Welcome back to the second part of Appalachia Bare‘s exclusive information gathering from “Rider,” an old time member of the Southern Sons. We took a little pit stop for a few nights and now we’re heading down the valley toward our destination. Gear buckled, helmet fastened, let’s crank up that engine and let Rider lead the way . . .
We’re not larcenists. There’s not a lot of hardcore stuff that goes on with us, you know. We may act rowdy and carry on, but it’s not, uh . . . I don’t really know of any major incident. They’s been a couple of alcohol-related incidents, you know, but no major problems at any of our parties. I mean, we just . . . everybody – most of the people that show up, like at our party? You know, most of ‘em are patch holders. You got a certain amount of respect you show for everybody, you know, and you may get drunk, but you don’t cause trouble . . . And things are not always peachy with everybody in the Club. But, uh, if you start a fight with one of your brothers in the Club, it’s gonna cost you both. It’s gonna cost you money and it’s gonna cost you to have other problems. Yeah, you just don’t do that. You may be mad at ‘im, but don’t swing on ‘im. It’s up to you two to get together and work it out. — Rider
The Southern Sons adhere to a strict policy of respect and checking behavior. Partying may ensue and mischief-makers will act up as the evening goes on, but the Club has penalties for members who cause serious trouble. A person can be fined or his patch pulled or, as Rider puts it, “even throwin’ your ass outta the Club.”
No [female] members. Uh. Our – [my wife] has a patch, and, but it does not – it’s not a “property patch” . . . “Property patch” is not us. — Rider
The Southern Sons have no female members, per se. Women do not attend meetings or have a vote. Women partners have patches, but they’re vastly different from those in most other MCs. Female partners in other MCs have patches indicating who a woman “belongs to,” i.e., is the “Property of” a particular member. After years of debate, the Southern Sons agreed women’s patches would simply say “Southern Sons Ladies.” The time period for a woman to receive a patch is about a year. As Rider puts it: “In other words, I couldn’t drop [my wife] and pick somebody up next week and put a patch on ‘em.”
Yeah, there’s several around that’s military-themed. Yeah, a lot of it came from that. — Rider
Many motorcycle clubs began through military veterans. After World War 2, many veterans found that ordinary life at home didn’t have “the same ‘rush’ as in battle.” What’s more, a great deal of Harley Davidson military motorcycles sat unused. Ex-servicemen utilized these motorcycles, “regained their excitement,” and found the “way to continue their brotherhood.”1)Motorbike License. n.d. “What Is A 1% Motorcycle Club?” Motorbikelicense.com. Accessed July 2021. Decades later, Vietnam veterans found the same connection. There’s something about the freedom the road brings, something about the comradery and commonality of service, that brings veterans together in MCs. As stated before, military-themed clubs have patches with the acronym “MB,” meaning “Motorcycle Brotherhood.”
That’s a good bunch of boys [South Carolina]. They’re hog ridin’ fools is who they are and they’re, uh, I been hangin’ around them boys almost 30 years. You know it’s funny. In a way it is kinda funny to go somewhere with a bunch of people you’ve never met before in your life, and you just hit the spot . . . like you’re supposed to be there, you know. And that’s the way them boys are, they, uh, I just love all of ‘em to death. They’re all my brothers. Love ‘em. Do anything in the world for ‘em.” — Rider
Most relationships in MCs are long-term, lasting for decades. Any personal issues or problems among members are resolved within the Club. They are a group of people who enjoy each other’s company, ridin’ the roads, and drinkin’ good beer (and/ or liquor). Parties are often rowdy, but fun-loving and high-spirited. Rider made the point that these clubs are largely built from relationships with strangers that turn into more substantial and cherished friendships. Individuals are drawn together by something, whether it’s the love of motorcycles, the liberation in riding on the open road, time spent in the military, etc.
The Club cares for its members beyond the events and gatherings. When a member is sick or hurt, the group might band together and take up a collection to pay medical cost(s) and/or defer dues for several months.
