If you drive anywhere in Onslow County, you have likely seen them: groups of bikers out on a run, straddling Harleys with high handlebars and sporting well-worn leather or denim vests emblazoned with an evocative image: a skull wearing an Indian headdress. A mythical troll-god. A winged harpy.
They are members of motorcycle clubs, close-knit, dedicated and frequently secretive groups formed around a shared identity and a collective love of steel pipes and roaring down the freeway.
The prized jackets are known as colors, a military term emphasizing a regimental authority structure and the notion of brotherhood that is signature to the armed forces. They identify the biker’s club affiliation and frequently his state of origin as well.
While the majority of motorcycle clubs in Onslow and elsewhere cooperate with local authorities and may even participate in community events or charitable causes, a few label themselves “outlaws” or “one-percenters,” contributing to a fierce subculture of violence, drug dealing and other fringe criminal activities.
And this region’s one-percenter population is thriving.
Last July, Onslow County Sheriff’s detective John Dubois told The Daily News that among local gangs, outlaw biker groups were among the office’s greatest concerns.
“Motorcycle gangs are the biggest problem we’re going to have right now,” he said. “They’re very active and moving into this area, although there’s no evidence of any increase in crime associated with those gangs.”
While Sheriff’s officials declined to comment further, officials with the Jacksonville Police Department confirmed that all of the area one-percenter clubs are growing.
A field agent with the department who asked to be identified only as Detective Allen to avoid compromising ongoing investigations said population expansion in Eastern North Carolina had much to do with increased recruitment among the clubs.
“They’re all actually growing. They’re expanding little by little,” Allen said. “The whole city’s growing with more military moving into the area.”
The outlaw clubs in the area, Allen said, are the Pagans, the Warlocks, the Outlaws and a small number of Hell’s Angels, with the as Pagans the recognized dominant force in the region. But authorities stay abreast of the movements of more than a half-dozen self-identified “lawful” clubs as well, monitoring interaction between clubs and signs of gang activity.
Occasionally, law enforcement officials are even asked to provide security when the clubs interact. A police official said the president of the self-identified lawful club Sons of Armageddon asked officials to stand by during a meeting between him and leaders of the Pagans to obtain permission to fly club colors in the area. Police agreed.
It’s no secret that military communities tend to attract the one-percenters as well.
Last year, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives published the results of a year-long analysis of communities surrounding military installations confirming that many outlaw clubs actively recruit from among active-duty and retired service members.
In an analysis of activity in North Carolina, the report notes, “Due to the fact there are three large United States military bases...the number of military members and contractors involved with an (outlaw motorcycle gang) has increased dramatically.”
According to the report, Naval Criminal Investigative Service Officials observed members of the Pagans recruiting Marines for their main support club, the Untamed Rebels.
“It has been observed that many members in the Untamed Rebels are either active-duty or recently retired USMC, Government contractors at Camp Lejeune, or retired military members who are attracted to the lifestyle and camaraderie of being a member or associate of an OMG,” said the report.
Among regional recommendations for law enforcement: identify the large number of Pagans support club members who are retired United States Marine Corps and/or current DoD contractors at Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point, and identify the United States Marines, active duty and prior enlistment, who are associating with the Outlaws OMG.
ATF did not return calls about the report, and a statement from Camp Lejeune officials was unrevealing.
“The base and its associated investigatory agencies have not noted any recent spikes in outlaw motorcycle gang activity, nor have there been any recent prosecutions of Marines that have been charged with being a member of such a group,” base spokesman Nat Fahy said. “In the event that a Marine is investigated for participating in outlaw motorcycle gang activity, that Marine could face charges, as he or she would for any suspected criminal activity. Furthermore, Marine Corps orders require administrative separation processing for a substantiated incident of misconduct resulting from a Marine’s participation in extremist or supremacist activities that undermine unit cohesion or are detrimental to the good order and discipline or mission accomplishment of the command.”
But a former Camp Lejeune Marine with ties to outlaw clubs on the west coast said the draw for military was easy to see.
“There’s a lot near military bases, because they promote brotherhood so much,” he said. “They share women with each other, hang out, fight, everything.”
The former Marine confirmed that there were active-duty personnel within the Untamed Rebels, but said many local gangs were careful of who they recruited and what recruits were permitted to do, for fear of run-ins with the law.
“For the guys who are in the military, they’re encouraged not to break the law, because they’re in the military,” he said.
But lawbreaking does occur.
Allen said outlaw clubs had been responsible for much of the methamphetamine traffic in the region.
“You’ll have a bandanna on the motorcycles to the right or the left, and that will tell you who’s carrying,” Allen said. “You’ll see the weapons, the ax handles on the handlebars as well.”
But aside from occasional bar fights and occasional traffic stops and drug arrests, most illegal activity occurs outside the JPD’s jurisdiction.
“They like to stay lower under the radar than most of our street gangs,” Allen said. “They don’t have anything to prove, that’s how they see it.”
The Daily News made multiple efforts to contact members of local clubs, but they were unsuccessful.
A member of Tuckahoe, a group with a clubhouse on Burgaw Highway, responded via email to decline an interview request.
“Thank you for your consideration but Tuckahoe MC is a simple charitable organization,” the member said. “We do not require recognition for our efforts.”
A leader of the North Carolina Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs declined an interview request and offered some advice.
“One thing you might see as you do your research or interviews is that most people from clubs won’t say too much to a reporter,” he said in an email.
A casual motorcyclist, Brad Edgington of Hubert, said what outlaw activity he does observe is enough to color his experience as a biker. Edgington said several bars had banned all bikers because of frequent fights among members of outlaw clubs.
“I don’t want to get wrapped up with flying anybody’s colors or anything like that,” he said. “The outlaw bikers kind of give the average biker a bad name before he’s even had the chance. It makes you nervous riding in this area.”
Police officials said their goal at present was to remain abreast of outlaw activity, monitoring the clubs and intervening when they were observed breaking the law.
“We’re watching them, and we conduct a lot of surveillance,” Allen said.