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Archive for the ‘Mongols’ Category

I grow restless. I must go. I need a road trip. It is not just me.

The nation feels like it is pulling itself apart.

There’s the coronavirus and ongoing spread. Skyrocketing unemployment. Concern for our livelihood.  Will our employer bring us back to work. Then there is the color of justice and the ethnic disparities of the criminal justice system. Not to mention, the behavior of individuals that boil over into violence, looting, and riots.  I’m not trivializing the protests because people who participate in these types of events do so for a real reason.

Individually, each protester has logic, beliefs, and reasoning, but when a crowd becomes angered, tribal mentality often sets in and leads to a criminal mindset. It’s impossible to predict when a group will suddenly turn into a rioting horde. But, can we all agree that “protestors” shouldn’t destroy their communities?

I’ve digressed.

I’m itching to go for a long ride on the Harley. Clearly, these are frustrating times and a road trip is one of the last remaining fragments of the American dream. I cling to it like a splinter from the true cross. We may no longer be able to ride west to a land beyond fences but, for a little while longer at least, we remain mostly a nation without permanent, police roadblocks.  Although, I must admit that during the Laughlin River Run, the motorcycle road blocks set up by the Mojave County Sheriff in-and-out of Oatman really agitate me!

And, yet I still think about riding there. I don’t know why. Probably because I have already gone so many times. I recall the old days at the Flamingo, now the Aquarius, when there were patches everywhere from everywhere. The Hells Angels would put on a nightly show of bagger wheelies and motorcycle tricks for the riffraff. It was the PR classic image of the good ‘ol rowdy boys having fun. Now those good, old days are long gone. Everything changed after a “spontaneous” biker brawl between the Hells Angels and Mongols in 2002.

The old idea of freedom (to come and go as I please) seemed evident not long ago. I have yet to adjust to the many recent improvements in my country. I do not own a motorcycle with an electric plug and an estimated cruising range of 100 miles and doubt I ever will. I own a gasoline burning, American motorcycle that makes noise. As a result, I still think about the solitary desert Muse, two-lane black tops, cornfields and the vast landscape of 14,000 foot peaks.

The road trip has always been so essential and my personal restlessness has been boiling for a couple of months now.

Earlier in the year I was anxious to ride and it was all about calendar planning. I scribbled rallies and ride plans in boxes on a paper calendar. For several days I sat at my computer reviewing maps and motel locations with a calendar in one hand and my checkbook and a calculator in the other. My laptop browser had multiple travel sites open. When I started the planning process, I thought it would be as much fun planning the trip as going. It wasn’t and that was before traveling became a casualty of “The COVID.”

I am starved for rides this year and was aiming for Arizona Bike Week, Laughlin, Devils Highway (HOG), 80th Sturgis and Reno. I guess it is a good thing they cancelled Pendleton Bike Week and Hells Canyon or else I would be trying to fit that in, too.  To date, they’ve all been cancelled.

And it’s looking more like I might not need to be concerned about adding in the cost of the “World Famous Sirloin Tips” and a Budweiser at the Loud American Roadhouse on Main Street. The Sturgis City Council has prepared a set of protocols that will be used when making the decision to hold or cancel the 80th motorcycle rally.  They will assess the COVID situation again on June 15th and determine next steps.  I know that if I did go, I must return from Sturgis with a tee shirt and other crap I don’t need. Once I get there I can’t help myself.

There is freedom on the road. To point my front wheel towards the east, twist the throttle and leave the misleading news with click-bait headlines all behind. This year might be the year that a spontaneous day trip turns into a long distance solo motorcycle tour.

It’s time to see this great country!

Photos taken by author.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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In 2011 it was Prineville’s first experience in hosting the Run To The Cascades motorcycle rally.  According to Aaron Myhra/Fonzie Productions Inc. (Event Promoter), who acquired the rights to the event, it was a success and positive for the community.  The rally was resurrected after being absent for 10 years.

However, there were a few reports about an overbearing amount of law enforcement, and complaints of live music being cancelled.  Go HERE for more information.

Now let’s jump ahead to last weekend.  The Run To The Cascades was in Redmond, OR at the Deschutes County Fairground and  as I previously posted HERE the event was shut down by the police following a confrontation between biker groups (Mongols and HAMC).

Mr. Myhra has since provided an explanation of the events leading up to the closure:

It is with a heavy heart that we are making this public statement today. Our greatest priority when putting on Run To The Cascades (RTTC) is always the safety & enjoyment of the public. This is why we moved RTTC to the Deschutes County fairgrounds, made gate admission more affordable, and brought in amazing vendors & entertainment. This event is a 9/11 memorial/freedom celebration. This event is an opportunity for us to all gather in our community, young and old, to honor the lives lost on 9/11. RTTC is an event created to honor the men & women that have, and those who currently, serve our country—including their families at home—in order that we may gather freely, without fear of condemnation or discrimination.

