The Hells Angels origination stems back from World War II and the B-17 Bomber group that was called Hells Angels. The Bomber Units, such as the 303rd bombardments group (Heavy) 303rd European Theater of Operations (ETO), were known to be one of the
toughest squadrons in the military. The name Hells Angels came from the 1927 WWI fictional fighter squadron movie by Howard Hughes. On May 13, 1943 the 303rd’s B-17F “Hells Angels” became the first 8th Air Force B-17 to complete 25 combat missions and return to the Unites States. This mission was lead by Commander Irl Baldwin, with the B-17 combat serial number 41-24577. (www.Hells Angles.com)
Hells Angels were a group of trained paratroopers of the Unites State’s Army’s 11th Airborne Division. The group called themselves “Hells Angels because they flew on silk wings into hell itself and bought on brutal peace with 20 pounds of TNT strapped to each leg.” The name Hells Angels was worn as a badge of honor because it marked the toughest of the tough. The group stood out because the Hells Angels marked invincibility and not everyone could be an Angel. ( www.HellsAngles.com)
The Hells Angels are the oldest and the most original motorcycle club in the world. Currently today there are 29 countries that Hells Angels operate in. The club was founded in San Bernardino, Ca in 1948. From the end of World War II the Hells Angels have made one of the most memorable impacts on society as a motorcycle club. (www.HellsAngles.com)
The Hells Angels organizational structure is similar to the one of the Unites States Army, such as the ranks each leader holds qualified by their special skill. The Hells Angels utilize a patch system, similar to the military medal. The meaning of each patch is not publicly known but identifies each member’s specifics actions or beliefs. The official colors of the Hells Angels are red lettering displayed on a white background and are worn on leather or denim jackets and vests. The Hells Angel’s also use a similar structure to the United States presidential structure, where there is a president, vice- president, Secretary, Treasurer, and sergeant at arms. The organization also has its own Motorcycle Club Constitution. The Hells Angels chapters in California also have their own Bylaws. The organization also has a specific formation it follows during a Run. (Abadinsky, 2003)
The Hells Angels limit memberships. Each Chapter has prospective members (“strikers or prospects”) who spend from one month to one year (striking period) on probationary status. Each prospect requires a sponsoring member who is responsible for the probationary member: “Gang members do extensive background checks on prospective members, often using female associates who have been placed in positions with public utilities, government services, and law enforcement agencies to assist them” (Abadinsky, 2003)
Prospects must be nominated by a member and receive a unanimous vote for acceptance into provisional status. They carry out menial jobs at the Clubhouse and for other members. Initiation ceremonies are frequently degrading and may involve felony crimes that enhance solidarity while serving to keep out undercover law enforcement officers. When a man is admitted to membership, he is allowed to wear the club’s colors-the proudest possession of any outlaw club member. All m members must own a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and is required to participate in two major Runs a year; the annual Fourth of July Run and the Labor Day Run.
Drug trafficking remains the primary source of illicit income for the Hells Angels, though the group is also involved in a variety of other criminal activities, such as prostitution, fraud and extortion. (CISC, 2005) The Hells Angels are involved in trafficking LSD, PCP, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine (Abadinsky, 2003). The Hells Angels have controlled the methamphetamine market in the United States for many years (Abadinsky, 2003). The members of the Hells Angels are known to manufacture methamphetamine as well as transport the methamphetamine to different drug dealers across the country. Methamphetamine, as well as other illegal street drugs, is used by many people in the United States. The Hells Angels knew that they had to take control of the methamphetamine market in order to gain big profits and maintain a strong sense of power. The Hells Angels were able to control the methamphetamine market by manufacturing the drug, and by intimidating rival drug dealers with violence. (www.segag.org)
Drug trafficking can result in street-level violence from disputes over territory, drug debt collection and related property crimes committed to support illicit drug addictions. These criminal activities can result in increased property crimes and financial losses to victims and businesses. (CISC, 2005) The Hells Angels uses lower level criminal gangs and intermediaries in efforts to conceal its criminal activities from law enforcement.
Local law enforcement, as well as state and federal agencies, try using numerous different tactics to break down the Hells Angels gang and work to completely rid their communities of this group. Tactics used include raids on member’s homes and clubhouses or headquarters, harassment to discourage weaker members or “Hangarounds”, increased police presence at events organized by the Hells Angels and constant presence during the gangs known and famous “Runs”.
In 2003 the Hells Angels were targeted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the federal agency responsible for enforcing the nation’s gun laws (www.cnn.com). The ATF federal agency launched an undercover operation named Operation Black Biscuit. Operation Black Biscuit was known as the most successful undercover operation ever pulled on an outlaw motorcycle club. In July of 2003, three dozen Arizona suspects were charged with gunrunning, murder for hire and narcotics violations. The federal agency conducted raids in Arizona, Nevada, California, Alaska and Washington State. Many of the Hells Angels members were arrested during the raids and were charged with racketeering, conspiracy, murder and drug dealing. (www.azcentral.com)
Hells Angels also fight hard to present a much more benign image to the public and organize charity events, such as “Toys for Tots” and blood drives. They work at using publicity to show they are discriminated against and are harassed by law enforcement for riding motorcycles. The Hells Angels strongly support one another all over the world. When a member is incarcerated, he held up to hero status and seen as a soldier of some sort, fighting the injustice of the world. When a member is charged, tried and acquitted, he is also seen as a hero and celebrated for fighting the system and injustice and scoring a victory for their cause.
Investigative reporter and bestselling author Yves Lavigne best summed up this outlaw motorcycle gang like this: “The Hells Angels are truthful when they say they are not a criminal organization. Rather, they are an organization of criminals. They go out of their way to maintain a barrier between Hells Angels as a club, and the Hells Angels as a business.”