Police officials in northern Minnesota are holding public meetings this week to inform residents about a visit from the Hells Angels motorcycle club later this month.
The infamous biker gang has picked the Cloquet area for a yearly summer gathering, which takes place just before the Sturgis motorcycle rally in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The locals hope the bikers will be on their best behavior.
Police have been talking among themselves from Pine County, in east central Minnesota, up the Interstate 35 corridor and the North Shore, making contingency plans for up to 1,000 Hells Angels and their followers the last weekend of July.
Police believe ground zero will be a bar in Carlton called the Lost Isle, which is just a beer can's throw from the Fond Du Lac Band's Black Bear Casino.
Last year the Hells Angels gathering took place in Missoula County, Mont. Sheriff Mike McMeekin said it was "not that big a deal."
But the police received reports of rapes, which were not prosecuted for lack of good witnesses. And, while McMeekin said the bikers may not be looking for trouble, sometimes it finds them.
"There is always somebody with too much alcohol on board that thinks they're tougher than somebody else," McMeekin said. "So somebody would go up and take a poke at one of the Hells Angels, or crush a beer can on their bike or something like that, and we'd have to take care of that."
Those tended to be scuffles rather than bar-clearing brawls.
Carlton County Sheriff's Deputy Dan Danielson said his department has been in touch with Hells Angels members, who describe the event as civil, and family-like.
"They explained the ride to us as being a type of family vacation, if you will," Danielson said. "A chance for the members from the other areas, other states and communities, to get together and enjoy the weekend."
And that might be the case, said investigative journalist Julian Sher, author of the book "Angels of Death" about the darker side of the club. He said the bikers tend to behave when on public parade.
“[Violence] is their culture. It's their nature. It's like they can't change their DNA.”Federal agent Jay Dobyns
"On the one hand, they get to sell their dangerous image," Sher said. "But on the other hand, nothing serious usually happens, and then their PR machine can kick in and say, 'You see? We're just a bunch of loveable rascals on wheels.'"
But the reality, experts say, is different. Law enforcement describes the Hells Angels as a very highly organized criminal group.
The summer gathering is something the police have to be ready for, according to federal agent Jay Dobyns. He spent two years undercover with the Hells Angels and helped prosecute more than a dozen of them.
"I think the local law enforcement does have something to be concerned with. I think they do need to be paying attention," he said.
Dobyns said there is a violent streak running through the club that can't be ignored.
"Every year that these guys get together on their USA run, there's some act of violence that takes place," said Dobyns. "It's their culture. It's their nature. It's like, they can't change their DNA."
Especially if the club itself is slighted.
"There's nothing more important to these guys than that death head patch that they wear on their back, and top rocker that said Hells Angels. And if you insult them, if you insult their club, man, you're going to have hell to pay with these guys," Dobyns said.
The Hells Angels have kept their plans to themselves. They declined a request for an interview for this story.
Police are preparing to cover a roughly 200-mile stretch that reaches up to Grand Marais. They hope that good planning will head off any problems, according to Carlton County Deputy Dan Danielson.
"We want nothing more than to have them come in, have a good time, spend money, enjoy the area, and make their trip to Sturgis like they plan," he said.
Carlton County officials will hold two public meetings this week to share information and field questions from area residents. They will take place Tuesday in Barnum, and Wednesday in Cloquet.