There are a number of motorcycle clubs in the world, which are known for their enthusiasm for motorcycling. However, there is a miniscule number of clubs, which is known for something more than just motorcycling. These gangs have gained notoriety for their antics, making law enforcement agencies view them with scorn and suspicion. Here, we will take a look at some of these notorious biker gangs.
Rock ‘n’ Murder
In 1969, a free rock concert was held at Altamont Speedway, California. Hells Angels, one of the most notorious biker gangs in the world, was managing the security of the event, for which they were paid $500 worth of beer. As both the crowd and Hells Angels members were high on drugs and alcohol, altercations ensued, resulting in a Hells Angels member fatally stabbing a 18-year-old guy, who had reportedly drawn a gun.
Motorcyclists around the world are met with awe and skepticism. While some appreciate the freedom and the adrenaline rush that one experiences on a motorcycle ride, others are of the opinion that bikers engage in rabble-rousing, and promote an alternate lifestyle, devious to the norms of the society. Most of the motorcycle clubs are located, or have originated in the United States of America. Majority of these biker clubs are law-abiding and are registered with the biggest motorcycling organization — American Motorcyclist Association (AMA). It has a total membership of 300,000 and is actively involved in promoting motorcycling in the US.
There is a minuscule percentage of bikers, who don’t conform to the rules and regulations of AMA and have their own code of conduct. These bikers are affiliated to numerous clubs, and are collectively known as Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs (OMC). These clubs are in a state of constant war with each other, and many of their members have been arrested over serious crimes, such as drug trafficking, extortion, prostitution, and murder. These gangs have gained notoriety all around the world for their antics, but due to the constant media attention, they have also managed to achieve a cult status among some bike aficionados. Before we go ahead and introduce you to some of the most dreaded biker gangs around the world, we would like to revisit history to understand their origin.
Biker Clubs: The Origin
After the end of World War II, a lot of war veterans returned home and tried to settle into their new civilian lives. As they had been at war for such a long time, the chores of daily life seemed monotonous to them. They wanted to experience the thrill and excitement, which had become a part of their lives during the period of war. They were in search of the same level of camaraderie and togetherness, which war soldiers have for each other. The way they looked at it, civilian life was staid and unexciting. While looking for a substitute to fill their lives, motorcycling emerged as one of the brightest options, and soon, numerous war vets were on the streets with their cruiser bikes and choppers. This led to the creation of numerous biking clubs, with members donning similar outfits to show loyalty to their respective clubs. These clubs were known for their nomadic and rebellious lifestyle, but there was rarely any news of their engagement in any form of illegal activity. However, the benign nature of motorcycling took a beating in the Hollister riot of 1947.
Hollister, an agricultural town in California, hosted an annual bike rally, sanctioned by the AMA. The rally had become a spectacle and a source of revenue for many locals. Due to the increase in the number of motorcycle clubs after the World War II, Hollister witnessed the arrival of a large number of motorcyclists, which it could not accommodate. The sheer number of motorcyclists made it seem as if the whole town of Hollister was ‘overtaken’. After the bikers got high on alcohol, they stormed right into the city, doing wheelies, riding through restaurants, and littering the streets with broken beer bottles. The police arrested several of these drunk bikers for misdemeanor, but even the police noted that these men had done more harm to themselves than they did to the town. However, the story was blown out of proportion by the media, notably by Life magazine, which carried out a photograph of a wasted man sitting on a Harley Davidson motorcycle, while holding a beer in each hand. Below the motorcycle lay innumerable empty beer bottles. This photograph and the overall media reports created a perception among the people of America that motorcyclists were troublemakers and sociopaths. The Wild One (1953) starring Marlon Brando, which was based on the Hollister riot, further polarized the public opinion against the bikers. The negative publicity surrounding the motorcyclists and the misconception about them, appealed to criminal-minded individuals. They had been living their lives on the sidelines, but now they saw an opportunity of hogging the public limelight by becoming a biker.
The 1%er Tag
Heckled by the media over the issue of motorcyclists engaging in hooliganism and criminal activities, AMA allegedly said that 99% of the bikers were law-abiding citizens, and it was the remaining 1%, which was bringing a bad name to motorcycling. The outlaws accepted the “1%” tag, and used it proudly with their club patches to associate themselves with everything that the society considered devious. These 1%er clubs spread to numerous states in America and around the world. Today, law enforcement agencies in every country consider these outlaw gangs to be actively involved in numerous illegal activities.
The Most Infamous Motorcycle Clubs
Hells Angels Motorcycle Club
Chapters: Around 230 in 27 countries
Membership: 2000 – 3000
Motto: WHEN WE DO RIGHT NOBODY REMEMBERS, WHEN WE DO WRONG NOBODY FORGETS
The Hells Angels is arguably the most well-known motorcycle club in the world. According to the official website of Hells Angels, the club was formed on March 17, 1948 in Fontana/San Bernardino area of California, US. During its inception, it was made up of war veterans who were earlier associated with the club, Pissed Off Bastards of Bloomington (one of the clubs present at the Hollister riot). Although a lot of people believe that Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels is the club’s mother chapter, the official website denies the claim and states that after forming the club in Fontana, a lot of club members moved to Oakland. According to estimates, currently, the club has more than 100 chapters worldwide, with an estimated 2000 to 3000 members. The club has been accused of numerous serious crimes, such as drug trafficking, extortion, and prostitution.
