An outlaw motorcycle club (sometimes known as a motorcycle gang) is a type of motorcycle club that is part of a subculture with roots in the post-WWII USA, centered on cruiser motorcycles, particularly Harley-Davidsons and choppers, and a set of ideals celebrating freedom, nonconformity to mainstream culture, and loyalty to the biker group. These clubs are not sanctioned by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) and do not adhere to the AMA's rules, but instead, generally, the club enforces a set of bylaws on its members that derive from the values of the outlaw biker culture.
Some motorcycle gangs engage in criminal activity. Besides their connection with motorcycles and the one percenter subculture, criminal motorcycle gangs are "unique among crime groups in that they maintain websites; identify themselves through patches and tattoos; have written constitutions and bylaws; trademark their club names and logos; and have publicity campaigns aimed at cleaning up their public image." ATF agent William Queen, who infiltrated the Mongols, wrote that what makes a gang like them different from the Mafia is that crime and violence are not used as a expedients in pursuit of profit, but that the priorities are reversed. Mayhem and lawlessness are inherent in living "The Life," and the money they obtain by illegal means is only wanted as a way to perpetuate that lifestyle.
There are non-outlaw groups, like the Harley Owners Group, that adopt similar insignia, colors, organizational structure, and trappings like beards and leather outfits which are typical of outlaw gangs, making it difficult for outsiders to tell the difference. It has been said that these groups are attracted by the mystique of the outlaw image despite objecting to the suggestion that they are outlaws.
The typical internal organization of a motorcycle club consists of a president, vice president, treasurer, secretary, road captain, and sergeant-at-arms. Localized groups of a single, large MC are called chapters, and the first chapter established for an MC is referred to as the mother chapter. The president of the mother chapter serves as the president of the entire MC, and sets club policy on a variety of issues.
Larger motorcycle clubs often acquire real estate for use as a clubhouse or private compound. These clubs often have security features such as closed-circuit television monitors, motion detector lights, and barbed wire-topped fences. As well, the clubhouse or compound walls may be reinforced with materials such as plate steel or kevlar to provide ballistic protection.
In some "biker" clubs, as part of becoming a full member, an individual must pass a vote of the membership and swear some level of allegiance to the club. Some clubs have a unique club patch (or patches) adorned with the term MC that are worn on the rider's vest, known as colors. The oldest motorcycle clubs in the U.S. are the Yonkers MC, founded in 1903, the San Francisco MC, founded 1904, and the Oakland MC.
In these clubs, some amount of hazing may occur during the prospecting period, ranging from the mandatory performance of menial labor tasks for full patch members to sophomoric pranks, and, in the case of outlaw motorcycle gangs, acts of violence. During this time, the prospect may wear the club name on the back of their vest, but not the full logo, though this practice may vary from club to club. To become a full member, the prospect or probate must be voted on by the rest of the full club members. Successful admission usually requires more than a simple majority, and some clubs may reject a prospect or a probate for a single dissenting vote. A formal induction follows, in which the new member affirms his loyalty to the club and its members. The final logo patch is then awarded. Full members are often referred to as "full patch members" and the step of attaining full membership can be referred to as "being patched."
Outlaw motorcycle clubs who identify with this subculture are not necessarily criminals, with members expressing their outlaw status on a social level, and not necessarily equating the word outlaw with criminal activity.
Outlaw clubs are often prominent at charity events, such as toy runs. Charitable giving is frequently cited as evidence that these clubs do not deserve their negative media image. Outlaw gangs have, however, been accused of using charity rides to mask their criminal nature. The American Motorcyclist Association has frequently complained of the bad publicity for motorcycling in general caused by outlaw clubs, and they have said that the presence of outlaw clubs at charity events has actually harmed the needy by driving down public participation and reducing donations. Events such as a 2005 shootout between rival outlaw gangs in the midst of a charity toy drive in California have raised fears around the participation of biker gangs in charity events. Authorities have attempted to ban outlaw gangs from charity events, or to restrict the wearing of colors at events in order to avert the sort of inter-gang violence that has happened at previous charity runs. In 2002 the Warlocks MC of Pennsylvania sued over their exclusion from a charity event.
