American Gangstas: Hells Angels

The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC) is a world-wide motorcycle gang whose members typically ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles. In the United States and Canada, the Hells Angels are incorporated as the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation. Some members of the Hells Angels and other motorcycle clubs nickname themselves "one-percenters" in response to the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) claim, made after the infamous Hollister affair, that ninety-nine percent of motorcyclists were law abiding citizens, and the other one percent were outlaws giving everyone else a bad name.

Both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada classify the Angels as one of the "big four" outlaw motorcycle gangs, contending that members carry out widespread violence, drug dealing, trafficking in stolen goods, and extortion. Many Hells Angels members, associates, and supporters assert that this is a mischaracterization, and claim that they are a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who organize social events such as group road trips, fundraisers, parties, and motorcycle rallies.

In March 2007 the Hells Angels filed suit against Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group alleging that the film entitled Wild Hogs used both the name and distinctive logo of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation without permission.

While membership in the Hells Angels is kept confidential, Chuck Zito, from the HBO series Oz, is a former member.

The Hells Angels club was formed in 1948 in Fontana, California. The name "Hells Angels" was believed to have been inspired by the common historical use, in both World War I and II, to name squadrons or other fighting groups by fierce, death-defying names such as Hell's Angels or Flying Tigers. The Howard Hughes film Hell's Angels was a major film of 1930 displaying extraordinary and dangerous feats of aviation. Several military units used the name Hells Angels prior to the founding of the motorcycle club of the same name, including the U.S. Air Force 303rd Bombardment Groups, a military unit formed in the early years of World War II, and the 11th Airborne Unit. Some Hells Angels have attempted to dispel the belief that there is any connection, other than the name, between the HAMC and the historic military Hell's Angel. The group's official website clarifies that the name was suggested to the founders of the club by a friend of theirs, Arvid "Oley" Olsen, who was a member of the Flying Tigers squadron from the 303rd Group. No actual members of that squadron became members of the HAMC.

Some of the early history of the HAMC is not clear, and accounts differ. According to Ralph 'Sonny' Barger, founder of the Oakland chapter, early chapters of the club were founded in San Francisco, Gardena, Fontana, and other places independently of one another, with the members usually being unaware that there were other Hells Angels clubs.

Other sources claim that the Hells Angels in San Francisco were originally organized in 1953 by Rocky Graves, a Hells Angel member from San Bernardino ("Berdoo"). This implies that the "Frisco" Hells Angels were very much aware of their forebears. According to another account, the Hells Angels club was a successor to "The Pissed Off Bastards of Bloomington" Motorcycle club, which was largely responsible, along with the Boozefighters for the Hollister riot of 1947. The "Frisco" Hells Angels were reorganized in 1955 with thirteen charter members; Frank Sadliek, who designed the original death's head logo, served as President. The Oakland chapter, at that time headed by Barger, used a larger version of the patch nicknamed the "Barger Larger" which later became the club standard.

The Hells Angels are shrouded in a cloud of mystery and controversy, thanks to a very strict code of secrecy and what can be construed as a practice of deliberate mythologizing by some members of the club. Members don't use last names, even with one another. They just use a first name, and, more often than not, a nickname. Due to its colorful history and the confirmed links of some of its members to organized crime, speculation and rumour about the club's activities is rife.

The Hells Angels are variously depicted in a similar mythical fashion as the James-Younger Gang, as modern day legends, free spirited and iconic of an era of brotherhood and loyalty, or by others as a violent criminal gang and a scourge on society. Accordingly, public opinion, fuelled by the world media, varies widely on a scale all the way from envy, respect and hero worship, to fear, loathing, and hatred.

The Hells Angels official web site attributes the official "death's head" insignia design to Frank Sadilek, past president of the San Francisco Chapter. The colors and shape of the early-style jacket emblem (prior to 1953) were copied from the insignias of the 85th Fighter Squadron and the 552nd Medium Bomber Squadron.

The Hells Angels utilize a system of patches, similar to military medals. Although the specific meaning of each patch is not publicly known the patches identify specific or significant actions or beliefs of each biker. The official colors of the Hells Angels are red lettering displayed on a white background -- hence the club's nickname "The Red and White". These patches are worn on leather or denim jackets and vests, called 'cuts', so called due to the removal or 'cutting' of the collars and cuffs.

Red and white are also used to display the number 81 on many patches, as in "Support 81, Route 81". The 8 and 1 stand for the respective positions in the alphabet of H and A. These are used by friends and supporters of the club, as only full members can wear any Hells Angels imagery.

