Advocates see problems with biker gang emblem ban

“Monster” and “Monk,” members of the Mongols motorcycle gang, were at Chuck E. Cheese’s family-friendly pizza restaurant in San Diego last year when they ran into a rival — a member of the Hells Angels.

This offense of proximity prompted the Mongols to attack their enemy and, more important, according to the criminal indictment, snatch his gang attire — the jacket with the bad-boy patches and logos that separates outlaw bikers from your average dad choking down cheese pizza in a black leather vest.

This scene, violent and ridiculous, sums up the politics of patches in outlaw motorcycle gangs. It shows the symbolic weight the emblems carry for outlaw bikers, and why the federal government’s new plan to strip the Mongols of their trademarked insignia will hit the bikers where it hurts — if it works, if it is not ultimately found to be a violation of free-speech protections.

Sixty-one Mongols in seven states were arrested Tuesday in connection with a federal racketeering indictment that alleges the motorcycle club is involved in crimes ranging from drug trafficking to murder. The most compelling detail to emerge from “Operation Black Rain” is this: Prosecutors won the right Wednesday to bar the indicted Mongols from owning anything bearing their trademarked logo.

The goal, according to Thomas O’Brien, U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, where the indictment was filed, is to empower police who spot anyone wearing a Mongols patch to “stop that gang member and literally take the jacket right off his back.” It’s an unprecedented approach that has civil liberties advocates nervous and trademark experts skeptical.

The legal logic goes something like this: The Mongols brand is a registered asset. Much as the government may seize a drug dealer’s mansion, the U.S. attorney’s office can take over the Mongols trademark, according to an O’Brien spokesman.

The logo, they realize, is the symbol of all things Mongol — taking the trademark is like capturing the other team’s flag.

Police are now being given a “protocol for how to react to displays of the Mongol trademark,” he said. It’s unclear just what that protocol will be.

All of this makes civil rights advocates furious.

“It’s a total outrage. It violates the First Amendment and it’s the most preposterous thing to happen to trademark law I’ve ever seen,” said Maggie McLetchie, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.

“There is no authority for the government to get rid of trademarks. It’s more than a twisting of the First Amendment and trademark law. People have a right to express themselves, to say ‘I am a member of the Mongols,’ to wear symbols they feel they identify with. What this judge did is an outrage.”

Talk to us

More in Local News

Mel Jennings sits in his structure during a point-in-time count of people facing homelessness in Everett, Washington on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. Mel has had a brain and spinal surgery, and currently has been homeless for a year. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Annual homeless count aims to give snapshot of housing crisis

Volunteers set out into the rain Tuesday to count all the people facing homelessness in central Everett.

Catherine Berwicks loads ballots into a tray after scanning them at the Snohomish County Elections Ballot Processing Center on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020 in Everett, Wa.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Lawmakers push to boost voting in county jails across the state

A House bill envisions an approach similar to what’s been happening in the Snohomish County Jail for several years.

Vandalism at Seaview Park on Jan. 21, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Edmonds Police Department)
Police seek suspects in repeated vandalism at Edmonds parks

Vandals have done over $10,000 of damage to parks across the city, including suspected arson and graffiti with hate speech.

One worker looks up from the cargo area as another works in what will be the passenger compartment on one of the first Boeing 787 jets as it stands near completion at the front of the assembly line, Monday, May 19, 2008, in Everett, Wash. The plane, the first new Boeing jet in 14 years, is targeted for power on in June followed by an anticipated first flight sometime late in 2008.  (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Boeing workers long-exposed to carcinogen far above legal limits

The company confirmed in depositions that parts of its Everett plant still don’t meet 2010 standards.

CarlaRae Arneson, of Lynnwood, grabs a tea press full of fresh tea from Peanut the server robot while dining with her 12-year-old son Levi at Sushi Hana on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, in Lynnwood, Washington. CarlaRae said she and her son used to visit the previous restaurant at Sushi Hana’s location and were excited to try the new business’s food. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Peanut the robot waitress is on a roll at Lynnwood’s Sushi Hana

She’s less RoboCop and more Rosey as she patrols the restaurant, making sure everyone has a drink and good time.

A big head Buddha turns to the crowd during a celebration of the Lunar New Year on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in downtown Edmonds, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lunar New Year celebrates the Year of the Rabbit

A celebration in Edmonds ushered in the Lunar New Year.

Rep. Kim Schrier speaks with Regional Manager Susan Rushing about a room designated for serving homeless veterans during a visit to the new VA Puget Sound Health Care System Everett Clinic on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New VA clinic in Everett already has 5,300 patients

U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier toured the new center Friday, where veterans can get primary care and a growing list of specialty services close to home.

A white lane line juts out of place along I-5 northbound through Everett on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Wonky I-5 lane striping in Everett to get temporary refresh

During weekend work, contractor crews are slated to try to repaint northbound temporary lane striping past 41st Street.

Senator Patty Murray listens to students share their experiences with financial aid during a roundtable meeting to discuss access to higher education and Pell Grant increases Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, at Everett Community College in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett college students press Murray to boost financial aid funding

In a sitdown with the senator, they shared how Pell grants and other aid made it possible for them to attend college.

Most Read