After Waco: The Associations Taking on the Biker Gangs
The deadly biker gang shooting outside of a Waco restaurant on Sunday drew widespread media attention, both due to its unusual circumstances and the violence that took place. But for groups focused on investigating motorcycle gangs, it didn't come as a big surprise.
The deadly biker-gang shooting outside of a Waco restaurant on Sunday drew widespread media attention, both due to its unusual circumstances and the violence that took place. But for groups focused on investigating motorcycle gangs, it didn’t come as a big surprise.
As association names go, the International Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Investigators Association (IOMGIA) stands out: It’s a bit of a mouthful and covers a law enforcement niche that the average person probably doesn’t even know exists.
But IOMGIA, along with the regional Midwest Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Investigators Association (MOMGIA), finds itself in the middle of the news cycle this week, thanks to a dramatic gunfight at a Waco, Texas, chain restaurant that led to nine deaths, 18 injuries, and more than 170 arrests. Suddenly, the world of outlaw motorcycle gangs is in the headlines for the first time in decades. But IOMGIA Vice President Terry Katz told the Associated Press that such violent encounters aren’t uncommon.
“I get that question all the time: ‘Are these guys still around?'” Katz said. “Of course, they are. But they’ve lowered their profile, because it’s bad for business to be involved in something where you’re going to attract a great deal of law enforcement attention. They’ve never gone away. In fact, they’ve grown.”
Nonetheless, such gangs make up a relatively small portion of the overall gang population in the United States. According to FBI research [PDF], 88 percent of gang members are affiliated with street gangs, compared with 9.5 percent in prison gangs and 2.5 percent in outlaw motorcycle gangs.
There are dozens of groups nationwide that investigate gangs. Nearly two dozen of them, mostly focused on street gangs, are part of the National Alliance of Gang Investigators’ Associations. The groups represent officials who often do their work undercover.
MOMGIA Executive Director Steve Cook, who has worked undercover in a motorcycle gang, noted to Vox that he’s presenting on outlaw motorcycle gangs to Waco police next month. Despite the gangs’ offbeat image, he says, they’re far closer to domestic terrorists than local clubs.
“They can pretend like they’re these fraternal organizations,” Cook told Vox. “I can’t tell you the last time the Kiwanis and the Shriners had a shootout at a public venue.”
Cook noted that Sunday’s unusual shootout had roots in tensions between the Cossacks and the Bandidos.
“We knew the tensions with the Cossacks were as high as they’d ever been,” he said. “I don’t think anybody could have forecast it to the degree that it happened.”