Fort Worth Star Telegram
On Saturday night, members of the Mongols motorcycle gang stood outside a bar in the Fort Worth Stockyards, talking with bar employees and passersby.
A woman across the street appeared to take a picture of the four men, who were all wearing black leather vests with patches saying “Mongols” and “Lifetime member.”
Two of them, one of whom introduced himself as Blade, yelled across the street.
“Wait, take another one!” he said, posing with his arm around another member and smiling broadly.
The woman put her phone down and walked away.
The Mongols have been called the “most violent and dangerous” outlaw motorcycle gang in the nation by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents, according to the Department of Justice website.
On Friday and Saturday, local police beefed up their presence in the Fort Worth Stockyards after ATF warned the Mongols were planing a rally there.
An ATF intelligence note warned the Mongols were planning a “run” in the Stockyards Friday or Saturday. The notice, copies of which were sent to the Star-Telegram, stated the gang members were expected to start arriving late Thursday and there could be anywhere from 300 to 700 bikers.
The four Mongols members outside White Elephant bar on Saturday night said all of this is all misconception.
None of the men wanted to provide their names. Only one, who had on a backwards hat and others described as their “boss” provided a nickname; Blade.
“We like to go places and hang out with our brothers and spend money in local shops,” he said.
He said he was not allowed to say how many members were at the Stockyards, but pulled up a picture of the group from the night before on his phone. About forty men, most wearing black leather, stood on a stage at a Stockyards bar.
He pointed at signs on nearby doors that banned “club affiliated attire of any kind.” He said those signs kept the Mongols out of most shops and bars in the Stockyards.
“I went into a shop to buy a Fort Worth t-shirt for my daughter and wife, and they wouldn’t let me in. I’m fine with it, but my wife is gonna be like, ‘where’s my souvenir?’” Blade said.
The only place that let them in, he said, was the White Elephant Saloon and the Love Shack.
The saloon and Love Shack Manager Bill Chmielewski said the Mongols have been great customers.
“They’re very respectful, they’re been very kind to my employees. That’s the kind of customers we want,” he said.
Another Mongols member, whose vest said “Florida” on the back, said the stigma against them is created by the media and shows like Sons of Anarchy, which portray motorcycle clubs as lawless and violent.
“We like to spend a ton of money and to have a good time,” he said. “We’re just like any other organization.”
Another member, who was wearing a black and white hat and sunglasses on his neck, chimed in.
“We’re not bullies, we’re not disrespectful. We tip and we tip well,” he said. “We’re a brotherhood. We are family.”
In their note, ATF wrote one of their concerns was possible violence between the Mongols and their rival, the Bandidos gang.
“Although only operating in Texas for a short period of time, violence has already transpired between the two adversaries in Houston, Fort Worth, and Dallas,” the ATF stated in its note.
Officer Brad Perez, a Fort Worth police spokesman, said in a previous interview Fort Worth police were not expecting any issues between the two groups at this weekend’s rally.
“Several representatives of the Fort Worth Police Department have spoken to the local Mongols chapter president and he assured us that the local Bandidos chapter has been made aware of this gathering and that they do not expect any issues,” Perez said in an email. “The concern with this particular gathering is the number anticipated to participate.”
However, the four members said law enforcement was overreacting to the Mongols’ presence.
“More police officers showed up here than Mongols,” the man with the Florida vest said.
Fort Worth police issued a statement on social media on Friday about the motorcycle rally.
“We have not issued any advisories to avoid the Stockyards this weekend due to motorcycle club rallies. We will have additional officers working the Stockyards this weekend,” the post stated.
In June, 21 members and associates of a Tennessee chapter of the Mongols were indicted by a federal grand jury with various alleged crimes, including racketeering conspiracy, murder in aid of racketeering, attempted murder, kidnapping, robbery and large-scale drug trafficking.
Earlier in the year, the same chapter had 19 members and associates indicted on charges of racketeering conspiracy, murder, drug trafficking and other related crimes.
As of 8 p.m. Saturday, there were no violent crimes reported in the Fort Worth Stockyards related to the Mongols.
It’s Sunday morning in Tallahassee. Services will begin soon at the bustling little church on North Monroe. As the congregants munch on doughnuts and sip hot coffee, the Baptist praise musicians quietly tune-up. Everybody here is in their Sunday best, and wanting to make a good impression; they’ve all washed and polished their vehicles to perfection the night before.
