How the Hells Angels Work


Chuck Bryant

That may have been the most realistic Harley Davidson impression made by human mouth ever.

Josh Clark

Thank you. Thanks.

Chuck Bryant

Vroom, vroom, etc.

Josh Clark

Yeah. I was practicing that.

Chuck Bryant

That's good.

Josh Clark

So Chuck, how you doing?

Chuck Bryant

Well, I'm good, dude, about to start the old Thanksgiving break vacation.

Josh Clark

I know. This is the last thing we have to do, and then a week off.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. But this will probably come out after Thanksgiving, and people will go, "What? Weird."

Josh Clark

Weird, indeed. Hey, can I take you back in time? We don't have to go to the way back machine. I'm just going to paint a picture for you.

Chuck Bryant

Okay.

Josh Clark

All right?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

So a balmy, Saturday night, April 27th, 2002.

Chuck Bryant

Okay.

Josh Clark

Do you know where you were?

Chuck Bryant

I was living in Los Angeles.

Josh Clark

Okay.

Chuck Bryant

So it probably wasn't balmy for me.

Josh Clark

Okay.

Chuck Bryant

It was probably clear and cool.

Josh Clark

All right. Well, not too far away from where you were in a town called Laughlin, Nevada, there is a Hara's Casino. And on that night, a couple of guys who were there for the Laughlin River Run - it's a motorcycle run -

Chuck Bryant

Sure.

Josh Clark

- ride - right?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

A guy named Jeff King and Walter Boose, two - two buddies, just normal guys -

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

Were walking into the casino, the Hara's at Laughlin -

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

- and this burly guy pushed past them and said that they'd better get the blank out of the way because trouble's about to happen. Sure enough, within two minutes, King and Boose hear two shots fired and then another shot. And then, all holy hell breaks loose in the middle of this Hara's Casino.

Chuck Bryant

Yet they remained after given the warning, I take it.

Josh Clark

Yeah, they did.

Chuck Bryant

I would have - I would have been so gone.

Josh Clark

They actually did remain because one of them testified later on that a guy pushed past them going the other way out of the casino holding a long knife with blood all over it. So this thing - this - this casino erupts into a mêlée. And what had happened was the Mongols, a motorcycle club - you might call them a biker gang -Chuck Bryant: That's what some people might say.

Josh Clark

- ran into a - the Hells Angels.

Chuck Bryant

The Hells Angels motorcycle club.

Josh Clark

Yes. And again, all hell broke loose, a mêlée started, two Hells Angels died.

Chuck Bryant

Wow.

Josh Clark

And one Mongol died.

Chuck Bryant

Just like the old days.

Josh Clark

Have you seen this? Have you seen the security video of it?

Chuck Bryant

No.

Josh Clark

It's nuts, dude.

Chuck Bryant

Oh, you know what? I did back when it happened, I think. I remember it.

Josh Clark

Yeah. They go absolutely crazy.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

But that's kinda what happens when the Hells Angels encounter another rival group they're not too fond of.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, especially the Mongols, from what I've read.

Josh Clark

Apparently, they're archenemies.

Chuck Bryant

Sure.

Josh Clark

So we're not gonna talk about the Mongols today. That may be another podcast in the works.

Chuck Bryant

With all respect to the Mongols, we don't wanna offend them.

Josh Clark

Seriously. We're total squares.

Chuck Bryant

Yes.

Josh Clark

We have no affiliation whatsoever.

Chuck Bryant

No.

Josh Clark

But we do have an article on the site here at howstuffworks.com, called, How the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club Works.

Chuck Bryant

Yes.

Josh Clark

Chuck and I kind of cooled it up by calling this podcast How the Hells Angels Work. Right?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. And that's what generally most people think of them as the Hells Angels, but that is, in fact, their full name.

Josh Clark

Yes.

Chuck Bryant

And that's what's adorned on their - their jackets and such.

Josh Clark

Nicely done. And by the way, I think 42 Hells Angels stood trial for that mêlée.

Chuck Bryant

Really?

Josh Clark

And all but six had charges dropped in a plea bargain. The government was trying to go after these guys and go after them and go after them, which we'll find out later is a real pattern.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

And couldn't get anything to stick. And I think the most any of the six guys who actually did plea, too, got like 30 months, something like that.

Chuck Bryant

Bad casino behavior was the charge?

Josh Clark

Pretty much, yeah, right. Yeah. They didn't kiss the dice before you roll them.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

So Chuck, let's talk about the Hells Angels, man.

Chuck Bryant

All righty. Let's do it. Vroom, vroom, etc. The Hells Angels, Josh - a little history - they were started in the Fontana San Bernardino area of California.

Josh Clark

Which, by the way, I don't know if you know this, but the Hells Angels refer to that chapter as Berdoo.

Chuck Bryant

Berdoo - and Berdoo is still around.

Josh Clark

Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Chuck Bryant

They still remain, although, they said - I think I read that most of those original Berdoo members did migrate north to Oakland, which is why a lot of people think that it started in Oakland, which is false.

Josh Clark

Not true. Yeah. So Berdoo was the first chapter.

Chuck Bryant

Berdoo.

Josh Clark

Who started it?

Chuck Bryant

The best we can tell, a guy named Auto Freedley -

Josh Clark

Yeah. That's - that's - oh, I pronounce it -

Chuck Bryant

- in the late 1940s, 1948.

