The name, at first blush, is confusing — because The Utah Villians may look gruff and slightly sinister on the outside, but inside they are all good.
Their leader, Hector Tovar, looks intimidating at first: Dyed-blonde mohawk and matching beard, orange and red eye makeup with strikingly bold eyeliner. His shirt is covered in patches, earned through his time with the organization. One reads “Captain Faded,” his nickname within the group.
It’s in how they look, Tovar said, that people see stereotypes: Piercings, tattoos, leather and other things that lead some people to think they’re part of a biker gang.
“Our goal is to change the concept of what a bearded gentleman is,” Tovar said. “Most of the time you see us in these outfits that kind of resemble bikers. … Once you see us as a group, most [people] think we’re open to bikers when we’re probably out feeding the homeless.”
The Utah chapter, which started in 2015, is one of 165 in 36 countries that belong to the parent group Bearded Villians. Each chapter is dedicated to a charitable cause of their choosing. In Utah, the cause is suicide prevention awareness.
The Beehive State has alarming statistics in that area. According to the Utah’s Public Health Data Resource, in 2020, suicide was the eighth-leading cause of death in Utah — and for people 10-17 and 18-24, it was the leading cause of death.
Tovar said it’s personal for their group, and necessary because of those statistics — pointing to the fact that men and boys are four times more likely to die by suicide than women and girls.
“[In] our group, we just want to make sure that our members want to be impactful to the community,” Tovar said.
Tovar is creating a suicide prevention memorial project: a ribbon, four feet wide and 360 feet long,with the names of survivors, those struggling, and those who took their own life, Tovar said.
The goal, he said, is to showcase the project worldwide, but bring the ribbon back to stay at the Suicide Rock historical marker at the mouth of Parley’s Canyon. It’s what Tovar dubs his “heart project” for the group — something that all members work to create, something that is personal and contributes to charitable causes.
In the past, the Utah Villains have worked with the Volunteers of America to put together a clothing drive for The Lantern House, made toys at The Happy Factory and fed unsheltered people.
In May, the group will take part in The Mother of The Beard Competition at Ice Haus in Murray, to raise money for the memorial project. In August, they’ll host “Villains Nights” at HandleBar, in Salt Lake City.
The Utah group is in a rebuilding phase, with 20 members — 15 of them patched — from St. George to Tremonton, Tovar said. The members come from different backgrounds, and have different political views and ideals, he said.
It shows in the different patches each member has on their vests and jackets, the majority of which represent some kind of charity, Tovar said. Rainbows dominate Tovar’s shirt, representing Bearded Villains chapters that support various LGBTQ+ charities.
The patches are significant for the group morale, much like a bike gang. When one first joins the group, Tovar said, that person is a “hopeful” or “supporter” — new members who are trying to learn if the group is a good fit for them.
“If our mission of creating empowering moments is for them ... that stage really determines [it],” Tovar said.
That phase lasts for 6 to 8 months. After that, they become members and can work on their heart projects.
Although the Villains are primarily a social group and participate in activities, like hanging out at family barbecues and camping, Tovar said, “it is really about, like, showing that you want to be part of something better.”
Editor’s note • If you or someone you know is at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour support by dialing 988.