ST. GEORGE – Among the thousands of people who will be traveling to and through Southern Utah for Labor Day Weekend will be the Bandidos, members of an international motorcycle club who are heading to a rally in Duck Creek. Due to the club’s status as an outlaw biker gang, according to the FBI, and individual members having reputations for being involved in a myriad of criminal enterprises, law enforcement agencies across Southern Utah are preparing for the Bandidos’ arrival.
“We are the people our parents warned us about” is the Bandidos slogan; and their mascot is a pot-bellied Mexican outlaw sporting a large sombrero and holding a pistol in one hand and a large machete in the other. They also wear patches marking them as part of the “one percenters.” The one-percenter patch is also associated with other outlaw motorcycle clubs such as the Hell’s Angels and Pagans.
The phrase “one-percenter” caught on in the wake of the Hollistor Riot that took place in Hollister, Calif., in 1947. A large motorcycle rally was held in the town and a small faction of the attendees caused a commotion. Though the incident was relatively minor, sensationalized media coverage helped spur negative opinions towards motorcyclists and led the American Motorcyclist to say that 99 percent of riders are law-abiding citizens, while the “one percent” are the troublemakers. The term has since been embraced by outlaw biker lifestyle.
The actual Bandidos Motorcycle Club was formed on March 4, 1966, in San Leon, Texas, by Vietnam War veteran and marine Donald Eugene Chambers. He also made the club’s colors red and gold in homage to the U.S. Marine Corps. Chambers was convicted of murdering two drug dealers in 1972, though he was eventually paroled in 1983.
Since the club’s founding, facets of the membership have been involved in various illegal activity such as drug trafficking, prostitution, and murder.
The Bandidos have chapters throughout the United States and Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. In Utah, there is a known chapter in Tooele County, and a relatively young chapter in the St. George area, according to the St. George Police.
Local law enforcement prepares – just in case
Law enforcement was made aware of the pending rally from Cedar Mountain residents, Sgt. Alan Alldredge of the Kane County Sheriff’s Office said, and has prepared accordingly.
Over the Labor Day weekend, Alldredge said as many as 10,000 to 20,000 people may descend on Iron and Kane counties. It is estimated that 800-1,500 of them will be Bandidos attending the club’s rally in the Duck Creek area.
“They’ll be here for the whole weekend,” Alldredge said, “we don’t anticipate any problems; they’re not here to cause trouble.”
Just in case some sort of mayhem is triggered by the Bandidos’ presence, additional law enforcement will be brought in from the surrounding counties.
Aldredge said the Iron County Sheriff’s Office and Cedar City Police Department were paying close attention to the rally as well, and would already be out in force due to a busy holiday weekend.
Recently the Cedar City Police issued a press release addressing the Bandidos’ pending arrival:
The rally will take place in Kane County but many of the Bandidos members may choose to visit and lodge in Cedar City …. Individual members of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club have a history reflecting criminal conduct. While this may hold true for some members, it should not be a stereotype placed on all club members.
The Cedar City Police Department would like to reassure local residents who may feel intimidated by the numbers or presence of motorcycle club members that public safety and order will be maintained and criminal conduct will not be tolerated. Citizens need to be aware that the Cedar City Police Department has taken necessary steps to ensure public safety during the Labor Day weekend.
The St. George Police Department and Washington County Sheriff’s Office will be involved in watching the Bandidos as well, said St. George Police Sgt. Johnny Heppler, supervisor of the Fraudulent Identity and Securities Threats Unit.
As far as St. George is concerned, Heppler said, “we have no reason to believe they’ll be settling in this area at all.”
Like Alldredge, Heppler said he didn’t expect there there was going to be much trouble, despite the club’s reputation. Still, he said people who wear the one-percenter patch have chosen to associate themselves with an outlaw lifestyle.
If things do somehow get out of hand, Heppler said St. George Police and other agencies are prepared.
“We are very well trained on how to clear large crowds,” he said.
Arizona Highway Patrol Sgt. John Bottoms said a few of the Bandidos will be heading into Utah through Arizona, though not necessarily by way of Interstate 15 through St. George. Those coming from Texas will most likely pass through northeastern Arizona and make stopovers in places like Page and Kaibab, Arizona, on their way to the rally.
“They’re just trying to get from point A to point B,” Bottoms said.
The Kane County Sheriff’s Office has been in contact with individuals in charge of the rally, Aldredge said, and have been told the Bandidos aren’t looking to cause any problems. If there is any trouble caused by a club member, Alldredge said the matter may end up being dealt with internally.
“They’ll police their own,” Aldredge said.
In 2008, about 500 Bandidos rode into Moab for an annual conference. As reported by the Moab Times-Independent, the gathering was largely uneventful. Local business owners even called club members “well-behaved.”
County and city law enforcement had prepared for the gathering by bringing in additional police, as well as federal agents, to help keep the peace. Moab Police Chief Jim Nivarre credited the added and visible presence of law enforcement as one of the reasons why the weekend conference concluded without much trouble.
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