Waco (Twin Peaks) A Rider's View                                                               Report 1626 words
Copyright Nov 17
Howard R Music

In 1966 the Highway Safety Act was passed and congress soon tied the receiving of highway funds to the passage of motorcycle helmet laws by individual states. Avid motorcyclists were a rarity in those days, mostly young, and not an obvious voting threat to state politicians. Every state except California passed a mandatory helmet law. Oddly enough, during this period, the Hells Angels (little known outside of California) were receiving national press coverage over an alleged gang rape. Though the charges were dropped, the notoriety of motorcycle club members and the threats of legislation contrary to a two-wheeled lifestyle, would form a disastrous mix a half-century later in Waco, Texas.

By the early 1970s motorcyclists were organizing and challenging the validity of helmet laws. Started in California, ABATE is probably the most well known across the nation, the structure and tactics of the individual chapters at the state level varies considerably, so the term is essentially generic for a motorcycle rights' organization. Letter writing campaigns and occasional visits to elected representatives marked their earliest endeavors which were successful in many states as was the case in my native Texas.

However, bureaucrats are tenacious, and in the early 1980s the threat was reborn and a helmet bill was written in Austin. Riders hastily came together and started letter campaigns, often in a bar, the patrons lured by free keg beer. Flooded with paper the author withdrew the bill, however the respite didn't last long. Before the end of the decade Texas officials lost their fear of letter writing and irregular visits by leather clad aberrations and again passed a mandatory helmet law. The 1980s were tough on Texans. The collapse of the oilfield was a disaster economically and surviving left little time for keeping tabs on shenanigans at the capital.

Weary of never ending bureaucratic interference in their lives, in the 1990s Texas riders began experimenting with becoming delegates to the political conventions, citizen legislators, spurred on by the colorful and charismatic Sputnik, an Oklahoma Indian who had settled on the Texas coast. A veteran rider, Sputnik established the Texas Motorcycle Rights Association (TMRA2) and traversed the state rallying motorcycle rights' activists, club members, and independents. An eccentric, to say the least, with a deformed hand sporting only a forefinger and thumb (the result of a commercial fishing accident) a mohawk haircut, and a gravelly voice. But it was his bulldog perseverance with motorcycle rights that drew others to him. After renting office space in Austin, the man visited the capitol on a daily basis, lobbying senators and representatives.

I was a member of Texoma ABATE, based in Sherman in Grayson County on the Red River, one of three chapters in the state at that time when we began working the delegate angle. It's a simple process; after the polling precinct closes voters may show up, nominate delegates, and vote on hand carried resolutions, as well as get themselves nominated to the county convention, where the process is repeated on to the state convention. The first time only a handful of delegates went to the state convention, but the next voting cycle saw hundreds of motorcyclists at the state Democratic convention, each carrying at least one resolution pertaining to motorcycle rights. The numbers increased until Texas bikers were as many as 40% or more of the delegates at the state level. In fact, the first woman to chair the Texas State Democratic Party, Molly Beth Malcom, was elected in 1998 after the Texas biker delegation announced their support. Knowing he would have to garner essentially all of the remaining delegates her opponent simply dropped out of the race.

Besides working the conventions, riders were making constant visits to the capital, meeting with their representatives and attending committee hearings to testify and show support on bills of interest, and would fill the galleries above the house and senate floors when the bills were read. In January of every session it has become a tradition for riders from across the state to attend "Legislative Day," a coordinated gathering of "Legislative Warriors," to speak personally with their elected officials. Police escorts were used to thread riders by the hundreds to parking spaces, the air electrified with the roar of twin-cylinder Harley Davidsons and camaraderie as leather shorn bikers greeted old friends and walked the historic grounds of the capital building viewing statues and paintings of past events and well known leaders of the Republic, as they made their way to the offices of their representatives. It wasn't uncommon to see parents with their children. Because a blue norther can drop temperatures below freezing and leave roads coated with sheets of ice, my chapter Texoma ABATE, chartered a bus to keep numbers up and allow families to make it to Austin, and the kids went along to the meetings and photography sessions as well.

