John Wilson, who leads the McLennan County chapter of the Cossacks Motorcycle Club, was in the Waco Twin Peaks parking lot when the shooting broke out on May 17 between the Bandidos and Cossacks. His son Jake Wilson was also there. John Wilson owns Legend Cycles in Waco. He and his son were arrested, along with 175 others, and later indicted on organized crime charges. John Wilson is one of the only Cossacks speaking out about what happened that day, and he insists that many of those arrested are innocent. His interview with Julie Lyons is excerpted here.
Wilson begins by telling how Jake Rhyne, one of seven Cossacks killed that day, lay bleeding for 30 to 45 minutes without receiving medical attention. Wilson wanted to help, and he recounts his conversation with a Waco police officer:
John Wilson: … I ask him if several of us couldn’t pick up Jake along with some other ones that were wounded and carry them to the ambulances, and he basically told me that if I didn’t want to get shot, I wouldn’t.
[So the police] made no attempt during that time to give first aid or any kind of aid to Jake.
No. Absolutely not. Every one of those cop cars had some kind of first aid kit in ‘em. And not a single one at any time walked over, brought us a first aid kit, offered to tie a tourniquet on anybody, patch a hole, anything. Our guys were sitting there with nothing but bandannas in their hands trying to stuff bullet holes.
Could you tell from your vantage point looking at Jake [Rhyne] if there was a lot of blood loss?
So it’s possible — I’m not a doctor, of course, and neither are you — that he bled out.
Well, I have to assume that those guys that were alive 30 minutes after the fact that died without medical care, you know, we can only make assumptions, but their odds of survival would have been better if they’d had medical care. Would they have died anyway? Maybe. As you say, I’m not a doctor. But they certainly deserved the opportunity to try to live. And to try to recover from it. And the opportunity was sitting right there in an ambulance 50 yards away that they weren’t allowed access to.
At that point, after he was shot, the shooting had stopped when your son began to render aid, right?
So the scene was secure in that sense.
Yeah, yeah. They had unarmed civilian employees walking around marking shell casings and stuff. It was not a hot area anymore…
Wow. What was going through your mind when you’re watching these guys just lying there?
You know, disbelief. And some anger at the callousness of the officers there — I mean, if they were over there trying to help out and saying they won’t let us bring the ambulances in because it’s not being called secure yet, but they’re over there trying to help, I would feel differently about it. But just standing there watching those guys bleed until they start convulsing and die, standing there with a gun pointing at ‘em … and then not lifting a single finger to do anything to help those guys, I was angry. At that point, I didn’t know who shot who. To this day, I don’t know who shot who. I never have been one of these guys saying, 'Oh, the cops shot everybody.' I never did say that — I don’t know who shot who. Other than I didn’t shoot anybody. All I was trying to do was keep from getting shot.
So the cops actually had guns pointed at the ones who were down?
Oh, yeah. At all of us. They were just standing around — you know, I’m not saying that they were trained on those guys that were wounded — they were covering us all.
But guns out.
I saw you quoted somewhere saying that if you had thought that violence was going to break out, you would not have brought your son.
No. I wouldn’t have brought any of my chapter there. We went for peaceful purposes. Matter of fact, I told everybody in my chapter, don’t bear a gun in there … because the way things have been, it would have chanced somebody getting hotheaded and throw a punch, and I didn’t want to see anything get out of hand.
So what do you think about the stereotype of [clubs like the Cossacks] running prostitution and meth rings and so on?
Well, let me just say this. It’s a 46-year-old club. Google it. Now, if we’d had four-and-a-half decades of criminal activity, you’re gonna find something. Now the only reason you ever heard of the other outlaw clubs out there is because of their criminal acts. You don’t know about the Hells Angels, the Bandidos, the Outlaws, the Mongols because of what they do for children. That’s not why they’re famous. They’re famous because of the things they got in trouble for. Our club is as old as some of those and older than some. And you don’t see any of that. Now if we’ve been operating in this state for 46 years and in that kind of stuff, you would have heard about it. But you didn’t. And you know, you can’t have hundreds of guys committing criminal acts and people not get caught. You cannot have a club that’s based around criminal activity, hundreds of members, operating for decades, and not be on the radar. We never were on any kind of gang list or anything to my knowledge prior to May 17. On May 17, law enforcement bullets entered some of our guys’ bodies, and then all of a sudden we’re a criminal street gang.
