ROCK SPRINGS – It’s easy to make assumptions. Everyday life pushes us to make decisions based on limited stimuli. A lot of books are judged by their covers, as are the people who write them.
A group of bikers watched as residents met for a candlelight vigil in honor of the memory of the late George Floyd. The Loners M.C. clubhouse is located across the street from Bunning Park, and about a dozen people kept an eye on the memorial on Monday night. Most were dressed in their leathers, and a few openly carried weapons like a bat, club or rifle. Even from about 100 yards away, there was no missing them.
I arrived at the park in downtown Rock Springs more than an hour before the event was set to start. Long before the protesters arrived with their posters and candles, bikers began to ride up one by one, and then in larger groups. They kept watch on the proceedings in the park, which slowly filled with Scouts and later demonstrators.
Vigil participants cast the bikers more than a few glances. Some speculated on their intentions. Were they seeking to intimidate or show silent support? I myself wondered aloud about their desired message and who they wanted to direct it at, noting that misinterpreting this would distort our coverage.
Though the bikers looked menacing, they never entered the park or approached protesters. There were no shouts or motorcycle revving during moments like a moment of silence or frank discussion on race relations, police accountability and improved communication.
When the vigil attendees began to disperse, they too gave the bikers wide birth. As our cameras and recorders were put away, their motivations remained a mystery.
“We need to talk to the bikers, don’t we?” I rhetorically asked reporter Hannah Romero, who also covered the event.
I knew the right answer to the question. She did too as she acknowledged they were part of the story. After asking her to say a prayer and keep an eye on what happened next, I crossed the street to conduct an interview.
As the gap closed between us, we quietly surveyed each other. I quietly prayed that there wouldn’t be any misunderstandings on either side.
Drawing close, I identified myself with the Rocket Miner and asked if I could pose some questions. One biker, who later identified himself as Blade, one of the national enforcers for the United States, said they were willing.
I quickly learned that while they were gathered outside their headquarters, which is not uncommon, their turnout was purposeful Monday, as they wanted to show their support for the protesters and discourage anyone who meant to make trouble.
“We’re not here to cause problems,” Blade said, an attitude that was repeated by others.
They said that they were locals or transplants who had come to love the area, and they wanted to help protect it, and that included the protesters.
“We care about our community,” one said.
They stressed the importance of demonstrating peaceably and said they were willing to defend it against others, which is why they were standing guard. They said some of their “brothers” in Casper offered protection to similar protesters.
“Right is right and wrong is wrong,” a Loner said.
Though the two parties never interacted Monday, I heard many similarities between the two groups that turned out for the vigil. Both the bikers and those crusading against inequality voiced a commitment to the First Amendment, a denouncement of violence, and empathy for those caught up and hurt by the carnage.
Many Loners said they were upset by scenes of looting and rioting around the country. At least one came from a military background, who said his inclination was to protect people, and they wanted to be seen as a tool to support peaceful protesters.
Blade said the group had reached out to the local police department to communicate that they were willing to assist if needed.
“This is our home,” one Loner explained.
I thanked the group for their cooperation and openness. And while I have limited experience offering PR or communications advice to motorcycle clubs, I suggested that next time they send over a representative to reassure the vigil attendees that they are for them and not against them.
I also shared with them another parallel I noticed. Those who gathered under the gazebo said no matter their intent, the bikers had the same right to peacefully protest as any American.
Before I left, I shook hands with Blade and many other members of the group. My steps were probably a little lighter and quicker than they had been on the first half of my walk.
I smiled under my face mask at one of the Loner’s observations. He said it’s easy to make assumptions based on their appearance.
I was glad I hadn’t stopped at my initial impressions and had found a few more defenders of freedom in Rock Springs.
Source: Rocket Miner by Caleb Michael Smith