When you think of biker gangs, you probably think of Hell’s Angels, with their leather motorcycle vests, beards, and scary helmets. It has been the quintessential outlaw biker gang for a host of movies since the 1950s. Their image is so strong that Hell’s Angels have actually become a corporation which sues movies for copyright infringement.
Hell’s Angels have about 2,500 members worldwide. Given the numbers, territory disputes are common and not just among themselves. Turf wars between the most notorious biker gangs still happens and often with lethal results. Outlaw motorcycle clubs are very involved in organized crime, drug trafficking, racketeering and contract killing.
Who are these other gangs? Where do they operate and how dangerous are they?
One of the largest is the Texas-based Bandidos. At more than 2,000 strong, they make up one of the largest groups after Hell’s Angels. They’ve been around since 1996 and have members in 16 states and 14 countries. Their specialty is smuggling drugs across the border.
One of the most violent gangs is the Warlocks. At 300 members, this Florida-based club is so bad many other clubs shun them. They’ve been known to kill police officers indiscriminately. They are big into crystal meth and crank in both Florida and Pennsylvania.
The Highwaymen, a small, 200-member Detroit-based gang, has been involved in drugs as well, especially cocaine. They’ve also done contract murder. But more interesting has been their involvement in white-collar crime. Forty members were arrested in 2007 on charges of (wait for it) – mortgage fraud, in addition to drugs and murder.
And speaking of Motor City, the Black Pistons motorcycle club is a support club for the much larger gang, the Outlaws. They’re dispersed throughout the US and do dirty work even the larger clubs won’t do. Wherever the Black Pistons go, violence follows.
The Vagos also leave a heavy footprint in drug smuggling across the Mexican border. They have been at intermittent war with the Hell’s Angels for most of their existence since the 1960s. They have a reputation for sophistication. For example, they were once alleged to have booby trapped police cars and buildings used by a law enforcement gang task force. The club sued the local law enforcement agency for defamation and settled out of court with no one going to jail.
Sons of Silence
The Sons of Silence is a much lesser-known gang based out of Colorado. They have something like 275 members in 30 chapters. But they are heavily armed. A raid in 1999 seized machine guns, pipe bombs and grenades. They’ve been at war with the Outlaws and are currently allied with Hell’s Angels.
The Pagans, which began on the East Coast as a peaceful club, turned to organized crime in the 1970s. Despite their small size, the FBI considers them one of the biggest threats. They have connections with the Aryan Brotherhood and the Italian mafia. They have a record of involvement in bombings, arson and murder. They are known to collect machine guns and are often at war with Hell’s Angels.
The Outlaws, mentioned earlier, is probably the oldest motorcycle club. While motorcycles only became widely popular after WWII, this club has been in existence since 1936. Today they boast over 1,700 members with 176 chapters. In contrast to the clubs that smuggle drugs from Mexico, the Outlaws concentrate on drugs from Canada. They control the Great Lakes region and are often at war with Hell’s Angels. Taco Bowman, the former president of the Outlaws, was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list until he was sent to prison in 1999 for murder.