You probably know about the Hells Angels as that group of tattooed guys who ride around on motorcycles, but as an organization, it’s so much more than that. They proudly refer to themselves as a one-percenter club, and the guidelines to get into the club (and remain in the club) are extensive, to say the least.
There are a plethora of rules they must follow without exception. Failure to follow these rules can and will result in some serious repercussions. While some of them are perfectly understandable, many rules are obeyed even though they’re a little strange. Read on to find out just what kind of life these one-percenters have to live daily.
People In Law Enforcement Are Banned From Becoming Members
Due to their tendency to flirt with the edge of the law, anyone who wishes to join the elite biker gang cannot have worked in law enforcement – and that includes prison guards. The group lives by a strict creed of living life free, and it’s difficult to do that when your fellow biker is an ex-cop. This also minimizes the chances of being ratted out by one of your brothers.
No Talking To The Media
Hells Angels are such a tight-knit and secretive group that you’re forbidden from speaking to any member of the media. This way, it prevents any information about the group or individual members from leaking to the public. It makes you wonder what kinds of secrets they’re harboring.
Allegiance Is For Life
If you’re an initiated member and considering defecting to another biker gang, you’d best reconsider that notion, because the repercussions can be severe, to say the least. Committing to Hells Angels is a life-long commitment, regarded as higher than your marriage.
Women Can’t Be Members (But They Can Tag Along)
You’ll never see a woman in Hells Angel due to their strict no-female member policy. The brotherhood can’t be tainted by female influence, though they certainly aren’t opposed to a female presence. Wives and girlfriends are allowed to ride along on the road and to events, provided that they fully understand and condone the lifestyle of the gang.
Illegal Substances Are Not Allowed
Just because they live a free life doesn’t mean that they can do whatever they desire. Hells Angels are committed to keeping it clean, including strict rules against using illegal drugs. Breaking this rule means immediate ejection from the group.
Talking About Missing Members Is Forbidden
If one of your brothers goes missing, you cannot for any reason talk about them to anyone – including fellow members. It’s not uncommon for people to go AWOL due to their illicit activities, and when they do the conversation is purely off-limits. You will never get a drop of information from any one of them, and that’s exactly the way they want it.
Cultural Diversity Still Isn’t Accepted By Some Charters
The Hells Angels have historically been predominantly caucasian. While most groups have largely changed their mindsets and have gradually become inclusive, far too many charters still retain their “heritage” and remain rooted in their past.
The Vests Are Sacred Items
The Hells Angel’s signature item is their vest, and they take immense pride in them. Their pride in their vest extends so far that it’s virtually a sacred piece of their attire. As such, some members might risk their wives before they’ll risk their vests. If one of them is arrested, they’ll entrust their vest to a brother until they get out.
They Have Strict Riding Orders
Groups can become pretty large when they take to the streets, so charters will have a particular set order of riders. The charter president and the road captain always take the lead, then rank and seniority will determine where each member falls in place. If one member gets pulled over or must stop, every member stops so as not to disrupt the established order.
Rule Breakers Will Not Be Tolerated
Just because they don’t always follow society’s laws doesn’t mean members can break their laws. The rules are not to be compromised for any reason, and not abiding by these rules can earn you some serious punishment. A lesser punishment can include having your tattoos removed, while more severe punishments can include immediate expulsion.
Harley Davidsons Only
Since their inception, the Hells Angels have always stuck to a Harley Davidson-only tradition. While some charters have loosened up on this policy, the vast majority still stick to it to promote uniformity (and because Harleys remain one of the manliest bikes in existence). There are, however, exceptions to even this rule.
Other Bikes Can Be Allowed, But Only Under One Condition
While Harleys have been their signature bike since 1948, some groups have adopted policies allowing for other non-Harley bikes to be used – under one condition. The alternate bikes must be American-made. So if you’re in the gang and considering getting a Suzuki or something of that nature, you’d best think again.
The “Dirty Work” Is For Prospects
Those who wish to join the exclusive one-percenter club must first get noticed. These “prospects” work closely with members and are assigned various tasks, from setting up meetings to more questionable activities. If prospects carry out their tasks exactly as asked, then they’ve proven themselves capable of becoming initiated members.
