THE OUTSIDE OF THE LAW:
Backstage with The Outlaws -
Michigan's #1 Motorcycle Gang
Story and photos by Rob Young
||I glanced over at Leroy. His enormous hands were gripping
the steering wheel of his plush conversion van. He was wearing oversized
gold rings on almost every finger. A thick gold chain hung around his neck
in stark contrast to his blue jeans and black sweatshirt embroidered with
various cryptic emblems. Dark wraparound glasses concealed his eyes. His
gold rings glowed dully in the overcast morning light. We had met five
minutes earlier, and now Leroy was telling me all about being an Outlaw.
T.A., the President of the Michigan Outlaws Motorcycle Club, had
arranged everything a week earlier. He called me because I had left a note
on the door of the Outlaws' clubhouse in Saginaw asking for an interview.
It was a long shot, but how else does one get in touch with a motorcycle
club? They're not listed in the yellow pages.
T.A. said he wanted to do the interview, but he was very busy. He's Kid
Rock's personal tour security guard, "the last person you have to get
through before you get to Kid", and he had to be in Indianapolis to protect
Kid from overzealous groupies and other hangers-on. He told me to call him
back in a week when we would arrange a date for me to come to his house in
northern Michigan so he could show me all of his Outlaws memorabilia.
A week later, on our way to meet T.A., Leroy and I stopped for a quick
lunch at Avery's in Mancelona. A local sheriff eyed Leroy as we walked to
our table. The Outlaws patches and logo on his sweatshirt were a dead
giveaway. He was in a biker "gang". Leroy seemed not to notice. Outlaws
wear their colors with pride, and no small town sheriff was going to stop
Leroy from feeling just as welcome as the senior citizens eating their soup
and sandwiches. Like all other Outlaws, Leroy is a "1%er", and they do
things differently than everybody else. We ate quickly, as diners sneaked
surreptitious glances our way. And then it was off to T.A.'s, 18 miles up
Originally from Sterling Heights, T.A. moved his family to northern
Michigan years ago to get away from the city. Now he makes his home on a
sprawling piece of land overlooking the rolling hills of East Jordan, a
sleepy little factory town more famous for its manhole covers than for its
T.A.'s first leather jacket, given to him by his uncle when he was an
infant, hangs just outside his den. While T.A. and Leroy hugged, I had a
quick look around the living room. Then, making me feel immediately
welcome, T.A. walked over to me and said with a smile, "What's up, Rob? I'm
|He invited us into his den, which is a veritable Outlaws
museum. The walls are lined with framed photographs commemorating past
biker meetings and club events; shelves are packed with various Outlaws
knick-knacks. A police scanner squawked and screeched from one corner,
while a phone sat waiting to ring in another. There was a weight bench
with 360 pounds up on the rack. T.A. does reps with that. He can bench 480
Darting about the room, T.A grabbed pictures off the wall and shuffled
through stacks of papers, all the while explaining life as an Outlaw. As
President of the Michigan Outlaws, T.A. is in charge of coordinating a
network of chapters scattered around the state. This role requires him to
be, at once, a politician, an organizer of events, a settler of disputes, a
diplomat and, most importantly, a brother to his fellow Outlaws.
The phone rang. It was "Trigger" calling from prison. T.A. said hello to
him, passed the phone to Leroy and then continued narrating the photographs
we were looking through. I heard Leroy telling Trigger about the swap meet
they were planning in Detroit that coming weekend, then he passed the phone
Trigger has been serving time for the last 26 years for a murder
conviction; it's an injustice according to the Outlaws, who have begun a
petition campaign to get him released. Trigger told me about the petition
and explained his case. Neither T.A. nor Leroy knew Trigger before he was
locked up, but the bond as Outlaws is enough for them to fight for his
||Leroy got his first Harley when he was 13. We were on our
way to look at three of the seven Harleys he currently owns. "Our
club is about a bunch of guys that wanna be tight and have a
brotherhood," T.A. said as he navigated his 37-foot mobile home
around the curves and hills of East Jordan. Outlaws are quick to point out
that theirs is not a "gang". It's a club. The difference,
according to the Outlaws, is that gangs aren't as organized. Gangs don't
donate toys to Toys for Tots or organize scholarship funds in their
communities. A gang would not have raised money for the family of Kayla
Rolland, the Flint girl who was shot at school by a classmate who brought
a gun to class.
Whether warranted or not, however, the Outlaws have gained a reputation for
being a motorcycle "gang" that thrives, at least in part, on violence, drug
trafficking, racketeering and a bevy of various other criminal activities.
A past national president was on the FBI's ten most wanted list. "Once you
put this patch on," T.A remarked, as he pointed to the Outlaws logo - a
skull and two crossed pistons -- on his vest, "You're no longer an
individual. If one guy gets in trouble, we're all in trouble. It's kind of
a bummer. [The police] go after the officers in the club. They would come
for me, you know? I gotta keep them guys in line, because I don't want to
go to jail."
It's no secret that bikers are known to have their feuds. The prevailing
public opinion is that biker "gangs" feud among one another, that there are
turf wars and enmity. But, say the Outlaws, such behavior is of the past;
it's the media that have not bothered to understand the situation today.
"It's not the sixties anymore. Times change, and you gotta go with the
changes," said T.A., as we sat around the table in his motor home now
parked outside the Alba Outlaws clubhouse, "I'm not saying that in the past
there haven't been feuds between the clubs and people got hurt, but those
were isolated events. They weren't the club as a whole. If somebody gets
into a fight with an Outlaw, they started it and they deserve it."
