Motorcycle clubs oppose Patriot Act

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Northern California Confederation of Clubs, representing 41 motorcycle clubs — including the Hell’s Angels and the Vagos — is asking its members to send letters to their senators opposing the USA Patriot Act. They also oppose California’s Gang Abatement Act and a similar measure now before Congress (S 155, HR 970).

According to Nick Vales, a Vagos member and founder of the Sacramento Bill of Rights Society, the California Justice Department classifies Hell’s Angels and Vagos as “motorcycle gangs” and treats them the same as street gangs. Critics call this a form of group profiling.

“We are not a gang,” said Vales. “Last year we raised money for Christmas presents for the kids at the Sacramento Children’s Receiving Home and donated $1,000 to a school for disabled children in Auburn. In August we sponsor a campout for our own kids.”

The federal legislation contains several provisions similar to the Patriot Act, but unlike the Patriot Act, these provisions don’t have a “sunset clause,” i.e. they are not subject to periodic review and possible expiration. “If they lose those parts of the Patriot Act, they will still have them in the gang law,” Vales said.

Under the California Gang Abatement Act, a misdemeanor charge (“like spitting on the sidewalk,” said Vales) automatically becomes a felony if you are identified as a gang member, and a six-month sentence can be increased to five or 10 years. It also becomes a strike against you under California’s Three-Strike law.

People are being coerced by the threat of long sentences to sign a statement admitting to being a gang member. “This would make me a ‘person of interest’ under the Patriot Act,” Vales said.

“Because of the vagueness of the legislation, if I go to see my brother in Chicago, I can be charged with money laundering because I take cash across a state line and am identified with a motorcycle club.

“Our club also has ties in other countries, such as Mexico and Japan,” Vales said. “If I give a club brother in Mexico $100, I could be charged with supporting terrorism in another country. Even collecting dues for any club or association can be called money laundering.

“As a young man I volunteered for the military,” he said. “Now they are trying to tell me what to wear, who I can associate with, what causes I can fight for. We’re trying to educate all our people that they have rights and should stand up for their rights.”