◆ In 2006, a series of raids in Ontario, Canada led to the arrest of 15 Hells Angels members. During the raids, the police seized drugs valued at $3 million in the international market.
◆ In 2007, a full-time member of Hells Angels MC shot three people, including his girlfriend, in Melbourne. One person died, and the other two were seriously injured in the incident. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
◆ The sergeant at arms of the San Diego chapter of Hells Angels was sentenced to serve 21 years and 10 months in prison for drug trafficking charges in 2012.
Bandidos Motorcycle Club
Chapters: Around 200 in 16 countries
Membership: 2000 – 2500
Motto: We are the people our parents warned us about.
Bandidos MC was founded by Donald Eugene Chambers in San Leon, Texas. Chambers was a marine vet who had served in Vietnam. Although members of the club affirm that their club exists to promote motorcycling, many observers believe that Bandidos was created because Chambers wanted to have a hold over the drug trafficking and prostitution business in Texas. The club’s tryst with infamy started pretty early when Chambers was convicted for a murder in El Paso. Currently, the club has chapters in 12 countries outside the US, and its membership is estimated to be anywhere between 2000 and 2500. Law enforcement agencies have found Bandidos to be involved in numerous criminal activities. It is believed that Bandidos MC has an association with Outlaws Motorcycle Club, and they help each other out in their criminal activities.
◆ A drug war between Bandidos and Hells Angels that lasted from 1993 to 1997 resulted in the death of 11 members from both the clubs. The four-year period also saw 74 attempt-to-murder incidents.
◆ In 2006, four vehicles with eight dead bodies were found in Shedden, Canada. Investigation revealed that six of the eight dead bodies were of Bandidos club members. It was later found that the killers were full members of Bandidos, and they had massacred the eight people as a part of an internal cleansing of the organization.
◆ The President of the Sweden chapter of Bandidos MC was handed down a nine-year jail sentence in 2009, after he was found guilty of an attempt to murder of people, who had testified against him. Four other Bandidos members were also convicted, but received shorter sentences for their involvement in the crime.
Mongols Motorcycle Club
Chapters: 50+ in 14 countries
Membership: 500 – 600
Motto: WHEN WE DO RIGHT NOBODY REMEMBERS, WHEN WE DO WRONG NOBODY FORGETS… Live Mongol, Die Mongol!
The Mongols MC was formed in Montebello, California in 1969. Most of the members of the gang are of Hispanic origin. It is widely believed that Hells Angels’ “only whites can join” policy was the reason behind the formation of the Mongols MC; however, some observers are of the view that these stories are apocryphal, and that Mongols has had white members in the past. The club is also known by the aliases — Mongol Nation and Mongol Brotherhood. Mongols have been involved in various crimes ranging from drug trafficking, extortion, attempted murder, etc.
◆ In 1998, William Queen, a law enforcement agent gained entry into Mongols, and over the course of three years, he collected sufficient evidence, which resulted in the arrest of 54 club members. 53 of the arrested members were convicted for crimes, such as drug trafficking and murder conspiracy.
◆ In 2008, a Mongol member surrendered himself after committing the murder of the president of the San Francisco chapter of the Hells Angels.
◆ A former international president of the Mongols MC was arrested along with 37 other members (of the Mongols MC) for racketeering in 2008. The former president was sentenced to seven years in prison after he pleaded guilty to the charges. Interestingly, he had earlier written a book, which was published by the well-known publishing house Harper Collins.
Outlaws Motorcycle Club
Membership: 1500 – 1800
Motto: God Forgives, Outlaws Don’t
Outlaws motorcycle club claims to be the oldest motorcycle club in the world. The club was founded in McCook, Illinois. It was initially known as McCook Outlaws Motorcycle Club. The Outlaws have been engaged in a turf war with Hells Angels. It is believed that the feud between Outlaws and Hells Angels dates back to 1946, when Outlaws’ request for a Hells Angels charter was turned down by the latter. Like other 1%er motorcycle gangs, the club is involved in drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering, and prostitution.
◆ A former international president of the Outlaws MC was given two life sentences in 1999 for committing three murders. He had killed two members of his own club and one from a rival gang.
◆ In 2010, a member of the Outlaws MC was killed when he reportedly opened fire on a SWAT team from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). The man had allegedly killed a Hells Angels member in 2009, and the law enforcement agencies had come with a search warrant to arrest him.
