Anthropology Friday: No Angel by Jay Dobyns, pt 2

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday: No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels, by Jay Dobyns and Nils Johnson-Shelton. Today we’re going to start with some background on the Hells Angels, but if you’re really unfamiliar with American motorcycle culture, I recommend starting with my previous post, Do Biker Lives Matter? Harleys, Exit, and Thedic Signaling. As usual, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes for readability.

Some History:

Harley Davidson flaring shovel chopper

“For those who don’t know, [Ralph “Sonny” Barger] was the man–the legend, really–who molded the Hells Angels into what they are. it’s not a stretch to say that Sonny Barger is a visionary who essentially created the image of the outlaw biker as we know it. He had help, to be sure, and the names of his cohorts dating back to the late fifties through the present are legendary in the biker world… these men created the image–the leather, the hair, the grime, the hardness, the silence, the impenetrability, the bikes–everything that constitute an outlaw biker. …

“Without the Hells Angels we wouldn’t have floor-model Harleys that look like stripped-down scream machines. No ape hangers… no bitch bar, no spool wheels, no front-end extenders. … The HA were obsessed with going fast, and without this obsession bikes would be slower. They were relentless in stripping their bikes of all but the barest essentials. The formula was simple: less weight plus bigger engines equaled more speed. Every pound they shed gained them two miles per hour. Thus “choppers”–chopped-down motorcycles. What they did was mimicked by everyone who wanted to be a Hells Angel but couldn’t be.”

EvX: When you get down to it, the motorcycle is a machine. A car is also a machine, but a car is a machine with a lot of metal between you and the engine. A chopper is a machine that has minimized the amount of metal between you and the engine. The motorcycle is about the closest you can get to just riding on an engine, riding straight down the highway on pure power.

Wikipedia has an interesting account of the HAs:

The club became prominent within, and established its notoriety as part of the 1960s counterculture movement in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury scene, playing a part at many of the movement’s seminal events. Members were directly connected to many of the counterculture’s primary leaders, such as Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, Timothy Leary, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Mick Farren and Tom Wolfe. The club launched the career of “Gonzo” journalist Hunter S. Thompson.[22][23][24][25]

Hells Angels International:
“[Berger] saw that the Angels could go international, that though American in origin, they needn’t be limited to America’s borders. As I’ve said before, I believe that the Hells Angels, and to a lesser extent all American-style biker gangs, are this country’s only organized-crime export.”

According to Wikipedia:

Numerous police and international intelligence agencies classify the Hells Angels as one of the “big four” motorcycle gangs, along with the Pagans, Outlaws, and Bandidos, and contend that members carry out widespread violent crime and organized crime, including drug dealing, trafficking in stolen goods, and extortion, and are involved in prostitution.[27][28] Members of the organization have continuously asserted that they are only a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who have joined to ride motorcycles together, to organize social events such as group road trips, fundraisers, parties, and motorcycle rallies, and that any crimes are the responsibility of the individuals who carried them out and not the club as a whole.[29][30]

The HAMC acknowledges more than one hundred chapters spread over 29 countries. The Hells Angels motorcycle club founded a chapter in Auckland, New Zealand in 1961 and has since taken over gangs in Wanganui. New Zealand had the first chapter of the Hells Angels outside the United States.[53] Europe did not become widely home to the Hells Angels until 1969 when two London chapters were formed. The BeatlesGeorge Harrison invited some members of the HAMC San Francisco to stay at Apple Records in London in 1968.[54][55] … Two charters were issued on July 30, 1969; one for “South London”—the re-imagined chapter renewing the already existing 1950 South London chapter—and the other for “East London” …The London Angels provided security at a number of UK Underground festivals including Phun City in 1970 organized by Mick Farren. They 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”).[57]

In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a major expansion of the club into Canada. The Quebec Biker war was a violent turf war that began in 1994 and continued until late 2002 in Montreal. The war began as the Hells Angels in Quebec began to make a push to establish a monopoly on street-level drug sales in the province. A number of drug dealers and crime families resisted and established groups such as the “Alliance to fight the Angels”. The war resulted in the bombings of many establishments and murders on both sides. It has claimed more than 150 lives[58] and led to the incarceration of over 100 bikers.[59]

A list of acknowledged chapters can be found on the HAMC’s official website.[61]

Dobyns writes:

“These contradictions fascinate me. The Hells Angels are separate from society, but they’re rooted in it. They’re nonconformists, but they all look the same; they’re a secret society, but also flamboyant exhibitionists; they flout the laws of the land, but they’re governed by a strict code; their name and their Death Head logo represent freedom, individualism, toughness, and lawlessness, but both name and logo are protected by legal trademarks.”

