It's a sunny Saturday afternoon in July and dozens of men and women have traveled from across New York State to gather in the backroom of a bar and grill while classic rock plays in the background.
Most are covered in tattoos. Some wear bandanas and keep their sunglasses on, even while indoors at the Albany Rail Yard on Central Avenue.
All proudly wear their hard-earned, leather cuts. They’re bikers and they’re on a mission — but not one you might immediately think.
These men and women want to help and protect children.
"No child deserves to live in fear, and we take that seriously," said “Thumper,” the Sgt. at Arms of the Albany Chapter of B.A.C.A., or Bikers Against Child Abuse, a nonprofit, 501c3 organization that provides comfort, aid, support and safety to children who have been sexually, physically or emotionally abused.
The organization was founded 21 years ago by John Paul “Chief” Lilly, a Utah-based licensed clinical social worker with a passion for bikes who noticed there were gaps in the system to help abused children heal. Today, B.A.C.A. works to fill those gaps.
“B.A.C.A. exists to empower children who are victims of abuse. And the biggest single thing we can do for victims of abuse who are children, is help them be kids again,” “Riff,” the public relations liaison for the Buffalo Chapter, told InsideEdition.com.
B.A.C.A. provides comfort, aid, support and safety to children who have been abused.(Inside Edition)
B.A.C.A. members keep their identities private, taking on road names that are bestowed upon them when they become full-fledged members by other brothers and sisters in the organization.
Those who wish to join the organization and are expected to give their all to the cause. They must ride for at least one year with a chapter before they are considered for membership, undergoing an extensive vetting process — including a background check — meant to weed out anyone not fully dedicated to the cause.
"The Albany chapter started out with about 60 people. By the time we got patched… we were down to 10," said "Bling," a member of the original 10.
When B.A.C.A. takes on a child’s case, it assigns one member to be that child’s primary. They are expected to be available to that child at all hours of the day. There are no paid members in the organization.
"People walk in the door and they’re like, ‘hey! I heard about you guys, this is cool. Where’s the beer?’ We’re not about that,” Thumper said. “It’s asked, 'are you prepared to take a bullet for a child?' We mean it."
There are no days off for a member of B.A.C.A.
Bikers interested in joining are told to expect to use their vacation time, free time and even call out of work so they can step up when the time comes.
After taking on a case and notifying local law enforcement of their plans, B.A.C.A. has four levels of intervention. Their aim is to ensure a child is safe while also sending a message to their alleged abuser to stay away.
In a “level 1,” as many bikers as possible will ride to a child’s home or meeting place to give the youngster gifts to show they care, including their own cut, a patch displaying their new “road name,” and a teddy bear they tell the child is filled with love and support. If the child is old enough and his or her parents or guardians are game, that child can also go on a motorcycle ride.
“This really is the first time that our B.A.C.A. child meets the chapter,” Riff said. “This is very, very important because it strengthens the bond between B.A.C.A. and our B.A.C.A. child. And it is the first step to allowing that child to begin to heal.”
B.A.C.A. will take further levels of action if the child is still afraid or if their alleged abuser refuses to be dissuaded, including establishing an around-the-clock presence with the child, writing to law enforcement to notify them of the suspect’s actions and even conducting "neighborhood awareness rides" through the streets where the suspect lives.
Above all, the B.A.C.A. family will stop at nothing to keep a child safe.
“Police can’t do this. CPS, Child Protective Services can’t do this. A volunteer organization like us can — we can protect that child 24/7,” said “Falcon,” president of the Long Island chapter.
His chapter held a “level 2” intervention at a Long Island hospital for nearly two weeks, standing guard of the room of a little girl in fear of her abuser.
“There was a direct threat,” Falcon said. “We had a picture of the perp. We dealt with hospital security and the administration to allow us to be there 24/7. We did four-hour shifts.”
For 13 days and nights, members of B.A.C.A. were constantly posted at that child’s door. Chapters from the Hudson Valley, Connecticut and Pennsylvania made the journey to lend a hand as well, Falcon said.
“There’s no borders in B.A.C.A.,” he continued.
Members also attend court for moral support when a B.A.C.A. child testifies against their abuser.
Another case in Long Island saw B.A.C.A. chapters from across the country come together to put a little girl at ease during a stressful time in and out of court.