The irony is, we did gather for this purpose, and Saturday morning following the 9/11 memorial parade through downtown Redmond, we met back at the fairgrounds for a freedom celebration. After the parade, there was a Color Guard Presentation of our National and State flags by respected Native American veterans from Warm Springs. A greeting from Redmond mayor George Endicott, a Vietnam veteran, followed the Flag Ceremony. Mayor Endicott welcomed us all to the city, and even went on to say that he had asked his PD to give some tolerance and understanding.

Following Mayor Endicott’s welcoming speech, local pastor, Preacher Bob, gave an inspiring talk about the freedom that millions have sacrificed their lives to defend, while reminding us to be aware and diligent of the many freedoms we are loosing daily as we go about our busy lives. He read the following words from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

We, the staff & volunteers of The Run to the Cascades Motorcycle Rally, are appalled at the abrupt closing of our event because of a “potential” threat of violence. Contrary to reports, there were NO conversations by law enforcement officials, or even an attempt made by law enforcement to have conversations with either party, who were allegedly involved in a 30 minute “verbal tussle” that handled itself, with both parties involved exiting the fairgrounds without incident.

Law enforcement abruptly shut down the event HOURS AFTER both parties had peacefully exited the event, telling ALL participants, via the PA system, to exit the fairgrounds IMMEDIATELY. Law enforcement stood by and watched as thousands of people driving trucks, motor homes, cars, and motorcycles tried to exit out of the one gate law enforcement had left unlocked. This occurred as thousands of confused people were trying to make their way into the fairgrounds for the evening showing of the Knights of Mayhem and the Foghat concert. Had it not been for the brave and quick response of our staff & volunteers, who had very limited information as to why we were shutting down—literally stepping in front of moving vehicles and directing the chaos—people could have been seriously injured or worse.

Vendors, campers, and attendees with no plan of leaving until later in the evening, or at the event’s conclusion Sunday morning—following the bike blessing and church services—were forced out of the fairgrounds, some of whom had been legally drinking. This action, on the part of law enforcement, put event-goers & many other innocent people in our community into harm’s way. We have since received reports that several DUI’s were issued in Deschutes County following the mandatory exit.

The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Department and the Redmond PD shut down our event in its final hours with several SWAT teams present; reminiscent of Waco, Texas, and many other instances of what occurs when there are abuses of state power over the public. The ensuing mayhem, anger, & confusion caused by the unnecessary event cancelation, put more lives in danger than any “verbal tussle.” Thousands of disappointed attendees, vendors, sponsors, media partners, & event organizers are now left with a very unsettling and unsatisfying experience. We had professional security services on the grounds; they, in conjunction with local law enforcement, could have come up with a dozen different ways to handle a “perceived threat,” and allowed the event to continue to its conclusion.

We ask you, the public, for some patience as we prepare to responsibly, and legally, respond to this act of tyranny, while assessing the damage it has caused everyone involved. There have been many questions of refunds; as more information becomes available, it will be posted on our website http://www.runtothecascades.com . Refunds should also be sought from those responsible for illegally shutting down the event; law enforcement, the fair board, and county commissioners.

We would also like to clear up a couple points of misconception: We worked closely with fairground director Dan Despotopulos in pre planning and during our event. Dan was charged with informing us that law enforcement was making arrangements to close our event and it is our impression that he did not agree with plans pay grades above his had made. Secondly as soon as RTTC was made aware that the police were even thinking about closing the event—approximately 2 HOURS before it actually happened—we ceased charging at all gates! We are members of this community and have no interest in charging our neighbors and out-of-town guests for something the police might, and did, shut down without cause.

Thank you for your patience, support, and cooperation as we move forward.

Aaron Myhra

UPDATE: September 17, 2012 — I was in Central Oregon this past weekend.  I grabbed a coffee and happen to read a report in the TSWeekly where the Redmond police are urging fairgrounds officials to never host another biker rally. “This event is something I will strongly advocate to never be held here again,” Redmond Police Capt. Brian McNaughton told reporters.

Photo courtesy of Run To The Cascades web site.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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Here’s the thing… “If you look around the room, and you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.”  

It’s not my quote, but some interesting words of wisdom by Lorne Michaels of SNL fame which might apply to this past weekend in central Oregon.