EvX: It sounds to me like they aren’t so much “non conformists” in the abstract as “non conformists” relative to a particular society. How many of these guys would succeed and be happy in the corporate world? People who think cars–which I regard as terrifying 2-ton death traps hurtling at 60 miles an hour down the road–as “cages” and want to take their chances with getting their flesh grounds straight onto the road do not strike me as people who’d be inclined to sit still in a cubicle all day.

Rather, the HAs and similar groups have opted out of mainstream society and formed their own, alternative society–a tribe of their own, replete with its own initiation rituals, tribal dress, symbolic brotherhood (the members of real tribes are usually quite closely related,) their own history and lore, and even their own army. By doing so, they leave the world in which they are at the bottom, and create a world where they are at the top.

But they still live in our society, and ironically, they definitely will sue you if you use their logos:

In March 2007 the Hells Angels filed suit against the 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.[35]

In October 2010 the Hells Angels filed a lawsuit against Alexander McQueen for “misusing its trademark winged death heads symbol”[38] in several items from its Autumn/Winter 2010 collection. The lawsuit is also aimed at Saks Fifth Avenue and Zappos.com, which stock the jacquard box dress and knuckle duster ring that bear the symbol, which has been used since at least 1948 and is protected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.[39] … “This isn’t just about money, it’s about membership. If you’ve got one of these rings on, a member might get really upset that you’re an impostor.”[41]

In fall 2012 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, Hells Angels sued Toys “R” Us for trademark infringement, unfair competition, and dilution in relation to the sale of yo-yos manufactured by Yomega Corporation, a co-defendant, which allegedly bear the “Death Head” logo…

As of December 2013, the Hells Angels sells its branded merchandise at a retail store in Toronto, Canada.[48]

Some final notes from Wikipedia on who can and can’t become a Hells Angel:

In order to become a Hells Angels prospect, candidates must have a valid driver’s license, a motorcycle over 750cc, and have the right combination of personal qualities. It is said the club excludes child molesters and individuals who have applied to become police or prison officers.[49]

They might be outlaws, but they have standards.

To become a full member, the prospect must be voted on unanimously by the rest of the full club members.[51] 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 member. This process allows each voting member to become familiar with the subject and to ask any questions of concern prior to the 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”. …

The club claims not to be a racially segregated organization,[62][63] although at least one chapter allegedly requires that a candidate be a white male,[64] and Sonny Barger stated in a BBC interview in 2000 that “The club, as a whole, is not racist but we probably have enough racist members that no black guy is going to get in it”.[51] At that time the club had no black members.[51]

…Wooley [a black guy] became an associate of the Hells Angels Montreal chapter[66] in the 1990s and later tried uniting street gangs in Quebec after Boucher was imprisoned.[67]

In another interview with leader Sonny Barger in 2000 he remarked “if you’re a motorcycle rider and you’re white, you want to join the Hell’s Angels. If you black, you want to join the Dragons. …We don’t have no blacks and they don’t have no whites.”[68] …Tobie Levingston who formed the black motorcycle club East Bay Dragons MC wrote in his book that he and Sonny Barger have a long-lasting friendship and that the Hells Angels and Dragons have a mutual friendship and hang out and ride together.[69]

In a 1966 article about motorcycle rebels in the African-American community magazine Ebony, the Chosen Few MC stated that they see no racial animosity in the Hells Angels and that when they come into Chosen Few territory they all get together and just party.[70] A Hells Angel member interviewed for the magazine insisted there was no racial prejudice in any of their clubs and stated “we don’t have any negro members” but maintained there have not been any blacks who have sought membership.[70] At one point in the 1970s the Hells Angels were looking to consolidate the different motorcycle clubs and offered every member of the Chosen Few MC a Hells Angel badge, but the Chosen Few turned down the offer.[71]

We should of course be skeptical about what people tell reporters–people don’t always want to admit in writing that they hate other people and might want to kill them. But we can contrast this against the HA’s attitude toward the Mongols, who are frequent subjects of ire in the book and whom the HA got in a shootout with back in 2002.

