The New Jersey State Commission of Investigations recently held public hearings on the Pagan’s Motorcycle Club (PMC) and it was business as usual. 1The NJSCI, in a trend being repeated by government and media sources nationwide, continued the process of eroding and ignoring the 1st Amendment in an attempt to vilify motorcycle clubs, in this instance the PMC due to the club’s alleged rapid growth recently. The actions of the few do not, and should not, dictate policy towards an entire demographic. Yet, that is the exact tactic being employed by the NJSCI by exploiting and sensationalizing the alleged actions of a few members in an attempt to encourage policy condemning the entire organization. That is simply not how the 1st Amendment works.
Same old song and dance
The NJSCI hearing was intended to expose policymakers to the allegedly growing threat presented by the PMC. The NJSCI has no power to prosecute. They do, however, provide guidance to policymakers that directly influence legislation and law. Ignoring the fundamental liberties embodied in the 1st Amendment, the NJSCI presented a familiar narrative echoing a biased and inaccurate stereotype by presenting as evidence actions of individual members in an attempt to condemn all PMC members. Moreover, many of the examples presented have not been subjected to judicial scrutiny or due process. Although no one goes to prison as a direct result, the NJSCI directly influences legislation without the requirement that an individual is innocent until proven guilty.
The false 1% narrative
NJSCI investigative agent Edwin Torres begins by advancing the falsehood that being a 1%’ER is synonymous with being a criminal. This assertion is an attempt to condemn an entire community and constitutionally protected symbol and association.
“Make no mistake. They are gangs”, says Torres. He then breaks into the apocryphal AMA narrative dating back to Hollister, California in 1947 in which the AMA declared that 1% of motorcyclists were not law-abiding citizens. Torres testified that 1%’ERS “wear a patch advertising that they are not law-abiding citizens.”
The assertion is ridiculous to members of the 1% club community. At worst, 1’ERS are advertising rebellion against mainstream society’s rules, not its’ laws. Things like long hair, tattoos, loud motorcycles, and parties.
The truth is that 1% clubs are considered elite among clubs, generally with higher levels of commitment and participation requirements, not criminality requirements. 1% clubs are a lifestyle, not a hobby. The truth is that the vast majority of 1%’ERS are employed, many have families, and don’t have criminal records. The statistics strongly dispute claims of criminality.
NJSCI claims about women are oﬀensive and false
In an attempt to provoke fear in policymakers and the public, NJSCI investigators assert women are abused and mistreated. Nicole McCann, investigative analyst for NJSCI testified, “According to the Pagan Motorcycle Club, women are below dogs. Women are treated like their property … shared sexually among the group. They are typically given as many drugs or drinks as they want.”
This assertion is highly oﬀensive to PMC members and their Ol’ Ladies. One self-proclaimed proud Pagan Ol’ Lady writes to the MPP: “Lower than dogs?!” Come on! My Pagan Ol’Lady sisters are top quality wives, girlfriends, and mothers! My property patch indicates that I’m loved, valued, and cherished by my man. And in return, we honor, love and respect our men.”
Although not as sensational as Hollywood’s version of biker culture, the claims regarding the intrinsic abuse of women are simply not true.
Assertions regarding drug use and inherent criminality are false
The NJSCI also claims that 90% of Pagan’s MC members do narcotics, in addition to all being criminals as signified by the 1% patch. Members also dispute this claim. One proud PMC member, family man, business owner, and law-abiding citizen writes the MPP, “Any intelligent person who believes this line of crap these oﬃcials are spewing is just as hypocritical and judgmental as those fabricating this nonsense. Talk about fake news and slanderous rhetoric! The percentage of club members who actually abuse drugs and commit crimes is far less than statistics have proven in law enforcement, clergy, and even government. The Doctors and priests molesting and abusing children and corruption in government and law enforcement is public knowledge. The men and women in motorcycle clubs around the world are widely comprised of hard-working, family loving, community support, and yes, law-abiding citizens from ALL walks of life. Lets face the facts and stop the spread of fake news on all levels. Get real.”
Statistically, very few 1%’ERS are criminals
The idea that all, or even most, 1%’ers are criminals is shattered by the only available statistics. The 2016-2019 National Motorcycle Profiling Surveys (NMPS) demonstrate that members of motorcycle clubs simply do not fit the demographic profile of criminals or gang members. The NMPS, the only statistical attempt to quantify the motorcycle profiling epidemic in America, is an extremely reliable data set, with 99% reliability and a 1.4% margin of error.
Torres is advancing a perception about all PMC members and 1%’ERS based on the actions of individual members. Certainly, individuals in clubs commit crimes. Some individuals in all large organizations and communities do, including government and law enforcement. But this fact does not mean every member of these groups are criminals.
This blanket assertion of criminality is completely inconsistent with established constitutional principles. And this is not the first time New Jersey law enforcement has attempted to condemn members of the PMC for mere association.
In 2015, a federal court in New Jersey found “no evidence that by merely wearing Pagan’s “colors,” an individual is “involved in or associated with the alleged violent or criminal activity of other Pagan’s members. It is a fundamental principle that the government may not impose restrictions on an individual “merely because an individual belong[s] to a group, some members of which committed acts of violence.” In fact, the Supreme Court has long “disapproved governmental action . . . denying rights and privileges solely because of a citizen’s association with an unpopular organization.” Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169, 185-86 (1972).
Condemning any person “who wears the insignia of the Pagan’s motorcycle club, without regard to or knowledge of that individual’s specific intent to engage in the alleged violent activities committed by other members, is antithetical to the basic principles enshrined in the First Amendment and repugnant to the fundamental doctrine of personal guilt that is a hallmark of American jurisprudence.” see Coles v. Carlini 162 F.Supp.3d 380 (2015)
1 https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/media/mp.asp?M=A/2019/CIR/1023-1000AM- M0-1.m4a&S=2018