Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Riders that create their own storm

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, subcultures, motorcycle clubs

The book's appendix consists of a couple of poems of tribute and a list of "The Fallen Brothers", 51 of them. Considering that 22 of the 51 were murdered since 2000 began, we might say that it is getting riskier to be a Mongol. But as the book chronicles, there has been a great surge in membership since Doc Cavazos got involved. Perhaps they are safer than ever before…

Honor Few, Fear None: The Life & Times of a Mongol, by Ruben "Doc" Cavazos, is the apologia of the club's International President, an explanation to the world of what being a member of the Mongols Motorcycle Club is really about. He makes no bones that they are an outlaw club. But that term means different things to different people.

Doc starts with a short autobiography of his early life becoming a gangbanger in East Los Angeles and thereabouts. That environment is unimaginable to most middle class Americans, so reading his first-hand account leads to a better understanding of the exaggerated need for "respect" that is the lifeblood of young Latinos. Having lived in Highland Park (where Doc spent only the first month or so of his high school years), dwelling on a property that was a triple-corner, and so a frequent location of turf battles, I sometimes wonder how I got out alive.

But while he lived a truly criminal younger life, the author was striving for something better; a rare man with a vision. While lying low in Mexico with relatives, he became a qualified Radiography technician, a profession at which he continues today. He encountered the Mongols almost by accident. Few Latinos care about motorcycles; fast, shiny cars are their thing.

The Mongols had a similar "respect"-based ethos, but were a small, dwindling club when he joined. They never knew what hit them. Within about four years, he'd become National President, increased membership by a factor of five or ten, and steered many of the members away from overtly outlaw ways.

To many people, "outlaw" means, "mean, anti-social SOB". To Doc, "outlaw" means the club members do not expect any protection by "the law" and its officers, so they are prepared to defend themselves. To the American and Canadian registering bodies, it means a club that isn't registered with them. To the police and FBI, there are four main Outlaw Clubs, not including the Mongols, which are said to carry out organized crime activities such as extortion and the drug trade. California authorities add the Mongols to the list. At one time, this was probably true of them. If what Doc writes is true, it is no longer true.

If that is so, he still has a huge history to live down. The Mongols were once the most-feared MC (Motorcycle Club), prone to abusing the public and indeed deeply involved in drugs, extortion, and theft. They are, so far as I can find out, the only MC to face down the Hell's Angels and survive. The rash of murders, on both sides, since Doc took over is not a good sign. People who are attracted to the outlaw lifestyle are hypersensitive about any sign of "disrespect", and the most innocent acts can lead to a deadly confrontation.

Starting a new chapter of the club always leads to a confrontation, because the Hell's Angels still claim to "own" all of California. One such confrontation, in Nevada in 2002, became a crisis that is still ringing in their ears. Two Angels and one Mongol died, and one-third of all Mongols who have died are more recently slain.

The author acknowledges at one point that the life he lives would be considered a nightmare existence by most folks. To him it is just normal. Normal to carry a weapon at all times, with the expectation that he'll need to use it from time to time. Normal to get an occasional warning from an ATF agent about the latest contract against his life, by this or that chapter of Hell's Angels or some other MC. Normal to keep the things he really values somewhere besides his home, because he expects to get raided every year or two, and lots of stuff gets permanently "confiscated". Normal to have two dozen friends murdered in the past ten years.

He can have it. I don't need "respect" nearly that bad.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ruben "Doc" Cavazos is self-serving gang banger who got lucky when he infiltrated the Mongols MC. You are right when you said they never knew what hit them when he joined and took over. I hope they take their club back now that he is busted. It has come to light that Doc was stealing money from the club and they voted him "out bad". Now that he's in jail there is NO ONE that will protect his sorry ass.