“Her case was postponed like eight times in the courts so that little kid had that anxiety and stress and emotions like you wouldn’t believe whenever that case came close,” Falcon said. “When it finally came to date, we escorted that child at 6 a.m. to [a local airport]. On the way… she forgot her teddy bear, the B.A.C.A. bear.”
Falcon, a tower of a man with a booming voice to match, becomes quiet.
“It’s giving me goosebumps just thinking about it,” he said.
He jumped into action.
“I called ... the chapter in the area that they were going to land in. I think I woke them up. I said, ‘Yo! We need a B.A.C.A. bear and we need it at the airport,’” he said.
Wearing the child's favorite color, members of B.A.C.A. — and the bear — remained by her side throughout the entire ordeal, including during her testimony.
About 92 percent of children involved with B.A.C.A. successfully testify against their alleged abusers, the organization said.
“We’re fighting a war,” Thumper said, citing statistics that show many abusers were children of abuse themselves.
“Thirty-seven percent of women, 14 percent of men incarcerated in our prison systems today are victims of child abuse, one-third of abused children unfortunately will go on to abuse children,” he said. “Breaking the chains of abuse is a focal point ... it’s by empowering these kids, letting them know we’re here for them, they can lean on us, take from us whatever they need to—physically and emotionally—to help them get over that so they don’t make the same mistake.”
Bling agrees, saying: “We do understand that we’re coming in after abuse has been done to them, and there isn’t anything we can do about that. But if we can empower children to not be or feel victimized, if we can get them to a place in their lives where they can maybe, somehow, be a normal child and they can go into their adulthood, they can go to school, they can get married, they can have children, and maybe, that abuse won’t continue. Because it does continue.”
The war B.A.C.A. is fighting in providing a support system for children can sometimes take a toll on the members itself, but the group's members say its work never veers into vigilante territory.
“We are human beings… It can get stressful,” Thumper said. “But our procedures and our policies are very clear. If a member were to take something, a matter into their own hands — forget for a moment the legal ramifications for that person — his patch is gone. He’s out.”
It’s a constant balancing act to move past the stereotype of bikers, but also use them to the group’s advantage.
“That really is the difference between being a member of B.A.C.A., which is a very responsible organization that goes through all the right trainings for ourselves and for the people around us, and being a vigilante,” Riff said. “There’s a perception, and then there’s the reality that we are very caring, loving parents ourselves … We don’t want to fight that perception. It’s good for the world to be afraid of bikers. It works for us.”
The organization also prioritizes the mental health of its members, taking care to look out for each other and recognizing that sometimes, doing nothing is the best thing to do.
“We have a lot of debriefing afterwards, we get together, we talk about it, we let those emotions go... get it all out,” said “Geek,” president of the Albany chapter.
“Above and beyond that, we spend a lot of time together,” he continued. “If I see my brother over there struggling with something, that’s my job as his brother is to help him out. If that means (saying), ‘you need to sit this one out. You’re getting way to close to this,’ then that’s my job, is to help him out. So that I know he can help other kids later on down the road.”
It’s a beautiful day for a motorcycle ride when the B.A.C.A. chapters in New York State get together.
Many passersby stop and stare as dozens of bikes come roaring down the road in a staggered formation, but who could blame them?
They’re a sight to be seen, riding loud but smooth down a picturesque suburban street in Albany.
The group stops at a local park, where they demonstrate a level 1 with the daughter of one of their members.
“Lil Bit,” as she’s affectionately called, is game for the drill and returns the members’ enthusiasm for the cause.
A B.A.C.A. member presents 'Lil Bit' with presents, including a B.A.C.A. bear. (InsideEdition.com)
Lil Bit was also given a B.A.C.A. blanket. (InsideEdition.com)
Each member made sure to introduce themselves to Lil Bit, shaking her hand or giving her hug, depending on what she was most comfortable with. (InsideEdition.com)
They clap and cheer when she agrees to a motorcycle ride and wait patiently for her to select the bike she’ll claim the back of.
Lil Bit is met with more applause when she returns from her ride, The smile on her face delights the 30 or so tough-looking men and women who have come together for a special cause.
“It works,” said “Demo,” the vice president of the Staten Island chapter. “You know when a kid is empowered. You see the changes, you see the difference. It’s something I won’t ever call a paycheck, but it’s what we signed up for: To empower a child.
"When you look at that child and you know that he or she can sleep in their room at night and not wet the bed, that’s when you know it works... That’s it right there.”