From the time he was big enough to climb onto the back of his dad’s Harley, Jake Carrizal felt the pull of the open road.
The summer he was 9, he rode on the back of his dad’s bike to Mount Rushmore and then on to Sturgis, the annual Super Bowl of biker rallies, in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
“He was on the back holding on tight. People would point and say ‘Oh, look how cute!'” recalled his dad, Chris Carrizal.
Along the way, Jake got his first look at the biggest, baddest bikers in all of Texas, the Bandidos: “Just seeing them riding down the road,” Jake said, “you knew: You don’t mess with these guys.”
Jake and his dad both became Bandidos. Chris Carrizal earned his patch in 2005, and Jake, 34 and a father of two, joined seven years later. He rose quickly to become vice president of the Dallas chapter, second in command to his uncle.
Jake was at a barbecue at his uncle’s when he got his Bandidos patch — a “fat Mexican,” they call it: a round-bellied, grinning caricature with a handlebar mustache and sombrero, wielding a pistol in one hand and a machete in the other (bikers are not known for political correctness). Jake was so moved he cried that night as he stitched the patch onto his jacket under the glow of a flashlight in the backyard.
“There’s a brotherhood, you know,” he said, explaining why he chose the life of a Bandidos biker. “It’s a good group of guys, and we like to do a lot of the same things — ride motorcycles and have fun.”
It’s been a year since Jake and his dad last rode together as Bandidos. May 17, 2015. Destination: Waco.
They were supposed to attend a regular meeting of a statewide umbrella organization called the Confederation of Clubs. The location was Twin Peaks, a biker-friendly, Hooters-style restaurant where cold beer is served by women in skimpy cutoff shorts.
When the first Bandidos arrived from the Dallas chapter, they found about 60 members of a smaller biker club — the Cossacks — waiting. The Cossacks aren’t confederation members, and as far as the Bandidos from Dallas were concerned, they hadn’t been invited.
Accounts vary over what got the fists — and the bullets — flying on a Sunday afternoon that would mark the most violent day in Texas biker history. Police suspected something was up; they’d installed cameras and stationed about 20 cops around the parking lot. But they stood back, keeping a low profile.
Was the beef over what patches the Cossacks could wear, as police had theorized? Did somebody at Twin Peaks run over a Cossack prospect’s foot, as some witnesses suggest? Was it over who owed dues to whom? Or was it just a dumb beef about parking spots?
Words were exchanged at first, then pushes, and then punches. Witnesses said somebody fired three shots. Other people pulled guns and all hell broke loose. It lasted less than two minutes and when it was over, nine bikers had been fatally shot and 18 were wounded, including Chris, who took a bullet in the shoulder.
Jake said he had been backing his midnight blue Harley into a parking space when the brawl blew up around him. Father and son lost each other in the confusion, and for a time each believed the other had been killed.
Nearly a year after the deadly melee, the Carrizals and half a dozen other bikers — both Bandidos and Cossacks — are speaking out. They agreed to appear on camera and talk for the first time about their clubs, their culture and the events in Waco. Bandidos leader Jeff Pike, known as “El Presidente,” also broke his long silence. He said he likes things quiet and never had a reason to speak out before Waco.
After 177 bikers were arrested, bail initially was set at $1 million each. Jake spent 23 days behind bars before his bail was lowered enough that he could post bond. He sold one of his bikes to come up with the required 10% in cash.
A local grand jury later indicted 154 bikers — including the Carrizals — on a single, generic count of engaging in organized criminal activity. A conviction carries a stiff penalty: from five years to life in prison. But nobody seems to be able to pin down the specific crimes alleged, or to even get a trial date. Local officials aren’t talking.
The bikers say they’re eager for the chance to defend themselves. They say the man who fired the first shots is dead and everyone else was acting in self-defense. Both Cossacks and Bandidos see themselves as crime victims.
But this wasn’t just a matter for the local police. The feds had been building a case against the Bandidos unrelated to the Waco shootout and showed their hand in January, when an indictment was unsealed in San Antonio. It names three Bandidos leaders, including Pike, as masterminds of a racketeering conspiracy and methamphetamine distribution ring. The indictment alleges the club masks a criminal empire that rules through extortion, intimidation and murder. All three have pleaded not guilty.
The feds allege they found “a closed society” in which loyalty “to this organization and their fellow brothers is valued above all else.” Bandidos, according to the indictment, “do not fear authority and have a complete disdain for the rules of society.”
‘People our parents warned us about’
Bandidos refer to nonbikers as “polite society” and the club motto says it all: “We are the people our parents warned us about.”
They are in the biker big leagues, one of four major motorcycle clubs. The other three are the Hells Angels, the Pagans and the Outlaws. Members of those clubs as well as some others are known as “outlaw bikers” or “one-percenters.”
Make no mistake: To Bandidos, the label “outlaw biker” is a point of pride. To be a one-percenter means the rules for 99% of the riders on the road don’t apply to you.
“To us it’s a family thing, it’s not a criminal organization,” Chris Carrizal said. “We love each other and we love to ride and we’re proud to wear that fat Mexican on our back. For people who don’t understand, being in the Bandidos means you’ve reached the top, you’re like the CEO.”
To both father and son, being a one-percenter is a commitment.
“I’m a Bandido 24/7,” Chris said. “I’m not a poser. I’m not a yuppie, a wannabe. I live the life of a professional motorcyclist. I am a one-percenter.”
Until Waco, the Bandidos didn’t take the Cossacks seriously. At best, they were “an aspirational club,” in the words of Donald Charles Davis, a Vietnam vet, biker and former newspaper reporter who writes The Aging Rebel, a blog followed religiously by bikers. He’s working on a book about the Waco shootout.
The Cossacks motto: “We take care of our own.”
“We’re working guys, man, and that’s the whole problem,” said Owen Reeves, a national Cossacks leader. “We’re working guys, and if you try to take something from a working guy, then you’re gonna have hell doing it.
“You know, them guys, they wanna control everything and make you pay this, pay that, and we’re not gonna do it,” he said of the Bandidos. “We’re grown men, and last time I checked, we live in America.”
Both the Bandidos and the Cossacks were founded in Texas during the 1960s — the Bandidos in 1966 in Houston and the Cossacks three years later in Tyler, in east Texas. There has never been any love lost between them.
At the time the two clubs started, disillusioned Vietnam veterans were returning from an unpopular war to an unwelcoming society. They no longer fit in at home and felt most comfortable in a structured hierarchy of men with the shared experiences of war, their brothers in arms. Motorcycle clubs offered that sense of camaraderie, Davis said.
The Cossacks might have been ambitious, he added, but before Waco the Bandidos viewed them as little more than a nuisance.
“They’re in their own little world. I have no respect for them,” said Chris Carrizal. Sprinkling his speech with F-bombs, he added that Cossacks “have no idea what it’s like to be a one-percenter or what it is to be in a real club.”
As for what happened at Waco, he said, “they showed their true colors that day.”