Meanwhile, Dobyns’ undercover persona is so good, the local police go after him:

“On the way home, on a dark side street deliberately taken to avoid a confrontation, we were pulled over for a traffic stop. …

Typically, when a mixed-club group of bikers is stopped, and Hells Angel are among those present, they get the most thorough attention. Everyone knows the Angels are the ones to be wary of, and that given an inch they will take it a mile. They must be attended to first.

“But they weren’t….

An officer approached JJ and me from behind. When he got about ten feet from us, he racked a shell into the chamber of his shotgun…

“I didn’t appreciate the sound of that shotgun…

“Over the bullhorn a young, angry voice said, “Bird, [Dobyns’ undercover name] do not let go of your handlebars until ordered to do so. Do you understand?” I nodded yes. I held the bars with a death grip….

“The Angels were told to remain on their bikes. …

“I was led to the curb and told to kneel. I was led at the barrel of a loaded and charged shotgun. …

“The guys were cuffed and lined up curbside. No one but me had to kneel. No one but me had a gun drawn on them. The Angels couldn’t believe it, but as far as these cops were concerned, I was more dangerous than they were. …

“Meanwhile, Officer Shotgun talked to me. … He said, “You gotta move on, Bird, you gotta get the fuck out of my town.” “Meanwhile, Officer Shotgun talked to me.

“I said, ‘You can arrest me or lecture me, but I won’t take both, so make up your mind.’ “

EvX: Note Dobyns’s persona is demanding respect. He doesn’t get it from the police, but it was important for the observing Angels.

“He didn’t like that. He put his boot in between my shoulder blades and pushed me to the ground. Since I was cuffed I caught the pavement with my cheek. He kneeled, leaned in close, and whispered into my ear: “Motherfucker, if I ever see you in this town again I will fucking bury you in the desert where no one will ever fucking find you.”

My recorder was going. I thought, Not good, dude. Not good for you. I knew this guy desperately wanted me out of his town and I knew he wasn’t using approved methods. I wanted to tell him what I was, but I couldn’t. It would be months until he learned how close he’d come to ruining his career that night.”

EvX: I once took a self-defense class taught by a retired police officer who claimed to have taken criminals out to the Everglades Swamp and left them for the alligators.

On the one hand, sometimes the justice system has trouble getting convictions against people who are actually violent criminals, and then you wonder if things wouldn’t be better if the police did more vigilante violence.

And then there are cases like this, where the police are dead wrong.

Respect, body language, and some interesting characters:

“On the thirty-first we waltzed into the Pioneer Saloon in Cave Creek and got a full introduction over the PA. …

“Everyone was there, and I mean everyone. Sonny, Johnny Angel, Hoover, Smitty, Joby, Bob, Fang–every guy who had any kind of influence in the state.

“Sonny came up and greeted each one of us, and in one of the greatest moments in bike investigator history, we got a group shot with him: Just Sonny Barger and Johnny Angel in the middle of a row of Sol Angeles, aka cops…

“As we left the side room I bumped into a short, roided out live wire with a shaved head. He looked like my shorter, wider twin. …

“The live wire asked, ‘What the fuck? You’re fucking Bird, aren’t you?’ He stabbed his finger at me, tapping me hard right were the bullet had come out of my chest.

“‘Yeah. that’s right.’

“‘Shit! I’m fucking Dirty Dan. And I need to talk to you. Come with me.’ … ‘I heard all about you, Bird. You’re some kind of crazy fucking cowboy, ain’t you? Shit, brother, I love that.’ …

“He asked about Mexico. I said I went to Mexico often. He said he’d heard there were Mongols down there. I said there were, but not too many. He said that as soon as his parole was up, he’d like to come with me, see if we could find some. I said great. He said find some and then kill ’em. I said awesome. He said we’d be a two-man massacre crew. I said, “Dirty Dan, you’re the kind of Hell Angel I’ve been waiting to meet.” He said that he liked the way I carried myself, that the club needed more guys like me. …

“After several minutes we parted company just as abruptly as we’d come together. We agreed to met and work out at the gym. He yelled, ‘All right! Later, Bird.’

“I yelled, ‘Later, Dirty Dan.’

