April 17, 2011 in City

Spin Control: Outlaw bikers may meet their match in Olympia

By The Spokesman-Review

My image of the outlaw biker, that iconic bad boy of the latter half of the last century, lost a bit of its tarnish last week in an unusual setting: the governor’s office.

Some folks who at least harbor desires to be thought of as outlaw bikers joined other motorcyclists and state legislators as Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill forbidding cops from “profiling” them when they get their motors running and head out on the highway. Under the law, being on a motorcycle is not a reason for being pulled over … not that police would ever do that, mind you.

The governor’s conference room hosts all manner of characters when bills get signed, so there’s no way to say this was the motliest crew ever to gather round and smile for the camera.

But they may have been the most ostentatious in their display of professed disregard for law – an odd bit of irony, considering they were attending the christening of a new law. Along with club colors for the Bandidos, once a target of major law enforcement actions in Washington, several of the bikers sported the diamond-shaped, red-and-yellow 1 percenter patch.

They stood on either side of Gregoire during the signing ceremony, and one peered over the top of the high-backed chair in which she sat, smiling at the appropriate time when photos were snapped. Somewhere in Hollywood Heaven, “The Wild One’s” Johnny Strabler is spinning in his grave.

For those unfamiliar with biker nomenclature, the patch refers to a comment supposedly made in the ’40s or ’50s (sources vary) that 99 percent of motorcycle riders are decent, law-abiding citizens, and 1 percent are law-breakers giving the rest a bad name. Outlaw bikers adopted the 1 percenter label decades ago as a badge of pride, and to presumably clear up any uncertainty regarding to which group they belonged.

Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, a supporter of the anti-profiling bill and chairman of the committee that held its House hearings, noticed the colors and patches in a photo published in The Spokesman-Review. He recognized them in part because he spent 25 years in law enforcement.

Bill-signings are open to the public, just like legislative hearings and debates, Hurst said, so there was nothing untoward about outlaw bikers being there. If they engage in illegal activity advertised by the 1 percenter patch, the anti-profiling bill doesn’t help them, he added.

“If a person is committed to a life of organized crime, they should expect no protection under this law.”

Outlaw biker gangs aren’t the scourge they once were, Hurst added. Starting in the ’60s, outlaw biker groups like Hells Angels, Gypsy Jokers and Ghost Riders grew powerful by trafficking in methamphetamine and weapons. They fought law enforcement, and each other for territory.

Then the Mexican drug cartels moved into the meth trade with a purer, cheaper form of speed, and an even more aggressive business model that involved eliminating all competition with heavier firepower. Most of the outlaw biker leaders from the old days are either in prison or dead from turf wars or road accidents. “It’s a tough lifestyle,” Hurst said.

So it’s not even clear that these 1 percenter Bandidos are associated with the old days and old ways of the outlaw gangs. Maybe they just chose a denim jacket or leather vest with those colors because it matched the rest of their outfit.

In any case, if they want to join the rest of the motorcycle groups lobbying for more changes – the umbrella organization, ABATE, would also like to change the mandatory helmet law – they should be warned.

Olympia can be rough turf, too. You thought the Mexican drug lords were bad? Wait until you cross a business lobbyist with a briefcase and a $2,000 suit.

Spin Control, a weekly column by Jim Camden, also appears on line with daily items, reader comments and videos, at spokesman.com/spincontrol.

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