It had to be Waco, right? It had to be a Sunday showdown in a shopping mall neo-Hooters on the edge of Jerusalem on the Brazos, the city where there are more Baptists than people, on the opposite side of town from the site of the Branch Davidians cable-TV firestorm.
Like or not, Waco is a kind of -- in the words of one police official on the scene -- "Anytown, USA." If suburbanites can end up in the line of fire during a bikers vs. bikers vs. police melee in Big Box shopping land in Waco, it can happen anywhere (or at least anywhere in the zip codes that draw bikers).
I'll be honest and admit that I was not looking for religion ghosts in this story, even if the drama unfolded near my old haunts in Waco.
However, the co-founder of this weblog -- the Rt. Rev. Doug LeBlanc -- did more than his share of reading and sent me a URL to an interesting Sojourners commentary on the showdown between the dominant Bandidos Motorcycle Club and the emergent Cossacks, who were said to have ties to the national Hells Angels. The headline: "The Theology of a Biker Gang." The key passage:
One of the biker gangs is called the “Bandidos.” They originated in Texas during the 1960s. In 2013, federal law enforcement produced a national gang report that identified the Bandidos as one of the five most dangerous biker gang threats in the U.S. And they have a theology and an anthropology that you should know about. They’re summed up in one of their slogans:
God forgives. Bandidos don’t.
We can easily dismiss that slogan as a biker gangs attempt to intimidate, but do not dismiss it. That pithy statement tells a profound truth about both God and humanity.
Read the whole essay, if you want to know where writer Adam Erickson goes with that concept.
What struck me as a religion-beat guy was the fact that such a slogan exists and, with a bit of WWW poking, it was easy to learn that variations on that formula (God forgives. Outlaws don't) are used by more than a few biker flocks. I ran a quick search and, unless I have missed something (let me know if I have), the content of that slogan hasn't made it into any mainstream news reports.
Hey journalists doing follow-up work: Someone check the tattoos on the victims and those arrested for their roles in this parking-lot war.
Is there a religion angle here? The Los Angeles Times report contained some hints, in part linked to that Sunday in Waco theme. Reporters were sensitive to the whole Middle America vibe here:
The backcountry bars and Harley hide-outs that formed the backdrop of biker brawls of the 1960s and ’70s, authorities say, have given way to bloody confrontations at corner restaurants, shopping centers and casinos.
“I think there’s something different happening here. It seems bolder, more in-our-face,” said Randy McBee, an associate professor at Texas Tech University who studies biker culture. “Look at a map and this place is right in the middle of a Dollar General and four or five churches. This is right out in the open.”
Churches? That would have been an interesting place to turn for comments on this affair.
No surprise, but there was money and pride involved in the fight too -- a battle over the sacred word "Texas," claimed by the dominant Bandidos for use on their leather vestments, and who would pay, in a way, tithes and offerings to whom.
The purported dispute involving the Bandidos and the Cossacks had its roots in 2013, said former Bandido leader Edward Winterhalder, who now writes books on motorcycle gangs and consults on television shows. The Cossacks club, which was founded in Texas in 1969, offended the Bandidos when it affixed the word “Texas” to the bottom of its colors, a territory-claiming patch also known as the “bottom rocker,” he said.
The Bandidos swiftly warned the Cossacks to remove the label, Winterhalder said, but the Cossacks refused. Fistfights escalated to worse violence, including an incident in December 2013 when a Bandido leader was accused of stabbing two Cossacks in Abilene, Texas. ...
A Waco business owner who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation defended the Cossacks. “They were just some hardworking guys getting together to defend basic principles of America: not to be bullied,” he said. “They’re fighting about a piece of cloth, but it’s civil liberties. ... Did they copyright Texas?”
God forgives. Bandidos don't.
A crucial, relevant fact at the heart of the fighting in, yes, Waco and the heart of Texas? Or just another symbolic detail in a story full of them?