“We’d been in a complete bubble. Hours after that, when were were winding down at the UC house, Gundo told me that when Dan and I started talking, all eyes turned to us. Our body language looked overly confrontational. Gundo said, ‘Man, I thought you two were gonna hit the deck. I was leaning against the bar with my hand on my gun… I thought we were about to be in the middle of an ass-beating shoot-out.’

“I laughed and said, ‘You kidding me? … I fucking loved that guy.’ …”

EvX: For the most part, the talk about killing Mongols sounds like a lot of talk, except during the 2002 River Run Riot, which occurred near the beginning of the book. Wikipedia summarizes:

The River Run Riot was a violent confrontation between the Hells Angels and the Mongols motorcycle clubs that occurred on April 27, 2002, in Laughlin, Nevada during the Laughlin River Run. The conflict began when members of the Hells Angels went to Harrah’s Laughlin to confront members of the Mongols who had allegedly harassed vendors that sold Hells Angels related merchandise. Mongol Anthony Barrera, 43, was stabbed to death, and two Hells Angels, Jeramie Bell, 27, and Robert Tumelty, 50, were shot to death.[1]

Even by the end of the book, it was not clear what the essential nature of the Hells Angels really is. 1% clubs are ostensibly composed of criminals–that’s what the 1% means–but are they actually criminal organizations, or just organized criminals? The Angola Prison in in Louisiana, for example, publishes a newspaper, The Angolite, written by the prisoners. Obviously everyone who work on the paper is a criminal, but The Angolite isn’t a criminal organization, it’s just a newspaper. By contrast, the Mafia, while run by a set of related families from a particular ethnic background, obeying particular cultural codes, exists for the sole reason of committing crime. The Angolite is organized criminals; the Mafia is a criminal organization.

This may sound a bit existential, but for the police (and the HAs) it’s essential. If the HAs are just like-minded guys who want to ride motorcycles together, support their incarcerated brothers, hand out toys and bicycles to poor kids, and sell t-shirts, then they have every right to do that. Having once committed a crime does not preclude your right to hang out with other guys and ride motorcycles together. It doesn’t preclude your right to have a logo, copyright it, and sue Toys R Us if they violate it.

By contrast, if the HAs are actually using their  organization to commit crimes, then the police can shut them down and seize their assets (logos included.)

This distinction is essential for Dobyns. The police can prove that plenty of individual people have committed crimes. He’s purchased plenty of illegal guns, for example. The River Run Riot was caught on surveillance cameras, and at least some of the perpetrators were arrested and convicted of murder. But it takes more than that to prove that an organization is actively conspiring to commit crimes.

The government tried to charge the Hells Angels under RICO (the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) back in 1979, but couldn’t make it stick:

In 1979 the United States Federal Government went after Sonny Barger and several members and associates of the Oakland charter of the Hells Angels using RICO. In United States vs. Barger, the prosecution team attempted to demonstrate a pattern of behavior to convict Barger and other members of the club of RICO offenses related to guns and illegal drugs. The jury acquitted Barger on the RICO charges with a hung jury on the predicate acts: “There was no proof it was part of club policy, and as much as they tried, the government could not come up with any incriminating minutes from any of our meetings mentioning drugs and guns.[9][10]

More on this next Friday.

Do Biker Lives Matter? Harleys, Exit, and Thedic Signaling

Sturgis-Motorcycle-Rally-Photo

We recently discussed the Boers as an example of reactionary exit gone wrong. I posit that motorcycle clubs area uniquely American form of reactionary exit, tribalism, and spontaneous social organization.

I became interested in biker culture shortly after the shootout in Waco that left 9 people dead, 20 injured, 239 detained, and 177 arrested and charged with engaging in organized crime. The bikers who weighed in on the stories had a very different opinion of the day’s events than the official story reported on the news. Many were absolutely convinced that the WACO police, perhaps operating from nearby rooftops, had shot the bikers themselves and then arrested everyone on site. Furthermore, they asserted, the Waco police were targeting any biker who rode through the city for arrest. “It’s open season on bikers.”

Everyone I happened to chat with who wasn’t a biker seemed overjoyed at the opportunity to tweet about hundreds of white criminal gang members killing each other and getting arrested.

After months of protests and arguments over whether the police murdered an innocent black guy or killed a criminal in self-defense, the difference in attitudes toward a possible case of the police murdering nine people who happened to be white was striking.