At the 2nd annual Run To The Cascades in Redmond, where hundreds of motorcycle enthusiasts gathered to celebrate a remembrance of September 11th and to salute the men and women of our military along with the fire and police departments were met with a clash between the Mongols and Hells Angels motorcycle clubs.  According to witness reports, around 5 p.m. Saturday, a large Mongols group approached the Hells Angels members already at the event – the HAMC had a vendor booth there – and “demanded the Hells Angels group leave immediately.”  It was reported that weapons were brandished.  Once word of the confrontation went out to law enforcement it prompted police and sheriff’s deputies to enter the fairgrounds and stand by while the Hells Angels group packed up and left.

Other witnesses reported that the Hells Angels group intended to return with more people to settle the dispute, and at that point, sheriff’s deputies and police contacted fairgrounds Director Dan Despotpulos “and strongly recommended the event be closed in order to protect public safety.”  The fair director agreed and they immediately began closing the event.

I wasn’t at the rally, but can imagine the disappointment!  Are these “life-threatening” events occurring more often at rallies?  I don’t know, but the result is the same on future events.   Similar to the Laughlin River Run melee a few years ago or most recently at last year’s Street Vibrations shooting in Reno/Sparks between the HAMC and Vagos.

The sudden closure of the Run To The Cascades rally meant the closing-night concert by the classic rock group Foghat was cancelled. It’s unclear if event organizers will be on the hook for any refunds.  There were also reports that some people who had camped out at the campground were reluctant to leave, but were then threatened by law enforcement that if anyone stayed they would receive trespassing citations.  Nice indictment of the innocent.

Did law enforcement over react?  Where was the Oregon law enforcement intelligence for the event?  Did the motorcycle club “offense of proximity” only serve to reinforce the symbolic weight the emblems carry for biker clubs?  Did the motorcycle clubs brazen intimidation threat accomplish exactly what was intended?  Did this action sear a pitiful brand on the character of thousands of innocent, respectable, law-abiding men and women in Oregon who are the enthusiast representatives of an admirable sport?  Has Oregon just exited a transformative club period and now set to experience a new “threat on wheels”?

Motorcycle club business is none of my business, but when the public is exposed to these individuals are we to just ignore the incident and continue on with adding mustard to our bratwursts and t-shirt buying as if it didn’t happen?

UPDATE: September 17, 2012 — I was in Central Oregon this past weekend.  I grabbed a coffee and happen to read a report in the TSWeekly where the Redmond police are urging fairgrounds officials to never host another biker rally. “This event is something I will strongly advocate to never be held here again,” Redmond Police Capt. Brian McNaughton told reporters.

Photo taken by author at AHDRA drags in Woodburn, OR.  Poster photo courtesy of Run To The Cascades web site.

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Cold Creek Inn - Mt. Shasta (Background)

Day 1: (PDX – Mt. Shasta City)
The posse departure date for Laughlin was April 25th. Unfortunately, that morning rain came down in sheets and the wind blew like a hurricane. It is spring in the northwest after all and with the instability…showers produced a mix of rain and small hail with an occasional snow flurry back to rain.  So, rather than enjoy t-shirt riding, we enjoyed getting to know our rain gear and re-learning how to use heated gloves!  Scattered showers continued through the valley off and on, but it got warmer (maybe we were just getting use to it?) as we made our way south.

We rode straight down I-5 and it was an uneventful trip until we hit the Siskiyou pass where snow flurries started.  Fortunately nothing was sticking to the road and we continued on to Mt. Shasta City where we overnighted at the Cold Creek Inn.

Hwy 207 from South Lake Tahoe

We grabbed some dinner at Strings Italian Café and spent the evening re-packing rain gear and warming up.

Day 2: (Mt. Shasta City – Minden, NV)
Temperatures continued to be cold (sub-freezing) when we woke, but the sun was shining which helped thaw out the heavy frost on the bikes.

We plugged in and headed south down I-5 to Red Bluff.  In the first hour we crossed over Lake Shasta.  Bright blue sky with deep blue water made for some awesome photos unfortunately I never stopped to take any pictures.   I’ll add that to my bucket list.  The lake for all practical purposes look full.  And there is still a lot of construction on the I-5 roadway in and around the bridge.  After arriving in Red Bluff we took Hwy 99 South to Los Molinos and Chico.  We proceed south on Hwy 99/162 past the Oroville Wildlife Area to Yuba City then toward Lake of the Woods State Wildlife to Sacramento.  We did a bit of looping in the area and finally made our way east to Folsom on Hwy 50 or the El Dorado Fwy.

Minden, NV - Looking at South Lake Tahoe

We rolled thru Pollock Pines then the Eldorado National Forest via Hwy 50 then Hwy 89/50 thru South Lake Tahoe.  The temperatures remained cool through the 4500-5000 foot level of the national forest and while the road was dry there remained large amounts of snow in the ditches.  We fueled up in South Lake Tahoe and proceeded onto Hwy 207 which runs up and over the mountain after plenty of switchbacks to Minden, NV where we overnighted at the Holiday Inn Express.