The rhombus-shaped 'One-percenter' patch is also used, displaying '1%', in red on a white background with a red merrowed border (refer to image at right, top). The term "one-percenter" is a response to the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) comment on the Hollister incident, in which the AMA stated that 99% of motorcyclists were law-abiding citizens and the last 1% were outlaws.

Most members wear a rectangular patch (again, white background with red letters and a red merrowed border) identifying their respective chapter locations. Another similarly designed patch reads "Hells Angels".

When applicable, members of the club wear a patch denoting their position or rank within the organization. The patch is rectangular, and, similarly to the patches described above, displays a white background with red letters and a red merrowed border. Some examples of the titles used are President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Sergeant at Arms. This patch is usually worn above the 'club location' patch.

Some members also wear a patch with the initials "AFFA", which stands for "Angels Forever; Forever Angels", referring to their lifelong membership in the biker club (i.e., "once a member, always a member").

The book Gangs, written by Tony Thompson (a crime correspondent for The Observer newspaper), states that Stephen Cunningham, a member of the Angels, sported a new patch after he recovered from attempting to set a bomb: two Nazi-style SS lightning bolts below the words 'Filthy Few'. Some law enforcement officials claim that the patch is only awarded to those who have committed, or are prepared to commit, murder on behalf of the club. According to a report from the R. v. Bonner and Lindsay case in 2005 , another patch, similar to the 'Filthy Few' patch, is the 'Dequiallo' patch. This patch "signifies that the wearer has fought law enforcement on arrest". There is no common convention as to where the patches are located on the members' jacket/vest.

According to the US Department of Justice, HAMC members must be men over 21 years of age and are required to own a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

The full requirements to become a Hells Angel are the following: candidates must have a valid driver's license, have a working Harley Davidson motorcycle and cannot be a child molester or have applied to become a police officer or prison guard.

After a lengthy, phased process, a prospective member is first deemed to be a 'Hang-around', indicating that the individual is invited to some club events or to meet club members at known gathering places.

If the Hang-around is interested, he may be asked to become an 'Associate', a status that usually lasts a year or two. At the end of that stage, he is reclassified as 'Prospect', participating in some club activities, but not having voting privileges, while he is evaluated for suitability as a full member. The last phase, and highest membership status, is 'Full Membership' or 'Full-Patch'. The term Full-Patch refers to the complete four-piece crest, including the 'Death's Head' logo, two rockers (top rocker: 'Hells Angels'; bottom rocker: State or Territory claimed) and the rectangular MC patch below the wing of the Death's Head. Prospects are only allowed to wear a bottom rocker with the word 'Prospect'.

To become a full member, the Prospect must be voted on by the rest of the full club members. Prior to votes being cast, a Prospect usually travels to every chapter in the sponsoring chapter's geographic jurisdiction (state/province/territory) and introduces himself to every Full-Patch. This process allows each voting member to become familiar with the subject and to ask any questions of concern prior to the vote. Successful admission usually requires more than a simple majority, and some clubs may reject a Prospect for a single dissenting vote. Some form of formal induction follows, wherein the Prospect affirms his loyalty to the club and its members. The final logo patch (top Hells Angels rocker) is then awarded at this initiation ceremony. The step of attaining full membership can be referred to as "being patched".

Official charters

A Hells Angels wall mural in Southampton, UK, a well-known local landmark that can be seen by rail passengers on the London Waterloo to Weymouth south coast main line as they approach Southampton Central station. Note the profusion of CCTV cameras and the Death Head Logo.The HAMC acknowledges more than a hundred charters spread over 29 countries. The first official charter outside of the U.S. was formed in New Zealand in 1961. Europe did not become home to the Hells Angels until 1969, when two London charters were formed after the Beatles invited some members of the HAMC San Francisco to London. Two people from London visited California, "prospected", and ultimately joined. Two charters were issued on July 30, 1969; one for "South London", the other for "East London" but by 1973 the two charters came together as one, simply called "London". The London Angels provided security at a number of UK Underground festivals including Phun City in 1970 organised by anarchist International Times writer and lead singer with the The Deviants Mick Farren. They even awarded Farren an "approval patch" in 1970 for use on his first solo album Mona, which also featured Steve Peregrin Took (who was credited as "Shagrat the Vagrant"). The 1980s and 1990s saw a major expansion of the club into Canada.

The Hells Angels motorcycle club is often viewed as the epitome of the biker counterculture of the 1960s. The club is centered around a culture of motorcycling enthusiasts and its web site states that a member's principal mode of transport has to be a motorcycle. The website adds that members travel on average 20,000 miles a year.The club culture revolves around social events such as undertaking trips as a group, parties and rallies. Most chapters have information on upcoming and past events on their web sites.