So what’s up with bikers? Who are they? What makes them tick? Why do they join clubs? And why do they love Harley Davidsons so much?

I’ve discovered that there are not a lot of good ethnographies of biker culture, and those that are out there focus on the 1%s, or Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs (often referred to as OMGs or Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs in law enforcement publications.) The focus of my research has not been on Outlaw clubs, because I don’t think it’s very sensible to try to understand 100% of something by only reading about 1% of it, but rather the average Harley-riding motorcycle enthusiast.

Since I don’t have the spare time necessary for real fieldwork in a biker club, I have merely been talking talking with bikers about their experiences and researching them via the internet, rather than taking the immersive approach. I hope that I have not gotten anything terribly wrong, but if I have, feel free to let me know.

First, though, a little terminology:

  1. Organizations for motorcycle enthusiasts are called clubs, not gangs. Even the Hells Angels is officially the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.
  2. “Outlaw” motorcycle clubs are a real thing that really exist, and yes, some of them engage in some form of illegal activity. However, Outlaws are a small % of people who like motorcycles. Most motorcyclists are not outlaws.
  3. Some bikers ride things that are not Harleys, but in biker culture, Harleys are the bike.

1971-Harley-Davidson-XLH-Sportster

So. Who are bikers?

While bikers come in all shapes and sizes, from girls just riding their Vespas to work in Tokyo to rich guys puttering around on the weekend, biker culture in the US is solidly working class, white, and male.

In fact, I strongly suspect that the vast majority of bikers are ethnically mostly Borderland Scots + Scots-Irish + Cavaliers from south-eastern England (and Wales?,) but mot of their ancestors have been in this country for a couple hundred years, if not longer. In other words, they are old stock Southerners and Appalachians, and quite ethnically distinct both from the Puritans of the North and from the more recent immigrants, like the Catholic Irish, Germans, Scandinavians, etc. Many of them have ancestors or great- uncles who fought for the Confederacy or at least lived through the war. (Heck, I have sill-living relatives who are old enough that they heard first-hand stories from their relatives about the Civil War.)

Personality-wise, this is a group that is strongly ethno-nationalist and committed to the warrior ethos. I cannot help but see the Scottish reiver, no longer able to ride across the English border to steal cattle or women but still driven by that basic instinct, hopping aboard his Harley and roaring down the open road.

The most common occupation among bikers is military. Some huge percentage of them are vets or even current military; I’m not sure how many, but it’s a correlation that’s impossible to miss.

vietnamveterans

I don’t think this is just a coincidence; either something about both motorcycles and military employment attract the same group of people, or something about being in the military makes people ride Harleys.

WWII Harley Davidson Motorcycles
WWII Harley Davidson Motorcycles

I suspect it’s a little of each.

Many of the famous clubs were founded by vets; the Hells Angels, for example, are named after the WWII flying squadron Hells Angels:

Boeing_B-17F-25-BO_Fortress_42-24577_Hells_Angels

The useful thing about this is that the attitudes of bikers are therefore likely to be similar to the attitudes of army grunts I’ve been sorta-studying, since there’s a huge overlap between the two groups.

The other thing motorcyclists are really into is religion, chiefly Protestant Christianity. I know the Southern Baptists are big in the South, but I don’t get the impression that Bikers are particularly Baptist–rather, I get the impression that they prefer more independent churches that cater more to the working/lower class (probably a lot of Charismatics), while Baptists lean more middle class.

NEW EAGLE AND PATCH DESIGN

In other words, Guns, God, and Glory.

 

To summarize, bikers are primarily working class, white, Southern men whose ancestors hailed from parts of Britain outside the Hajnal Line; they’re veterans, deeply religious, and strongly nationalist.

This is a group that, in every day life, is treated by the rest of society as low-status in pretty much every way. Elites look down on devout Christians and equate their beliefs with actual mental illness; Southerners and their symbols are despised; nationalistic whites have no place in polite society; and it is really harder to get lower in any social ladder than being screamed at by your superior officers in the army and then shot at by the enemy.

Being a biker, I theorize, not only satisfies a variety of instinctual/mental desires, like the enjoyment of riding down the open road, but also serves as a way to create an alternate society (exit) in which they are on top, rather than on the bottom. At work, you might just be an average Joe who lays carpet or digs ditches all day for crappy pay, but hop on your Harley and you are the king of the road and no one fucks with you.