The primary visual identification of a member of an outlaw MC is the vest adorned with a specific large club patch or patches, predominantly located in the middle of the back. The patch(es) will contain a club logo, the name of the club, and the letters MC, and a possible state, province, or other chapter identification. This garment and the patches themselves are referred to as the colors or cut (a term taken from the early practice of cutting the collars and/or sleeves from a denim or leather jacket). Many non-outlaw motorcycle riding clubs (as opposed to MCs) such as the Harley Owners Group also wear patches on the back of their vests, without including the letters MC. Other organizations, such as The Cretins Motorcycle Club, declare themselves to be non-outlaws, yet call themselves a motorcycle club and use the initials MC. Motorcycle Associations or Rider Clubs do not often identify themselves with an MC patch.
The colors worn by members of some motorcycle clubs will follow a convention of using either a one-piece patch for motorcycle associations, two-piece patch for riding clubs , or a three-piece patch for outlaw motorcycle clubs. The three-piece patch consists of the club logo and the top and bottom patches, usually crescent shaped, which are referred to as rockers. The number and arrangement of patches is somewhat indicative of the nature of the club. Most outlaw motorcycle clubs will have a three-piece patch arrangement. Not all (or even most) clubs sporting a three-piece patch are one-percenters, however. The club patches always remain property of the club itself, not the member, and only members are allowed to wear the club's colors. A member must closely guard their colors, for allowing one's colors to fall into the hands of an outsider is an act of disgrace and may result in loss of membership in a club, or some other punishment. Contrary to recent popular belief, a five-piece patch set does not exist. The separate designation patch (MC, VC, SBR, etc.) is sometimes called the CUBE Patch. Some clubs do not count it as part of the color set.
Law enforcement agencies have confiscated colors and other club paraphernalia of these types of clubs when they raid a clubhouse or the home of an MC member, and they often display these items at press conferences. These items are then used at trial to support prosecution assertions that MC members perform criminal acts on behalf of their club. Courts have found that the probative value of such items is far outweighed by their prejudicial effects on the defense.
Other patches sometimes used include a skull and crossbones patch, or the legend, "Respect Few, Fear None," for club members who commit murder or other acts of violence on behalf of the club. A 13 patch stands for the 13th letter of the alphabet, M, indicating the wearer is a user of marijuana.
There are also wings or biker's wings which are earned something like jump wings or pilot's wings, but with various gruesome, color-coded meanings. An outlaw biker who has had sex with a woman with venereal disease can wear green wings, while purple wings indicate having had sex with a corpse, yellow for having drunk female urine, red for having oral sex with a menstruating woman. The significance of wings are twofold: to demonstrate the member's low regard for women, and serve as a proclamation that the wearer is not a policeman (on the assumption that police would not stoop to such behavior). Biker and professor of humanities Alan R. Pratt has suggested that these could be joke meanings, intended to make fools of those outside the outlaw biker world, and also to serve the purpose of provoking outrage among the square public and authorities. The use of Nazi symbols, such as swastikas or the SS death's head, do not necessarily indicate Nazi sympathies, but serve to express the outlaw biker's total rejection of social constraints, and desire to generate anger and confrontation among those who fail to understand the biker way.
The term One Percenter is said to have been coined after an incident in Hollister, California in 1947 which was dubbed the Hollister riot. Whether an actual riot occurred is debatable, but there was a motorcycle rally in Hollister from July 4 to July 6 of that year that was attended by about 4000 people. Several newspaper articles were written that, according to some attendees, sensationalized the event. Life magazine ran an article that included a staged photo of a slovenly-looking man on a motorcycle with beer bottles piled under the wheels and a bottle in each of his hands. The film The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando, was inspired by this event, and it became the first in a series of movies that depicted bikers and members of motorcycle clubs in this stereotypical manner. It has been reported that the press asked the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) to comment on the Hollister incident, and their response was that 99% of motorcyclists were law-abiding citizens, and the last one percent were outlaws. Thus was born the term "one percenter." The AMA now says they have no record of such a statement to the press, and call this story apocryphal. They are also known as Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs or OMGs according to the ATF.
One-percenter MCs (OMCs) do not allow women to become full-patch members, rather, women are submissive to the men, treated as property, victimized by being forced into prostitution or street-level drug trafficking, and often physically and sexually abused. Any pay women receive is given to their individual men and sometimes to the entire club. Women's roles as obedient followers, and their status as objects, make these groups extremely gender segregated. However, this has not always been the case; for example, during the 1950s, some Hells Angels chapters had women full members.
Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs are typically racially homogeneous, and can be racially exclusive. For example, membership in the Hells Angels is not open to African-Americans or Hispanics, which has led to creation of rival clubs such as the Bandidos and the Mongols Motorcycle Club. MC members are not usually referred to by their given names, but instead refer to each other by nicknames, or "road names", sometimes even displaying their road name on the club vest.
The U.S. Department of Justice defines Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs as organizations whose members use their motorcycle clubs as conduits for criminal enterprises. Both the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Criminal Intelligence Service Canada have designated four MCs as Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMGs), which are the Pagans, Hells Angels, Outlaws MC, and Bandidos, known as the "Big Four". These four have a large enough national impact to be prosecuted under the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute. The California Attorney General also lists the Mongols as an outlaw motorcycle gang. The FBI asserts that OMGs support themselves primarily through drug dealing, trafficking in stolen goods, and extortion, and that they fight over territory and the illegal drug trade. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Gazette, quoting from the Provincial Court of Manitoba, defines these groups as: "Any group of motorcycle enthusiasts who have voluntarily made a commitment to band together and abide by their organizations' rigorous rules enforced by violence, who engage in activities that bring them and their club into serious conflict with society and the law".
The FBI asserts that OMGs collect $1 billion in illegal income annually and that street gangs, prison gangs, and OMGs are the primary retail distributors of illegal drugs in the US, with OMGs dominating US methamphetamine trade distribution. In 1985 a three-year, eleven-state FBI operation named Roughrider culminated in the largest OMG bust in history, with the confiscation of $2 million worth of illegal drugs, as well as an illegal arsenal of weapons, ranging from Uzi submachine guns to antitank weapons. In October, 2008, the FBI announced the end of a 6-month undercover operation by agents into the narcotics trafficking by the Mongols Motorcycle Gang. The bust went down with 160 search warrants and 110 arrest warrants
Canada, especially, has in the past two decades experienced a significant upsurge in crime involving outlaw motorcycle gangs, most notably in what has been dubbed the Quebec Biker war, which has involved more than 150 murders (plus a young bystander killed by an exploding car bomb), 84 bombings, and 130 cases of arson. The increased violence in Canada has been attributed to turf wars over the illegal drug trafficking business, specifically relating to access to the Port of Montreal , but also as the Hells Angels have sought to obtain control of the street level trade from other rival and/or independent gangs in various regions of Canada.
Members and supporters of these clubs insist that illegal activities are isolated occurrences and that they, as a whole, are not criminal organizations. They often compare themselves to police departments, wherein the occasional "bad cop" does not make a police department a criminal organization and the Hells Angels sponsors charitable events for Toys for Tots in an attempt to legitimize themselves with public opinion.
Contrary to other criminal organizations, OMGs operate on an individual basis instead of top-down, which is how supporters can claim that only some members are committing crimes. Belonging guarantees to each member the option of running criminal activity, using other members as support - the main characteristic of OMGs being "amoral individualism" in contrast to the hierarchical orders and bonds of "amoral familism" of other criminal organizations such as the Mafia.
In the United States, many MCs have established state-wide MC coalitions. These coalitions are composed of MCs who have chapters in the state, and the occasional interested third party organization. The coalition holds periodic meetings on neutral ground, wherein representatives from each club (usually the presidents and vice-presidents, but not always) meet in closed session to resolve disputes between clubs and discuss issues of common interest.
The largest one-percent club tends to dominate the coalition, using their numbers to impose their will on other clubs. Sometimes clubs are forced into, or willingly accept, support roles for a one-percent club. Smaller clubs who resist a large one-percent club have been forcibly disbanded by being told to hand over their colors or risk war. With the exception of Law Enforcement Clubs, smaller clubs usually comply, since members of a family club are usually unwilling to risk injury or worse. Another tactic used by one-percent clubs is to force smaller clubs to join the AMA and wear an AMA patch. This is considered an act of shame by some clubs, and a club thus forced may wear an upside-down AMA patch on their colors as a form of protest and to retain their dignity.
