From motorcycle clubs to organized crime: Notorious biker gangs

The history and violence of American motorcycle gangs
The history and violence of American motorcycle gangs

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Story highlights

  • A shootout among rival biker gangs left 9 people dead in Texas
  • Those gangs have not been identified, but some wore vests with motorcycle club names
  • The DOJ lists 8 motorcycle gangs known for a variety of crimes

(CNN)Bandidos, Hells Angels, Mongols. They're not just motorcycle clubs, but organized criminal enterprises.

Now, after a biker gang shootout left nine people dead in Texas, many are wondering what such gangs really stand for.
Police haven't identified the five biker gangs involved in Sunday's deadly melee outside a Twin Peaks restaurant -- other than to say they're notorious.
    "These are very dangerous, hostile biker gangs we are dealing with," Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said.
    Some men at the scene had the names and patches of motorcycle clubs emblazoned on their vests: Cossacks. Scimitars. Vaqueros.
    While it's not clear who else might be involved, here are some of the gangs federal authorities consider the most dangerous in the country:

    Bandidos Motorcycle Club

    The Bandidos boast a membership of 2,000 to 2,500 across not just the United States, but also 13 other countries, the Department of Justice says.
    "The Bandidos constitute a growing criminal threat to the U.S.," the agency says. "The Bandidos are involved in transporting and distributing cocaine and marijuana and are involved in the production, transportation and distribution of methamphetamine."
    The group's website highlights its noncriminal endeavors, such as an Easter party in Germany and a toy drive in France.

    Hells Angels Motorcycle Club

    With over 230 chapters in the U.S. and 26 other countries, "Hells Angels pose a criminal threat on six continents," the Department of Justice says.
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    Officials say the gang is heavily involved in the drug trade -- including the production and distribution of methamphetamine and the transportation of cocaine, hashish, heroin, LSD, Ecstasy and PCP.
    That's not all. "The Hells Angels are also involved in other criminal activity including assault, extortion, homicide, money laundering and motorcycle theft," the DOJ says.
    The group, founded in 1948, says its average member rides over 12,000 miles a year.
    "Each Charter varies in their requirements, but if you are really interested you should talk to a member in your area," the Hells Angels website says. "If you have to ask where the nearest Charter is ... you are not ready to join our Motorcycle Club,"
    As for the name, "we know that there is an apostrophe missing but it is you who miss it. We don't."

    Mongols Motorcycle Club

    The Mongols club is an "extremely violent" outlaw motorcycle gang that poses a serious criminal threat to the Pacific and Southwest regions of the U.S., the Department of Justice says.
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    In fact, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have called the Mongols the most violent and dangerous motorcycle gang in the country.
    "The Mongols are also known to frequently commit violent crime including assault, intimidation and murder in defense of their territory, and to uphold the reputation of the club," the DOJ said.
    The Mongols call themselves the "baddest 1%er Motorcycle Club known worldwide."
    "When we do right nobody remembers," the group says. "When we do wrong nobody forgets."

    Outlaws Motorcycle Club

    Arson, kidnapping, explosives, prostitution, homicide. Those are just some of the crimes the Outlaws have engaged in, the DOJ says.
    The Outlaws started in the Chicago area in 1935. Federal authorities say they are now the dominant motorcycle gang in the Great Lakes area.
    Their merchandise includes T-shirts with pictures of guns pointed at the viewer.
    "Snitches are a dying breed," one shirt says, with two guns firing.
    And there's a big rivalry between the Outlaws and Hells Angels.
    "The Outlaws compete with the Hells Angels for both members and territory," the DOJ says.
    The Department of Justice also lists four other groups whose members "use their motorcycle clubs as conduits for criminal enterprises": the Black Pistons Motorcycle Club, the Pagans Motorcycle Club, the Sons of Silence and the Vagos Motorcycle Club.