued above all else. Witnesses to their criminal acts are typically the victims of acts of intimidation or harassment and are too afraid to approach law enforcement to testify in court proceedings," the indictment said. "Bandidos OMO members do not fear authority and have a complete disdain for the rules of society."
Portillo and Forster also face drug charges.
Prosecutors allege that Portillo received about 10 pounds of methamphetamine from a group of Colorado-based Bandidos members and that Forster was selling the drug.