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Round up the Usual Suspects!

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There's a reason the Usual Suspects Network is as popular and far-reaching as it is. Today Mike Searson will begin the explanation. DR

The hottest tactical knife show on the custom knife show circuit has to be the Gathering of the Usual Suspect Network held every Labor Day Weekend at Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Entering its 7th year as a show with G7 coming up, it makes some people wonder what it is and where it came from.

It all began with an internet forum, which makes most people roll their eyes and move on — but this is a forum like no other.

In late 2001, a group of online knife-collectors who met frequently online in a particular forum decided it was necessary strike out on their own and create their own forum that could be run and administered their own way. This group of 12 or so friends moved over to an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) chat room and by January to a forum of their own with 20 members. That group had been known on the previous forum as the “Usual Suspects,” a name given to them by a prominent Knife Purveyor for their mutual love of Emerson Custom Knives. Whenever he came upon an Emerson custom knife he used to say that he would sell it to one of “the Usual Suspects.”

That evolved into the name of the new organization, which has since become an incredible community.

strider knives

As their numbers grew, they began to dominate local and national knife shows. They began meeting up at shooting ranges, sushi bars, pubs or anywhere else that would have them. Their green badges, conspicuous along with miles of para-cord, knife clips protruding from their pockets, high-end packs, titanium gadgets, and silver jewelry from Steel Flame or Starlingear made them stand out in the crowd.

Just who are these guys?
I first heard of the Usual Suspects in late 2002 from knife maker Ernest Emerson at a California knife show. I had seen my first Emerson Knife in 1989 while I was a Marine at Camp Pendleton and had been an Emerson collector since the 90s. After logging in, I became quickly interested in all the other tactical knives and lights on the site, but I kept seeing the acronym “USN”. Being a Marine and knowing Emerson’s connection to the Naval SPECWAR community, I quickly felt like a fish out of water and logged out. I thought they were talking about the “US Navy”. At a later show I ran into Emerson’s then shop foreman, the late Derek Russell (a former SPECWAR sailor, himself) who corrected me that USN meant Usual Suspects Network.

Ernie Emerson with Emerson AR15 by Spike's Tactical

Ernie Emerson with Emerson AR15 by Spike's Tactical

Alright, acronyms were never my strong suit!

What makes the USN so different is the sense of family and community that comes from the forum. If you have ever spent time on forums, the smaller ones usually have this. It comes from people who bond over a small area of interest. A small tight knit group of C3 Corvette collectors will tend to bond and be friendlier than say a large forum devoted to all Chevys for example.

John Hollister of AAC and SIG fame lays out the custom Emersons for another lottery

John Hollister lays out the custom Emersons for another lottery

So it was with USN. Yet there was another factor at play: no advertising on the forums in the form of banner ads or click bait. Other forums have this and are paid revenue by the number of clicks, views, etc. So it is not really in the moderator’s best interest to suppress drama, lock threads, etc.

With no advertisers, the Admin and Moderator teams are out to protect the membership. Trolls, hackers, scammers and spammers are ejected most riki-tik!


Because of this, knife collectors and gun enthusiasts can interact directly with the makers or representatives from the companies on the forum. These personalities include such names as Ernest Emerson, Ken Onion, Mick Strider, Rick Hinderer, Tom Krein and Allen Elishewitz; forums are also frequented by people from Kershaw, Spyderco, Steel Flame, Kevin King, Starlingear, Blade Art, Prometheus Design Works and many others.

The Big Kahuna, Ken Onion

The Big Kahuna, Ken Onion

The current number of active members is around 45,000 and yet the same feeling of brotherhood and community is still going strong. Rather than heated debates about particular knives or firearms that devolve into non trivial pissing matches, virtual slugfests or online purse fights; most discussions are polite debates among friends.
The Show
By 2008, the original forum had grown to some 20,000 members; at the Shot show in Las Vegas that year one of them remarked off-handedly, “There are enough of us to start our own Knife Show!”

In September 2009, that became a reality with the First Annual Usual Suspects Gathering at Planet Hollywood Hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Promoted by Larry Brahms of BladeArt, a successful music and motion picture producer, and with assistance from Jeyr Lindsey of the Admin Team; the show has received critical acclaim for the unconventional, yet effective layout to the show.

Larry and Jeyr

Larry and Jeyr

Veteran knifemakers are paired up with junior knifemakers and the booths are arranged in a quad fashion as opposed to in line like a typical tradeshow. This gives more privacy while doing business and the idea came from the father of the tactical knife, himself: Bob Terzuola.

Bob Terzuola, father of the tactical folder

Bob Terzuola, father of the tactical folder

After the show closes, partying commences in a private nightclub where attendees and exhibitors can continue swapping stories, knives, gear and enjoy their favorite adult beverages in the Trader’s Cove!

Trader's Cove

Trader's Cove

The Gathering serves as an example of how to run a knife show the right way. Want to be a part of the closest-knit community of tactical knife aficionados? Are you a collector who wants to see the best in the latest tactical gear and knives?

The USN may well be the place for you.

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Check it out here:

Edit: The fourth paragraph (beginning ‘In late 2001') has been edited to avoid any misperception of rancor on the part of the author. There will be more to follow on the subject of the USN. When I first became acquainted with the “Usual Suspects Network” I was astonished away by their sense of community, their common identity and most of all their affable and welcoming demeanor (online and in real life). It's for this reason I asked Mike to write up a brief history of how they got started. You'll read more, I assure you. For anyone who might harbor some sort of heartburn over (or disagree with) the contents of the article or the author's opinion I would say this: strive for equanimity or contact me and we'll discuss other possible interpretations of the catalyst event that created the USN.  David Reeder, Digital Editor

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