June 13, 2008

The Outlaw Bikers

Hatched by Dave Ross

I edit a small community newspaper in rural San Diego County called The Roadrunner, and last weekend my community had an experience the likes of which I don’t remember in my 30 years in the field.

We were “occupied” territory. Over the weekend the outlaw biker gang the Mongols, 500 or so of them, roared through on their way to the La Jolla Indian Reservation, to a small campground along the San Luis Rey River, for a “retreat.”

The Mongols have been designated an “outlaw” group by the California Attorney General’s office. There are actually four “outlaw” motorcycle gangs so identified by the FBI, and they are the Pagans, Hells Angels, Outlaws MC, and Bandidos. All are called “outlaw” because their primary source of funding is selling drugs, trafficking stolen goods and extortion. Their status is such that they can be prosecuted under the racketeering statutes (i.e. RICO).

They have nothing to do with respectable groups of people who get together to ride their Harleys for recreation and whose one “outlaw” characteristic may be that they like to play Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” loudly on the stereo when they ride.

Nice people. But I suppose even bad guys deserve to get away from it all and get back to nature occasionally. Hence the retreat.

I think the Mongols is a particularly appropriate name for an outlaw gang since in many ways, the modern motorcycle gang is rather like the migratory bands of old, such as the Bedouins of the Arab deserts or, if you will, the Mongols. Like sharks, they live to move. If they have their way they would never stay in one place for very long.

Way up at the top of this article I said that for a weekend we were “occupied” territory. I don’t mean by the Mongols. I mean by the police, who deployed hundreds of officers in a degree of force that I didn’t see even at the height of the wildfires last October.

I believe that one reason for the overwhelming show of force that this visit was met with was because there were rumors that the Hell’s Angels, another outlaw biker gang, were planning to visit the same area, although not the same campground.

The Mongols have an ongoing blood feud with the Hell’s Angels. In 2002 they clashed in Laughlin, Nevada. Guns blazed. Blood flowed. Worse -- because it happened in a casino -- the flow of money stopped for several hours.

The focus of law enforcment’s efforts was along State Highway 76, which runs from Oceanside to Lake Henshaw, particularly along perhaps 20 miles between Interstate 15 and Lake Henshaw. Along this strip of road things were, to put it mildly, a little unreal.

I was out on that highway quite a bit during the weekend. I saw patrols of Sheriff’s deputies and California Highway Patrol officers in convoys of six squad cars apiece, moving up and down the highway. If the Mongols remind me of the nomads of old, these folks reminded me of the cavalry patrols of the Old West.

In addition to the patrols shuttling back and forth along the length of the highway, the police were also stationed at strategic intersections, with only a mile or two intervals between them. Here groups of cops, often outfitted in SWAT gear, with automatic rifles at the ready, giving everyone the eye as they drove by.

Living in Iraq must be like that.

I asked the Sheriff’s lieutenant in charge how many deputies were deployed. He declined to answer, saying that he didn’t want to reveal the details of the deployment in case he needed to do it again.

I had a photographer out that weekend too. He visited the Indian reservation where he ran into one or two of the outlaw bikers. They treated him with respect, but asked that he not take their photos.

The deputies were a little less polite, for whatever reason, and also in the majority of cases didn’t want their pictures taken. But they were on high alert, I suppose, so being polite was probably not part of the job. However, in my opinion, it is when tension is at its height, and the pressure is on, that we need to keep a watch on the watchers. In a free society that includes being allowed to take pictures.

I was never stopped as I went about my business that weekend, but quite a few people were, mostly, it seemed motorcyclists, although a heavily bearded friend of mine who is a wood sculptor and wears blue jean overalls and drives a beat up pickup truck was also stopped, or so I’m told.

There are a lot of eccentric people who live in San Diego’s Backcountry. If you stop them all you will create a bit of a traffic bottleneck. Fortunately the police didn’t stop them all.

The news was that after all that, there was no news to speak of. I’m not one who faulted the police for overreacting. I think they did exactly the right thing. But it did give me a creepy feeling to get a taste, and not a sweet one, of what it is like to live under occupation. A police state, even for the best of reasons -- and aren’t the reasons always the best? -- is not a pretty thing.

Hatched by Dave Ross on this day, June 13, 2008, at the time of 9:40 PM

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The following hissed in response by: BarbaraS

Be glad the police were there. I have heard tales of these bikers taking over whole towns. Riding their bikes up and down streets constantly terrorizing the citizens. But I really think they have mellowed in their old age but are still nasty people no matter how polite they were to you.

The above hissed in response by: BarbaraS [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 14, 2008 5:21 AM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

I think what you have is a tiny taste of living in Iraq. And the taste you had is the good side: pervasive security.
The other part of living in Iraq is where the bike gang comes to town unannounced, kills your neighbors to take over their house, blows up the police, advises you that your daughter, wife and yourself are all fair game for entertainment purposes. And then they claim to be enforcing true American values, and are thus authorized to drag you behind a motorcycle by a length of chain until you are pulled to bits.
And then the police show up in force to finally end it.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 14, 2008 8:54 AM

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