Outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) got their start in the 1940s and '50s as spinoffs of more mainstream motorcycle clubs. After World War II, motorcycling began to spread in popularity as a hobby. Veterans settling into lives in the suburbs working average jobs wanted to get a taste of the more adrenaline-charged life they'd lived overseas. Riding along the country's highways with friends -- partying and often drinking -- was a perfect way to do that [source: Dulaney].
The outlaw groups began to develop after a 1947 bike rally in Hollister, Calif., that erupted into a riot. According to reports, drunken bikers rode through town (even in and out of buildings and restaurants) causing trouble and destroying property [source: Thompson]. Journalists and historians have since claimed that Hollister was not the all-out chaos portrayed in the media. Still, during a widespread public outcry over Hollister, and the danger of motorcycle clubs, the American Motorcycle Association released a statement aimed at calming the public. Ninety-nine percent of motorcycle clubs were law-abiding, fun-loving citizens, the AMA said. It was the other 1 percent that caused all the trouble and got all the attention [source: Serwer].
Over the years, as certain clubs began to drift toward illegal activity, they claimed the moniker "1 percenter" as a badge of honor. Even today, most of these "outlaw motorcycle gangs" maintain that they aren't criminal organizations. For example, famous Hells Angels founder "Sonny" Barger claims that while some Angels may deal drugs or commit acts of violence, the organization itself doesn't endorse those activities [source: Serwer]. Still, law enforcement agencies from the U.S. and Canada to even Australia and Europe see the OMGs as a serious threat. The FBI considers the gangs organized crime syndicates whose drug dealing and turf wars put rival gangs and the public in danger.
Read on to find out which motorcycle gangs are among the most dangerous and notorious.
America may be the home of the rugged, leather-clad biker image. But Australia, with its wide open country and endless lengths of highway, has become a perfect place for outlaw motorcycle gangs to set up camp. On top of local chapters of gangs like the Outlaws and the Hells Angels, there are several Australian-based OMGs, including the Rebels and the infamous Finks.
Formed in Adelaide, Australia in the 1960s, the Finks were at the center of an all-out war with Australian police during the late 2000s. Like many other biker clubs, Finks' leaders claim the group is misunderstood, and that they are just a group of guys who sometimes end up in trouble with the law [source: Guilliatt]. Even the colors they wear on their riding jackets aren't your typical OMG logos. Instead of the usual threatening images of flaming skulls or scowling demons, the Finks' colors depict a tipsy-looking court jester with a silly grin.
But the Aussie government doesn't buy the Finks as a gang of fun-loving trouble makers. Finks members have been charged with crimes like drug trafficking, violent assaults and even planning a hit on a police officer [source: ABC Adelaide]. The government of the province of South Australia went so far as to name the Finks the province's No. 1 criminal threat in 2009 [source: The Gold Coast Bulletin].
It might be named after Genghis Khan's mighty empire, but the Mongols, formed in the late 1960s in East L.A., is a relatively small club. It has 70 chapters in the United States, and 800 members, most of whom are California-local [source: National Gang Intelligence Center]. But, while it may not be one of the Big Four outlaw motorcycle gangs -- the four largest and most powerful biker gangs, as identified by United States law enforcement agencies -- the Mongols has made up for its lack of size with violence and ferocity. (Keep reading the list to find out who the Big Four are.) Despite being only a quarter of the size, the Mongols successfully wrested control of Southern California from its rivals, the Hells Angels, in the 1980s, after a protracted gang war. The Hells Angels still hasn't taken back the territory [source: National Gang Intelligence Center]. The Mongols' success in controlling the turf is due largely to their alliance with L.A.'s Hispanic street gangs. That alliance has also resulted in the Mongols engaging in racially motivated violence against African-American gang members, and even black civilians not affiliated with any type of gang. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms considers the Mongols the single "most violent and dangerous OMG" [source: National Gang Intelligence Center]. In 2008, 61 of the gang's members were indicted in a huge bust, for charges including drug trafficking, racketeering and murder in L.A., Las Vegas and other parts of the Southwest [source: Goldman].
One of the youngest OMGs to make this list, the Black Pistons Motorcycle Club was just established in 2002. In that short time, the Black Pistons has grown quickly. It not only has 70 chapters in 20 states, but also upwards of 200 members [source: U.S. Office of the Attorney General]. The club also operates in Canada and several European countries, including Germany, the U.K. and Belgium. The Pistons are the official support club for the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, one of the world's largest 1 percenter gangs. In other words, the BPMC are the enforcers for the Outlaws, doing the dirty work that the parent club doesn't want to be associated with. Black Pistons are tasked with dealing drugs and assaulting the Outlaws' enemies [source: U.S. Office of the Attorney General]. The explosive growth of Black Pistons chapters has led to outbreaks of violence and tension with rival gangs. During the summer of 2002, for example, a new Pistons chapter in Portland, Maine attracted contingents from several local gangs to the city. Police worked overtime to tamp down a potential turf war from erupting [source: Hench].
