Feds seek to seize trademark to the Mongols outlaw biker club’s notorious logo in an effort to shut them down
- Federal racketeering trial in California seeks to seize the Mongols’ logo
- Jury is considering the charges against the outlaw motorcycle club
- Government says group is a criminal organization involved in the drug trade
- Mongols contend that they are a non-criminal motorcycle appreciation club
- Prosecutors want to seize the rights to the Mongols’ logo to shut the club down
- Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, a full-patch Mongol, blasts the plan
- He testified in the club’s defense as one of 40 witnesses in the lengthy trial
The federal government hopes to seize the trademark to the Mongols outlaw biker club’s logo, in an unusual strategy to shut the group down that experts are dubious will succeed.
A jury in Santa Ana, Califorina is now considering the government’s racketeering case against Mongols Nation, the parent organization that owns the group’s iconic logo.
Prosecutors argued that the group is a criminal gang, and asked the jury to vote to yank the group’s trademark, much as the government seizes cash, real estate and other property from criminals.
The Mongols defense attorney countered that the group is not criminal, and that any violence its members have been involved in was strictly in self defense.
In the government’s cross-hairs is the Mongols’ logo: an Asian man on a motorcycle wearing sunglasses and carrying a sword. By seizing the logo, the feds hope to bar members from displaying their patches, and and break up the group.
The Mongols were originally founded in California in 1969, by predominantly Latino bikers who had been rejected by the Hell’s Angels. The group now has about 1,000 members in the U.S. Many Mongols members have had a history of involvement in the illegal drug trade.
The government’s plan to seize the group’s trademark has a long and winding history. The idea was initially floated in a racketeering sting that swept up some 80 of the group’s leaders in 2008.
All but two of the defendants pleaded guilty in that case, and a judge initially ordered them to forfeit the trademark rights as part of their sentence. That order had to be reversed, however, when the judge discovered that none of the defendants in the case actually owned the trademark.
The tactic was revived in 2013, when prosecutors brought charges against the Mongol Nation itself – the corporate body that owns the trademark.
After a winding legal process, that case went to trial last month, featuring about 40 witnesses, including former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, and about 200 exhibits.
Ventura, who joined the Mongols at the end of his Navy career in the 1970s, testified that the Mongols were not a criminal group to his knowledge.
But he also confessed that he had been asked to leave the room when any illicit activity was discussed due to his active-duty military status at the time.
In an interview after his testimony, Ventura blasted the government’s attempt to seize control of the Mongols logo and ban members from wearing it.
‘This is bigger than the Mongols club,’ Ventura told City News Service. ‘You’ve got the government… telling you what you can and cannot wear.’
He added, ‘The First Amendment is to protect unpopular speech… Some people may think the Mongols are horrible, but they still have equal rights under the Bill of Rights… Who’s next? The Shriners? Where does it end? It’s a First Amendment issue top to bottom.’
Ventura said that he received a denim Mongols jacket when he was a club member and that he still wears it when he rides his motorcycle.
‘Are they going to stop the 38th governor of Minnesota and take his jacket?’ Ventura wondered.
Experts note that the government could only retain the trademark rights to the Mongols logo by continuously using it in commercial activity, as trademarks that aren’t exercised quickly lapse back into the public domain.
‘I’m dubious,’ trademark attorney Jason Rosenberg said of the feds’ plan to the Los Angeles Times. ‘Is the government really going to start its own motorcycle club?’
Rosenberg said he was skeptical of the government’s ability to use trademark rights prevent individuals from wearing particular items of clothing.
‘They could probably get a seizure order for an inventory of jackets in a warehouse somewhere,’ Rosenberg said, ‘but what happens six months from now when a motorcyclist is pulled over for wearing his jacket that he was given permission to wear by the club when they owned the trademark? I have never heard of trademark law being used to take the clothing off someone’s back.’
Mongols president David Santillan argued in a November interview with the New York Times that the government’s tactic is absurd, but that if successful in court would likely be applied to other groups.
‘Lots of brothers have tattoos of the marks on their necks and heads and everywhere,’ Santillan said. ‘How do you regulate that?
Source The Daily Mail