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Security Tight for Hollister Biker Rally

Rivalry: The largest gathering since a clash between rival clubs attracts an estimated 80,000 enthusiasts--and 100 law enforcement officers.

July 06, 2002|DAVID KELLY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HOLLISTER — With tensions high and security tight, thousands of motorcyclists thundered into the rural community of Hollister on Friday, swamping downtown and turning it into a throbbing carnival of chrome, wheels and leather.

Grizzled bikers in chaps sat astride gleaming Harleys, gunning the engines, rattling windows and screeching tires.

Merchants hawked such items as Harley-Davidson shot glasses and Louisiana alligator heads, while men lined up to be photographed with young women in sheer pink negligees.

Sprinkled among the estimated 80,000 bikers attending this weekend's 55th annual Hollister Independence Rally were more than 100 local, state and federal law enforcement agents backed by four aircraft ready to pounce, should violence flare between the rival Hells Angels and Mongol motorcycle clubs. As of Friday evening, they had arrested only one, accused of drunkenness.

"When you get this many people together with alcohol there is the potential for trouble," said Hollister Police Chief Bill Pierpoint. "But I personally think they want this to succeed and will police themselves."

Perhaps, but no one is taking any chances here in the town that inspired the movie "The Wild One" and is called "the birthplace of the American biker."

This is the largest motorcycle rally since April 27, when two Mongols and a Hells Angel were killed and 16 others were injured in a clash between the two clubs at the River Run in Laughlin, Nev. Another Hells Angel was slain later on a highway outside of town. One suspect has been arrested.

The turf war forced the cancellation of two planned motorcycle events in Ventura County in May.

The fallout spawned rumors that spread through Hollister this week. The largely Latino Mongols weren't coming, they said, or they were coming in disguise. Others said the Mongols were going to take over Johnny's bar, a historic saloon and epicenter of the rally. It's also a few yards from where the Hells Angels were hawking pins and T-shirts.

The bar owner, Cherise Tyson, noticed the Hells Angels weren't in their normal corner perch at Johnny's the night before. She called in some bikers who emphasize their Christianity. "We said a prayer to protect us," she said.

Charles T. Mathews, lawyer for the Mongols, said they were indeed coming to Hollister.

"They are not looking for or expecting any trouble," he said. "We can't be absolutely certain that there won't be trouble, but our people have adopted a policy that they will not retaliate and will try and stay away from the Hells Angels. They will, of course, defend themselves if they are attacked."

The Hells Angels refused to discuss the rivalry.

"I am not going to say anything about that," said Guinea Collucci, a Hells Angel from Oakland who was manning a booth. "It's media hype. You guys want something to happen."

The club president, George Christie, said he wasn't expecting trouble but he wasn't telling members how to act either.

"Hells Angels think for themselves," he said.

The vast majority of those attending the three-day rally are recreational bikers who resent being lumped in with what they call the "one percenters" or troublemakers.

"When I first started riding, the biker gangs were the majority and now we are the majority," said Ron Mazet of Palm Springs. "If this stuff continues, what will happen is, when you have these rides, we'll say 'Don't call us.' "

Others brushed off the gangs as a bad neighborhood in the biker world that they simply avoid.

"My thought is, you don't cave in to the Al Qaeda and you don't cave in to these people," said Les Rush, 62, a biker from Arcadia. "We are here to keep the flame lit. We are traditional bikers. When we ride Harleys, it's part of our song."

Some hope to meet a few "one percenters" and maybe turn them around, including the Rev. Ardyss Golden of the Hollister United Methodist Church, who each year runs a Biker Breakfast that funds church projects.

By 6:30 a.m. Friday, bikers were parking their hogs outside the church, plunking down $6 for all-you-can-eat pancake breakfasts. Serious drinking the night before had delayed some of the arrivals until 8 or so.

"I'd love to see the Mongols and Hells Angels lined up inside my church," Golden said with a smile. "I think most people feel this is sacred ground."

She even has bikers perform Sunday services when they are in town.

"It's awesome," she said. "Most of us have never walked on the wild side, and we get to rub elbows with those who do. It's exciting."

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