Minden is located near the center of Carson Valley and about 15 miles south of Carson City.  We grab dinner at the Carson Valley Inn (Katie’s Country Kitchen) after learning that the CV Steak house closed shop on Tuesdays.

After dinner we were still chilled to the bone with a couple days of electric gloves so we hit the hot tub in the hotel and that seemed to permanently correct the “chilled” situation for the rest of the trip.

Mono Lake

Day 3: (Minden – Las Vegas)
The next morning continued on a bit of a warming trend as we picked up Hwy 395 and headed south.  We meandered along the valley floor and crossed back over the state line into CA., near Topaz Lake.  It was early but fishing boats dotted the lake I suppose to take a shot at capturing another trophy trout.

Bridgeport was the first fuel stop of the morning and where we paid about $25 to fill a 5-gallon motorcycle tank!   Not well know, but Bridgeport hosts the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center (MCMWTC).  It’s one of the most remote and isolated military posts and conducts training exercises for military personnel headed to Iraq and Afghanistan.  The base is located about 21 miles from the city center on Hwy 108 at Pickle Meadow, but we chatted up some guys in a non-descript white standard issue military van.

Sierra Mountain Range - Hwy 395

As we rode on it wasn’t long before we caught our first glimpse of Mono Lake.  “Mono” means “beautiful” in Piute and besides being an oasis in the great basin it is an awesome sight.  As we continued around Mono Lake we quickly climbed to another 8100-foot ridge where aspen forest dotted the landscape and then we started back down the to the valley floor.  We continued south and near Crestview is a turnoff on Hwy 203.  For many in southern CA., this is the road to Mammoth Lakes and a ski resort.

We ate lunch at a local Denny’s in Bishop, the unofficial capital of Owens Valley and the biggest town on Hwy 395 south of Reno.  The town sits at about 4000 feet, but just a few minutes prior to arriving we were nearly at 9000 feet.  On the way into Bishop I remember looking off east and seeing a large radar array.  I didn’t recall seeing any information and always on the lookout for something new I researched it on my return.  It’s the CARMA Deep Space Satellite Dish Array Complex and turns out to be one of the largest university operated radio observatories in the world known as the Owens Valley Radio Observatory.  Who knew?!

Death Valley

We continued on and arrived in Lone Pine which is between the highway and the Sierra range and was popular for filming western movies.  In fact we passed the Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film history and enjoyed a spectacular view of Mt. Whitney (14,494 ft) which is the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states.  We took Hwy 190 east which runs though Death Valley National Park.

We entered Death Valley from the west entrance on Hwy 190 and traveled east.  The 3.3 million acres of spectacular scenery with sculpted hills and shifting sand dunes.  We went from high level vistas to the below sea level and enjoyed the hottest place in N.A.  About 20 miles into the park we stopped at Father Crowley Point and ran into a group of riders from Germany.  It seems to me that we end up chatting with folks from Germany about every year in the desert because they ride rented H-D’s with Florida plates.  Last year we met a group riding in the Grand Canyon with snow.  We made another stop at Stovepipe Wells village and another photo opportunity of Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes then headed east on Daylight Pass Road to Beatty, NV., as we needed to make some miles after meandering around in the park.

Below Sea Level

At Beatty we headed south on Hwy 95.  About an hour outside Las Vegas near Indian Springs I saw a big shadow roll over me from the sky and at first I was thinking it was a bird.  I looked back over my left shoulder and it turned out to be a Predator drone making circles in a landing pattern at Creech AFB.  The base use to be called Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field, but was changed a few years ago and it’s now home to the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle and the 432d Wing “Hunters.”

We arrived in Las Vegas and bedded down in the “Hangover Suite” at the MGM.  I kid you not the hotel gave us a mid-week deal on the suite that cost the same as a normal room. We were living life large… at least for one night.

Laughlin Aquarius Hotel/Casino

Day 4: Laughlin
We hit it a bit hard the night before… some a lot more than others… and as a result we made a leisurely mid-day departure out of Vegas and headed toward Laughlin on Hwy 95.  At the Boulder City/Laughlin junction we did an inventory of fuel thinking we could make Searchlight without any issues.  We hadn’t planned on the fierce headwind and as a result my bike ran out of fuel about 7 miles to soon.  We leveraged a tube from one of the tool kits and used a water bottle to transfer some gas from one of the newer bikes which have 6+ gallon fuel tanks.  According to H-D the “check-engine” light which was triggered by the lack of firing due to fuel issue will re-set after about 50 starts and work normal.  I may need to go in and just have them reset it… assuming the cost is minimal to free?

