BOULDER CITY, NEV. — Out among the desert scrub brush, this quiet Las Vegas suburb is already sweating the coming weekend invasion -- not high-plains wanderers or tourists per se, but leather-clad, tattooed motorcycle riders. Hundreds of them.
On Friday, the infamous Mongols Motorcycle Club will begin a three-day national meeting in this town of about 15,000 founded during the Depression to house laborers who built Hoover Dam. Folks here have long prided themselves on holding off the mayhem of the Las Vegas sprawl just over the hill.
But no more, it seems.
Residents fear the thunderous cacophony of too many rumbling Harley-Davidsons and the possibility of violence that comes with a motorcycle group that law enforcement considers an outlaw gang, whose bitter enemies, the Hells Angels, are perhaps coincidentally also gathering this weekend just down the highway in Las Vegas.
Boulder City Police Chief Thomas Finn said the two groups had a history of violence in southern Nevada. "We clearly have reason to worry," said Finn, an East Coast transplant who retains a thick New Jersey baritone. "The majority of people are furious. There's no need for this kind of event here."
In 2002, three bikers were killed in a Mongols-Hells Angels clash inside a casino in nearby Laughlin. Six years later, the gangs brawled in a Las Vegas wedding chapel and two bikers were stabbed. They lived.
A worried Finn pledged that no biker wars would erupt in Boulder City. "We will have an occupying army of officers to police them," he said.
The Mongols chose Boulder City after several visiting members were charmed by the town's quaint Western appeal, said Stephen Stubbs, a lawyer for the group who happens to live here. Mongols have assured the police chief that their national leadership has warned members not to make trouble, he said.
"This event will be very different from Laughlin," Stubbs said. "It's going to be like a family reunion, with brothers who haven't seen each other in a long time getting together and then going home. An enormous police presence just isn't necessary."
He added that members who participated in past violence had left the group. "The Mongols motorcycle club is not a criminal organization," he said. "It is not a gang."
In a candid interview, Finn expressed concern about a tip from fellow law enforcement officers that a Mongols member coming to Boulder City had issued a "shoot on sight" order for Hells Angels members.
"These characters are known to carry serious weapons," Finn said. "We don't need a shootout in our town. The Las Vegas police will be watching the Angels, so we'll know in advance if they're coming."
Stubbs dismissed the tip as mere rumor.
On a recent evening, the City Council chamber was the scene of a public showdown of sorts, not between bikers but between residents who feared the Mongols and others who welcomed them as a boost to the downtown's flagging economy.
"We need to relax and have a good time -- these men are going to be here with both their motorcycles and their wallets," said one business owner, standing up to be heard inside the wood-paneled chamber with paintings of Old West scenes on the walls.
Stubbs had invited to the meeting five Mongols, who stood in leather vests, some with sunglasses on. A biker who identified himself as "Blanco" addressed the dozens of faces. "How's it going?" he asked before reading a statement.
"Boulder City is as classic to me as a '52 panhead," he began, referring to a vintage Harley-Davidson model. "This place has got spirit and soul. I promise that we will respect your city and leave it cleaner than when we found it."
Stubbs, a lawyer known as "bow tie" by Mongols for his sartorial flourish, reminded the crowd that he's a fourth-generation resident.
"I love this town and I would not put it at risk," he said. "The Mongols are my clients and my friends. Their kids play with my kids. I'm confident they are good men."
When he noted the killings in Laughlin occurred a decade ago, one person called out, "It doesn't matter!" Finn said the town would borrow officers from other jurisdictions to ensure the peace.
"Some say that law enforcement is overreacting, but I think not preparing would be irresponsible," the chief told the audience. "My concern is that if a rival club comes into town and a fight ensues, the results would be disastrous."
For an hour, people raised their hands and spoke their minds. One woman worried she wouldn't see enough of the bikers. "If they leave their motorcycles parked at the hotel, we won't be able to see them," she said.
"Don't worry," a voice said, "you're not gonna be able to miss 'em."
Finally, a woman shouted out a nugget of historical wisdom: "In the words of Rodney King, who just passed away, 'Why can't we all just get along?' "