Bikers Not ISIS

The Mongols motorcycle gang, establishing chapters in Oregon.
The Mongols motorcycle gang, establishing chapters in Oregon.

It’s easy to like Texas. And not that I’m drawn to motorcycle gang violence but that recent occurrence in Waco causes me to reflect on how refreshingly different things can go down in Texas.

In a nation afraid of its shadow, there are surely Americans who think it reflects the social disorder seen in Baltimore and Ferguson. But it’s a horse of different color. Motorcycle gangs have long been around and, in general, their character hasn’t changed. This is just one of those times they went against their normal mode of operating and conducted their fight in public. Not that it was planned. They don’t work that way. Things just got out of control fast. And they will pay the price, as they already have in terms of dead friends. And in the coming law enforcement efforts to reign them in a bit.

It doesn’t take much to set off a guy who lives for fights. A spilled beer. An accidental bump to the arm while passing. A comment not well-phrased. And before the dust settles, nine guys are dead.

In my career in health care I had the opportunity to treat a few of the types that belong to biker gangs. These aren’t ordinary men, nor ordinary hooligans. They are the most macho of the macho. Guys who actually enjoy getting drunk and getting into a fight. Love to bust faces and break bones. Guys with unusually high levels of testosterone. They all aren’t attracted to the crimes that often accompany the gangs. Some just like the rather twisted camaraderie. Like the clubhouse surrounded by big bikes. Like the dress code. Like being on the fringe of society.

Kent was an example of the sort without a felony to his name. Grew up in the martial arts under a father and older brother who enjoyed pummeling him within an inch of his life on a regular basis. He had no problem with non-violent “crimes” that hurt no innocents. Raised his share of marijuana in his house to make ends meet, if he had to. But he earned his living wages the old-fashioned way—manual labor jobs in construction. As he got older, his competition in martial arts faded with his health. His back pain and nerve damage left him struggling to swing a hammer or finish a day at work.

Kent enjoyed breeding the worst of dogs. Had pit bulls that were so vicious the only way to get them to break off an attack was to shoot them. And then he would skin them and preserve the hide for display. He enjoyed talking about how many shots it would take to kill the meanest of them.

I got to know Kent when he was a Medicaid recipient. His years of injuries had turned him into a cripple before age 50, although he didn’t look the part. Long braided pony tail. Jeans and biker boots. That sort of demeanor that let you know this was not a man who normally ran from anything. But life had changed. His broken body made it impossible for him to even adequately defend himself, and he knew it.

Over the course of many treatments Kent and I developed a bit of a friendship. He and I enjoyed our conversations. And we shared a mutual dislike of the government that we found ourselves immersed in. For him it was partly dislike that comes from having been a member of the Hell’s Angels. Having had his share of cop raids on the club house. Having been beaten by those in uniform on more than one occasion in the back halls of the police station.

Kent had a street-smart respect for cops as a result and preferred some good advice—don’t put yourself in a position that will bring you into contact with the police. Not that he felt all cops were bad men, just enough of them to be very wary of all of them. Recently our local assistant police chief was caught running a drug ring. Kent told me about that years before it became news. Not that I doubted him. Drug prohibition, like all prohibition, creates a market so lucrative that law enforcement types face lucrative bribes.

No gun for Kent even though his lifestyle would make carrying one a wise thing to do. There was the reason that he knew that his application for a carry permit would bring unwanted attention. And he was wise enough to know that even having a legal gun on him during any future encounter with the police would result in a bad outcome. He’d either get angry and kill someone, or he’d end up in prison simply for having a gun on him while committing whatever crime they would frame him with. So he packed a giant sized pepper spray in his back jeans pocket. Something that would give him the time and opportunity to run from an assailant. Bikers aren’t the sort that would normally consider running. But Kent faced the new reality of his broken health.

Kent missed the club meetings. But he was wise enough to know that he was simply too old and broken to hang around brawlers. Told me about how some of them just got too mean when they were drunk. Worse, he lamented, was the foolishness of some of them to use other drugs that twisted their thinking abilities. And there was the growing problem of young men coming from the street gangs into the biker gangs.

We both connect as fathers. He worried about his son having to live in a society that was coming apart at the seams. Saw the social disorder that was just waiting to explode. Kent didn’t need a formal education to see that the problem with America was the welfare state. He lived in the worst part of town, amongst generations of Americans who had been raised with a sense of entitlement, no desire to work, and totally dependent upon the state.

I liked Kent. Underneath was a man with a sense of justice and honor. The sort that adhere to unwritten rules. The principle of non-aggression. Like not hurting innocents. I’m not surprised that in the bloodbath that went on in Waco, nobody but the gang members were hurt. Not that it couldn’t have happened in the midst of flying bullets. But the event in Waco, as unplanned and uncontrolled as it was, left nobody dead and hurt but the bikers. The locals did as smart Texans do when something like that breaks out—duck and cover and get the heck out. Cops arrived and good training resulted in none of them injured. Man, I miss Texas.

I’d like to hear Kent’s comments on the recent biker war. I can imagine what he would say. He would talk about the stupidity of the gang leaders who would even arrange a meeting like that in a public event. He’d point out the rise of young guys without brains. Without character. And the stupidity of any older members who showed up to begin with.

I can’t imagine why Kent liked me. We couldn’t have been more different. Maybe it is because I cared for his broken body. But I think it was because there is a bond that can be built between men when they spend time together and communicate. Despite very different lifestyles, men can share deep values. Respecting those who keep their word—do what they say they are going to do. Respecting property rights—you don’t hurt other people unless they try to hurt you or your property.

The last time I saw Kent we were talking about how bad the neighborhood around the clinic was getting. About how the government was running to of money. About a day coming when the powder keg was going to explode.

“We’re too old to run, Mike,” Kent said. “When it all falls apart, come on over to the house. We’ll set up some lawn chairs and crack a couple of cold ones and watch the world go to hell.”

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