Mass killings, the 1%, and anti-tank missiles: Seven things to know about the Bandidos

The infamous motorcycle club has just opened a branch in Limerick

Mass killings, the 1%, and anti-tank missiles: Seven things to know about the Bandidos

A member of the Bandidos gang sits beside a police officer inside a German courtroom during a 2007 trial [AP Photo/Frank Augstein]

The infamous international Bandidos Motorcycle Club has just opened its first chapter in Ireland, with the Limerick-based centre reportedly already the focus of members of the Gardaí and Europol. Armed members of the Irish police force, as well as uniformed officers, carefully watched the initiation ceremony last weekend that saw the gang launch its first chapter in Ireland.

In a number of the 28 countries where the gang has set up chapters, reports link the Bandidos to serious crimes, including people smuggling and murder. Last year, Texas police in Waco arrested 177 bikers after a turf war with the rival Cossacks and the Scimitars biker gangs left nine people dead and 18 more wounded in a shootout.

According to the gardaí, at least two chapter members in the newly-formed Limerick group have previously been charged with offences before the courts, but most of the Irish Bandidos have no criminal past.

Bandidos from all across Europe travelled to Limerick for the official opening ceremony, which saw the Ireland patches handed out to the new members in a rented warehouse in Limerick city. The patches include the Bandidos signature motif of an armed Mexican bandit, with the phrase “We are the people your parents warned you about” embroidered underneath.

With the Limerick chapter’s activities still monitored by gardaí, here are seven things to know about the Bandidos...

  • This year marks the gang’s golden anniversary

The Bandidos were formed in 1966 by a Vietnam War veteran named Donald Chambers, also known by his street name Mother, in San Leon, Texas. In 1972, after two drug dealers sold Chambers baking soda in place of methamphetamine, he and two other Bandidos drove them out into the desert, forced them to dig their own graves, shot them dead and set their bodies on fire. Chambers received parole in 1983, retiring from the Bandidos and settling in El Paso until his death in 1999.

Donald Chambers [Wiki Commons]

  • The FBI officially named the Bandidos as an outlaw motorcycle club

The gang is listed among the most active members of the FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center’s reports, with bureau agents writing that its members pose “a growing threat to the US law enforcement authorities.” The reports link the Bandidos to drug trafficking, as well as the production and distribution of methamphetamine.

  • The Bandidos’ biggest rivals are the Hells Angels, and the two have gone to war in the past

The Waco shootout is suspected to have been propelled by the Hells Angels supporting the two smaller gangs attempts to carve up territory in Texas, moving in on places traditionally held by the Bandidos. But between 1994 and 1997, the turf war between the Hells Angels and the Bandidos in Scandinavia resulted in 11 murders, 74 attempted murders, and 96 gunshot wounds.

Referred to as the ‘Great Nordic Biker War’, fighting was so intense that it included gun fights, car bombs and an anti-tank missile launched at a prison cell holding a Bandidos member.

  • The worst mass killing in Canadian history has been linked to infighting within the Bandidos

In what Ontario investigators referred to as “internal cleansing,” the 2006 shooting dead of eight men, whose bodies were later dumped in abandoned cars, saw six Bandidos convicted of the killings. Jeff Pike, then the leader of the entire network, was named by authorities as having ordered the brutal restructuring, but was never charged.

  • The Bandidos identify among a select group of gangs as ‘one percenters’

The expression was coined by the American Motorcycle Association in response to the 1947 Hollister Riot, when the seven officers of the Hollister Police Force in California found themselves facing off with 4,000 motorcyclists who spent three days consuming alcohol. While it is much disputed how riotous events were, 50 people were arrested over the course of the three days, with 60 injuries reported.

The story became a media sensation after a photograph snapped by a Life magazine photographer was widely seen across the United States, leading to the AMA officially declaring “99% of motorcyclists are good, decent, law-abiding citizens.”

Since then, clubs with links to criminality define themselves as one percenters, which include the Hells Angels, the Bandidos, the Gypsy Jokers, and the Zulus.

The photograph of a drunken Eddie Davenport that propelled the AMA to define the one percenters [Wiki Commons]

  • The Bandidos have been accused of using charity to curry favour

The international chapters of the motorcycle gang routinely organise charity fundraising events, including benefit rides and dinners, with all of the proceeds donated to local women’s shelters and children’s charities. While members call these charitable endeavours “going to church,” law officials say that can be a mask for criminal activity and serve only to divert attention away from the Bandidos’ violent past.

  • Women are not allowed to join the gang, but wives/girlfriends are known as PBOLs

Standing for ‘Proud Bandido Old Lady’, the women who associate with the Bandidos live by a number of basic rules, including never showing disrespect to a patch holder in public, including her “ole man.” Catherine Martin, a former PBOL, writing about her experience in 2015 described how being married to a Bandido means being a bystander to the group’s internal power struggle.

“There’s always a trade off in everything, and outlaw clubs are no exception. These clubs are not democratic organisations, ruled by the many for the good of the all,” she said.

“They are run very firmly by men who usually clawed their way to the top of this primal food chain, and considering the general savagery of the ordinary member, that’s impressive.  Private agendas and cut-throat politics are the typical motivations that see these men to the top, and what keep them in power.”

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