How has this impacted you? I read that your shop was closed for a while, and it was a question mark whether you’d be able to stay open.
Yeah. Well, we’re struggling, but we’re trying to get through it.
Have you had people come and wish you well?
Sure have. I’ve had people come and pray over the shop, come wish us well. I’ve had some people buy stuff from me — just came and said, “I just want to buy something from you. I don’t know what I need, but I want to buy something.” Just to show support. And I’m sure I’ve had a lot of customers that aren’t doing business with me now because of this. But you know, is business booming? No. But are we surviving? Yep. They still have $30,000 of my motorcycles that they won’t let me have back. My bike and the bike my son was riding were both part of the shop inventory here, and they seized them.
What was the purpose of going there in force — the numbers of Cossacks who went?
Well, our understanding was to shake hands and make peace, attend the COC [Texas Confederation of Clubs] meeting, which people were wanting us to do forever, and you know, if you go up there with six guys, you put those six guys at risk. So I mean it wasn’t my decision to take that many people. I was just asked to show up and it was for peaceful purposes, and I reiterated that with the people I talked to before we went — we’re going there for peaceful purposes, correct? And nothing else. Because this is my town, and I was assured that was the case.
By someone in the Cossacks? Or the Bandidos?
No, I didn’t talk to anyone in the Bandidos. I was told by people in the Cossacks who were going there for peaceful purposes. And we were there for an hour before the stuff happened. There were Cossacks shaking Bandidos’ hands, and I’m sitting there looking around thinking, well, I guess it’s OK. And the only reason I went to it is because … if you’re gonna sit down and talk to these guys and try to make things right with them, what safer place than a public meeting at a public restaurant on a Sunday afternoon with a bunch of neutral clubs and probably law enforcement there? And so, we went there feeling pretty safe. And actually for an hour, with us and them both there at the same time, there were no problems at all until that last group rolled in. And that’s when everything started.
And the last group, was that Cossacks or Bandidos?
Bandidos out of Dallas. Out of the Dallas area.
At what point were you aware that law enforcement was there?
Uh, well, after the shooting was over and I was inside and they came in and rounded us up, you know, they were in there so quickly that it was pretty obvious they were there when it started.
Who is the leader overall of the Cossacks?
We have a national president, but he wasn’t there that day, and I don’t feel like dropping his name.
Why do people join?
Brotherhood. Like-minded people who like riding motorcycles, get together and do stuff … and it’s a good support system. Like one of my guys’ wife passed away a couple months before the incident, and he was a couple thousand dollars short getting her buried, we made sure she got buried. Our patch says “We take care of our own,” and that doesn’t mean anything malicious at all. That just means we take care of
When you say support system, you’re not talking about protection necessarily…
No. We’re not talking about protection. We’re talking about a guy needs money to put groceries on his table that week, we’re gonna make sure he doesn’t go hungry … We pool our resources and take care of each other. It doesn’t have anything to do with protection. I mean, that’s not what it’s about. That’s not to say we wouldn’t protect each other if we saw a situation where someone was being attacked and we were there and could help, but it’s not about that.
Have people pulled together to help you guys come up with the bail amounts?
Yeah. A lot of people have. But of course, we’re not a big criminal organization, so the club didn’t have millions of dollars, but yeah, people got together and scraped up money, what they could, for the ones that couldn’t make the bail.
How long were you in jail?
28 days. [His son Jake was in jail 37 days.]
Were you able to bond out pretty soon after your bail was reduced to $100,000?
Yeah, well, I was pretty fortunate to have a retirement that I don’t have anymore. We were able to cash in our retirement and come up with the money and, you know, business was down for a couple months, we were right in the middle of moving when it happened, and it rained all of May up to that point, so we pretty much lost the three best months of the year to do business. We definitely started behind the 8-ball.