Certain large one-percent MCs are rivals with each other and will fight over territory and other issues. In 2002, members of the Mongols MC and the Hells Angels MC had a confrontation in Laughlin, Nevada at the Harrah's Laughlin Casino that left three bikers dead. Another melee, this time between the Hells Angels and the Pagans MC, occurred in February, 2002 at a Hells Angels convention in Long Island, New York. Police reports indicate the Pagans were outraged that the event was held on what they considered their "home turf".
The local COC (Coalition of Clubs) has eliminated most of the inter-club rivalry. Club members tend to be older veterans, and given the cost of ownership of a Harley Dresser type motorcycle, increasingly well to do.
The "big 5" national 1% clubs tend to be territorial. Smaller clubs are allowed to form with the permission of the dominant regional club. Smaller clubs will usually be required to wear a support patch on their vests that shows their support for the dominant regional. Certain clubs are exempt from this requirement, such as the police clubs ("Iron Pigs") as well as the national military only clubs like the US Military Vets MC.
Certain organizations also sponsor clubs such as the Harley Owners Group, the international Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance which is made up of individual Jewish chapter "clubs", and then there is the Christian Motorcyclists Association.
The incidence of drug dealing and illegal activities in the vast majority of MCs mirrors the percentage of criminal behavior in society as a whole. Most clubs are organized as a 501(c) charitable organization and provide money and support to a variety of charities. Typical events include poker runs and '50-50' raffles where a portion of the proceeds are donated to the club's designated cause. Additionally the clubs provide support services and maintenance for members in the form of trailers, tools, etc.
The clubs also stress motorcycle safety and rider skills. Most will have a "road captain" who is responsible for safe riding. The members will generally have a pre-run safety check where required equipment, tires, etc are checked. This is both for member safety and prevent giving the police any justification for stopping the pack. Most states have special provisions for "funerals and other processions" that allow the pack as a whole to go through a signal light as long as the first bike entered the intersection legally under the green. Packs tend to ride "high & tight" to prevent other vehicles from attempting to 'bull' into the pack. This type of behavior by a cage (car) is extremely dangerous to a pack and happens quite often, especially in larger runs of 20 or more bikes. Organized runs with large numbers will usually include "road guard" bikes whose responsibility is to block intersections and roads to allow the pack to enter/exit the highway or turn as a unit. Biker clubs have long initiations and many 'team building' exercises to foster trust and confidence between members. Someone who has marginal riding skills will be relegated to the back of the pack until their skills are such that they are capable of riding without the risk of bumping pegs with the other riders. Contrary to popular myth, most clubs don't imbibe large amounts of alcohol until the end of the run.
The motorcycle gang has been frequently portrayed in media, prominently in the outlaw biker film genre. The FX series Sons of Anarchy portrays a professional criminal gang, its members, and their interactions within their community and with other illegal gangs. The show's creator thought it was too obvious to have them be methamphetamine dealers, and so instead they deal in illegal guns. The overall plot of Sons of Anarchy follows Shakespeare's Hamlet. The Grand Theft Auto video game series produced Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned, where the player controls a member of a motorcycle gang.
Charity rides, toy donations... Cook has learned these are part of the disguise.
'What they don't tell you is what they're doing the rest of the year. They're selling drugs. They're stealing motorcycles. They're beating people up. They're committing a laundry list of crimes.'"
Witnesses say a fight between two rival biker clubs at the event led to the shooting in which at least three people where injured, including a Norco firefighter."
'You can't say that to our members...these guys live for their patches.'
He said bikies would never, ever ride without patches as a cardinal rule."
Other Hollister residents were equally baffled: 'It was a mess but there was no real evidence of physical damage," said Harry Hill of the American Air Force.
'I brought my two daughters along... it never occurred to me to be worried about their safety," remembered local pharmacist Marylou Williams."
Mr. DeSerpa appears in the famous Life magazine photo of a menacing biker, which he says was staged. 'That's me standing behind the guy on the motorcycle, with my hands in my pockets,' he says.
As Mr. DeSerpa describes it, a photographer scraped together broken beer bottles around a motorcycle and when a drunk staggered out of bar, got him to pose.
'It wasn't even his motorcycle,' Mr. DeSerpa says. The photo has appeared twice in Life magazine, but Mr. DeSerpa adds, 'I never got a dime.'"