If someone took the members of a biker gang, sprinkled them with pixie dust, and told them to think happy thoughts, they’d get a Disneyland social club. They wear denim vests and sport tattoos, but their vests display their Disneyland trading pins and their tattoos are all of Disney characters — or of Uncle Walt himself. The groups go by names like “Tigger Army,” “Neverland Mermaids,” and “Flynn’s Ryders” — names inspired by their favorite Disney characters. They are all adults, most with season passes to Disney parks, and they’re united by a shared love of all things Disney.
But, while most of these clubs only look like gangs, a lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court suggests that some club members’ activities aren’t exactly squeaky clean. According to the L.A. Times, John and Leslee Sarno (leaders of the Main Street Fire Station 55 club) are suing Jakob Fite (leader of the White Rabbits club) and other members of the White Rabbits for “defamation, invasion of privacy, conspiracy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
They roam Disneyland in packs of 20 or more, sporting Disney-themed tattoos and matching denim vests. The head of one of these "social clubs" has accused another of using gangster-like tactics to try to collect "protection" money for a charity fundraiser https://t.co/EzRKwfijFm pic.twitter.com/jth38YjPVU
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) February 10, 2018
Here’s how the Disney dirty dealings when down: In 2016, Main Street Fire Station 55 was planning a fundraiser to support families of firefighters killed on September 11. The event would be held at Disneyland and include a walk through the park to raise money for the charity. Disneyland gave permission for the event to take place and provided security, NPR reports.
But, according to the L.A. Times, that’s when the Sarnos were approached by Fite and four other White Rabbits demanding $500 in protection money saying that if the Sarnos didn’t pay up, “Fite and his White Rabbits would make sure Sarno would never get into the park again.” John Sarno refused. That’s when the White Rabbits allegedly began their reign of terror.
The L.A. Times reports that Fite and his cronies began spreading “malicious rumors” about Sarno on social media, and distributing “Sarno’s medical information to ‘unauthorized users.’” NPR reports that Fite also “began a targeted campaign against the Sarnos on message boards and podcasts, calling them scammers and con artists” and “printed T-shirts with John Sarno’s name and likeness on it warning that he was dangerous.”
For Main Street Fire Station 55, Disneyland is no longer the happiest place on earth. The club has now been disbanded, Disneyland has refused to allow them to host another event, and the members feel ostracized and afraid. With the lawsuit pending, it is unclear whether the brave men and women of the fictitious fire department will ever again put out another fake fire in the theme park they love.
So, do Disneyland social clubs really have a shady underbelly? Or was this just an isolated incident? “We just go to the park and socialize and ride the rides but we wear vests,” Bill Oliver, leader of the Nightmare Crew club told the L.A. Times. Michelle Mallek, a White Rabbit, said “When we see another club, we just wave” (but it’s possible that’s just because they’re always running late).
Apparently, a favorite social club activity is the “ride takeover” where the members of one club try to fill up all the seats on a certain ride. “We are grown-ups but we act like children in the parks,” Oliver said.
Are these tattooed, denim-vested Disney fans really just a bunch of kids at heart? Or are they minions of a villainous Disney overlord? With the lawsuit still pending, only time will tell.