◆ In 2012, a raid on the Indiana chapter of the Outlaws MC led to the arrest of 42 members of the club. The charges that were leveled against the arrested members included money laundering and illegal gambling.
Vagos Motorcycle Club
Chapters: 40+ in 5 countries
Motto: We Give What We Get.
Vagos MC is one of the most notorious outlaw motorcycle clubs of America. It was formed in San Bernardino, California in the year 1965. The club was initially known as “Psychos”, but conflict among the Hispanic members of the club resulted in the creation of Vagos. The club has been on the radar of ATF, because of its alleged involvement in several illegal activities.
◆ In 2007, six members of the club were arrested after they beat up a fellow member who expressed his desire to leave the club. The arrested members also took the man to his home to rob him of his property.
◆ In 2009, three members of the Vagos MC were arrested on charges of gang-raping a woman in San Jose, California.
Pagan’s Motorcycle Club
Membership: 350 – 400
Pagan’s MC (or The Pagans) was formed by Lou Dobkins in the year 1959. After originating in Prince George’s County, Maryland, the club soon expanded to various states of the US. They are allegedly involved in numerous criminal activities, and the law enforcement agencies view it as a violent organization. They are known for their intense rivalry with the Hells Angels MC.
◆ In 2005, The Pagans allegedly killed the vice president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Hells Angels on the Schuylkill Expressway.
◆ In 2007, a member of the club was arrested in Maryland by a team of more than 60 officers from different law enforcement departments on charges of possessing illegal arms. The police recovered 13 long rifles, seven handguns, and two explosive devices from the member.
◆ In 2010, nineteen members were arrested in New York for allegedly conspiring to murder Hells Angels club members. They were also charged with offenses of drug trafficking, extortion, and possession of illegal weapons.
Warlocks Motorcycle Club
Motto: WE LIVE THE LIFE WE LOVE & LOVE THE LIFE WE LIVE.
Warlocks MC was formed by Tom Free land in Florida in the year 1967. Grub, as he is called by his fellow club mates, is an ex-naval serviceman and has served on the USS Shangri-La aircraft carrier. The club was formed in the spirit of motorcycling and adventure, but over a period of time, it engaged in criminal activities, like other 1%er biker gangs. A motorcycle club found in 1967 in Pennsylvania, also goes by the name ‘Warlocks’, and both these gangs are known to be allies.
◆ In 1995, a member of the Warlocks Pennsylvania shot dead a sergeant after being pulled over at a traffic stop. The member was sentenced to death, but was later killed in a fight with another death-row inmate inside the prison.
◆ In 2007, a member of Bucks County chapter of Warlocks was sentenced to five years in prison after being arrested for possession of drugs.
◆ In 2008, the State Attorney General of Pennsylvania alleged that Warlocks was involved in manufacturing methamphetamine worth $9 million.
Sons of Silence Motorcycle Club
Membership: 250 – 300
Motto: donec mors non separat (until death separates us)
Sons of Silence are a 1%er motorcycle club, active in US since its formation in Colorado, in 1966. The gang is predominantly present in the eastern part of the US, although they have several international chapters. It is widely believed that Sons of Silence are allied with the Hells Angels, because of which, they are often engaged in turf wars with other outlaw motorcycle clubs.
◆ In 1999, 37 members of the club were arrested in Denver on charges of drug trafficking and possessing illegal weapons.
◆ In 2001, six members of the gang were arrested by the ATF on charges of drug trafficking and illegal arms possession.
Motto: Attitude Violence
Although most of the outlaw motorcycle gangs around the world originated in America and then spread out, The Finks are one of the ‘indigenous’ outlaw motorcycle clubs. The club was formed in Adelaide, Australia in 1969. The Finks expanded to Perth, when Troy Mercanti was expelled from Coffin Cheaters — another Perth-based motorcycle gang. The activities of the club were restricted by the government in South Australia. The Finks are accused of threatening businessmen and demanding extortion from them. This policy of extortion is known as Finks’ fines.
◆ According to a report submitted by the South Australian Police Commissioner, between 1967 and 2008, Finks members were found guilty of 167 offenses.
◆ In 2012, a Finks member was arrested for attempting to kill a Bandidos motorcycle member. He was also charged with causing injuries to a bystander and possessing arms illegally.
Highwaymen Motorcycle Club
Membership: 100 – 150
Motto: Highwaymen forever, forever Highwaymen
Highwaymen motorcycle club was formed in Detroit in 1954. The club is active in Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, and Kentucky. The club has been the subject of numerous investigations by the law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. Highwaymen MC was once a member of the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), but in the early 1960s, it strayed away from the mainstream to become a 1%er biker gang.
◆ In 2007, a major raid conducted by the FBI in Detroit led to the arrest of 40 members of the Highwaymen club. They were charged with offenses, such as drug trafficking, insurance frauds, and murder for hire.
◆ A Highwaymen member was arrested in 2008 for charges related to drug trafficking. Four Detroit police officers were also arrested along with him on charges of corruption.