Mechanized Cavalry: Twenty Years on the Road
By Patrick J. O’Conner
Rowfant Press, 2017
Mr. O’Connor’s examination of a subculture of American motorcycling is particularly timely in the aftermath of the August demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia and the more general controversy over monuments to the Confederacy. The book consists primarily of transcripts of interviews with members of the motorcycle club called the Mechanized Cavalry (Mech Cav). O’Connor summarizes the interviews in a final chapter, but his goal is less to analyze the thoughts of the riders than to allow them to present themselves.
The Mech Cav is the motorcycle arm of the social group The Sons of Confederate Veterans. As such it resides at the intersection of many of my interests: motivations for joining motorcycle clubs, the connection between motorcycles and militarism, the social basis for personal identity, and the creation and maintenance of cultural mythologies.
“Hopefully,” writes Colonel Reuben Hamby, founder of the Mech Cav, the club “can play a big role in protecting our monuments and the flag.” The flag referred to is the Confederate flag and the monuments are to the men who led the failed rebellion in the 1860s. Colonel Greg Kalof sees the Mech Cav as “at the forefront of the battle lines” in order to fight “those who want to change history.”
The Mech Cav is a three-patch club but is emphatically not perceived by its members a one-percenter “outlaw” group although it has adopted the appearance of one – the vests, patches, and choice of motorcycles. The uninitiated could be forgiven for mistaking the Mech Cav for a motorcycle “gang.”
The interviews with and written statements of the members of the Mech Cav show that the historical connection to the American Civil War is a central part of the organization’s identity. For many, if not most, of the respondents, the link to Confederate soldiers is one they discovered as adults rather than an identity inculcated since early childhood. It is a self-consciously adopted sense of self that membership in the Mech Cav reinforces. This identity is held together by the comradery of motorcycle riding, with the preservation of Confederate sites and images providing a gloss of historical purpose. One respondent identified the Mech Cav as the “special forces” branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans – they take the flag out into the larger community and are willing to take the heat for doing so. Thus, it is not just a Sunday ride but a noble crusade.
Patrick O’Connor provides what is basically a qualitative data set of the creation of a motorcycle club (“It’s not a club,” one respondent insists). This is not a book that provides any answers; in deed it is not a book that really asks any questions. It is, however, one that can provide insights that may be particularly relevant in today’s social-political environment. O’Conner presents an insider’s view of people who embrace at least three stigmatized identities – bikers, motorcycle club members, and those with strong connections to the Southern narrative of the American civil war. I say at least three, because the self-consciously adopted militarism of the Mechanized Calvary also touches on the very ambiguous U.S. attitude toward military veterans. It is a challenging book because O’Conner does not layer a descriptive or analytic framework over the personal essays of the MC members; readers are forced to deal directly with the ways that members of the Mechanized Calvary perceive themselves.
While the book itself is rather oddly constructed and looks self-published – the certificates and photos suggest that the intended audience for this book are the members of the Mech Cav – I think this book can serve as a valuable resource for scholars interested in motorcycle clubs, grass roots organizations, defenders of the Confederacy and other conservative resistance groups, and the self-perception of members of socially stigmatized groups.
To purchase a copy of Mechanized Cavalry: Twenty Years on the Road contact Patrick J. O’Conner via: firstname.lastname@example.org
John Sumser I have a B.A. and M.A. in philosophy and an M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology and I focus on mass media and popular culture. I am a veteran, a returned Peace Corps volunteer, and a recipient of a Fulbright Award to the Czech Republic. I have published three academic books and written – but not published – four novels. I have hitchhiked across the United States and Europe, been briefly kidnapped in Nebraska, deported from Scandinavia, and detained as a spy in Afghanistan. I have ridden hundreds of thousands of miles and currently own two motorcycles: a Triumph Thruxton 900 and a Ducati Multistrada 821, I am a professor in the Department of Communication Studies at California State University, Stanislaus. I have two apparently stable and happy children and an old, but very smart dog.