Updated on May 29 at 11:50 p.m.polls here 3236
Chattanooga is at an increased risk for motorcycle gang violence in the wake of the May 17 shootout between rival motorcycle gangs in Waco, Texas, which left nine dead, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The shootout in Texas heightened tensions between the nation's outlaw motorcycle gangs and increased the number of motorcycle gang members who are out on the roads, bureau special agent Michael Knight said.
Because Chattanooga is at a crossroads in the South -- on the way to Atlanta, Memphis, Nashville and the East Coast -- it's likely that some of the bikers from other states will pass through Chattanooga, he said. And that could spell trouble because the gangs involved in the shootout in Texas are rivals to Chattanooga's primary outlaw motorcycle gang, the Outlaws MC, Knight said.
"Whenever you have an incident like this, the support clubs will become more known," he said. "They're going to show force, they're going to be out more, they're going to show a presence. And that presence could be intimidating to the public, or it could be to intimidate other clubs."
Violence is possible whenever rival outlaw motorcycle gang members cross into each other's territories, he said, especially after an event like the Waco shootout.
"Bikers don't fly, they ride," Knight said. "So it's not uncommon, if they're leaving from Texas, to drive all the way to the East Coast, going through Tennessee. The concern is that those individuals who are riding from state to state, if they go through Chattanooga, they'll be going through the territory of one of their rivals."
Knight estimated there are a few dozen people involved in outlaw motorcycle gangs in Chattanooga. The Chattanooga Police Department has validated 10 people as confirmed members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, communications coordinator Kyle Miller said.
Outlaw motorcycle gangs, defined by the U.S. Department of Justice as "highly structured criminal organizations whose members engage in criminal activities such as violent crime, weapons trafficking and drug trafficking," have members across the United States.
But the vast majority of the nation's gang members belong to street gangs, not motorcycle gangs, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Only about 2.5 percent of all U.S. gang members are in outlaw motorcycle gangs. Still, a 2013 FBI survey found that the gangs are more of a threat than their low membership numbers imply.
"This is likely due to their solid organizational structure, criminal sophistication and their tendency to employ violence to protect their interests," the FBI's 2013 National Gang Report reads.
Outlaw motorcycle gangs in Chattanooga are nothing new: a rivalry between two outlaw motorcycle gangs was blamed for a truck bombing in Dalton, Ga., in 2007. And in 2010, local and federal authorities completed a two-and-a-half-year undercover operation and indicted 15 members of Chattanooga's Outlaws MC on drug and gun charges.
That operation quieted Chattanooga's Outlaws MC members for a while, Knight said, but they've since rebuilt with new members and new leaders.
Knight emphasized that citizens should not try to confront members of outlaw motorcycle gangs.
"The public may see the bikers wear their colors, their patches, and if they're concerned, they should notify law enforcement right away," he said. "They should not, not take action into their own hands."
Not all motorcycle clubs are involved in criminal activity, Knight added.
"We're very conscientious not to put all those together," he said. "Just because you are a biker club doesn't mean you have a violent criminal past or present."
Nate Mayo, a member of the Hamilton County Roughnecks Motorcycle Club, said all members in his club are law-abiding citizens. But he's seen a clear change in the way people approach him when he is wearing his motorcycle club wear since the shootout in Waco, he said.
"We get more looks," he said. "The public is looking at people with motorcycle patches and thinking they're bad guys or they're in a biker gang. But a motorcycle club is not necessarily a gang. And that is something we want everyone to know."
The Roughnecks Motorcycle Club is made up of people who are retired from law enforcement, firefighting or the military, Mayo said, and they often raise money for charity and hold toy drives for children.
Mayo serves as the chapter chaplain.
"So, my back may have crossed pistols on it, but my front has scripture and a cross on my chest," he said.
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