After approximately 1200 miles we finally arrived at the Laughlin River Run and Aquarius Hotel/Casino in time to park our bikes, grab a refreshment and take in a few vendor booths.

The BBQ Crew

Our original plan was to crash at a buddies place in Needles on sleeping bags, but on a whim we decided to check room availability at the Aquarius.  They had rooms, be it 5X the standard budget rate on any other week, but our age group isn’t fond of sleeping bags and hard floors so we opted for plusher surroundings and paid the elevated rates.  Yeah, we’re lame, but showers are nice every couple days!

Summary
Over the next couple days we meandered around the local area, hit the pool once and chatted up the new motorcycle products with vendors and attended a couple of BBQ’s put on by one of our buddies friends from L.A.  First came Big Ed’s BBQ in Bull Head City with authentic Mexican dishes, Fajitas, Spanish rice and other seasoned food that melted in your mouth.  Then there was Big Dave’s in Needles on the Colorado River…   there were dry rubs, spicy pastes and marinated flavor that permeated the meats and provided a wonderful taste.  The shrimp was a killer with the wide range of heat from differing chilies.  Major shout out to the L.A. posse for the awesome hospitality!!

The "Van Down By The River"

Due to work constraints I had to have my bike shipped back to Oregon and caught a flight home late Sunday (May 1), but other members of the posse did a two day return.  Back-to-back nearly 600 mile days means they get the tired butt award!

I would be remiss if I didn’t make a comment about attendance or the Mongol MC.  The Aquarius seemed to be ‘home base’ for many of the members and the valet area had a number of tables with a mini-bar set up to refresh patrons.  The Aquarius had implemented a “no colors” policy that prohibited members of any biker club from displaying their membership patches while in the casino. And some “guests” apparently weren’t aware of the policy and wore colors but, they agreed to comply once they were informed by casino staff.  Indeed there was a large and very visible Metro Police contingent at the hotel as well.

Full On Shrimp...

I’m pleased to report that while motorcycle clubs of all dispositions turned out for the River Run, none caused any major problems for either the casinos or the police this year.  Sure the Aquarius management made the call to restrict casino access to registered guests only from about 6 pm- to-midnight Saturday, but rumors were overblown or simply untrue that motorcycle clubs were the issue.  The hotel made the decision earlier in the afternoon after observing that guests were having difficulty accessing parking lots, games and restaurants due to the sheer volume of visitors and put up the restriction.  As a guest I can tell you it help moved people in and out of the property and performed much better than previous years I’ve stayed at Harrah’s where arm badges and motorcycle passes wasted a lot of time getting off property.

Looking Back At A Great Road Trip

It’s true that attendance was observably down.  Yet, it felt plenty busy vs. jammed up or crowded.  I’m not sure if it was the weather (cooler/windy than normal) or economic as fuel prices approached $5/gallon at many locations.   In my viewpoint the cooler weather helped keep people in the vendor booths — buying — as you weren’t looking for shade or AC to avoid the heat.  If you attended and have some ideas on why attendance was down let me know.

The official stats from this report indicate that arrests were down (31 arrests vs. 34 in 2010).  Six were arrested and charged with felonies including drug possession and grand larceny.  Police issued 199 traffic citations vs. 229 in 2010.

All in all it was a really successful rally/weekend.

Photos taken by author.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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Riding Through Death Valley

You might not know, but the Laughlin River Run in Laughlin, Nevada is also the location of the first giant coal-fired power plant (Mohave Generating Station) to shutdown.

The closure created economic distress to the Navajo Nation, which supplied coal to Mohave through a slurry line at the Black Mesa Mine.   The motorcycle rally hangs on the skirts of the Colorado River and features large numbers of motorcycle enthusiasts wandering through vendor booths, casinos/resorts all setting next to the river’s edge.  I’m working on a detailed post for the ride down, but thought I’d post up a brief summary on some of the highlights:

  1. Our morning departure out of Portland found rain coming down in sheets and the wind blew like a hurricane.
  2. At one point it cost $24 to fill up a five-gallon Harley.
  3. My first motorcycle ride through Death Valley.
  4. The ‘River Run’ had all the built up energy for a spring rally, but the vendor “cha-ching” wasn’t quite as loud as in some years.
  5. Walked into the Aquarius Casino Resort and had no problem getting rooms without reservations.  Lucky?
  6. Room rates were 5X the typical standard pricing ($39.95 vs. $199.95/night).  Anyone who has made it through Econ 101 knows that the scarcity of a commodity drives its value, but this clearly qualifies as gouging (yet we paid it?!).
  7. The large presence of the Mongols MC members at the Aquarius made for some interesting moments entering/exiting the hotel.
  8. The Aquarius temporarily restricted access to the casino floor Saturday night at the height of the River Run, however, they deny rumors that the restriction had anything to do with the presence of “outlaw” motorcycle clubs.
  9. There was a large, well armed and highly visible Las Vegas Metropolitan Police presence at the River Run.  No major problems were reported.
  10. On Friday, April 29 we witnessed a 45mph+ sustained wind storm.  Number of show-class motorcycles damaged by flying debris.
  11. H-D was absent from one of the largest west coast rallies and relinquished customer goodwill to Polaris and Yamaha.  Why?

