It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen a documentary about "regular" motorcyclists. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing one. So when I received an email about a new documentary featuring an AMA-chartered club, I was pretty excited.
After all, AMA-chartered clubs are the best of the best. They organize some of the most-exciting events on the planet, and these big-hearted folks have raised millions of dollars over the years to help those who are less fortunate.
Then I took a close look at the documentary’s title: “Lincoln County Massacre."
Oh, oh. That doesn’t sound good.
Reading the email further, it said: “Through historical and contemporary footage, Lincoln County Massacre tells the story of the hours leading up to April 19, 1980 when members of the club were beaten by troopers of the West Virginia State Police.”
Did the club members do something wrong? Or were these rogue cops? Or maybe a combination of both?
There was only one way to find out: watch the documentary.
Documentary filmmaker Elaine McMillion was kind enough to send me a DVD of the film before its official premiere in the West Virginia Filmmakers Festival Saturday, Sept. 30, at 6 p.m. at the Elk Theatre in Sutton, W.Va.
It proved to be an interesting look not only at the incident involving the AMA-chartered Brothers of the Wheel—which has 250 active members and 600-800 retired members in 15 chapters in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky—but also at rural West Virginia life in 1980 and how government and judicial officials operated, for better or worse.
And, no, nobody was killed in the incident, even though the film title is “Lincoln County Massacre.”
Brothers of the Wheel was formed in 1977 in West Virginia in part because members felt that as a club they would be more successful doing charity work: raising money for toys and food for kids, etc.
“We would be an AMA-sanctioned club and be on the right side of the law,” one founder said, since there were several outlaw clubs reportedly in the area.
Club members weren’t allowed to use illegal drugs. The outlaw clubs left Brothers of the Wheel alone because they were an AMA club, according to the film, and as such the outlaws recognized that Brothers of the Wheel posed no threat to them or their territory.
Brothers of the Wheel collected $1,800 in four hours in their first Christmas fundraising effort. After that, when the local food bank or other charitable organization would run out of food they apparently would tell people in need to go ask the Brothers of the Wheel for help.
On April 19, 1980, about 20 bikers were sleeping on the ground at the White House Tavern near Salt Rock, W.Va. They were members of the Brothers of the Wheel and the Bootleggers Motorcycle Club.
State troopers arrived about 2 a.m. and attacked the sleeping motorcyclists. Apparently a biker not associated with the clubs that were at the White House Tavern had intimated a neighbor, and residents had also called police saying they heard gunshots.
When the motorcyclists were attacked, at least some fought back—not knowing they were being attacked by police officers.
The motorcyclists were hauled off to jail. A lawsuit followed.
A lawyer for the bikers recalled that "they were stigmatized by what bikers were at the time," implying that law enforcement assumed they were outlaw troublemakers rather than members of an AMA-chartered charity motorcycle club.
The lawyer also said this case against the state police was one of the first, if not the first, case in which a jury or the court found in some way against the state police, who were ordered to pay for health-care costs and damage to motorcycles.
What comes through in this well-done documentary is that back then—and, to a lesser extent, even today—non-motorcyclists paint all motorcyclists with the same broad brush when they have a bad experience or see something they don’t like.
What also comes through is that the members of the AMA-chartered Brothers of the Wheel truly believe in the principles of being a family club, and in helping others who are less fortunate.
And they truly care about each other.
These are values that I think all AMA-chartered clubs believe in. So when I see that a club is AMA chartered, I know what kind of club it is, and what kind of behavior I can expect from those club members.
That makes me proud to be an AMA Life Member, an AMA employee for more than a decade, and proud to be associated with AMA-chartered clubs nationwide.
For more information on the documentary "Lincoln County Massacre," go to http://lincolncountymassacre.com/.