On customized children's bikes--banana seats, swooping handle bars, mini-wheels--the members of the self-dubbed "Zoo Bombers" ride around at night, wear funky costumes, and whoosh down the hill that spirals off the Portland zoo. But now, because of an odd nexus between their club's name and the USA Patriot Act, they have been profiled by local police as terrorists. Their story is an ominous tale of our paranoid times and a sign that local police are taking terrorist surveillance to absurd lengths.
An average Zoo Bomb begins at Rocco's Pizza, where riders watch The Simpsons and wait for members to congregate. Then bikers ride the MAX up to the zoo (rather than overwhelm the train with bicycles, they travel in several shifts, say organizers). They also point out that their members always pay their fare; they want to support the resources they use, they explain.
But several weeks ago, the group fell under suspicion. Zach Archibald, a founder of the group, explains that they started getting attention at last November's Critical Mass. "We were on TV, holding signs that said 'Bomb the zoo, not Iraq!'," Archibald says. By "bomb the zoo," they mean riding bikes down the hill at very fast speeds.
Since then, according to club members, Zoo Bombers are regularly followed by both marked and unmarked police vehicles. Archibald alleges that the police have surveyed Zoo Bombers as an "affinity group." "Our name has been misconstrued as something sinister," Archibald complained.
A former Zoo Bomber (whose name has been withheld), on probation for an unrelated offense, was confronted by his probation officer about his involvement in the group. Other officers allegedly called up the Zoo Bomber's website (
www.zoobombs.org) and interrogated him about the people and events shown. "They asked him why we have 'tactical meetings' and why everyone has code names," implying that we are involved in something illegal, Archibald said. He added, "At our tactical meetings, we decide what costumes to wear."
Under the Patriot Act, any group that "appear[s] to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population" may be construed as domestic terrorists.
"We're a 'suspicious group,' post 9/11," Archibald explains, "because we ride around at night and encourage other people to have fun." ANNA BOND