The Infidels Motorcycle Club, a group made up of troops, veterans and military contractors in Colorado Springs, drew attention recently with its pig roast to protest the holiest of Muslim holidays.
While some people decried the club's gathering as tantamount to a KKK cross-burning, the group is not classified as an outlaw motorcycle group by authorities. But other, less- law-abiding motorcycle gangs are actively recruiting troops in the Pikes Peak region and worrying federal agents, a federal report obtained by the Gazette says.
Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Denver spokesman Chris Amon said his agency's concern over the interaction of troops and outlaw motorcycle gangs is obvious.
"It always concerns us when people with specialized training in weapons and explosives is involved in a criminal enterprise," he said.
Other experts say outlaw motorcycle life appeals to some troops.
"I think it makes a natural draw for them," said Steve Cook, who heads the Midwest Motorcycle Gang Investigators Association. "You have to look at people in the military and fresh back from deployment - they are into a warfare mentality."
Even as the number of crimes involving troops and veterans continues to decline in the Pikes Peak region, the rising number of troops in the ranks of outlaw motorcycle gangs is setting off alarm bells.
A May report from the ATF says outlaw motorcycle clubs - clubs known for criminal behavior - including the Sin City Deciples and others with chapters in Colorado Springs are pushing efforts to add troops to their ranks. "Since 2007, ATF and its law enforcement partners, domestic and abroad, have discovered that documented OMG (outlaw motorcycle group) members have been employed as federal employees and contractors, active-duty military, reservists and National Guardsmen," the report says.
Colorado Springs Police Lt. Mark Comte said local authorities are well aware of ties between the military and outlaw motorcycle gangs.
"There are some that cater to the military that are of and for military," Comte said.
The Infidels are a growing club that has drawn the wary gaze of ATF.
The agency says the club founded in 2006, with chapters near military bases nationwide, has been seen riding at events alongside notorious outlaw groups including the Hells Angels and Pagans in other states.
Police say the gang isn't considered outlaw, and isn't suspected of criminal ties.
The Infidels, who didn't respond to numerous calls for comment, portray themselves as something far removed from outlaw gangs.
"Infidels Motorcycle Club is a veteran-formed and -based MC for patriotic Americans and our supporting allies," the group says on its website.
Sources familiar with the club say its leaders include several prominent Air Force Space Command contractors and a soldier from Fort Carson's 4th Combat Aviation Brigade - people in positions of trust who carry security clearances.
The group advertised the June barbecue as "in defiance of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan" on a flier that included comparisons of Muslim men to pedophiles.
The anti-Islam rhetoric coming from people who appear to be on the Pentagon's payroll upsets Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation's largest Muslim rights group.
"It would be great concern if these were members of the military or contractors, not because of the barbecue, but because of the extremist views it represents," Hooper said.
The pig roast, while offensive, doesn't bother Hopper as much as the people behind it. It was a private, extremist party, he explained.
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office kept a close eye on the event at the Infidels clubhouse near Peterson Air Force Base. A few dozen people gathered behind a guarded chain-link fence.
The fence had a scrawled cardboard sign attached: "Private Party No Media Beyond This Point."
Sheriff's Lt. Rick McMorran said deputies were concerned that the party would draw protests from Islamic groups or worse from terror organizations.
The barbecue's theme wasn't a law-enforcement concern, though.
"From the standpoint of the Sheriff's Office, we don't get into the politics," McMorran said.
Other motorcycle groups in the Pikes Peak region have drawn closer scrutiny from police and deputies.
Chief among them are the Sin City Deciples.
One of the most serious recent tangles between the Deciples and law enforcement happened last year. According to a police report, the Deciples and another motorcycle group called "Hells Lovers" got into a brawl at a Dayton Street clubhouse in Aurora and a member of the latter group was shot and injured.
Fort Carson Sgt. 1st Class Larry Morrison was arrested and charged in the shooting, but the case was dropped after witnesses refused to testify, authorities said.
Morrison is now battling an Army discharge and claims he was never affiliated with the Deciples. In discharge paperwork the Army accused Morrison of a pattern of misconduct including affiliation with a banned group.
Peter Page, an Aurora police detective, wrote in court papers that Morrison identified himself to officers as "President of the Colorado Springs Chapter Sin City Deciples."
A 2012 killing outside the Deciples' Colorado Springs clubhouse is described in ATF's 40-page report on troops in outlaw motorcycle gangs.
Virgil Means was shot and killed outside the building just west of downtown after he'd been thrown out and went back to retrieve his wallet.
