An outlaw biker and his “colors” declare membership in a particular club. Colors usually consist of a three-piece patch embroidered on a leather or denim jacket which contains the name of the club, the club’s logo, and the club’s location.
Bryan Denson of The Oregonian wrote an interesting article (April 20, 2008 – with Bruce Ely (photographer)) about the rise of Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMG) in Oregon. Specifically it detailed how the Mongols Motorcycle Club (MMC) had discretely opened a 4th chapter in Eugene after previously setting up chapters in Portland, Medford and Bend. The article characterized them as one of the most violent OMGs of the “Big Five” and it made me wonder if Oregon was set for a bloody turf war like the late 60’s in San Francisco. The aftermath of many killed bikers was that the Gypsy Jokers MC left California and the Hells Angels agreed to stay out of Oregon.
So what’s going on here? Are rivalries between OMGs sparking a local trend and a recruitment drive to expand their network? Will Oregon witness more violent confrontations and increased criminal activity? Will this impact the Taco Wednesday riders who seldom throw a leg over anything and live to ride…to a dealer to buy something bright and shiny?
A little background and context — OMGs are well-organized with a hierarchical structure, bylaws, and a written constitution. The organizational structure is complex. Members are required to pay dues and attend meetings and events (e.g., “runs”) to demonstrate loyalty to the club leadership. Infractions are punished by penalties with the most severe being death. Club members refer to themselves as “1%ers” (or One Percenters) and most display “1%” patches on their jackets, or “Colors 13″. The label refers to a quote by the American Motorcycle Association stating that “ninety nine percent of all motorcycle riders in this country are law abiding citizens.” The OMGs claim to make up the remaining one percent, thus the reference.
The Oregon Attorney General (Hardy Myers) completed a comprehensive review of the organized crime threat to citizens of Oregon back in 2006. The review included everything from possible terrorist attacks to threats from outlaw motorcycle gangs. The “Big Five” refer’s to the five major U.S. OMGs (Hells Angels (3500 members worldwide), Bandidos, Pagans, Outlaws, and Sons of Silence).
The illegal activities of “1%ers” include narcotics manufacturing and trafficking, vehicle thefts (in particular, Harley motorcycles), assaults, and prostitution. Some OMG members have diversified into “legitimate” businesses (e.g., motorcycle shops, night clubs, strip clubs), though more often these businesses have been set up for money laundering and fueled by unlawful activities. Oregon now has five separate OMGs. Most have multiple chapters in the state and at least one chapter in three bordering states. In addition, the largest OMG in Oregon has established a chapter in Germany and has affiliated clubs in Australia and South Africa. Below is a list of the estimated members of each OMG:
OMG Founded OR Members
Free Souls 1968 105
Brother Speed 1969 45
Gypsy Joker 1956 40
Outsiders 1968 26
Mongols 1969 12-15
Vagos 1965 15
Source: Police estimates; Attorney General report
The typical response from an outlaw member is “It’s not a gang…we’re a bunch of motorcycle enthusiasts getting together”, but do a Google search on any day of the week and you’ll find news about numerous arrests across the country from manufacture of illegal drugs to trafficking and for all the mystique of being just a bunch of rowdy dudes riding together for the fun of the camaraderie…a lot of dead bodies are piling up! Does this mean all outlaw clubs are filled with miscreants? No, I’ve personally met and talked with Hells Angels and Jokers members and found them to be reasonable. If you treat them with respect then they are reasonable. But they are not all saints either. My advice is to show respect, but to have as little interaction as possible.
The biker legend runs deep in America and many fun loving riders cherish the freedom of the open road and the wind in their face. But, I don’t buy into the outlaw clubs attempting to wrap themselves in a Harley flag of defiance and rebellion. I’ve posted on the Laughlin River Run melee previously and a freewheeling, even raucous lifestyle is one thing, but pushing drugs and killing people are not.
The increased appearance of “colors” flying in Oregon no matter who the “club” means that for us true motorcycle enthusiasts the road just gets a little rougher to navigate.
UPDATE: September 30, 2008 – the Oregonian reported that Justin “Mooch” DeLoretto, the founder of the Mongols Motorcycle Club‘s Oregon chapters, who was ordered not to associate with the organization after a June conviction for menacing a pair of outlaw biker investigators, has left secretly to California. According to Detective Dave Burroughs there will be a warrant for his arrest.
UPDATE: January 8, 2009 – Eugene’s KVAL news reported that DeLoretto turned himself in this week for violating the terms of his parole. He was working at a tattoo parlor in San Diego, CA which had ties to the Mongols.
Mongol photo courtesy of Bruce Ely of The Oregonian. Person in photo is reported to be Justin J. “Mooch” DeLoretto, 27, and credited with setting up the Oregon chapters.
Gypsy Joker photo courtesy Flickr