It paid off. In 1997 then Governor George Bush signed Senate Bill 99, which became law 1 Sep. 97, and restored choice as far as helmet usage was concerned. The bill was sponsored by Republican Senator Jerry Patterson, a retired Marine aviator, who later went on to became land commissioner. Rep. Jim Pitts sponsored the house version. Senator Patterson also sponsored a concealed carry bill that became law. Though not well known, Texas bikers had a hand in the success of concealed carry, because besides the helmet resolutions many also carried gun rights' resolutions. I remember it well; the faces of older Democratic Party members, some who had been members since the New Deal, surrounded by hard core motorcyclists that looked as if they'd just ridden out of a 1960's biker flick as they read and talked about proposals to allow them to legally carry pistols.

As the threat of over-regulation continues from Washington and the state level, motorcyclists from around the nation from all levels of riders; independents, local riding clubs, nationally known patch-holders as well as foreign riders, continue to meet, discuss problems, and strategies. The Motorcycle Riders Foundation sponsors the Meeting of the Minds, usually held in five-star hotels. The Mid-South Mile, a coalition of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana, holds similar meetings on a regular basis. As an officer for ABATE I attended an AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) conference in Washington D.C. There is C.O.I.R (Coalition of Independent Riders), and NCOM (National Coalition of Motorcyclists) which is the parent of COC (Coalition of Clubs) and the US Defenders, who describe themselves not as a motorcycle rights' association but as educators.
In short, gang fights with denim clad Neanderthals swinging chains at one another makes profitable cinema, but is of little use against the most dangerous enemies of motorcyclists, bureaucrats with pens. It's cheaper and easier, bikers have learned, to use the rules of the existing system set up by our forefathers.

Having attended such meetings since 1982 and rubbing shoulders with every type of motorcyclist imaginable from patch holders to Christian evangelists, I've never witnessed or even heard of violence at any of the venues, which are often started with prayer or at least a moment of silence. It was a shock of Twilight Zone magnitude to hear about the killings at the Texas Coalition of Clubs meeting at Twin Peaks in Waco in which the agenda was 17 million-dollars in rider education funds held by the state and bills restricting profiling of motorcyclists by law enforcement.

The melee reads like a really bad B-movie script. A small band of the Bandidos M.C. rolls into the parking lot and is immediately attacked in overwhelming numbers by members of the Cossacks M.C. before they can even dismount. Shots are fired, police open up with rifles and 26 motorcyclists are wounded and 9 killed. One-hundred and seventy-seven others, many who were munching on chips and salsa and sipping beer while waiting for the meeting to start, are detained, and then arrested after the DA takes over the investigation personally. Any motorcyclist perceived to be a member or supporter of the battling clubs were charged with conspiracy and jailed with one-million-dollar bonds.

The script goes downhill fast. Those in power want to place a local law enforcement officer as the foreman of the grand jury; recusal is resisted by a judge who was a former law partner of one of the prosecution team, and the disclosure of the DA, Able Reyna, under possible investigation by the feds for misconduct in former cases.
The first trial was prosecuted under RICO and gang affiliation under the premise the gathering was a conspiracy to commit murder that recently ended in mistrial. According to a juror the majority voted innocent on all counts but there were three members adamant about the defendant's guilt. There were many delays as the defense constantly raised objections about withheld information by the prosecution. It has come to light the existence of recordings made with informants days before the event, allegedly members of the club that started the fight. Also revealed were the use of undercover officers.

However this ends it must be noted that the first time in two-decades of Texas COC meetings where, like all Americans, they have the right to assemble and discuss grievances and, the only one in which there was violence, there just happened to be a contingency of FBI, DEA, ATF, Texas Rangers, DPS (state troopers), a SWAT team, as well as local police department personal waiting in the wings loaded for bear. It is not known if the EPA was present to monitor lead levels from the rounds fired, or if the AMA (American Medical Association) was observing the affects of projectiles on the human body.

                                                                     *     *     *
For more news on the prosecutions:

Make a free website with Yola