We’ve had so much nasty weather in Oregon during April that I’m confident about anything May throws at us will be better.

Photo taken on trip in Death Valley.

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Harrah's - Laughlin, Nevada

It was like any typical early morning in the Nevada desert with gamblers enjoying the casino and all its entertainment glory.

Then gunshots broke out and a gang melee ensued. Bystanders started running, dodging around and falling to the floor, fearing for their life – cameras caught the activity as some pulled weapons to shoot, others getting shot, or stabbed and in some instances bystanders watched as wrenches were used to beat down individuals.  It was a terrifying ordeal as many feared for their life.

I’m talking about the Saturday, April 27, 2002, Laughlin River Run brawl with guns, knives and wrenches which left three motorcycle club members dead — two Hells Angels and one Mongol — and injured at least 12 others at Harrah’s Laughlin. I first blogged about this HERE with updates HERE and HERE.

The skirmish between Hells Angels and the competing Mongol biker club fuse was lit when Metro broke up a fight between the Hells Angels and Mongols at a T-shirt stand earlier in the day.  Metro police and club leaders initiated a meeting to defuse tensions between the groups, but the members walked out of the meeting. Three hours later members of the Mongols HAMC stormed Harrah’s, where the Hells Angels Mongols were staying, and the casino floor erupted.

More than 8-years later with five federal lawsuits and at least one California state lawsuit against Harrah’s Laughlin who argued (and won) in legal motions that the casino wasn’t liable for the criminal acts of the bikers… for the first time this week were found liable in the incident.  In addition, rather than wait for a jury to determine damages Harrah’s quickly reach a settlement and one of the terms of the negotiated settlement is that the amount would be kept confidential.

The seven clients seeking damages from Harrah’s Laughlin for injuries suffered during the motorcycle club battle are: Michael Bower, Robert Garcia, Noi Lewis, Kathy Fuller, Steven Fuller, Andrea Daniels and Dean Daniels.

I’m speculating here, but it’s a pretty safe bet that fear of motorcycle clubs will pay well for these seven individuals.

What about the motorcycle club members and their legal disposition, you ask?  You may recall that forty-two members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC) were indicted on federal racketeering and firearms charges.  Charges against 36 Hells Angels were dismissed in 2006.  The Las Vegas Review Journal reported Frederick Donahue (34) was a fugitive for five years before surrendering in Las Vegas in July 2008.  He was the seventh Hells Angels member sentenced in the fatal Harrah’s casino shootout and is serving 30 months in federal prison.  Jorrg Maykopf of Germany remains the only fugitive in this case.

I can remember back in 2001 staying at the Pink Flamingo (now Aquarius) during the Laughlin River Run watching HAMC prospects do bagger wheelie’s in the valet parking area.  Not these days.  The Laughlin River Run has forever changed…

Photo courtesy of Harrah’s Laughlin

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Laughlin - Harrah's Casino

Laughlin - Harrah's Casino

In about 40 days the 2009 Laughlin River Run (Laughlin, NV) Motorcycle Rally is set to kickoff.  The specific dates are April 22-26, 2009.  With 10 casinos, top entertainment and riding attractions from Red Rocks, Route 66, Hoover Dam, Colorado River and the Grand Canyon it’s one of the top Nevada Biker Rallies.

Unfortunately and as if somehow timed perfectly to cast a shadow over the event we’re reminded of uglier days courtesy of the Las Vegas Review Journal who reported that the last of the Hells Angels who faced federal charges in the 2002 Laughlin River Run casino shootout was sentenced.  I blogged previously HERE and HERE on the motorcycle club clash which left three people dead at Harrah’s Casino.

In all 42 members of the HAMC were indicted on federal racketeering and firearms charges.  Judge James Mahan dismissed charges against 36 Hells Angels last year after learning the government did not turn over all of its evidence to the defense team.  Six other members of the motorcycle club already received prison terms.   Frederick Donahue (34) was a fugitive for five years before surrendering in Las Vegas in July 2008 and he was sentenced last week to 30 months in federal prison.  All plea deals were carefully worded to state that each biker acted as an enterprise made up of individuals, not members of the HAMC.  This effectively eliminated the HAMC as a criminal enterprise and all bikers avoided enhanced sentences.  Jorrg Maykopf of Germany remains the only fugitive.