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Well, that’s odd, you might think. I go to church even when my ride is dirty.
Yet it’s not odd when you realize that this is a special church. A special place that broadly welcomes people for whom bikes—motorbikes—are more than just a means to move around the city or speed from town to town.
For these men and women, the motorcycle is a way of life; it is a statement of freedom; about camaraderie; about the courage to be who you are and enjoy what you love—even if others may cast side-glances your way.
But today at the Tallahassee Biker Church, not even a storefront, but a store back, 30 to 40 men and women are in their element and reveling in each other’s acceptance and in God’s love.
A unique and shared interest
“Catfish” Thompkins, Greg Scrivener, and James “Colonel Nomad” Mearse are milling around outside, checking out each other’s bikes. Thompkins wears a yellow skull cap, a sleeveless vest and impressive tattoos. Scrivener is casual in T-shirt, jeans and baseball cap, and Mearse’s leather vest is covered with colorful patches and pins.
The two men, if they wanted to, could intimidate a tough in a back alley. But looks can be deceiving. In just a few minutes, all three will be raptly listening to preacher Andy Garcia bringing them the Word of God, and raising their hands and voices in song.
Beside these men, many still wearing their hats and all of them in casual jeans, are a dozen women—wives, companions—a couple of them are riders themselves.
One is “Suzuki Sue” Wages, who is the music director, guitarist and clear-voiced singer. Word has it that she and her husband have traveled by motorbike “all over the world.” Another is more incongruous. Her name is Nancy Thorson and she is a 73-year-old widow who says that this church changed her life.
Thorson has driven up to the church on a yellow and black CanAm FSSport, a three-wheeled motorbike she calls her “hornet.” “I had always wanted to own another motorcycle,” she says, ever since she’d bought her first in Wisconsin when she was 21.
Along the way, the tiny woman describes rising to deputy sheriff of her small northern town, taking on the role of wife and mother with a move to Florida, and then falling into a deep depression with the death of her husband. “This fantastic church changed everything for me.”
Having discovered a unique network of people with one thing in common, Thorson was embraced by others who one way or another had found the “wind therapy” of the Biker Church healing. “Since March, when I got my 6-geared CanAm,” says Thorson, “I’ve put 1300 miles on her. I’m feeling pretty proud of myself,” she beams.
‘Nothing but sweet fellowship’
Greeting her, one of many big men in the congregation, Bob Davie says that he has been on motorcycles since he was “8 or 10.” “But this is not just a biker hang-out. This is a serious church. We have Bible study the last two Thursdays of the month and we try to do as many good-works projects as we can—toy runs and food distribution are the big ones.”
Neal Johnson, who is one of the three founders who began the Biker Church five years ago, agrees. “We started under a tent outside the Harley-Davidson dealership with just a handful of people. We were eventually sponsored as a mission by Canopy Baptist Church, then went on our own, affiliated with the Florida Baptist Association. Now there are at least 30 every Sunday. There’s even a Biker Church in Italy that follows us on live stream Facebook and translates our sermons.”
But Johnson says the something that makes this place unique is its acceptance of everyone. “Many people have been hurt by church… their feelings hurt by godly people who just don’t want us there. Here, there’s nothing but sweet fellowship.”
Finding a perfect fit
Now the pews begin to fill, the musicians take their place and rollicking hymns have everyone’s arms in the air, with bodies swaying and voices rising. Ernie Garcia, a powerfully large man himself, is the pastor. Part stand-up jokester and part deeply knowledgeable pastor, he addresses each congregant as if they were in a private conversation.
And if the wall decoration behind him—four exhaust pipes from Harley-Davidsons, and the pulpit itself, the purple cover of a motorcycle engine, don’t give you the idea, his sermon and teaching of Scripture is peppered with allusions to the biking life. Meet your listeners where they are, he seems to say, and they will hear the message of hope.
In a corner, though not timid, is someone Garcia takes special note of, someone the Biker Church has embraced. “Do you remember in the Democrat,” he says, the picture of the man who got a shave from the policeman so who could go on a job interview? Well, that’s him. That’s him and we’re proud to have him with us.”
Along with the other congregants, the man, with the thick head of coiffed hair and tidily shaved face raises his arms, singing beside all the other joyous worshippers who like him, have found a place where they fit in just right.