 

What makes bikers tick?

Bikers are generally anarcho-tribalists who would die to defend their family or nation, but view the Federal Government as a hostile, occupying force that would march them into a mushroom cloud to save a few dollars on animal subjects for radiation testing. Most don’t use the term “Cathedral,” but they understand the concept intuitively.

Back in the 60s and 70s, I suspect that many clubs were explicitly whites-only, but in my all of my conversations with bikers, I have not heard a single racist word. Even if a lot of the symbolism dates back to the Confederacy or has white power undertones, today the symbols seem to function more as a “fuck you” to society and represent in-group solidarity more than out-group dislike.

In-group solidarity and loyalty are vitally important in the biker world. “Band of Brothers” doesn’t just refer to guys in the army; it’s also a motorcycle club. Motorcycle clubs–and biker culture more generally–provide a sense of fierce tribal identity in a society that is otherwise anonymous, anomized, indifferent and huge.

The shared experience of being military veterans, as mentioned before, is an inseperable part of the biker experience. For many of these guys, war–be it WWII, Korea, Vietnam, or Iraq–was a traumatic experience, and they received little to no support upon returning to civilian life. The adrenaline rush of the motorcycle, fuck all attitude, and brotherhood of riders appealed to the returning war veteran’s psyche and provided the status and support society lacked.

 

Why Motorcycle Clubs?

One of the most interesting things about biker clubs is that they exist at all. Why do guys whose whole mystique is “fuck the system” form their own organizational structures with rules?

The obvious reason is that it’s safer to ride in groups than alone; cars have this nasty habit of accidentally running over bikers. Riding in packs makes bikers more visible and thus safer:

hqdefault

The other reason is that the club is a thede, an ethny, a tribe. People who are only a few centuries removed from a actual tribal clan system still have an instinctual desire to belong to a tight-knit group that has each other’s backs against the world.

If you’ve ever seen pictures of bikers, you’ve probably noticed that the pictures hardly ever show their faces. Rather, they show the backs of their jackets, where their club patches are displayed:

Picture 4

These are the Sentinel Knights Riders Against Child Abuse; photo from their Go Fund Me campaign.

As far as I know, every club has its own, unique patches, but they all seem to have the same basic structure–a large central patch, with two more patches directly above and below it. EG:

250px-Onepercenter_Vest.svg

1) Top rocker – used for club name
2) Club logo plus MC (Motorcycle club) patch
3) Bottom rocker – used for territory
4) 1% signifying “outlaw” intent (Note that the vast majority of bikers do not belong to Outlaw clubs)
5) Club name or location
6) Office or rank held within club
7) Side patch

(Source: Wikipedia)

The basic structure is remarkably similar across clubs–so whether you ride with an anti-child abuse club, a religious club, a charity club, a “we just like bikes” club, or even a housewives club, chances are your patches will still have the same basic layout as even the most outlaw of Outlaw clubs.

Source: Wikipedia
Christian Motorcycle Association colors. Source: Wikipedia

The patches are big so they can be easily read at a distance, and loudly proclaim each wearer’s tribal identity. (In fact, many clubs’ names even include words like “tribe,” “pagan,” or otherwise evoke a tribal identity.)

This should go without saying, but don’t wear a patch you haven’t earned.

While there are probably some clubs you can join just by filling out a form and paying some dues, most clubs appear to have pretty strict rules about who can and can’t join, and some clubs are harder to get into than Harvard. Like all goods, that which is obtained cheaply is not worth much. Brotherhood is not given easily; you don’t promise to have someone’s back without first making sure their back is worth having.

Practically speaking, if you’re going to be publicly associating yourself with a group of people, it makes sense to be careful about who you take into that group. If one of your club members makes a big stink at a bar, the owners might not let your club back into the bar. If one of your club members gets into a fight with another club, retribution could come down on you.

Since the available ethnographies all focus on Outlaw clubs, (and they’re quite old,) I only know about their procedures, and long story short, you have to know a guy. A prospective club member gradually meets and gets to know everyone in the club. He hangs out with them for a year or so, and then they vote on whether or not to accept him into the club. If anyone votes “no,” that’s a no.

One of the useful things about basing one’s tribal identity around motorcycle ownership is that it is a very difficult identity to fake. Motorcycles are expensive, joining a club is difficult and members are often well-known to each other, and the patches function like very large ID cards.