The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club also undertakes a number of charitable activities, such as collecting toys for needy children. Hells Angels also have periodic World Runs, where members from all over the world gather in one location.

Although the club denies any organized criminal activity on a club level, public perception of the club as a lawless, violent organization is often supported by widespread media coverage of club members' criminal activity. Canadian authors William Marsden and Julian Sher further accentuated this view in their book: Angels of Death: Inside the Bikers' Global Crime Empire.

Criminal activities

United States


Perhaps one of the most notorious events in Hells Angels' history involved the December 6, 1969, Altamont Free Concert at the Altamont Speedway — partially documented in the 1970 film Gimme Shelter — featuring Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and The Rolling Stones. The Grateful Dead were also scheduled to perform but canceled at the last minute owing to the ensuing circumstances at the venue. The Angels had been hired by The Rolling Stones as crowd security for a fee which was said to include $500 worth of beer. The Angels parked their motorcycles in front of the stage in order to create a buffer between the stage and the tens of thousands of concert goers.

Crowd management proved to be difficult: many spectators were injured and four died. Over the course of the day, the Hells Angels became increasingly agitated and violent.They had been drinking alcohol and taking drugs; and they may have been concerned at having to control such an enormous crowd. In addition, at least one witness stated that the group of Angels at the concert were relatively young and inexperienced and that "their leaders weren't there". This was due to the fact that there was a meeting requiring all HAMC leaders to attend, leaving the security for the concert, who were all either prospects or new Angels, without any supervision, and a situation in which they felt that they could prove themselves.

The Angels used sawed-off pool cues in order to control the crowd. After one of the Angels' motor bikes was knocked over, the Angels became even more aggressive, even toward the performers onstage. Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane was knocked unconscious following an altercation with an Angel on stage as seen in the documentary film Gimme Shelter. The Grateful Dead refused to play following the Balin incident, and left the venue.

A shoving match erupted near the stage during a rendition of the song "Under My Thumb" (not, as is commonly thought, "Sympathy for the Devil"). A concert patron by the name of Meredith Hunter produced a handgun. Hunter was stabbed to death. A Hells Angel member, Alan Passaro, was later acquitted of murder on grounds of self-defense. After the concert and critical media attention given to the HAMC, Sonny Barger went on a local California radio station to justify the actions of the Hells Angels and to present their side of the story. He claimed that violence only started once the crowd began vandalizing the Hells Angels' motorcycles. Barger would later claim that Meredith fired a shot which struck a Hells Angels member with what he described as "just a flesh wound."


River Run Riot
The River Run Riot occurred on April 27, 2002, at the Harrah's Casino & Hotel in Laughlin, Nevada. Members of the Hells Angels and the Mongols motorcycle clubs fought each other on the casino floor; as a result, Mongol Anthony Barrera, 43, was stabbed to death, and two Hells Angels, Jeramie Bell, 27, and Robert Tumelty, 50, were shot to death. On February 23, 2007 Hells Angel members James Hannigan and Rodney Cox were sentenced to two years in prison. Cox and Hannigan were captured on videotape confronting Mongols members inside the casino. A Hells Angel member can be clearly seen on the casino security videotape performing a front kick on a Mongol biker member, causing the ensuing melee.

Attorneys for the group claim they were defending themselves from an attack initiated by the Mongols.

Charges were dismissed against 36 other Hells Angels originally named in the indictment.

David William Burgess
David Burgess, the Reno chapter president and former owner of the Old Bridge Brothel in Story county Nevada was sentenced in a Wyoming federal court on July 7, for possession and trafficking of more than 50,000 images of child pornography. He received a sentence of 15 years and a $20,000 fine.

New York

Roberta Shalaby assault
On January 28, 2007 a woman named Roberta Shalaby was found badly beaten on the sidewalk outside the Hells Angels' clubhouse in New York City. The resulting investigation by the NYPD has been criticized by the group for its intensity. The police were refused access to the Hells Angels club-house and responded by closing off the area, setting up sniper positions, and sending in armored personnel carriers. After obtaining a warrant, the police searched the club-house and arrested one Hells Angel who was later released. The group claims to have no connection with the beating of Roberta Shalaby. Five security cameras cover the entrance to the New York chapter's East 3rd Street club house, but the NY HAMC maintains nobody knows how Shalaby was beaten nearly to death at their front door. The members were later exonerated and the club is now suing the city of New York for damages to their clubhouse.

