Good, I was worried I did all that for nothing.
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA VS.
LOUIS HENRY McKEY
Imagine, the entire US of A against one man! IT was at this point that The Duck contacted me about his plight. I had been in touch with Lou for some time, and I was planning to do a story on the Fourth Annual “Unorganized” Barstow to Vegas Trail Ride. Now, instead of looking forward to a pleasant trail ride, the Duck was looking at a possible prison term and a large fine.
The way the BLM served the Duck with those terrible-looking legal papers was pretty sneaky. In fact, they bent and skirted the law to make sure Lou never had a chance in court.
Late on a Wednesday evening, he was served the papers by a Federal marshal. The BLM was asking for a temporary restraining order against the Duck THE VERY NEXT MORNING! If he wanted to contest the order, he would have to get a lawyer that night, prepare a rebuttal, and appear in court in less than 12 hours, ready to defend himself against a team of lawyers.It was clearly impossible.
To complicate things even more, Lou was on jury duty and couldn’t even get away if he wanted to.
We talked that night, and tried desperately to think of something. I called my lawyer and told him the situation. He told us that unlike normal municipal courts, the federal system isn’t required to give you a reasonable notice. The only possible thing to do was send a telegram to the judge, explaining the situation, and hope for the best.
Fortunately, the judge turned out to be a reasonable human being, and ordered both parties to appear in court in one week. This was the week right before the Trail Ride. The hearing was scheduled for Tuesday – the ride for Saturday.
The news media picked up on the confrontation, and naturally, the environmentalists peppered the reports with all sorts of lies. The newspapers churned out erroneous headlines that the federal courts halted the “race.” People got furious and said that, order or no order, they were going to ride. The mood of the off-road people got ugly.
We got busy. Our lawyer started working to defend the Duck with only three days to go before the Tuesday hearing. We sent word to Cycle News that all was not lost yet, and for riders not to give up hope. We also started the Legal Defense/Attack Fund at that point and asked riders to Send a Buck to Save The Duck. They responded. Money started to come in almost immediately, which said a lot for the influence and circulation of Cycle News at that time.
Our lawyer, George Stephan, and a former Hodaka rider, worked night and day, and had his office staff cranking out the necessary papers at flank speed. Somehow, some way, when Tuesday morning rolled around, he had prepared a beautiful defense, based on the First Amendment to the Constitution – the right to Free Speech.
At 20 minutes to ten on Tuesday morning, in the Federal Courthouse, six lawyers for the BLM sat around in a waiting room, chuckling and smiling, waiting to get in court and crucify the Duck. They assumed he wouldn’t have a lawyer. Or maybe he wouldn’t even show up. Then, they’d win by default.
Their mutual back-slapping came to an end when George walked into the room and slapped a stack of papers in front of them an inch thick, and announced that he was the attorney for the defense. Jaws went slack and a great deal of muttering and stumbling speech ensued. All the laughter ceased.
The duck, some members of the motorcycling press and a few friends, made up our party. The BLM had their team of lawyers, a gaggle of official sorts from their various offices, and a pair of zombie-like rangers standing around, looking as official as they possibly could.
We spent the entire day in that foreboding courtroom, and a lot of things came out. The judge, Warren Ferguson, seemed like a fair and honest sort, and said right up front that he encouraged peaceful dissent.
The BLM got up and argued; then George got up and argued back at them. Back and forth, back and forth. A large map was produced and the BLM attempted to show that the proposed ride of the Duck would go over a “highly sensitive area” called Coliseum Gorge, an area with rare and threatened species in it.
George was ready for this, and got the BLM boss, Gerald Hillier, to admit that a local mining company had gone into that “sensitive area” and had bulldozed a road right through the Gorge. In the process, they had taken the once-beautiful Coliseum Gorge, and removed it from the face of the earth. In its place, was now a flat dirt road that you could drive a Buick up.(Note from JETZ: Super Hunky revealed more details on the Coliseum Gorge incident in his interview on the Steve Matthes show. I recommend listening to the whole thing at some point, but the relevant bit starts at the 1:19:00 mark or so. The link is http://www.pulpmx.com/moto_show/archives/podcasts/100120_Hunky.mp3)
The worse thing about this was that the BLM had approved the grading of that road. Hillier himself had signed the permit, most certainly knew about it, and accused us in federal court of riding over an area that no longer existed. That lying rat-bastard! He sat right in front of the judge, told his Honor how our protest ride would fuck up all that sensitive terrain, and he knew it had been turned into a fire-road!
Right then and there, Louis and I exchanged some worried glances. Even though it was good that Hillier had been caught in a huge lie, we realized that those pricks would literally stop at nothing. They were out to cut our balls off and leave them to dry in the sun.
By the end of the day, the BLM as much as admitted that they gave away thousands of acres to mining companies and grazing interests, but they pleaded that their hands were tied by the Mining Act of 1872, and there was nothing they could do about it.
Finally, after a grueling, long day, the judge made a decision. While he encouraged peaceful protest, he still could not condone breaking the law. So, he gave the BLM a restraining order, but changed the wording to allow the Duck to ride, with 50 of his friends. In effect, the judge over-rode the BLM and gave the Duck a permit.
The BLM attorney, a pudgy, pasty-faced slime-ball named Arnold, went bananas. He got all red in the face and stammered out a plea to the judge to not allow any bikers to ride. The judge refused to change his stance, saying the citizens had the right to ride on open public land, as long as it was not an organized event with over 50 people. With more than 50, said the judge, a permit from the BLM was needed.
Near hysterical at this point, the BLM attorney asked the judge what they should do if hundreds of people showed up.
