The Hells Angels are considered one of the world's biggest outlaw motorcycle gangs and certainly the one with most notoriety. It's almost 70 years of history make it the longest-running motorcycle organization. The club first emerged in 1948; disgruntled World War II vets and members of former motorcycle clubs came together in various parts of California, and the HAMC was established.
Despite officially denying that the club is involved in criminal activities, history has proven otherwise. The club has famously been tied to drug trafficking, running prostitution rings, extortion, and carrying out violent crimes. The Hells Angels, alongside The Bandidos, The Pagans, and The Outlaws, make up the "big four" of motorcycle gangs.
The Hells Angels became a household name in the '90s when a huge expansion into Canada (mainly in the province of Quebec) sparked a deadly biker war. Street gangs, the Montreal mafia families, and the Angels fought for years over the monopolization of street drug sales. The result was a bloody one. Over 150 lives were claimed, and it led to the arrest of close to 100 criminals.
The club is now operating worldwide with 2,500 members spread out over six continents. The largest clubs remain in Quebec and California, and the club boasts at least 230 chapters internationally.
These days, the Hells Angels aren't front page news like they once were. It's been a quiet period in the gang's history, but who knows how long that will last? The club has some very interesting and dark secrets. Let's take a look at 18 Facts You Didn't Know About The Hell's Angels
18 The Hells Angels Control Street Pr------tion
In Canada, the Hells Angels have a near-total control of all street prostitution. Though street gangs might be in place to facilitate the flow of the business, the Hells really hold a tight grasp on this illegal branch of crime. Because the criminal code of Canada has complicated laws regarding the buying and selling of services, the Hells have to be very careful with their exposure. In Canada, it's illegal to sell services but legal to buy them, creating a very complex law that puts the workers and facilitators at risk. Girls and women entering into this lifestyle become more at risk since they're not working independently. They might have protection, yes, but they're also more likely to have a hard time escaping the life if they choose to.
17 Sons Of Anarchy Is Loosely Based on The Hells Angels
Although Sons of Anarchy is a fictitious TV series created by Kurt Sutter, it's loosely based on the Hells Angels club. The parallels between SAMCRO and The Red and White do not end at their eerily similar gang logo. Many events that happened in the show were based on real-life events, and Sutter even cast some original Hells Angels members in the show. Among the real-life members are David Labrava, Chuck Zito, Rusty Coones, and of course, Sonny Barger. Sutter even hired Labrava as his Technical Advisor. His insider's knowledge allowed him to provide direction and advice on many different scales. He was part of the show from the very beginning to the end, enjoying 6 years and 7 seasons on SOA fun.
16 The Lennoxville Massacre Showcased The Brutality of The Club
In 1985, five members of the North Laval, Quebec chapter were murdered by fellow members of the Montreal, Quebec and Nova Scotia chapters. The victims, who were seen as risky members due to their hard-partying lifestyles, were invited to meet at the Lennoxville clubhouse on March 24, 1985. They were greeted by 41 members, who beat and shot them to death and then disposed of their bodies in the nearby St.Lawrence River. Police informants allowed the investigation to unfold successfully. Over a dozen people are initially charged with some connection to the murders. Ultimately, 5 people were convicted and given life sentences. As of 2013, all of the offenders were out of prison. Only one perpetrator, Jacques Pelletier, returned to prison for associating with known criminals.
15 George Harrison Helped The Hells Branch Into the U.K
In a really unexpected and cool bit of cultural history, George Harrison of The Beatles had a small role in getting the Hells Angels into the U.K. In 1968, George Harrison invited several members of the San Francisco charter to London. On an earlier trip to California, Harrison had met several of the Angels and made a formal invite to a dozen of them to visit the Apple Records studio, where the label was hosting a lavish Christmas party. Unfortunately, most of the members weren't able to travel overseas due to their criminal backgrounds. Ultimately, only 2 members made it over to Heathrow. Perhaps, the members made some connections on the other side of the pond; a London charter of the biker gang emerged two years later in 1971.
14 Maurice "Mom" Boucher Is One Of The Most Famous Ex-Leaders
Maurice "Mom" Boucher is one of the most notorious ex-leaders of the Hells Angels. He was the president of the Montreal charter during the years of the Quebec Biker War, which lasted for 8 years, from 1994 to 2002. He's a convicted murderer and drug trafficker and is currently serving three life sentences with no possibility of parole for 25 years. At 64 years old, he still has another 10 years to serve before even being eligible, but it's highly unlikely that he'll ever be freed. In the early '80s, he was a member of a white supremacist biker gang called the SS. Eventually, he became a candidate for the Hells Angels and soon rose to president status. He was in charge when the Lennoxville Massacre transpired in 1985.
