Utah - ~Vagos: Ogden chapter members say they're a 'bunch of clowns' -- police aren't so sure~
OGDEN -- Who are the Vagos?
Is Ogden's self-proclaimed "outlaw motorcycle club of 2008" a "bunch of clowns" who just "like riding motorcycles and hanging out," as they say?
Or are they a local chapter of a national criminal gang, loosely allied with the Mongols motorcycle club that staged a deadly battle with Hell's Angels in a Nevada casino six years ago?
The latter is what police say as they keep a wary eye on the club, fearing a clash with another local biker club, the Sundowners.
Between 40 and 50 tattooed and bearded middle-aged bikers crowded into the Vagos' clubhouse near 27th Street on Wall Avenue, celebrating the first anniversary of the club arrival in Ogden.
Chapter president KC and sergeant-at-arms, Super-D agreed to step downstairs for an interview. They declined to provide their real names or any specific details about the organization, citing privacy reasons.
KC led the way through the newly remodeled brick bungalow, nicely decorated with a bar and a pool table. A screen on the wall flashed images from the numerous surveillance cameras positioned around the building. Outside, a long row of American-made motorcycles ran along the side of the building, gleaming in the sun. A green neon sign buzzed VAGOS in the window.
The heavy-set, white-bearded president acknowledged a few visitors from other motorcycle clubs as he eyes the crowd.
"The thing people don't understand is we're just about motorcycling," he said. "There's not much difference from any other club guys join, like the Moose, or whatever."
The Vagos' local clubhouse is one of only a handful in the country, said Police Lt. Loring Draper, an expert on motorcycle gangs.
Other clubhouses can be found scattered up and down the West Coast. Police believe there are somewhere between 700 and 800 Vagos members nationwide.
The club was founded in the mid-1960s in San Bernardino, Calif. Originally called Los Vagabundos, the name was shortened to Vagos when the organization broke away from the American Motorcycle Association.
Nationwide, outlaw motorcycle clubs have been linked to a variety of crimes, including murder, drug distribution, arson, money laundering, weapons trafficking, motorcycle thefts, rape and prostitution, Draper said.
The term outlaw motorcycle club originates from a statement issued by the AMA following a violent 1947 incident in the California town of Hollister, which was later made into the film "The Wild One," starring Marlon Brando.
Ninety-nine percent of motorcyclists are law-abiding citizens, the AMA said, while the other 1 percent are outlaws.
Since then, the term 1 percenter has become a hallmark of the most violent bikers and is worn proudly on some club jackets.
The Vagos, though an outlaw motorcycle club, are not 1 percenters, KC said. "We've never wanted to go in that direction."
It's unclear how large the Ogden chapter has grown in a year -- KC declined to answer questions about membership numbers -- but police said it began with six members and has been actively recruiting across the Top of Utah. KC said he decided to start a chapter in Ogden after he received a job transfer. Police said he used to operate a chapter in Reno, Nev.
Draper said members are often confrontational with police and required to carry guns.
"They are nasty, nasty folks," he said.
But Vagos disagree, claiming pop culture stereotypes fed by movies and television have them pigeonholed with the big bad biker reputation.
"Look at our track record. There's been zero conflict up here, none," KC said. "We don't do any of the business that would traditionally be associated with an outlaw motorcycle club."
Since the Vagos moved into Ogden, not one has been convicted or charged with a major crime.
Police lump all motorcycle clubs into one category and don't bother to differentiate between the crooks and the enthusiasts, KC said.
"In absence of criminal behavior, why treat me like a criminal? All any member of this club asks is to be treated like any other citizen until we act differently than any other citizen," he said.
The club, he says, is simply about going on long motorcycle rides, camaraderie and having fun.
"We hang out, ride bikes, and go to different gatherings of guys like us," KC said. "Places like Southern California, Las Vegas -- there are chapters there. If it's a 1,000-mile turnaround we do 500 miles one day and 500 miles the next. And we have a good time while we're there."
KC claimed the new chapter is a positive force in part of Ogden. Drugs are prohibited and most of the members don't drink alcohol.
The Wall Avenue home-turned-clubhouse used to be a rat-infested dump, he said. But members put in three months of hard work and now it's one of the nicer homes in the area.
"We may not look like it, but we're friendly, decent to our neighbors, and friendly, decent to those that come around," he said. "We don't cause problems."
"We all work 9-to-5 jobs," Super-D said. "I own a house. I've had the same job for 10 years. I'm a dad. It's hard when you get pulled over for little things when all the good things you do are ignored."
KC said he hopes that the club will be accepted by the community.
Last Christmas members participated in a charity ride that gathered toys for special needs kids.
"We've got thank-you letters hanging all over our walls from them," KC said. "One of our members has a special needs kid. We're family just like anyone else. That stuff matters to us."
But police said they're not falling for the old biker turned soft ploy.
When interviewed by the media, members of biker gangs often make the claim they're law-abiding citizens, Draper said. It helps them if they're ever arrested if they can point to a newspaper article touting their volunteer work -- but it's just a front.
"A lot of them are married. They have families. They have jobs. But they're also a major criminal element in our society," Draper said.
They may appear to be nice people, he said, but when the group or gang mentality take over, they're capable of incredible violence.
The Vagos have a long and history of crime and members are known to peddle drugs -- especially methamphetamine, he said.
KC acknowledges there have been some high-profile investigations into the Vagos in California, but most of the charges brought against members have failed to result in convictions, and weapons and motorcycles seized by police in raids have, in the end, been returned, he said.
"Yeah, like any large organization there are guys that make mistakes. But by in large, most of the guys in this club are the most honorable guys I've met in my life," he said.
"What the hell is wrong with freedom? That's what it's all about." -- Billy -- Easy Rider. (1969)
For decades motorcycle clubs have been a haven for refugees from mainstream American society. In the 1950s, many soldiers returning from service in World War II couldn't settle back into place, but banded together to create a vibrant, and at times incredibly violent, motorcycle counterculture.
Even today, biker culture is centered around reinforcing that iconoclastic image, Draper said.
Bikers are known for bad hygiene, wearing dirty or ripped clothing and brash behavior. It's their way of opting out of normal society, Draper said
Although most of the Vagos work regular jobs, many in labor industries like construction, the same sentiment still defines and unites them - a point KC didn't rebuke.
"People ask, 'Why do you chose to live like that?' And I answer, cause the alternative sucks," he said.
KC said the club takes on a dominant role in each member's life, much like a surrogate family.
"We want guys in our club that are willing to be a part of something more than a casual friendship, that's a br
Disclaimer: The opinions in this article are solely those of the writer, and may not reflect the beliefs of anyone at the Biker News Network/Outlaw Biker World.
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