Regardless of any illegal activities the Outlaws have been accused of being
in involved in, the club is ultimately about something higher, something
more spiritual. It's about riding your bike. It's about camaraderie and
trust. It's about traveling the open road with your brothers. Bikers don't
join the Outlaws because they want to be criminals. As T.A. explains, "I
wanted to join the Outlaws because I saw a bunch of guys hanging out and
riding their bikes and having a good time. It's about biking and
||Later, inside the Alba clubhouse, "Fuzzy", an
elder member of the Alba chapter of the Outlaws, explained the concept of
biking and brotherhood, "You can actually travel for next to nothing.
I used to be able to take a quarter and travel from Detroit to Ft.
Lauderdale and still have that same quarter in my pocket." T.A.
quickly interrupted, "That's no joke."
When Outlaws travel the country, they always know that they can find a
home in any town that has a chapter. The vast majority of clubhouses are
equipped with beds, showers, kitchens and bathrooms, not to mention bars,
pool tables and televisions. Fuzzy continued, "Every place that I
would go, I would get fed and get a shower; the old ladies would wash our
clothes, and, usually, the brothers would pat you on the back, fill up
your gas tank and you'd go on to the next chapter."
To reinforce the bond between Outlaws, the club goes out of its way to
arrange functions where members from around the country and the world can
come to meet, hang out and party. "[Chapters] get together every week, we
have meetings, we plan runs, we have little parties so we can have a good
time in the summer. In the winter we work hard," explained T.A.
One of the biggest events every year is Bike Week in Daytona, Florida. "We
go every year. Daytona is a mandatory run for us," T.A. remarked. It takes
place in the middle of winter, so for many Outlaws it's a welcome escape
from the dreariness of winter. It's also one of the biggest bike events in
the world, so it gives Outlaws a chance to meet their international
The Alba clubhouse is testimony to the dedication of Outlaws. It's housed
in an expansive building on the main intersection in Alba, right down the
road from city hall, police headquarters and next door to the community
center. Aside from the high school, it's the biggest building in town.
|"We spend a lot of time up here in the summer,"
T.A. said as he pointed to the snow-covered fire pits behind the building.
When T.A. bought the building years ago to build the clubhouse, it was in
a state of utter disrepair. Over the years, however, club members have put
time and effort into making it a place where Outlaws can come from
anywhere and feel at home. Now, the Alba clubhouse has all the amenities
one could want, and it has become a summer getaway for Outlaw members from
all over the state, the country and the world.
But, in order to enjoy the perks of membership, you must first be
dedicated. As Leroy explained, "The process of getting into our club
is a long, getting-to-know each other process. We don't have people doing
illegal stuff to get in our club, like it says in the press. They don't
have to steal a bike or sell drugs."
An aspiring Outlaw must first get to know members of the club. Once club
members are convinced a candidate will make a good Outlaw, he is made a
"probationary" member. He must wear a patch on his vest that says he's a
probationary member and perform menial tasks, such as making drinks and
taking out the trash, around the clubhouse in order to prove his loyalty
"It takes a lot of dedication to be a 1%er, an Outlaw," said Leroy as we
stood in "the office", a large room with couches and a television, in the
Alba clubhouse. The probationary period could last as long as a couple
years. "We try to distance ourselves from the other 99% of the population
by the way we look, the way we dress, the way we roll in a pack. 1%ers do
things differently. It's a way of life."
T.A. was on his phone again. It had been ringing all day. So had his
two-way and his pager and the clubhouse phone and his home phone. He spoke
loudly into his headset, while his little Nokia phone sat on the table next
to his coffee. The waitress -- who greeted him by name when we walked into
The Fishing Hole and asked why he hadn't been around lately -- walked over
to fill up his cup. A middle-aged couple across the room stared rudely at
T.A. and Leroy, who paid no attention. Behind the middle-aged couple,
parked outside, was T.A.'s mobile home.
The couple seemed appalled by T.A., by his conspicuous style, by the
oversized gold rings that adorned every finger, by the numerous thick and
flashy gold chains around his neck and the medallions that hung from them.
He was wearing his hat at the table. It was cold outside and he wore a
sleeveless shirt. His large tattooed arms were intimidating. The couple
whispered to one another when T.A. was at the salad bar. They stared at the
skull and crossed pistons and the word "Outlaws" on the back of his vest
while he made a salad, still talking on his phone.
T.A. got the steak, well done, and potatoes. Leroy got the blackened
catfish and a glass of milk. The cell phone rang again, "I'm eating dinner
and just finishing up with the reporter, so I'll be home soon." He hung up,
pulled the earpiece out of his ear and said to me, "The wife."
As we were leaving the restaurant, our waitress told T.A. to hold on. She
wanted him to see her husband's new tattoo. She disappeared into the
kitchen and reappeared shortly with her husband in tow. He rolled up his
sleeve to reveal the fresh ink. T.A. leaned in and said, "Nice, man." The
tattoo artist who had done the work happened to be eating across the room.
T.A. turned to him and said loudly, "You're going to have do some work for
me." The middle-aged couple, now scoffing, stared on in amazement.
We walked past them and out of the restaurant. T.A never once looked at
them. T.A. is an Outlaw, a 1%er, and he doesn't give a shit.