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Understanding the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs: International Perspectives, Volume 2

Assoc Prof Mark Lauchs and his colleague Dr Andy Bain from University of Mount Union (OHIO) announce the publication of Understanding the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs: International Perspectives, Volume 2. Gracious thanks are extended to Dr Phil Kowalick for writing an extremely interesting and powerful foreword.

The number of Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMCG) is growing around the world. There are currently over 4000 individual clubs covering every region of the world except Central Africa and parts of Asia. This new volume continues the work of the first book to bring together international authors to discuss this topic from a multinational perspective. The new volume includes contributions from academics and police on developments in Africa and the Middle East, Australia, Canada, Russia, Scandinavia and the USA.

The topics include sociological studies of how clubs are developing and changing in their individual environments; policing responses to the clubs; and the impact of uniform club culture and hierarchies in the different parts of the globe. Discussions cover the criminality and social operation of the clubs. There appears to be a continuum from the weekend warrior (biker) to the committed member of a 1% club. Further, there is a hierarchy of clubs within the Outlaw community. This work is important not only in improving our awareness of the range of participants but also in helping us to understand the demarcation of clubs and the psychology behind the participation in the lifestyle.

Many policing agencies around the world are seeking the most effective means of dealing with the organised criminality and violence of outlaw clubs. The locations with the most significant impact of outlaw clubs are experimenting with legal and policing responses. Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway are all increasing pressure on the major clubs. Further, chapter 2 discusses how the US military actively dissuades membership of OMCG by members of the armed forces to prevent dual loyalty and the potential for crime.

Chapter Five discusses how clubs can be appropriated as political tools as well as for organised crime. The use of the Night Wolves by the Russian government combines their intimidation value with their ultra-nationalism and deploys the club members to enforce government policy and reduce decent at home but also, via their international chapters, to extend the Russian state influence for émigré communities. Ultra-nationalism is also present in US OMCG, and, as noted in chapter 7, Turkish clubs are also very nationalistic. Thus far, neither government has taken advantage of these clubs to enforce policy. Conversely, in nations of the Middle East where religious and political viewpoints are volatile, the clubs enforce rules that ban discussion of these topics within the membership. In other words, these clubs have become an oasis from the partisanship of their political environment.

The history of OMCG culture and practice differs significantly around the world, including the imperialism by the major clubs such as the Hells Angels, Bandidos, Outlaws, Rebels and Gremium. Chapter 3 shows how the Hells Angels now dominate the outlaw clubs across Canada and the consequences of their victory. This unique situation has seen the Angels adapt to the pressure from police through the creation of support clubs in each province. They already had the Red Devils but are creating more subordinate clubs especially around the key cities of Quebec and Ontario.

We have reached a point where the subordinate clubs are growing internationally. As well as the Red Devils and Devils Choice – supporting the Hells Angels; the Black Pistons providing support to the Outlaws; and, the extensive group of Bandidos support clubs, all increase the reach and presence of the major imperial clubs, and the possibility of conflict between locals and invaders. This research area is expanding with chapter 7 of this volume showing clubs growing in what should be the antithesis of American culture, the Middle East and Africa. These clubs mimic the culture established by the Hells Angels with most even using English names for their clubs.

Chapter One discusses the fundamental question of deviance in OMCG culture the presumption of distinct boundaries between OMCG and the community. The boundary is stark in Australia, Canada and New Zealand where the major clubs violently enforce their patch sanctioning powers, and only allow clubs with a proven track record to represent themselves as OMCG. However, the same cannot be said for the USA, where there are clubs displaying all the iconography of outlaws but denying their outlaw status. This is also true for the clubs formed in other nations after 2000, with many appearing to be playing at outlaw status rather than strictly following the rules as defined by the dominant outlaw clubs. Thus, in fact, the boundary is blurred with much to be learnt about the nature of how clubs perceive their deviance and which clubs are or are not outlaws.

This is further confused by new developments of classifications between the social clubs and the outlaws. There are Side Patch Clubs in the UK and Motorcycle Pirate Clubs (MPC) in Switzerland who the local outlaws demarcate from full 1% status. In Denmark, rather than being a deviant subculture, clubs receive a certificate when they have formally met the requirements of outlaw status and are allowed to wear the three-patch set of colours.

We are still in the early days of OMCG research; particularly research focused on culture and practice rather than crime. More research is needed into the role of masculinity in attracting men from all cultures; how clubs in different continents reinterpret the fundamental Hells Angels cultural package; how clubs interact with each other and the mainstream community; and what the future holds for the rapidly developing social phenomenon.

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