13 The Hells Angels Were at War With The Rock Machine
The Rock Machine is another International motorcycle club, although they're much smaller than the Hells Angels. They have approximately 1,000 members currently with charters in Canada, the United States, Germany, Russia, South Africa and Switzerland, among others. They were famous rivals to the Hells Angels from 1986-2002. The Quebec Biker War primarily dealt with this rivalry; a turf war raged on for years while the two clubs fought over the rights to street drug distribution and territory. Salvatore Cazzetta, who was a longtime friend to Maurice Boucher (they were in the SS club together) started The Rock Machine, and due to his amicable relationship with "Mom," the clubs coexisted peacefully for several years. When Cazzetta was arrested and locked up, relations soured, and a war began.
12 They Acted As Security Guards For Many Concerts
Back in the glory days, the Hells were more than just a motorcycle club. They were also quite good at acting as security guards at concerts. In the '60s and '70s, the Hells guarded concert halls, keeping unruly fans in line. The Rolling Stones once hired the gang to work at one of their free shows, The Altamont Free Concert in California. Instead of paying them in cash, they were paid in beer and treated to a live Rolling Stones concert. What a deal! During this concert, things got a little bit out of hand, and one misbehaving concert-goer ended up dead. According to reports, Meredith Hunter, 18, pulled a gun out of his jacket and attempted to rush the stage. Hells Angels Alan Passaro reacted by stabbing him to death, not realizing that someone was filming the entire altercation.
11 Waco Biker Shooting Resulted In Many Arrests
The Waco Biker Shooting took place on May 17, 2015 at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas. The shooting took place when members of several biker clubs met to discuss the rights of motorcyclists. The fight, which was not a planned attack, began when members started arguing in the parking lot over someone allegedly getting his foot run over by a rival gang member. Shots rang out, and by the time the police intervened, 9 people were dead and 18 were badly injured. The Bandidos and The Cossacks were the two charters that started the commotion. Of the 9 casualties, 6 were from The Cossacks gang. Initially, 192 people were arrested at the scene, all from various clubs, including some Hells Angels charters.
10 Biker Gangs Account for 2.5% Of Gang Members in the United States
It might seem as though biker gangs are a big part of the United States criminal circle, but the truth is, they only account for 2.5% of the gang population. There are an estimated 1.4 million people involved in criminally run gangs, but bikers are only a small part of that number. Street gangs and prison gangs account for the majority of the gang population, and these groups are considered to be way bigger threats to the FBI than biker gangs. Perhaps, this is why biker clubs continue to fly under the radar and get away with crimes such as money laundering, drug trafficking, and running prostitution rings. With bigger threats to society, the law enforcement agencies tend to focus their efforts on tracking street-gang activity.
9 War Veterans Make Up A Big Part Of The Club
The Hells Angels founding members were World War II veterans; the club's foundation was built with a structure and rules that were very similar to what the soldiers abided by. The club's name was inspired by the Flying Tiger's "Hells Angels" squadron, a fighter group stationed in China during WWII. Member Arvid Olson was part of this squadron, and the name was first proposed by him. It stuck. The name can be further traced back to a 1930 film by Howard Hughes, aptly titled Hell's Angels. The aviation war film was quite popular and would make $8 million at the box office. In 2017, that equates to roughly $116 million, so it's safe to say that the film was successful! The film featured Hollywood greats Ben Lyon and Jean Harlow.
8 They Use Various Symbols
One of the most recognizable features of the Hells Angels is their official logo. The "death head" was designed by former president of the San Francisco chapter Frank Sadilek. Members affix this symbol on the back of their leather or jean vests, with their chapters city clearly indicated. The club also uses military-style patches to represent different beliefs or actions, although the meanings of each patch are not publicly known. Red and white are the primary colors used by the club, hence its nickname "The Red and White." The number 81 is also liberally used by the club, representing the placement of the letters "H" and "A" in the alphabet. "Route 81" and "Support 81" patches are commonly found on members' outfits. Finally, a diamond-shaped "1%" patch is often worn. This represents a response to a statement made by the American Motorcycle Association, where they indicated that 99% of motorcyclists are non-violent, law-abiding citizens.