Alleged Mick Jagger murder plot
In March 2008 it was revealed in a BBC documentary interview of an FBI agent that Hells Angels members attempted to carry out a plan to murder Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones in 1969 in response to a dispute with him over concert security they had provided. The gang members planned to kill Jagger by reaching him by sea at his vacation home on Long Island, NY. The plan failed, however, when a storm hit their boat, throwing the men overboard.


Michael Walsh murder, racketeering
In 2001 Hells Angels Rodney Lee Rollness and Joshua Binder murdered Michael "Santa" Walsh, who had allegedly falsely claimed to be a member of the Hell's Angels. Paul Foster, hoping to join the Hell's Angels, aided in the murder by luring Walsh to a party at his house and helping cover up the crime. West Coast leader Richard "Smilin' Rick" Fable, along with Rollness and Binder, were also convicted of various racketeering offenses.

The Vancouver Sun newspaper reports that Canada has more Hells Angels members per capita than any other country, including the U.S., where there are chapters in about 20 states. Mr. Réal Ménard (Hochelaga, BQ) testified in Parliament that the Hells Angels had 38 chapters in Canada in 1995-1997.

The Hells Angels established their first Canadian chapters in the province of Quebec during the seventies. The Outlaws and several affiliated independent clubs were able to keep the Angels from assuming a dominant position in Ontario, Canada's most populous province, until the nineties, while the Grim Reapers of Alberta, Los Bravos in Manitoba, and several other independent clubs across the prairies formed a loose alliance that kept the Hells Angels from assuming dominance in the prairie provinces until the late nineties. By 1997, under the leadership of Walter "Nurget" Stadnick, the Hells Angels had become the dominant club not just in BC and Quebec, but all across Canada, with chapters in at least seven of ten provinces and two of the three territories.

Lindsay and Bonner trial
In 2002 Crown Prosecutor Graeme Williams sought to have the Hells Angels formally declared a "criminal organization" by applying the anti-gang legislation (Bill C-24) to a criminal prosecution involving the Hells Angels and two of its members, Stephen (Tiger) Lindsay and Raymond (Razor) Bonner.

The prosecution team launched a three year investigation with the aim of collecting evidence for the trial.

At the conclusion of the trial in June 2005, Ontario Justice Michelle Fuerst ruled that Lindsay and Bonner had committed extortion in association with a criminal organization and had used the Hells Angels' reputation as a weapon.

Maurice (aka Mom) Boucher was the alleged leader of the Quebec chapters and second-in-command of the Canadian Nomad chapter, a chapter with no fixed geographic base. He is currently in prison, having been convicted on two counts of first-degree murder. In May 2002 Maurice received an automatic life sentence, with no possibility of parole for at least 25 years.

British Columbia

Project E-Pandora
In late 2004 to 2005 the culmination of investigations into the actions of the Motorcycle club led to charges against 45 people including members of the Hells Angels and other associates of the gang, including 17 full-patch Hells Angels members, and a chapter president. The investigation that brought the majority of the arrests, with a significant media impact, was Project E-Pandora,

In total, investigators seized:

more than 20 kilograms of methamphetamine
more than 20 kilograms of cocaine
more than 70 kilograms of marijuana
Restricted and Prohibited Weapons which include 5 Handguns, fully automatic weapons including silencers, 11 sticks of dynamite with detonation cord and blasting caps, 4 grenades and an assortment of ammunition
more than $200,000 Canadian currency
250 kilograms of Methylamine (a precursor for the production of ecstasy)
2 methamphetamine laboratories
Due to the success of Project E-Pandora, based in large part on the tone and focus of news media stories, the province's general public now make a direct connection between the motorbike club and organized crime.

BC Angel acquitted

In the most recent ruling, March 27, 2008, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled against prosecutors who had attempted to convict a Hells Angels member of possession for the benefit of a criminal organization. Although two associates of the Hells Angels, David Roger Revell, 43, and Richard Andrew Rempel, 24, were convicted of possession for the purpose of trafficking, Justice MacKenzie concluded that with the acquittal of the only Hells Angel member being tried, David Francis Giles, on a charge of possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, a second charge against him of possessing it for the benefit of a criminal organization had to fail as well.

In her acquittal of Giles, Justice MacKenzie said she found the evidence against him was "weak" and intercepted communications were "unreliable" because they were difficult to hear. She further stated that the Crown prosecutors had failed to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt the group was working to the "benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a criminal organization, to wit: the East End charter of the Hells Angels".

The Hells Angels' expansion into Manitoba began with a relationship with Los Bravos, a local motorcycle gang. In 2000 Los Bravos were "patched over," becoming a full-fledged Hells Angels chapter.

The following investigations over the last two years have been executed with the following charges.

