Academic journal article South Dakota Law Review

Groups, Gangs, and Associates: Understanding Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs

Academic journal article South Dakota Law Review

Groups, Gangs, and Associates: Understanding Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs

Article excerpt


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)


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.



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. …

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