Based out of Colorado, and controlling much of the Southwest and Rocky Mountain States, the Sons of Silence Motorcycle Club boasts 30 chapters across the United States and five splinter clubs in Germany. Altogether, the SOSMC is 275 members strong [source: National Gang Intelligence Center]. Founded in the town of Niwot, Colo. in the 1960s, the Sons of Silence have been engaged in a long turf war with rivals like the Outlaws since the beginning [source: Abbott]. The Sons are one of the few 1 percenter clubs to be allied with the Hells Angels, which means they have a lot of enemies for a relatively smaller club [source: Serwer]. They make up for the disadvantage in fire power. In 1999, a huge multi-state raid of Sons of Silence clubhouses in Kansas, Colorado and Arizona uncovered enough weapons to run a small army. Among the confiscated ordnance were dozens of machine guns, pipe bombs and even hand grenades [source: Abbott]. The club knows how to intimidate. Their motto, incorrectly translated into Latin in their colors, is "Until Death Separates Us" [source: Serwer].
With around 300 members and 24 chapters, the Vagos Motorcycle Club is one of the most formidable gangs on the West Coast of the United States [source: U.S. Office of the Attorney General]. Wearing the symbol of the Norse god of mischief, Loki, Vagos have been engaged in a long, bloody turf war with the Hells Angels members in California [source: McDonald]. They also have operations in Hawaii, and along the U.S.-Mexico border. According to U.S. law enforcement, Vagos MC works with chapters in Mexico to smuggle drugs back and forth to the United States [source: U.S. Office of the Attorney General].
Like most of the other 1 percenter clubs, Vagos was founded in the 1960s [source: Dulaney]. The gang has become increasingly violent in later years, though. In 2009, a former president of the club's San Bernadino, Calif. chapter was put on trial for murder after allegedly ordering club members to drive a man to the dessert and kill him. The reason? The two men disagreed over the price of a bike [source: Cruz]. In another crime, a Vagos member broke into a home, stole the homeowner's money and some drugs, and then shot him in the head [source: Cruz].
The Pagan's, founded in Maryland in 1959, is one of the Big Four outlaw motorcycle clubs. The Pagan's is much smaller than the other Big Four clubs, with only about 200 to 250 members spread over 41 chapters [source: U.S. Office of the Attorney General]. Their turf is mainly centered on the Mid-Atlantic region in the United States, especially Pennsylvania. While they may not be as big as rival gangs, the Pagan's are considered extremely dangerous by both the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Among other reasons, the gang has close ties to other organized crime enterprises, including the Italian mafia and the Aryan Brotherhood, a powerful prison gang that has declared war on non-white races [source: Barker].
On top of dealing drugs like meth, cocaine and PCP, Pagan members have been tied to arsons, assaults, bombings and murders. They have also been known to illegally purchase and stockpile machine guns. Just to be initiated into the group, members first need to steal motorcycles to prove they're worthy [source: Peirce]. In the early 2000s, Pagan's chapter leader Pete Overly was convicted of assault for attacking a couple in which he shocked them both with a taser, broke the woman's foot with his steel-toed boot and bludgeoned the man with a steel baton -- all over an argument about bike parts [source: Peirce].
In terms of membership alone, the Bandidos Motorcycle Club is one of the largest outlaw motorcycle gangs. The group has risen to a total of 2,000 members since it was started in 1966 [source: National Gang Intelligence Center]. Add to that a number of puppet clubs or "duck clubs" that do the Bandidos bidding and take the heat for some of their illegal activity, and you have a huge organization. The gang is powerful enough, with chapters in 16 states and at least 14 countries, that U.S. law enforcement officials have labeled it one of the Big Four OMGs [source: National Gang Intelligence Center].
The Bandidos name and logo come from the Frito Bandito, the mascot for the popular brand of corn chips [source: O'Hare]. But don't let that whimsical association fool you. Based out of Texas and controlling turf across much of the Southwest, the Bandidos are heavily involved in cross-border drug trafficking [source: National Gang Intelligence Center]. They also have been involved in violent turf wars all over the world. This fierce warfare with rival gangs has led to bombings via grenade in Norway, arson in Brisbane, Australia, and multiple shootings in Canada [source: Skelton].
