GROUPS, GANGS, AND ASSOCIATES: UNDERSTANDING OUTLAW MOTORCYCLE GANGS.

Author:Bain, Andy
 
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  1. INTRODUCTION

    The outlaw motorcycle gangs ("OMCGs") are seen to be a constant, if not growing, threat for law enforcement agencies both in the nation of origin, and increasingly on an international scale. According to the FBI National Gang Threat Report, OMCGs and their associates are just one criminal group who form relationships with transnational criminal organizations for mutual benefit and profit-making opportunities. (1) Indeed, according to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, their growth and development is unlikely to end any time in the near future, with many OMCGs already having chapters/charters and associates in numerous territories around the world. (2)

    For this reason, questions arise concerning the successful policing of such groups and organizations. However, we also stand to make enemies of members of the public if we do not pick our battles carefully and learn to police them appropriately. What does this mean? To a point, part of the challenge is being able to identify and understand the groups and organizations we see around us and to recognize the power of the group and the hierarchy within. However, it is similarly important-if not more so-to understand what and why certain individuals are drawn to a group, organization, or gang, when they (the potential members) also understand the dangerous position they have put themselves into. These points in mind, this article briefly discusses a history of the motorcycle clubs, analyzes the development of the gangs, and expresses this in terms of the continued development some years after Arthur Veno predicted an end to the gangs as we know them. (3) In addressing the question of decision-making and gang membership, I will make reference to statements taken in a number of interviews with officers and riders, applying these findings to the discussion of policing the outlaw motorcycle gangs. (4)

  2. THE RESEARCH MODEL

    This research is an ongoing examination of decision-making and behavior of individuals involved in gang membership and is a project that has included semistructured interviews with members of law enforcement agencies in Australia, Canada, England and Wales, and the United States of America. It has also included a survey on riding behavior that is based upon Watson, Tunnicliff, White, Schonfeld, and Wishart's study examining the psychological and social factors influencing motorcycle rider intensions and behavior and interviews with riders (solo, independent, club, and OMCG members). (5) This ongoing project has been conducted with a view to determining the decision-making process for OMCG membership, the issues of public safety, and the policing of local communities where gangs and criminal groups may hold some authority. The participants were informed of the purpose of the study and were offered the opportunity to exit the program at any time if they wished to do so.

    In this paper, I will make use of statements made by a group of riders which centered on the decision to join a club or association. Each of the four riders were male and aged between twenty-one and fifty years old. Further evidence is offered in the form of statements made by four officers who were familiar with, or had specifically worked with, motorcycle groups, clubs, associations, or gangs. Anonymity was assured, and in each case, the officers and/or riders were given a pseudonym in order to protect their identity.

  3. BACKGROUND

    1. LITTLE HISTORY

      The rise of the motorcycle gangs is a long and protracted history, and one which is steeped in the story telling and exaggeration of myth and legend. For some, the motorcycle gangs began as returning war veterans, unable to fit into regular society. For others, the motorcycle gangs arose from the conflict of hardship and despair in the interwar years, in which the U.S. economy spiraled downward uncontrollably during the Great Depression of the 1930s. (7)

      In the telling of this story (and both versions), there are any number of clubs that can be identified as falling into one or both of the categories outlined in the preceding paragraph. For example, the Outlaws MC provide for a story of like-minded riders that fell out of favor with the American Motorcycle Association ("AMA") and so formed their own "consortia" - the American Outlaws Association - and trace their humble beginnings to a small bar (Matilda's) on the outskirts of Chicago, Illinois, in 1935. (8) This would seem to make some sense, as many small and independent clubs had been "outlawed" by the AMA if they did not conform to the strict rules and laws of good conduct and behavior set down by the national organization. (9)

      The AMA would set hill-climb competitions and motorcycle rallies around the country and small teams of riders were invited to take part. (10) The riders would compete for trophies, awards, and even patches which could be sewn onto their jackets - doubtless the forerunners of the club patches we see today. (11) Some riders/clubs saw this as a perfect opportunity to show their skill and mastery of the motorcycle. Others saw this as an opportunity to escape the mundane and would party as hard as they rode - both in victory and defeat. Inevitably, this would bring them into conflict with the AMA rules of conduct and behavior and would ultimately lead to their expulsion from the "official" rally circuit. (12) Thus, the outlaws were born: unsanctioned clubs and riders, motorcycle enthusiasts that loved to party just as hard as they rode.

      In contrast, Lauchs, Barker, and others have reported that the association between crime and the outlaw clubs only arose following the so-called rioting during and following the Hollister Rally, in the summer of 1947, and the tragic events at the Riverside Run (Independence Day 1948), where one rider was killed and fifty motorcycle riders were arrested. (13) These two events set in motion a great deal of media interest, speculation, and in part, helped by statements made by law enforcement and the president of the AMA, fueled the fascination we still have today. (14) Prior to these events, many of the clubs, or at least their members, were involved in petty offenses and traffic violations. Few accounts exist of violence that did not arise from an alcohol induced bar-room brawl. (15) Thus, it was only after William Berry, president of the AMA, described some clubs as being the "one percent" of riders at the core of the problem, that society even took notice of, or recognized, an association between crime and these organized groups of motorcyclists. (16) It seems then that this one statement was responsible, in no small part, for a change in our understanding of the clubs and their riders. Indeed, as Bain has noted, one small statement had such an impact. (17) The suggestion was supposed to have identified the good number of law-abiding and responsible riders; however, what it did, in fact, was provide a badge of honor. (18) Thus, a number of the clubs began to wear these new patches that singled them out, not only as non-affiliated clubs of the AMA, but also as the outlaw motorcycle clubs. (19)

      However, club roots aside, motorcycles grew in popularity and use over their first 100-plus years of history, both within the United States and internationally. (20) Indeed, many authors of biographies and autobiographies have provided deep and passionate discussions of the experience of riding and the impact the motorcycle has upon their lives. (21) For many authors and riders, the feelings described include a heightened sense of adventure and comradery not found in other experiences, providing an overwhelming sense of freedom. (22) Many riders have described the experience as providing an escape from the daily grind of work and family life, (23) while simultaneously reporting a sense of connectedness to other riders and the world around them. (24) This feeling of connection may partly be due to the heightened awareness of the rider: the sense of smell, taste, color, sound, and other visual stimuli, provided through exposure to the environment, which may be lost in other modes of transport. It is invigorating, while at the same time, entirely isolating.

      This may in part provide some grounding to the pageantry of the outlaw motorcycle rider. Indeed, Lauchs, et al. have drawn direct comparisons between the outlaws of the mid-18th and early 19th century, and...

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