Outlaws on Wheels
Current Events and Outlaw History Converge Locally
BY PAT HILL
Recent arrests in Montana and other parts of the nation indicate that members of the American Outlaws Association Motorcycle Club are living up to their name.
Better known as the Outlaws MC, or just the Outlaws, the motorcycle gang had 27 of its members and associates across the United States (including the club's national president) listed in a 12-count indictment by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia last month. Charges in the indictment include attempted murder, kidnap-ping, assault, robbery, extortion, and narcotics distribution. The indictment alleges that the American Outlaws Association is a highly organized criminal enterprise with a defined, multi-level chain of command.
“Today's arrests of the national president and leadership of the American Outlaws Association mark another aggressive attempt by the Department of Justice to dismantle what the indictment alleges to be a gang whose entire environment revolves around violence,” said U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride on June 10.
Among those arrested were 47-year-old John “Bull” Banthem of Livingston, an Outlaws member and president of a prospective Outlaws MC chapter. Banthem has been charged with illegal distribution of marijuana. Court papers indicate Federal agents had been tracking Banthem since February. He was arrested in Iowa on June 8 with five pounds of pot he was allegedly transporting to Virginia.
It's not the gang's first brush with the law. The Outlaws MC share an infamous designation from the U.S. Department of Justice as an “Outlaw Biker Organization,” or OBO, along with the other members of the “Big Four”: The Hell's Angels, the Banditos, and the Pagans. OBOs are defined as “organizations whose members use their motorcycle clubs as conduits for criminal enter-prises.”
Members of these outlaw motor-cycle clubs are also referred to as “one-percenters” in the biker world, hearkening back to a reported “riot” in Hollister, California, in 1947. The American Motorcycle Association (AMA), which supervises all official motorcycle racing in the U.S., supposedly told reporters on the scene that 99 percent of motorcycle riders were law-abiding citizens, with only one percent being “outlaw.” The AMA claims the one percent story is pure fable, but the handle stuck.
By 1960, the AMA officially banned the use of the word outlaws from all race clothing, and Outlaws members wore the initials OMC until 1963, when the club officially went “outlaw” and joined the “1%er Brotherhood of Clubs.” The Outlaws became the American Outlaws Association on Jan. 1, 1965, and the AOA logo used by the Outlaws today is the club's “salute” of sorts to the AMA that ostracized them. The abbreviation MC was added to the AOA acronym in 1989.
Formed in 1935 out of a bar on Route 66 in the southwest Chicago suburb of McCook, Illinois, the Outlaws had a relatively quiet start. Calling themselves the McCook Outlaws Motorcycle Club, the first major biker gig the club attended was at Soldier's Field in Chicago in 1946. But by 1950, membership in the Outlaws was expanding at a quick pace, with most of their membership then in Chicago proper, where they moved operations.
By the mid-'60s, the Outlaws had clubs in other states, and by the mid-'90s, Outlaws were clubbing overseas. Presently, more than 200 Outlaws MC chapters in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia make up the Outlaw Nation. An individual seeking club membership in the AOAMC must receive a unanimous yes vote by members of the prospective chapter after a probationary period. The Justice Department estimates that the organization currently has more than 1,700 members worldwide.
The Outlaws’ motto, adopted in 1969, which advises that God Forgives, Outlaws Don't (GFOD), is also a reminder that the Outlaws are a “1%er” club with violent undertones. Much of that violence occurs between the Outlaws and their alleged arch-rivals the Hell’s Angels (another popular Outlaws acronym reads ADIOS: Angels Die In Outlaws States). Police in Europe have been particularly worried about the feuding between the two motorcycle clubs, especially the eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth murders of rival Hell’s Angels and Outlaws leaders in countries like Germany and Denmark.
“We're disorganized, really,” “Dink,” the president of the Euro-pean/Asian Outlaws MC, told Britain's Sky News, while denying the Outlaws are involved in organized crime. “We just get together and have a laugh…we're just different.” Outlaws members in America also deny that they are part of a criminal organization.
“We are not a gang,” Mark Lester, president of the Outlaws MC in Knoxville, Tennessee, told Knoxnews in January after a raid on the chapter's clubhouse. “Our club is actually incorporated, so we're a corporation recognized by the U.S. Government. The Sheriff said we're all criminals, but there's never been any problems here in Knoxville. We've been here for 30 years, and there's never been any criminal activity.”
Though it's true that the Outlaws are “recognized by the U.S. Government,” that recognition doesn't come about through any better business practices. The Outlaws MC are expected to remain on the Justice Department's watch list for some time to come.
Editor’s note: The 12-count federal indictment cited reveals that in February of this year at an Outlaws gathering, John Banthem (of Liv-ingston, Montana), told undercover agents about a "plan to establish a large marijuana distribution network from Montana to Maryland."
The indictment also reveals that plans for an Outlaws event in Bozeman were discussed at the gather-ing, and that Banthem "described how every member of the Montana chapter has a medical marijuana card and access to high grade marijuana."