I asked Rider what happens if a member goes to jail. His response: “He goes to jail.” He then explained that, aside from some DUIs, the Southern Sons rarely had that kind of problem. “We’re not larcenists.”
I have no mandatory meetings. I don’t pay dues. I don’t have a vote. That’s fine with me . . . They cain’t run me off, you know . . . If I wanna go to the clubhouse, I’ll go to the clubhouse . . . Yeah, I really don’t have to do much of anything. Just be there and be the obnoxious ass that I am. — Rider
As mentioned in the beginning, Rider is a retired member, though he still attends events he chooses. Leaving the Club only becomes an issue if the person leaving gives a somewhat conjured excuse – like a “medical furlough” to avoid paying dues, for example. Still, his comments suggest members are free to leave.
I had a state trooper that was askin’ a lot of questions about us one time. I guess he thought we wasn’t known [in the community], ‘cause he went to all these places on the road right here [gestures] and was askin’ all these folks – you know the old timers that sit in there in the mornin’s and the afternoons – so it didn’t take long to get back to me: “You know, Trooper [name redacted] is really interested in you.” So, I come out from jury duty one day, out in the back of the courthouse, and he was standin’ out there watchin’ a trustee wash his cruiser. I finally walked up to ‘im, stuck my hand out to ‘im, introduced myself [and said]: “I hear you been curious about us. I’m here to answer any question you got.” Then, uh, he didn’t; he didn’t quite know how to handle that, you know. But, uh, every time I’d see ‘im in the store . . . in the mornin’ time to stop and get coffee, I’d get in front of ‘im, make ‘im speak to me. Used to drive him nuts.
Popular opinion about the Southern Sons says they are a “motorcycle gang.” That they are violent in the community. That they sell drugs. That they are dangerous. Law enforcement certainly had some hand in that stigma. I know this firsthand from my own father who was a police officer, then sheriff’s deputy, then security inspector. Recently, the clubhouse for one chapter in East Tennessee was burned to the ground because the neighbors didn’t want them there.2)The fire marshal determined it to be arson. Perhaps it’s the misperception about them, or the clubhouse secrecy, or the partying lifestyle, or the vests, or the patches.
Yet, truly, if you think about it, MCs are no different from the thousands of other clubs out there in the United States. Some examples are the Masons, the Shriners, the Lions Club, and just about any country club out there. They all have a meeting place. They all have mandatory meetings. Most have designated dress codes and patches. They all have functions and parties to attend. I could go on, but I don’t want to beat a dead horse here. My point is a club is a club. Join or not. And, if they aren’t out there causing bodily harm or destroying property or hurting the community or spreading a dangerous narrative, then perhaps it’s best to love ‘em or leddum be.
Oh, God. Do not mention Sons of Anarchy. Jesus Christ . . . Now, tell me you’ve seen all the Hells Angels movies, all 47 of ‘em produced from 1968 to 1975 . . . all these old biker movies, you know, that take over the town and all that, you know, blah, blah, blah . . . Yeah, well, shit like that don’t happen around here. You’re in Tennessee – the Patron State of Shootin’ Shit, you know. — Rider
I broached the topic of motorcycle club movie portrayals and that was quite a comical discussion. One of the movies I mentioned was the hilarious Werewolves on Wheels (1971).3)Bikers stay overnight at a “church,” where a group of monks are involved in a Satanic Cult. The cult puts a curse on one of the biker women and she transforms into a werewolf, infecting the other members. I reckon that lets a person know every imaginable motorcycle club scenario has been produced.
That being said, one cannot discount the influence media and all her glorious subsidiaries, including news, movies, and television, has over popular opinion. MCs are, more often than not, depicted as “gangs” who perpetuate all kinds of violence (fights, murder, rape) and indulge in all kind of vices (drugs, gambling, prostitution). They’re portrayed as a sort of “scruffy mafia on wheels.” (I hope that won’t be the name of the next MC movie – eyeroll.)