The judge calmly replied, “That’s your problem. You work it out. I can’t do your job for you.”
The judge then asked the Duck to use his head and not promote the “non-event” anymore, and to do all he could to ride with only 50 people. The Duck agreed.
However, the word got out that the protest ride was still on. Newspapers ran big stories on our win in Federal Court, and on November 5, 1978, history was made.
Hundreds of people showed up to ride. Thousands more came as support crews, or just to be part of a massive peaceful protest. In desperation, the BLM rangers spent all of the day before the “non-event” trying to discourage people from participating.
They handed out copies of the court order and said that if more than 50 people rode with the Phantom Duck, they would be arrested.
The riders responded by playing the game with the rangers: “What Duck? Why, we’re just out here for a trail ride with some friends. Who’s this Duck fellow? And if there are more than 50 people, which of them are you going to arrest? By the way, our little group here has way less than 50 people, so we’re not breaking any law.”
By Saturday morning, a small city had sprung up near the Harvard road off-ramp. Everywhere you looked, riders were sporting signs of protest: plastic ducks taped to helmets, number plates lettered QUACK QUACK, and even large plastic decoy ducks wired to handlebars.
The spirit of the crowd was more than obvious. They were making a display of strength and unity against the BLM. For the first time, a group of dirt bikers were jointly thumbing their noses at the arrogant policies and attitudes of the BLM.
People were happy and smiling. Lots of joking was going on. Banter in the pits went something like this: “Hey, you here for the Phantom Duck Trail Ride?”
“Not me. I never heard of it. I’m merely out here as a free citizen of this country riding on our public land. How’s about you?”
“Oh, same thing here. I just thought this might be a nice place to start a casual ride. I’m going to Vegas.”
“Why, isn’t that a coincidence! Why don’t we ride together?”
“Of course. But let’s not ride in groups of more than 50, OK?” Giggle.
And so it went.
The trail ride was a blazing success. According to the BLM, 580 riders actually rode and several thousand additional people were in the pits.
Of course, they only counted up until nine o’clock. We had some friends count, as riders were leaving as late as noon, and their estimate was slightly over 1,200 riders total.
But, no matter what set of numbers you go by, the point was made. Just like the newscaster in the movie Network, the riders spoke out and said: “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore!”
The actual course, wandering from Barstow, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada, was great. While too much fast fireroad was included in the layout, much of the terrain was beautiful enough to take your breath away. Nearly 160 miles of public land was ridden that day.
Before reaching the Nevada state line, the riders had to climb up to the highest part of the course and they ran into snow. Yup. Good old white and fluffy stuff. Some if it was two feet deep. We had the distinct pleasure of seeing a snowball fight between nearly a dozen bikers at the highest part of the snow area. Spirits were high.
Doing their best to mar the event, the rangers were busy all along the course, taking photos of the passing trail riders and writing down the license plate numbers of the pit vehicles.
Later, this proved to be a genuine source of embarrassment to the BLM, as Assemblyman Bob Hayes filed criminal charges against them for violating our civil rights. You just can’t go around gathering data like that on people, unless a crime has been committed. Apparently, the BLM already made its mind up that we committed a crime, and were gathering evidence. What a bunch of fun-loving cut-ups!
Still, the bikers showed great restraint and no incidents were reported. We found out later that three riders had been injured during the trail ride, none seriously. Bones heal. It was reported to us that one of the injuries could have been avoided. Rumor has it that some ribbon was removed by rangers in an attempt to discourage riders from continuing, and a rider got way off the course and fell into a ravine.
Riders trickled into the finish line area with big grins on their faces. It was a fun ride with no hassles. And the best part of it was that not one thin dime was paid to the almighty Big Brother for the privilege of riding on our land.
The happening in the Mojave Desert that day was more than a successful protest ride. Off-road riders got genuinely behind the Duck. After paying off the initial legal fees, the Legal Defense Fund was turned into a Legal Attack Fund.
At this point, the loosely-knit Phantom Duck of the Desert organization, whether they knew it or not, was going to face a truly frightening battle. What happened here in the fight for the California desert, would affect dirt bikers across the nation. If the BLM could be made to account for its actions and arrogance, then bikers everywhere would benefit.
Think about this: there are millions of acres of public land in this great country that should be open to the people for recreational uses. The only reason that this land is not open, is because a bureaucrat decided – without asking anyone – that he should play God.
Yet, starry-eyed environmentalists tell you that a lizard is more important than a human being. They tell you that potential damage to a cactus is more critical than people having fun.
Listen to this. No plant – present or past – is worth taking away our freedoms. No archaeological site is worth more than the joy on the face of a kid on a mini-bike, trail riding for the first time. People are more important than any pile of rocks, or any stretch of land. If using the land can bring happiness and pure pleasure to people, then let it be used.
The BLM is always saying that we destroy the desert. They conveniently ignore the fact that the great Mojave Desert has died and been re-born a half-dozen times in the last million years.
And it’ll die and be reborn another time in the future. Nothing we can do will alter that fact. In the millions of years that have gone by, the Mojave has been under water, under glaciers, and now, under sand. What makes the BLM think that the puny efforts of man can have even an iota of effect over the powers of nature?
One sandstorm in the Mojave can move millions of tons of sand and dirt over hundreds of miles. One flash flood can tear away the base of a mountain. How can this compare with a set of tire tracks over the shifting sands?
If all the dirt bikers in America got together and rode around in a circle for a month at a spot in the Mojave, one sandstorm could wipe out every evidence of them having been there. Overnight.