If you are extending brotherhood and solidarity to others in your tribe, it is best to make sure your thedic symbols are difficult to counterfeit.

 

Motorcycle clubs are a form of spontaneous human organization and ethnic symbolism. No one sat down and said, “Hey, know what will make motorcycle riding way more awesome? A government to make a bunch laws about it!” but that is precisely what they’ve done. They have made their own society.

If you want to make a better world, go out and make it.

 

Why Harley Davidsons?

While many people ride things that are not Harleys, for many bikers, the Harley is the only bike.

This is a Harley:

Flaring-Shovel-Chopper

These are not Harleys:

Bmw-Motorcycle

Picture 3

Don’t ride a Vespa to Sturgis.

Harley riders have an intense level of brand loyalty and a passion for their machines that we mere car drivers rarely match. Honestly, I don’t consider it unusual to see a half-assembled motorcycle sitting in biker’s living room.

There are two, possibly three main reasons for this loyalty:

  1. Harley Davidson is an American brand, and bikers are strongly nationalistic. Why would a red-blooded American send his money to anyone other than a fellow American worker, making a fellow American motorcycle?
  2. The Harley looks more like a bad-ass working class bike, whereas the BMW and Kawasaki bikes look like futuristic designs for rich people. The aesthetics are totally different. (And obviously the Vespa is right out.)
  3. Price and modifiability? Working on the bike is a biker past time; guys with limited incomes would prefer to be able to fix their own bikes.

This is also a Harley:

1909-1

 

Women and Motorcycles

sturgis2bg

The motorcycle world is mostly male but obviously some bikers are female, and if Google image search is anything to go by, they are all very well-endowed and scantily clad.

Most of the women who are into motorcycles are probably married to or dating men who are into motorcycles, and like doing fun things with their partners. Some are also really into the bikes; the world is vast; it contains multitudes.

The female bikers I have talked to have not had much appreciation for feminism as a political or practical philosophy. As one of the anthropologists who has studied bikers noted, Women’s Lib hasn’t really reached the biker world, at least as of when they were still calling it Women’s Lib. Nevertheless, biker chicks are not wilting damsels keen on wearing pretty pink shoes and shopping. In fact, I strongly recommend against insulting them or pissing them off, as getting punched really hurts.

 

Do biker lives matter?

I certainly hope so.

Bikers represent one form of exit, the creation of a parallel society with its own tribes, institutions, and rules, within which bikes are high-status and enjoy the benefits of tribalism. They are anarchists who spontaneously made governments in order to advance their own freedom. Their thedic symbols (principally motorcycles and patches) are difficult to fake and therefore high-value. The motorcycle itself provides a great deal of enjoyment, perhaps assuaging some primal, instinctual need to ride fast on the open road.

And the bikers I know are good folks whose company I enjoy.

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Betrayal

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The US government tested the effects of nuclear radiation and atomic warfare on live, human subjects–our own soldiers. Called the Desert Rock Exercises, (and Operation Plumbbob,) they destroyed the lives of thousands of Americans.

“In Operation Desert Rock, the military conducted a series of nuclear tests in the Nevada Proving Grounds between 1951 and 1957, exposing thousands of participants – both military and civilian – to high levels of radiation.

“In total, more nearly 400,000 American soldiers and civilians would be classified as ‘atomic veterans.’

“Though roughly half of those veterans were survivors of World War II, serving at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, the rest were exposed to nuclear grounds tests which lasted until 1962.”

Sure, we could have tested it on pigs, or monkeys, or cows, but nothing beats marching your own people into an atomic blast to see if it gives them cancer.

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Of course it gives them cancer.

The Soviets did similar things to their own soldiers. In 1954, the Soviets dropped a 40,000-ton atomic weapon on 45,000 of their own troops, just north of Totskoye. More on Totskoye, and more. I don’t know for sure if these photos are from those tests, but they’re awfully haunting:

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One of my–let us say Uncles–died in Vietnam. He was 17. His mother, who had signed the papers to let him enlist even though he wasn’t 18, who had thought the army would be a good thing for him, sort him out, get his life on track, never recovered.

His name is not on the Vietnam Memorial.

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And for what did we die in France’s war to retain its colonies?

I think I’m starting to understand these guys:

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