The Southern Sons and other MCs are often wrongly lumped into one, large, violent all-encompassing group. Motorcycle gangs (patches with “MG” logos) do exist. Further, MCs exist that claim to be “1%ers”. Check out the following bullet points – information gathered from motorbikelicense.com – for a little info on 1%ers:
- The term “1%” or“1%er” was created when the AMA (American Motorcycle Association) made a statement that “99% of motorcycle riders are law-abiding citizens” This was said “in response to the 1947 riot in Hollister, California.” Consequently, some MCs began claiming they were “the other 1%.”
- Clubs labeling themselves as 1% wear a patch with “1%” or “1%er” on their vest.
- The media often focuses on 1% MC violence. While it is true that innocent people have been harmed, the proportion of violence is often skewed by the news media. Outlaw MC crimes are often broadcast disproportionately to heighten the public’s fear. Most of the 1%-MC-related hostility “is amongst clubs.” As a general rule, “the old saying of ‘stay out of their way and they will stay out of yours’ rings true.”
- “US Government agencies are now able to charge” four of the larger “clubs (the Hells Angels, Bandidos, Outlaws and Pagans) under the RICO statute (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act),” a law created in a bid to topple the Mafia’s power.
- Certain 1% MC groups also claim to be white supremacists and hate groups.4)Richardson, Ann – State of California Department of Justice Bureau of Organized Crime and Criminal Intelligence. 1991. OUTLAW MOTORCYCLE GANGS. Law Enforcement Personnel Training, U.S. Department of Justice. p. 11
And, while I agree a sort of pride and acceptance of a rebel-type attitude makes its way through all MCs, those in the 99% don’t appear to be what the public thinks or has seen on television. That tidbit of information also includes the Southern Sons.
I began these posts with an anecdote from my own childhood about the fear I had when the Southern Sons made their way to the holler for their weekend jaunt at Zinn’s Beer Joint, on a hill just above my old dirt road. Everything I said about darkness in the holler is true. Shadowy, dark patches are found throughout those snaky roads even in the daytime. Nighttime makes those places even darker and more mysterious. The silence exacerbates the sound of blood gushing through your body . . . and the heart beats in tandem with summertime crickets. A person who lives or has grown up there knows how to peer through the shadows and see what lurks therein or how to find the sunshine through the woods in the light of day.
Today, as an adult, I can tell you what the holler taught me about what to fear. Throughout my life, there are things and people I encountered that stirred up a queasy, uneasiness right before terror electrified its way through my synapses. As one might imagine, fear is a given in the holler – a twig snap in the woods, a huge paw print along a dirt path, a shotgun blast too close to home, the sudden rustle of a creature in the tall grass, the crunching sound of footsteps atop leaves somewhere behind you, or even terror in the house where one lives. But . . . darkness doesn’t exist without light and I’ve had times I’ve trekked to a mountaintop and been in awe of the brightness sparkling atop the fog encompassing all these Appalachian hills and valleys and hollers. And, while I had plenty to fear back then, I had nothing to fear from the Southern Sons Motorcycle Club. If anything, they likely would have done anything to protect a little girl on a dirt road below Zinn’s.
Thank you to Rider and his family for the pleasure of their company and for agreeing to this enlightening interview. Thank you for your kindness and for patiently answering my sometimes “bonehead” questions. Thank you to my husband, Tom, the ever-patient admin, who orchestrated this endeavor.
** Featured image from Wallpaperflare.com
|↑1||Motorbike License. n.d. “What Is A 1% Motorcycle Club?” Motorbikelicense.com. Accessed July 2021.|
|↑2||The fire marshal determined it to be arson.|
|↑3||Bikers stay overnight at a “church,” where a group of monks are involved in a Satanic Cult. The cult puts a curse on one of the biker women and she transforms into a werewolf, infecting the other members.|
|↑4||Richardson, Ann – State of California Department of Justice Bureau of Organized Crime and Criminal Intelligence. 1991. OUTLAW MOTORCYCLE GANGS. Law Enforcement Personnel Training, U.S. Department of Justice. p. 11|