They may not be as famous as their rivals, the Hells Angels, but the Outlaws Motorcycle Club (aka the American Outlaws Association or Outlaws Nation) has exclusive bragging rights to at least one honor. They can genuinely call themselves the first outlaw motorcycle club, started in 1936 as the McCook Outlaws in Cook County, Ill. Later, they took inspiration from the 1953 Marlon Brando movie "The Wild One," even borrowing their colors from the design on Brando's leather jacket [source: Dulaney]. Ironically, that film was based on the Hollister riot that got many of the outlaw clubs started. The club is still one of the largest today, with 1,700 members in 176 chapters in 13 countries [source: National Gang Intelligence Center].
Today, the Outlaws are considered one of the Big Four and control the Great Lakes region of the United States. Much of their violent activity is the result of their ongoing feud with Hells Angels. To fund their operations, the Outlaws cook and sell crystal meth and deal other drugs like cocaine and MDMA, better known as ecstasy. They have a heavy presence in Canada, where they fight opposing gangs for control of the cross-border drug trade. Among other crimes, the Outlaws have been tried in the United States for (but not always convicted of) arson, murder, kidnapping, explosives, robbery and even running prostitution rings [source: National Gang Intelligence Center]. In Australia, the Outlaws have been charged with crimes such as assaulting police officers, attempted murder and planting bombs in rival gang members' cars [source: Barker].
Even in the criminal underground of outlaw motorcycle gangs, the Warlocks, an OMG active in Pennsylvania and Florida, have a bad reputation. Other clubs like the Pagan's see themselves as too upstanding and respectable to associate with the Warlocks, who are seen as "low lives" by many other gangs [source: McGarvey]. So what kind of activities do bikers get involved in when even their fellow bikers don't respect them? Wearing the image of a harpy, a winged monster from Greek mythology, as their emblem, the Warlocks have been involved in dealing drugs and violent crime since they were founded in the late '60s.
One example of a Warlock's violent streak is the 1988 kidnapping of a rival biker gang leader. Retaliating for an attack by The Breed Motorcycle Club on Warlocks members who were drinking at a Pennsylvania bar, fellow Warlocks kidnapped Breed chapter leader Craig "Coyote" Gudkneckt, tied him up and beat him repeatedly with the butt of a handgun. The offending Warlocks went to jail once "Coyote" reported the beating to the police [source: McGarvey]. In 1995, a Warlock known as "Mudman" was convicted of murdering a cop after being pulled over, worried that he would be taken back to prison for violating parole [source: Graham]. "Mudman" died in a prison brawl a few years later [sources: Knipe Brown].
Even if it's not the most dangerous, or the oldest, the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is the most well-known and notorious of the outlaw motorcycle gangs. The name has become synonymous with the word "biker." They still get the most press, too. A 2009 study that surveyed coverage of OMGs in international newspapers found coverage of 51 different alleged crimes perpetrated by the Angels between 1980 and 2005 [source: Barker]. The Hells Angels have almost 2,500 members worldwide, spread out across 250 chapters, 26 countries and six continents [source: National Gang Intelligence Center].
Today, the Angels are considered one of the Big Four OMGs by the FBI because of their involvement in dealing drugs, trafficking weapons and violent crimes. The gang is involved in bloody turf wars, like a battle with the Mongols for control of California, and a bloody war with several rival gangs in Quebec. One Canadian Angel confessed to murdering 43 people in the 1970s and '80s [source: Serwer]. In 1985, when Canadian Angels decided one of their chapters wasn't worthy of the name Hells Angels, they killed six of the members and dumped their bodies in the St. Lawrence River [source: Serwer].
The gang has been around since almost the beginning of 1 percenter clubs. Members of some of the clubs involved in the infamous Hollister incident of 1947 went on to form the Hells Angels a year later in San Bernadino, Calif. The gang quickly rose to fame as books like Hunter S. Thompson's "Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga," and exploitation films of the '60s based on the Angels turned them into countercultural heroes [source: Dulaney]. That reputation was destroyed after the infamous Altamont Music Festival organized by The Rolling Stones in Northern California. A Hells Angel who claimed to be working as paid security for the Stones stabbed a woman in the crowd to death. That biker was acquitted of the murder, but the incident was enough to transform HAMC's public image from rugged individuals to dangerous thugs [source: Dulaney].
The CarStuff guys discuss how motorcycles measure up to cars on safety and explain how motorcycles are becoming safer, too.
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