Project Defense
On February 15, 2006 the Manitoba Integrated Organized Crime Task Force, along with over 150 police officers from the RCMP, Winnipeg Police Service and Brandon Police Service, made numerous arrests and conducted searches as part of the investigation of Project Defense. Thirteen people were indicted on a variety of charges, including drug trafficking, extortion, proceeds of crime, and organized crime related offences. Only 3 were members of the Hells Angels.

Project Defense was initiated in November 2004 and focused on high level members of drug trafficking cells in the province of Manitoba, including members of the Manitoba Hells Angels. During the investigation police made numerous seizures that totaled in excess of seven kilograms of cocaine and three kilograms of methamphetamine from drug traffickers within the Manitoba Hells Angels organization and other drug trafficking cells. Arrest warrants were issued for thirteen individuals and 12 search warrants were authorized for locations in Winnipeg and area.

This long-term covert investigation was initiated by the Manitoba Integrated Organized Crime Task Force, which was established in the spring of 2004 when an Agreement was signed between the Winnipeg Police Service, the RCMP, the Brandon Police Service and the Province of Manitoba. The mandate of the task force was to disrupt and dismantle organized crime in the province of Manitoba.

Project Drill
On December 12, 2007 Project Drill[39] came to an end, with Winnipeg Police raiding the Hells Angels clubhouse on Scotia Street. Project Drill started the previous evening with arrests in Thompson and continued throughout the night and early morning in Winnipeg and St. Pierre-Jolys. During the course of Project Drill, police seized vehicles, approximately $70,000 cash, firearms, marijuana, Hells Angel related documents/property and other offence related property. As of December 12, 14 people were in custody and four were still being sought

Police said it was the second time the chapter president was the target in a police sting since the gang set up shop in the city in 2001. Hells Angels prospect member Al LeBras was also arrested at his Barber Street home in Wednesday's raids.

The recently amended Criminal Property Forfeiture Act gives the province the power to seize the proceeds of crime. Police have exercised similar authority against Hells Angels members in other Canadian cities.

Joint investigations
Other joint investigations include:

Project Develop, a joint 18-month investigation with Ontario, New Brunswick, and British Columbia
In January 2006, Project Husky, a two-year investigation involving police forces in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, resulted in the arrest of twenty-seven suspects, including five full-patch Angels from across Eastern and Central Canada
Project Koker, 23-month investigation in Edmonton and Calgary
Project Halo, a three-year investigation by the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Team of the RCMP, into alleged criminal activity with the Nanaimo chapter. The investigation culminated in the search warrant being executed on December 12, 2003. On November 9, 2007 a seizure order was executed, under Section 467.12(1) of the Criminal Code, on the clubhouse by dozens of heavily armed RCMP officers.

The Netherlands
In 2006 two Dutch newspapers reported that the Amsterdam luxury brothel Yab Yum had long been controlled by the Dutch Hells Angels, who had taken over after a campaign of threats and blackmailing. The city council of Amsterdam revoked the license of Yab Yum in December 2007. During a subsequent trial the city's attorney repeated these allegations and the brothel's attorney denied them. The brothel was closed in January 2008.

On June 11, 2008, two Bandidos members were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a Hells Angels member in Ibbenbüren, Germany. Reports say they drove to his Harley-Davidson shop and shot him there on May 23, 2007. After the first day of a related lawsuit on December 17, 2007, riots between the two gangs and the police had been reported. It is also well-known that the Hells Angels and various other biker gangs have a heavy presence in the Reeperbahn area of Hamburg, which is a hotbed for prostitution and drug-dealing.

A biker war between the Hells Angels and the Bandidos, known as The Great Northern Biker War, raged from 1994 until 1997 and ran across Norway, Sweden, Denmark and even parts of Finland and Estonia. It resulted in 11 murders, 74 attempted murders, and 96 wounded members of the involved biker clubs.


The Flinders Lane Shooting
Main article: 2007 Melbourne CBD shootings
On 18 June 2007, a man who was a Hells Angels member fired 6 shots, killing one man, and critically wounding a woman and another male. The man was seen dragging a woman out of a taxi by her hair on a busy Melbourne street when two male bystanders attempted to help her. The offender pulled out a hand gun and shot the two men and woman at point blank range. This incident occurred at approximately 8:20am Monday, during one of Central Melbourne's busiest times. Victims were rushed to the Alfred and Royal Melbourne Hospitals for emergency surgery. The gunman fled the scene almost immediately, later dumping his jacket and gun at a nearby building site.

On May 12, 2008, Christopher Wayne Hudson pleaded guilty to the murder of lawyer, Brendan Keilar, and other offences committed during the shooting.