In May 2019, a court in Utrecht issued a verdict that made the Netherlands the first country to completely ban the Hells Angels; other countries such as Germany had banned local chapters, but never before the entire club. The United States Department of Justice considers the club to be an organized crime syndicate. In the United States and Canada, the Hells Angels are incorporated as the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation. Common nicknames for the club are the “H.A.”, “Red & White”, “HAMC”, and “81”.
The Hells Angels originated on March 17, 1948 in Fontana, California, when several small motorcycle clubs agreed to merge. The meeting was held in the garage of brothers named Bishop whose family had emigrated from England in 1940. If the Hells Angels’ own website is to be believed, the received suggestion is unfounded that the former troops to join the club included misfits and malcontents. The website also notes that the name was first suggested by an associate of the founders named Arvid Olsen, who had served in the “Hell’s Angels” squadron of the Flying Tigers in China during World War II.
It is at least clear that the name was inspired by the tradition from World Wars I and II whereby the Americans gave their squadrons fierce, death-defying titles; an example of this lies in one of the three P-40 squadrons of Flying Tigers fielded in Burma and China, which was dubbed “Hell’s Angels”.
In 1930, the Howard Hughes film Hell’s Angels showcased extraordinary and dangerous feats of aviation, and it is believed that the World War II groups who used that name based it on the film. According to the Hells Angels’ website, they are aware that there is an apostrophe missing in “Hell’s”, but state that, “…it is you who miss it. We don’t”.
This B-17F, tail number 41–24577, was named Hell’s Angels after the 1930 Howard Hughes movie about World War I fighter pilots.
Some of the early history of the HAMC is not clear, and accounts differ. According to Ralph “Sonny” Barger, founder of the Oakland charter, early charters of the club were founded in San Francisco, Gardena, Fontana, Oakland and elsewhere, with the members usually being unaware that there were other clubs. One of the lesser-known clubs existed in North Chino/South Pomona, in the late 1960s.
Other sources claim that the Hells Angels in San Francisco were organized in 1953 by Rocky Graves, a Hells Angel member from San Bernardino (“Berdoo”), implying that the “Frisco” Hells Angels were very much aware of their forebears. The “Frisco” Hells Angels were reorganized in 1955 with thirteen charter members, Frank Sadilek serving as president, and using the smaller, original logo. The Oakland charter, at the time headed by Barger, used a larger version of the “Death’s Head” patch nicknamed the “Barger Larger”, which was first used in 1959. It later became the club standard.
The Hells Angels are often depicted in semi-mythical romantic fashion like the 19th-century James–Younger Gang: free-spirited, iconic, bound by brotherhood and loyalty. At other times, such as in the 1966 Roger Corman film The Wild Angels, they are depicted as violent and nihilistic, little more than a violent criminal gang and a scourge on society.
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. Writing a book about the club launched the career of “Gonzo” journalist Hunter S. Thompson.
In 1973, members from several branches of the organization protested at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing about a proposed transportation plan that included restrictions on motorcycle use and sales to get California to meet the new Clean Air Act standards.
Criminal activities and incidents
Main article: Hells Angels MC criminal allegations and incidents
Numerous police and international intelligence agencies classify the Hells Angels as one of the “big four” motorcycle clubs, 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. 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.
On May 29, 2019, the Hells Angels were banned in the Netherlands. This is the first country in the world to outlaw the entire club. The presiding judge of the court in Utrecht called it “a danger to public order and the rule of law”. wiki