Members Must Have Total Consent
Even hardcore bikers have morals when it comes to women! While female companions come with the territory of being a Hells Angel, members are still required to show restraint. Behaving violently and taking advantage of women will come with some serious consequences, so consent is essential when it comes to female interaction.
Certain Areas Are Controlled By One Group
Much like inner-city gangs, certain groups will control large areas. While these areas are under the jurisdiction, no other biker group is allowed to patrol or hang around, unless they’re just passing through. While rival wars aren’t very common, gangs will do everything in their power to retain their dominion.
Retirement Isn’t In The Hells Angels Dictionary
Once a Hells Angel, always a Hells Angel. Retirement is a foreign concept once you’re initiated, and from that point on you are bound to your second family. “There is no such thing as a retired Angels member and never has been”, their website says. Even in death, fellow members will rally together to honor their brethren.
Life On The Road Is The Only Life
Those who join the Angels had better make sure they love motorcycles because once they choose that life it’s the only life they’ll ever know. The group estimates that they travel around 1,200 miles every year, and they always travel together. This lifestyle not only demonstrates how dedicated they are to the concept of freedom, but it also demonstrates their loyalty to their primary love: biking.
There Are No Instructions For How To Join
If you’re looking to become a member, then good luck finding the list of requirements to join because you won’t find them. Their website explicitly states that if you need to ask how to join, then you clearly won’t understand the answer. Joining can sometimes take years and commonly includes building a rapport with current members. Once you are accepted, however, the easiest way is if members put it to a vote. If the ayes have it, then you’re officially a Hells Angel.
Study the Greats
“Big Pete” James is just one of the numerous Hells Angels leaders who saw all the confrontation and behind-the-scenes activity firsthand, but what they don’t teach you is that a life of crime also means you must study it. Hailing from Chicago, he idolized Al Capone, and a lot of his peers did similarly. “I had certain ambitions and my heroes weren’t normal heroes. My heroes were infamous characters.”
In case you haven’t noticed, the Hells Angels logo is grammatically incorrect, as it’s missing the proper apostrophe. This is intentional, however, as it shows that the group doesn’t care at all about things like grammar or following the rules. It’s a small detail that just highlights how carefree and bad to the bone they are.
Perfect Attendance Is An Absolute Must
There’s no slacking off when it comes to the Hells Angels. If there’s a meeting or an event scheduled and it’s your wedding anniversary, then you’d better choose wisely. While exceptions can be made, showing up for everything is a sign of loyalty and commitment to the brethren.
Meeting Rules Are Strict Enforced
Not only is attendance mandatory, but there are certain guidelines (called Robert’s Rules of Order) that members must follow without exception. The meeting agenda is always adhered to, questions may only be asked before the meeting starts, and there is no interrupting others while they’re speaking. The fine for breaking such rules is usually $100.
Their Reputation Is To Be Firmly Upheld
Despite seemingly-contrary evidence, the Angels don’t want to earn a bad reputation. They brand themselves as a one-percenter club for a reason they want to avoid negative public perception as much as possible. Therefore the onus is on each member to behave themselves according to the group’s upstanding position in the community.
Charity Work Is Not To Be Shirked
To bolster their reputation, the Hells Angels will occasionally take part in charity events and host Toys for Tots drives every year. Another common charity event they’ll promote includes allowing people with motorcycles to ride with them for an entire day.
Members Must Always Be Approachable
On top of orchestrating charity events, the Angels also pride themselves on being extremely approachable while in public. They’re also required to be ever-willing to assist people in need. It’s not uncommon for the group to stop during their rides if they see someone having car trouble on the side of the road.
Always Follow The Dress Code
Though it tends to differ among different charters, members are expected to follow whatever dress code their clan has instituted. The most common dress code involves wearing black from head to toe, with the only exception being a pair of classic American blue jeans. Also, good luck trying to get away with wearing shorts (unless you happen to belong to a very lenient charter).
Establishing a Charter Isn’t Easy
Just like becoming a member, it can take years – decades, even – to build your charter. Potential groups must have thousands of hours of experience with each other in the community and must have a brotherly familiarity with each other.
