The bottom of the invitation listed the rules: “No guns, no drugs, no bad attitude.”
To my mind, the necessity of including this prohibition means flat out that someone in attendance is likely to be violating all three of those No’s, though it might not all be the same person. However, I can’t claim I’m conversant with the norms and prohibits of motorcycle gangz, errrrrrrrr … clubs.
Yesterday (Saturday, June 20) The Black Pistons Motorcycle Club Jax mourned the death and celebrated the life of fellow member Zachariah ‘Nas-T GBNF” Tipton. Last year on June 24, Tipton, 40, a father of three, died from a single gunshot wound to the head inflicted during a violent fist fight and body pummeling between Black Pistons and a recruit of the Iron Order motorcycle club in the parking lot of Nipper’s in Jacksonville Beach. Black Pistons members met at the their clubhouse at 1675 Pasadena Street in Jacksonville near Beaver Street and Lane Avenue at noon, planned to ride to Tipton’s grave at 2 p.m. and then return to the clubhouse to celebrate Tipton’s life.
“Covered dishes and sides welcome.”
To me, this sounded like trouble. Not the covered dishes, but the caravan to the grave and the party afterwards. I called Lauri-Ellen Smith, special assistant to Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, to find out if they would be monitoring it. I also asked if JSO considered the Black Pistons a gang.
I had not heard back by press time.
The Black Pistons are affiliated with the much-feared Outlaws Motorcycle Club. The U.S. Justice Department reports that the Outlaws use the Black Pistons to conduct criminal activity. The feds also say the Outlaws produce and distribute meth as well as cocaine and marijuana and commit a bunch of other crimes like money laundering and robbery and prostitution in competition with the Hells Angels for members and territory.
The Iron Order aren’t Hells Angels. Law enforcement officers, members of the military are attracted to their ranks. But I thought if members of Iron Order showed up, like at the graveyard, it could be a Whacko in Waco-like melee all over again.
Black Pistons’ member Jason Brown laughed at both the idea of violence and the Justice Department description of his club as a criminal enterprise. He said he is an electrician and that he is not earning money from his Black Pistons’ association. If he was, he said, he wouldn’t fret over how to pay his mortgage each month and his other bills.
“To the government it is perceived as a threat because they’re not buying into the system and are still keeping that warrior mentality, that tribal mentality,” he said.
Although he described the Iron Order as provocateurs, he said they wouldn’t do something visible or that public to start a problem with the Black Pistons.
“The one thing I will say,” Brown said, “I’m more afraid of bad drivers texting on their phones. I ride all of the time and I, literally, look into other cars and someone looking down at their phone while they drive by at 90 miles an hour. . . . I think people are licensed to drive way too easily.”
When Folio Weekly writer-at-large Derek Kinner reported on Tipton’s death, he pieced together an explanation of what led to the fight by speaking to members of both clubs and others who were on the scene. There was little information from law enforcement.
Kinner reported that the fight started over the club patch worn by the Iron Order. It uses Black Pistons colors: black and silver. In an ancient code that governs motorcycle clubs, and elementary school children, only one person in the group or sibling in a family or motorcycle club can claim a color. Ignoring this rule seems to be a thing with the Iron Order. News stories from Kentucky, Texas, Maryland and Mississippi in the past five years describe knifings and beatings with axe handles and baseball bats that seem related to either the colors or the design of the patch the Iron Order wears. It’s a three-piece patch that has the state affiliation on the bottom third, which other clubs object to, and apparently, it also uses colors already claimed by the Black Pistons.
I can understand that competing criminal enterprises having turf wars over their trade routes or their customer base. I can understand if the Outlaws and the Hells Angels fought over their territories like the Sinaloa and the Juarez cartel in Mexico or the Crips and the Bloods in Los Angeles or the way the Trafficante family offed rivals to take over the criminal underworld in Tampa.
But the Nippers brawl was over embroidery.
Pardon me and respect to the dead and all that, but Zachariah Tipton father-of-three and all-around-joyously boisterous guy died because of something along the lines of a Boy Scout patch sewn onto a motorcycle jacket? Because of the colors black and silver? With all the very real and horrible things going on in the world and the evil – like Dylann Roof at Wednesday bible class in Charleston – grown men are dying over embroidery?
I admit, there was a time colors seemed like life and death thing to me, too . . . When I moved to Florida in 1964 and entered the warped world of a Florida junior high school. Thankfully, Suzi Bellows took me under her wing: Don’t wear green and yellow on Thursdays. It means you’re queer, she told me. I had a cotton shift dress that my Mom made for me that I adored with a seam down the middle. One half was olive green and the other half golden yellow. I was so afraid I would forget and wear it on a Thursday. Mortified. You didn’t wear blue on Mondays, either, but I forget why.
But nobody could convince me now to obey any such sartorial sanctions. White after Labor Day? Bring it on, suckers. I’m just not going to ever take colors that seriously.
But among motorcycle clubs, it seems, Iron Order member spawn life-and-death Faustian brawls worthy of a session of Jungian archetyping because of their patch. The Iron Order is relatively new among motorcycle clubs so one might understand they might balk at the limitations. Black and Silver is taken. So is the bottom third of the patch. What’s left?
Friends and family describe Tipton as an all around good guy who celebrated the small miracles in life, like a flower blooming, or spreading cheer by playing a song his guitar. He liked to rib his fellow Pistons with outlandish tomfoolery, like pulling down his pants to his Speedos and offering to perform a lap dance for a bud (a guy thing, I guess).
Kinner described the anguish of the Tipton’s family as they waited for answers. The titles of his stories, spanning July to November last year, tell the story: “What Really Happened at Nipper’s?” http://bit.ly/1Fp6MQI); on August 4, “An Open Letter to Angela Corey” http://bit.ly/1GZMrXC) castigating her making it difficult to obtain information or even public records on Tipton or anything else her office handles; on October 22, “The Nippers Shooting Victim’s Family is Waiting for Answers” http://bit.ly/1Fp8zp7); and on November 12 “Angela Corey Says Nipper Shooting Justified” http://bit.ly/1GZNWFw. Corey ruled U.S. Army combat medic Kristopher Stone had stood his ground under Florida self-defense law and was justified in using deadly force against Tipton because he believed he imminent death or great bodily harm.
Brown was fun to talk to, but I kind of forgot to ask him a bunch of stuff because of the way he talked.
I was taken with his explanation of why the Iron Order provoked other clubs. He said the emulated the look of the traditional motor cycle clubs, the scary biker look, and appropriated the symbols without the codes of the culture. He described it as kind of a feminization. That’s because he regards the military order and the culture of self-governing and settling disputes outside of societal institutions like the police or the courts as a kind of a barbaric masculinity. He said the Iron Club is trying to “change the narrative.” I enjoy that kind of talk. I asked him about the masculine identity the club affiliation confers on its members.
“To my mind that has always been the appeal. It is much like a military organization. It’s a different kind of organization, “ he said. “But’s it’s like a silent revolt against society. You are not going along with the trend. You don’t agree with the way society is run, so you find your own tribe.”
Only after reading my notes, did I realize that every time he explained why the Iron Order undermined biker codes, I should have said,
So a guy died over black and silver?