What do you expect is going to be the outcome here, talking to your attorney? Do the authorities even have specific information on each of those defendants?
No. No — that’s why the grand jury indicted 106 people in a day. They obviously didn’t review 106 cases. The DA says, “Here’s a list, and this is what we allege they do, and indict ‘em for these murders.” And one of the guys — shows you how much the grand jury looked at this case — there were nine people killed out there; they had 10 people listed. They had a guy that wasn’t even out there shot listed as one of the killed, yet they were able to indict 106 people for that person who wasn’t even shot there. A completely different person. That shows you how much burden of proof there is for the grand jury — how little the grand jury looks at anything … The grand jury indictments are a complete joke. They don’t mean anything. All it does is let the DA go to the next step, where he’ll sit there and try to make plea bargains with people so they can’t sue him for false arrest. If they plead anything, they had reason to arrest you. I did nothing illegal. As far as I know, I’ve seen no evidence that they have saying that I did. If they come up with something, it’s wrong, because I didn’t.
Did you have a weapon with you — with your cycle, or anywhere?
There was one locked in my saddlebag, which, I didn’t get close to my bike during the altercation at all, and the reason why, I own a bike shop in south Waco on I-35, me and my son had been at the shop working that morning, we did carry guns at the shop for obvious reasons … When we left that day, we took our guns off our body and locked them in our saddlebags. Like I told all my guys, don’t carry a gun in there. Now if I was going to a gunfight, I don’t think I would have done that … So we took our guns and secured them in our motorcycles and did not have them on our person at the event.
As a condition of your bail, did you have to sever ties with the Cossacks?
Well, what it says is I can’t have contact with any motorcycle club members, whether Cossacks or anybody else. I’m just not allowed to talk to any motorcycle club members in any club.
What if they buy a cycle from you?
Well, then, they have to come in and not let me know they’re in a club.
So you had to come up with the money to bail out. And now you’re paying for an attorney to fight felony charges. I know that’s not cheap.
No. It’s $25,000 apiece for the retainer for me and my son, up front, and if it goes to trial, another $25,000 apiece.
That’s a lot of money. How is this impacting the different families of Cossacks members?
Well, you know, most of ‘em weren’t self-employed. Most of them not only have that to deal with, but they lost their jobs. Some of them have lost their homes. Some of them have lost custody of their children. Then go try to find a job when you’re under indictment for killing 10 people. [Chuckles.] It’s had a terrible effect on them. I can’t go out and contact these guys and reach out to them and stuff, but I can assure you there are families being crushed over this. You have 177 families, not individuals, that were affected by this. There are children who will not go to college now because of this. And their parents, in 90 percent of the cases, had nothing to do with the violence or anything wrong. And these children are being punished. These wives are being punished. And this is gonna resonate for generations … And it’s all being done just so that the local DA can save face for handling this the wrong way. It’s a tragic thing. I’m not saying there aren’t people who should be in trouble. There probably is. But it’s hard for me to believe that [McLennan County District Attorney] Abel Reyna didn’t wake up in the middle of the night and think, 'Dang, I wish I’d have done this thing differently.' Because now if he drops charges on everybody, then he’s gonna face a storm of civil suits. They’ve got to make this thing stay alive long enough to try to get people to plea.
You’re outspoken and talking. How come so many people aren’t?
‘Cause they’re scared.
How come you’re not scared?
Well, you know, I’m not gonna say I’m not scared. But I know I didn’t do anything wrong. I know I’m innocent. And I know the story needs to be told about what happened to those three guys after the shooting in the parking lot. I can’t stand up and say, 'This guy shot this guy, the police shot this guy.' I’m not going after any of that. I don’t know. But I do know three guys laid there and bled to death in that parking lot when people could have been helping them.
Do the Cossacks consider themselves an outlaw organization?
No. It never was attached to us till May 17. We don’t allow anyone to wear one-percenter patches or any of that stuff. We have guys that were former one-percenter club members that came to us to get away from that one-percenter stuff. We don’t deal dope or run prostitutes or try to extort money. We don’t do any of the stuff that’s associated typically with that profile.