"Christopher 'Stone Cold' Mountjoy, an Army soldier and Sin City Disciples sergeant-at-arms, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 21 years imprisonment," the report said.
Three of the four men charged in Means' death were active-duty Fort Carson soldiers, including John Burrell and Eric Bartholomew. Several Deciples called as witnesses in the case were soldiers, too.
The ATF says more biker gangs nationwide are recruiting troops.
The gangs, the report said "court active-duty military personnel and government workers, both civilians and contractors, for their knowledge, reliable income, tactical skills and dedication to a cause."
Two people familiar with the Colorado Springs biker gang Sons of Silence said that group is pursuing soldiers and airmen with a new subgroup.
"They call it the Silent Warriors, and it's almost entirely made up of active-duty troops," one of the sources said. Both sources requested anonymity out of fear of retribution.
A source said the Sons of Silence recruitment of troops is driven by need.
"They are an aging bunch," he said, explaining that soldiers and airmen will leave the ranks and add strength to a gang still dealing with the impacts of a federal raid in 1999 that saw 39 members jailed.
Police say it's no surprise that motorcycle gangs are seeking troops.
"If you look at the history of outlaw motorcycle groups, they were started after World War II by soldiers," Comte said.
And, with 40,000 active-duty troops in the Pikes Peak region, the military has plenty to offer the gangs.
The ATF report says motorcycle gangs are accelerating efforts in the Rockies and across the country.
"In states such as California, New Mexico, Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New York, OMG expansion is continuing at an increasing rate," the agency says in its report.
Amon said one concern for his agency is that the troops recruited to outlaw gangs have clean criminal records - felons aren't allowed in uniform - and can act as firearm purchasing agents for outlaw gangs.
"They'll have someone who can purchase weapons legally," Amon said.
Military crime down
The rise in military recruitment for motorcycle gangs comes as the number of crimes committed by military members plummets.
The number of active-duty troops booked into the El Paso County jail topped out at 937 in 2011. Military bookings plunged after that, falling to 543 in 2014, according to data released to The Gazette by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.
According to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the number of Fort Carson soldiers involved in crime has tumbled, too. In 2012, soldiers were implicated in 2,916 criminal acts. In 2014, that number dropped to 1,224, documents show.
The military credits the drop to crime-prevention programs, stiffer discipline in the ranks and a push to get wrong-doers out of uniform amid budget-driven downsizing by the Pentagon.
But local military leaders aren't happy with what they see in the ATF report on motorcycle gang recruitment of troops.
At Fort Carson, spokeswoman Dee McNutt said leaders want to keep troops out of outlaw clubs like the Deciples and away from groups with extremist views such as the anti-Muslim protest of the local Infidels chapter.
"The Army has a longstanding policy regarding soldiers' participation in criminal organizations and extremist activities," McNutt wrote in response to Gazette questions. "Every commander has the inherent responsibility to enforce this policy and take appropriate action - to include education and awareness training."
At Air Force Space Command on Peterson Air Force Base, where several purported leaders of the Infidels work as contractors, a spokeswoman said joining an outlaw or extremist group can be a career-killer.
Col. Kelly Thompson cited Pentagon regulations and Air Force instructions banning troops from those organizations.
"What I can tell you is that military personnel should not participate in organizations that discriminate based on race, creed, color, sex, religion, or national origin and those who violate this prohibition are subject to disciplinary action," Thompson wrote.
Space Command officials also said that employee conduct standards are built into contracts and contractors could face trouble if workers join extremist groups.
Also, workers could lose their security clearances if they participate in extremist activities.
The allure of gangs
Cook, who heads the investigators association, said despite military rules, some troops will find the life of outlaw motorcycle gangs alluring.
"The groups themselves have a lot of the structure similar to what the military has," Cook said. "They have foot soldiers and the chain of command. It's easy for guys to segue from one to the other."
Comte said some outlaw motorcycle gangs are changing with time, eschewing crime for fellowship.
"They evolved into what they are today," he said. "Some groups are still involved in that illegal activity, and some have become more of a social activity. Where they are at, at any time can be different now than it is in six or seven months."
The ATF, though, says motorcycle gangs remain on the rise in the ranks, at home and overseas.
"OMG members continue to fly their colors while serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and destinations around the globe," the report said.
Violence among motorcycle gangs is rising, too, the agency warned.
Outlaw gangs are in a nationwide war for territory. Groups are jostling, fighting and sometimes killing to stake their claim, the ATF said.
A recent example was a biker brawl in Waco, Texas, that left nine people dead and led to 170 arrests.
"As tensions escalate, brazen shootings are occurring in broad daylight," the agency wrote.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240