7 They Are Serious About Their Branding
One thing is for sure: the Hells do not appreciate when people try to use their logos without permission. Since 2013, they have been selling branded merchandise at a retail shop in Toronto. Prior to that, they filed several suits against people trying to use their club's symbols without authorization. In 2007, they filed suit against Walt Disney for their attempt to reference the club in the film Wild Hogs. The lawsuit was dismissed when Walt Disney assured that they would remove the reference. More recently, the club has had problems with the design house of Alexander McQueen, Zappos, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Once again, merchandise that allegedly showcased Hells logos was at the forefront of the case. The lawsuit was quietly settled, and the retailers removed all items that had questionable emblems.
6 Membership Takes Time
Becoming a member of the Hells Angels requires quite a bit more than filling out an application form. The very basic requirements include holding a valid motorcycle license, owning a motorcycle (preferably over 750cc) and having a personality that "fits" with the rest of the gang. You also cannot have any affiliation with police officers or be a child molester. Once approved for the first phase, a prospect will be invited to several "hang arounds." At this stage, the member is still on probationary terms; a gradual introduction to the club life allows the members to decided whether or not he is a good fit. During this phase, the individual is referred to as an "associate." From there, he becomes a "prospect," which is a step up but still doesn't grant the individual any voting rights, and he isn't fully involved in club activities. A fully initiated member gets "Full Patch" status, where he's awarded the Hells Angels death-head patch in a welcoming ceremony.
5 Sonny Barger Is The Top Dog
Although every charter of the club has its own president, Sonny Barger is by far the leader of all leaders. Born in 1938, he helped to establish the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels. As President and founding member, he has possibly the longest-running membership of the entire club (he's 78 and still riding!). Arrested multiple times, Sonny managed to avoid spending too much time in prison. He served four years for conspiring to blow up a rival gang's clubhouse in Kentucky in 1988 but otherwise lived his life wild and free. Sonny has published several books and has appeared in popular films and TV shows. Most recently, he was depicted as the character Lenny "The Pimp" Janowitz in popular series Sons of Anarchy. He also surrounds himself with A-listers and celebrities; his friends include Mickey Rourke and Jerry Garcia.
4 They Operate Internationally
Although the club had its foundation in the United States, it now operates in 29 countries around the world. In 1961, New Zealand became the first country outside of the United States to get an official charter. Canada, Norway, Argentina, and some Caribbean islands all have actively run charters. In 2009, Turkey became the very first Muslim country to join into the biker gang's international ring. Memberships are on the rise, with charters popping up all over the globe. On the Hells Angels official website, 15 charters that were introduced in the first half of 2017 alone are named. Also listed are prospective countries that are working on establishing clubs. Among the prospects are Namibia, Columbia, and Albania.
3 They Host Public Events
Despite being a private biker club, the Hells Angels sure enjoy hosting public parties, where local residents can show their support for the club. Christmas parties, beach parties, BBQs, appearances at tattoo and biker conventions... the club enjoys being at the center of any festivity! The appeal of the club is undeniable. They have a way of gaining support and admiration via their excellent marketing skills. Many people are just attracted to the rebellious look and attitude that come with the territory. Despite being dangerous, these guys are also pretty likable! It's not uncommon to hear about family men and well-respected individuals being part of the organization. They even have a history of taking part in some pretty great volunteer and donation programs. The Hells Angels historically prepare Thanksgiving Dinner at a San Francisco soup kitchen.
2 Hunter S. Thompson Wrote A Book About The Angels
Famed author and journalist Hunter S. Thompson wrote a book about the club in 1966. The book came to light in the aftermath of Thompson publishing a short piece about the club in a 1965 issue of The Nation magazine. The book, titled Hells Angels: The Strange And Terrible Saga of The Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, was a success. Unfortunately, the Angels were depicted as emotionally and intellectually void in the book; a feud between the famed author and the club ensued. They were less than pleased that he spoke so badly of them after they had allowed him to spend time with their club to research the book. Hunter S. Thompson was notorious for being a bit of a troublemaker, so any drama that ensued very likely gave him a lot of satisfaction. In 2005, he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.
1 The Last U.K Hells Member To Be Murdered Was Gerry Tobin
In August of 2007, a member of the Hells Angels in England was killed by rival gang members of The Outlaws club. Tobin, who was returning from the Bulldog Bash bikers festival, was gunned down on the M40 motorway. Tobin, a mechanic from South East London, was targeted simply because he was a member of the Hells. No specific motive or fight preceded the murder, which shook the country. According to reports, they simply sought to "make their mark" during that weekend, which is a popular one for motorcyclists. The Outlaws claimed that the bash took place on their territory and that Hells were not welcome. In total, 7 members of The Outlaws Warwickshire chapter were charged. They're all currently serving life sentences for their involvement in the murder.
Sources: en.wikipedia.org; Hells Angels