If One Members Gets Pulled Over, They All Pull Over
In their continuous effort to promote solidarity amongst members, the entire group will pull over if even just one member is stopped by police. Not only can it be used as an intimidation tactic, but it also signals to authorities that if you go after one Hells Angel then you go after them all.
Only Members Can Wear Merch
Though this rule is gradually changing among certain charters, the tradition has always stood that only members are allowed to wear their gear. This includes any sort of branded merchandise, not just the insignias and patches. Such disrespectful impersonation is not to be tolerated by the Hells Angels.
Patches Are To Be Respected Always
As members climb the ranks, they will acquire special patches that signify their status. These patches are law, and just as in the military senior members must always be shown their due respect. These patches have such significance among the group that some members won’t even allow medical experts to cut through their clothing in emergencies.
Linking To Their Website Without Permission Is Prohibited
Those who even link to the Hells Angels website without first acquiring permission are just asking for harsh repercussions. “You may not establish and/ or operate links to this website without the prior written consent of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club,” the site explains. “Such consent may be withdrawn at any time at the Hells Angels MC’s discretion”.
Side Work Is Encouraged
Though their primary endeavor is to ride hard and live free, they are encouraged to take part in the community from time to time. This has included working as concert security. The tradition started in 1961 when Beatles member George Harrison asked a London-based group to serve as extra muscle for one of their concerts. It was effective since other bands have made such requests in the years since. Unfortunately, however, it hasn’t always worked out…
The Altamont Concert Incident
Despite their efforts to maintain a positive public persona, there is one infamous incident that has stood as a blot on the Angels’ image. In 1969 they were asked to stand in as security at a concert at the Altamont Speedway where many known groups (including the Rolling Stones) took to the stage. Chaos ensued as drunken members fought with concertgoers, but that was nothing compared to what was about to happen.
There was considerable doubt concerning the Angels being used as security, and those doubts were seemingly justified when a man named Merideth Hunter pulled out his gun in the middle of the crowd. The armed man was swiftly taken down by one of the members, but not before another member pulled out his knife and stabbed the assailant to death. Though this action was later ruled as self-defense and the sentence was reduced, this still threw into doubt whether it was worth it to utilize such unpredictable people in keeping the peace.
They Once Sued Disney Over Their Brand
The Hells Angels are certainly no stranger to filing lawsuits against those who have used their imaging without their consent. One of the more notorious instances occurred when they sued Disney over using their name and logo in the movie Wild Hogs.
Their Roots Go Back To 1948
At the close of World War II, the Hells Angels were officially founded in California when numerous veterans decided to establish a club that would allow them a life of freedom. Their name was derived from the Flying Tigers (who were also called the Hells Angels squadron) who operated in China during the war. This would be only the beginning of what has become a global organization.
Charters Began Springing Up All Over California
You can imagine the appeal that such a liberating life would have had in post-WWII California. As such, charters began popping up all over the state in places like Oakland and San Francisco. Most of these groups formed without even knowing each other, and it wasn’t until the 1950s that they began officially organizing themselves into a single entity.
They Played a Huge Roll In The Culture Movement
The 1950s and 60s saw enormous cultural shifts, and the heart of such movements was the Hells Angels. They became a cornerstone of the counterculture movement and threw huge support towards bands like the Grateful Dead, and The Rolling Stones, among many others.
Sonny Barger – a Key Founding Member
As a founder of the Oakland charter, Sonny Barger is practically Hells Angel’s royalty. Even into his 80s he remains a highly respected member and has even used his influence to appear in films, and TV shows, and has authored books about his life in the one-percenter club.
Sons of Anarchy Is Based On The Hells Angels
During its runtime, the show Sons of Anarchy was a huge hit. The show’s director, Kurt Shutter, was primarily inspired by the Hells Angels, and as such took special care in making it as accurate as possible. The show even went so far as to include founding members like David Labvrava and Sonny Barger.
The life of a Hells Angel is appealing to more than just Americans. The first international charter was started in 1961 in Auckland, New Zealand, and it began a trend that continues to grow to this day. Charters exist in as many as 29 countries, on continents spanning from Europe to South America.