Described as the worst shooting incident in the history of Nevada casinos it now has legal closure.

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mixed_clubsRegardless of one’s stance on motorcycle clubs, rider associations, riding groups, or one-percent clubs, it’s nearly impossible to ignore the surging use of technology to reach out across the motorcycle base in the nation. In some instances, simple email proves useful for coordinating events, or the more sophisticated computer/cell/social networking/BB’s technology helps members interact and reach like-minded constituents, create grass-root initiatives and develop coordinated “calls to action.”

Such is the world of Bandido “Gimmi” Jimmy who is the National Commander for US Defenders, a grass root organization that helps educate motorcyclists on legislation strategies.  This past weekend in a capacity filled WaCoC meeting, “Gimmi Jimmy” shared learning’s and presented concepts and ideas which have obtained legislative results elsewhere in the U.S. regardless of motorcycle club discipline or background.  The Defenders program is about training constituents, developing strategies around letter writing campaigns, email campaigns, reaching out and touching (telephoning) state and national legislators and even canvassing motorcycle rally crowds who will then take that information/training back to their motorcycle clubs or riding groups to implement a motorcycle-centric “call-to-action” on biker legislation.  The Defenders program is not a Motorcycle Rights Organization (MRO) such as the TMRA, TMRA II, ABATE, AIM, MRF and the AMA, but is manageable units of Motorcycle Clubs and Independent Riders manpower.

So, what does this really mean?  Simply put, the Defenders are working cross-club i.e. Bandidos, Hells Angels, Gypsy Jokers, Mongols, independents, motorcycle riding groups/associations and women’s clubs for the improvement of motorcycling!  They are helping energize grass root initiatives and providing methods for riders to protect rider rights from legislators who think it’s okay to indiscriminately tell us what to do…telling us what to THINK can’t be far behind, right?

There are some serious issues confronting the motorcycle community beyond the routine “drum beat” of helmet laws.  For example; association rights, enhanced “affiliation” penalties, inattentive driver penalties, accident coverage, noise abatement, intellectual property rights, exhaust mandates, ordinances to eliminate rallies are just a few.  Being organized to conduct legislative business in a professional way prevents misunderstanding or being marginalized on the sidelines while others do our thinking and make decisions.

If you want to get involved with grass root initiatives attend the next regional CoC meeting in your state or contact their offices.  If you have questions concerning the US Defenders Program you can contact Defenders Lt. Commander, Companero Paul.

Photo courtesy of Jay Janner American-Statesman

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gang_threatAs a biker, I know there is a difference between the true image of brothers in the wind and public perceptions.  This becomes acute when it’s time to work on serious issues like association rights, enhanced “affiliation” penalties, noise mandates, ordinances to eliminate rallies and deal with 1%’ers. 

Unfortunately, it seems when legislators deal with serious motorcycle issues they do so with little knowledge, act as  experts and spray paint so called fixes on everyone.  And at least one community is to blame — the media — for often failing to report unbiased information regarding motorcycle “clubs” or gangs.   More often than not the reporting tends to lean towards the sensational.  Bloggers are guilty too.

So, before I get a bunch of email stating how the term Motorcycle “gangs” indicates my bias or how they are misunderstood and are really a bunch of biker dads who love leather…let’s review the 2009 National Gang Threat Assessment (PDF) which was recently released.  While much of the report is skewed toward “street gangs” (examples: Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, Ñeta, MS 13, Sureños 13 etc.,) there is a lot of information about outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMG) (examples: Bandidos, Hells Angels, Mongols, Outlaws, Sons of Silence, etc.) all working to control retail-level distribution of cocaine, meth, heroin, and marijuana.  The OMG designation is from the document and I’m using it to be consistent with the report.

The report conservatively estimates more than 1 MILLION gang members belong to more than 20,000 gangs.  There are between 280 and 520 Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMG) that range in size from a single chapter to hundreds of chapters worldwide. Estimates indicate that more than 20,000 OMG members reside in the U.S.  If I did the math correct, OMG membership represent about 2% of the overall gang membership and about 3% of the total number of gangs.  Not an alarming number in of itself, but somehow attracts a disproportionate share of media publicity.  A few factoids from the report:

  1. Outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMG) pose a growing threat to law enforcement and public safety. Especially pronounced along the U.S.- Canada and U.S. – Mexico border. They frequently associate with criminal organizations to facilitate drug smuggling into the U.S.
  2. Criminal gangs are responsible for as much as 80% of ALL crime in many communities.
  3. National-level OMG criminal activity poses a serious national domestic threat. National level OMGs are a considerable concern to law enforcement because they are highly structured organizations with memberships ranging into the thousands, maintaining strong associations with transnational Drug Transport Organizations (DTOs) and other criminal organizations.
  4. In the U.S. 109 regional-level OMGs have been identified by gang investigators; most support one of the national-level OMGs. Several regional-level OMGs maintain independent associations with transnational DTOs and other criminal organizations.
  5. For the first time provides insight into the size and role of gangs in the military

The report goes on to highlight how the criminal organizations — like technology — seem to move fast, adopt and never stay the course with tactics.  They are most busy and seldom wait on the sidelines missing out on “revenue” or allow themselves to become marginalized.  They use cell phone voice/text messaging capabilities to conduct transactions and prearrange meetings.  They use multiple cell phones or prepaid phones which are frequently discarded after conducting operations.  Internet-based methods are being adopted and the use of social networking sites, encrypted e-mail, IP telephones, and Twitter message sites are common.  The use of social media sites such as MySpace, YouTube, and Facebook to post well-produced, self-promoting music/videos of the “gang” lifestyle.  Pre-teens are down loading propaganda ring-tones and images which glorify gangs!  There has also been an increased effort by gang members to actively “spar” on internet message boards to protect their virtual spaces as well as use internet profiling techniques to recruit.

My grip after looking over the report is the fact it doesn’t attempt to address:

  1. Gang intelligence improvements that work and help reduce incidents.
  2. Gang suppression techniques which are working and the role of the community.
  3. Legal considerations on enforcement issues and use of gang-specific legislation.
  4. Cost of anti-gang resources and return on investment – no performance measurement of the organization?

So, do you think this report will help or hurt motorcycle enthusiasts?  Do you think it will accelerate legislation to address enhanced “affiliation” penalties in the northwest?   Should we wait for the Homeland Security advisory system to monitor and report on the ongoing threat levels of the nations criminal gangs?  If so it would be set at HIGH (Orange). 

Photo courtesy of National Gang Intelligence Center.

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queen_bookI won’t attempt to make sweeping comments about another outlaw motorcycle “club” undercover “tell-all” novel.  There are so many styles and flavors these days and when a reader interacts with a book they are not only served a story, but often feel connected to the writer.

The Under and Alone novel is different because of movie rights, but more on that in a minute.

The back story is the novel is based on the real life of William Queen, a motorcycle enthusiast who successfully penetrated the San Fernando Valley chapter of the Mongols Motorcycle “club” using an identity of “Billy St. John.”  After becoming a fully “patched” member, he eventually rose to the level of chapter Vice-President and treasurer where he had access to the clubs activity of which some was criminal.  In the book, Queen details how, after 28 months in the club he began to battle the conflicts both within the club and within himself as the isolation of the work made him feel the Mongols were his family.

What makes the story compelling is that Queen spent twenty years as a Special Agent with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).  He was a Vietnam War veteran serving with the U.S. Army Special Forces and was awarded the Silver Star during his 1971 tour of duty. After his military service, he devoted his entire career to law enforcement.  Early operations involved infiltrating the Aryan Nation and the Ku Klux Klan organizations.

William Queen

William Queen

Despite his nickname, “Billy the Slow-Brain”, he was successful in gathering evidence resulting in a series of raids in May 2000 by almost 700 LEO’s in four states.  His efforts led to the arrest and conviction of 54 club members.  Queen was awarded the Federal Bar Association’s Medal of Honor for his successful involvement with the Mongols.  After the club member trials, Queen retired from the ATF, and then wrote the book while in the witness protection program.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  In 2003, while the book was still only a draft, film rights were sold for $1M to Icon Productions, the Hollywood production company owned by Mel Gibson.  The book became a bestseller upon its release in 2005, and the movie adaptation, will have Gibson himself playing Queen.  The movie is scheduled for release by Warner Bros in 2010.  This would be the first project that Gibson takes the lead role in, since the 2003 movie Signs.  Gibson will not direct the movie, instead Gregor Jordan (Ned Kelly) and Antoine Fuqua (Shooter, Training Day) have been hired to direct.  The book is being adapted by Ned Zeman and Daniel Barnz.

Consumer spending drives demand. The profitability of individual companies depends on creativity, marketing, and distribution of quality movie content and time will tell if this subject matter is something the public wants to consume. Gibson has been a lightning rod for controversy of late, but this role could bring him back into the mainstream vernacular like the Vietnam War drama We Were Soldiers and Payback did.  Who knows.

Photo courtesy William Queen/Random House.

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