Josh Clark

Yeah. And actually, he was with another biker gang, called The Pissed Off Bastards, and they'd gotten into a war with another -

Chuck Bryant

I like that name so much more.

Josh Clark

It is a pretty good name.

Chuck Bryant

To be honest.

Josh Clark

They got in a war with another biker gang, and I guess once the war was over, Freedley said, "I'm out. I'm gonna go start my own thing."

Chuck Bryant

Right. Maybe that could be [inaudible] -

Josh Clark

This war was disappointing.

Chuck Bryant

The Pissed Off Bastards.

Josh Clark

But 1948, Chuck, that's right after World War II, right? These guys must have been disenchanted servicemen who couldn't fit back into society.

Chuck Bryant

Miscreant pilots?

Josh Clark

Right. Yeah. Wasn't there like a bomber squadron called The Hells Angels?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, Josh, that is one of the most common misconceptions, is that The Hells Angels were, in fact, ex-servicemen, outlaw pilots from World War II.

Josh Clark

Miscreants?

Chuck Bryant

Miscreant drinkers, who were, you know, didn't say - answer to anybody, even in the Army. Not true.

Josh Clark

Right. No.

Chuck Bryant

Because we read it on The Hells Angels website.

Josh Clark

Yeah. If you go onto The Hells Angels website, one guy from the Charleston, South Carolina chapter and another guy from one of the English chapters, got together and did some serious extensive research trying to find out if there was a connection between this bomber group. And at no point do they say, "We're not miscreant drunks, but these guys weren't." You know, it's kind of a disservice to these, actually really highly decorated and very successful bomber squadron servicemen to say that they were miscreants.

Chuck Bryant

Right. And they couldn't have operated and been successful if they were drunks and miscreants.

Josh Clark

No. And they were highly successful. The closest they found, from what I can understand, is that a guy named Avrid?

Chuck Bryant

Arvid.

Josh Clark

Arvid Olson was actually in a third pursuit group called The Hells Angels, and he was friend with some of the founding members of the Berdoo chapter. But he was never a Hells Angel himself, andthat's the closest they could find for a link between the two.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. They share a name, and that's it.

Josh Clark

That's it.

Chuck Bryant

From what we can tell.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

So false, false, false.

Josh Clark

False, indeed. So Chuck, we've got the founding in 1948, but the Hells Angels, I guess, kind of rode a little under the radar until 1957. Right?

Chuck Bryant

Yes.

Josh Clark

When that Oakland chapter was founded.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. That's when they really started rolling.

Josh Clark

Right. Thanks to a guy named Sonny Barger.

Chuck Bryant

Yes, Ralph Sonny Barger. He, I believe, founded the Oakland chapter.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

And he wrote a bunch of books that were really successful that kind of - kind of peeled back the curtain behind the Hells Angels.

Josh Clark

Uh-huh. I was reading one of them on Google books today. It's called The Hells Angel: the life and times of Sonny Barger, I think, and it's an autobiography.

Chuck Bryant

Oh, cool.

Josh Clark

Because the - he kept using the word, "I," and it was by him.

Chuck Bryant

You're a - you're a detective.

Josh Clark

That's a sure giveaway for an autobiography, usually. And he in his hay day was a very cool dude.

Chuck Bryant

It sounds like it. I'd like to read that.

Josh Clark

And also, let me - let me - let me also add a caveat to that. I'm also aware that he was also a major drug trafficker, who engaged in violence and toward women, towards squares, like you and me, Chuck, did all manner of bad things.

Chuck Bryant

Sure.

Josh Clark

But he was still kind of a cool dude.

Chuck Bryant

Right. Yeah. And we'll talk about that, too, a little bit later about the Hells Angels and whether or not they are one to run afoul with the law or ride for charity and stuff like that.

Josh Clark

Well, what are we gonna talk about now?

Chuck Bryant

Right now, we're gonna talk about - let's talk about their - their colors and their insignia and all that stuff.

Josh Clark

Okay, man.

Chuck Bryant

They call it their colors, much like military people call their uniform their color sometimes.

Josh Clark

Right.

Chuck Bryant

And red and white are the actual colors of the letters.

Josh Clark

Yeah. It's red letters and a white field.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, absolutely.

Josh Clark

And the - the thing at the top, the top patch that actually says Hells Angels -

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

- they call it the top rocker.

Chuck Bryant

Top rocker.

Josh Clark

Right. And then, the bottom rocker is their - the - the name of the city that their chapter's in.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

Right?

Chuck Bryant

Their chapter location.

Josh Clark

Right.

Chuck Bryant

Very nice.

Josh Clark

And in the middle is what?

Chuck Bryant

The middle is the death head is what it's called, and that is copy written as death head.

Josh Clark

It is.

Chuck Bryant

And - as is their name.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

And that was designed by the San Francisco chapter president, Frank Sadilek - Sadilek, from what I can tell.

Josh Clark

And Chuck, here's an interesting fact for you. Did you know that the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is a California corporation?

Chuck Bryant

Really?

Josh Clark

They're incorporated.

Chuck Bryant

They're not a gang either.

Josh Clark

And yeah, they do - they do jealously guard their copy writed materials, their images, all that stuff.

Chuck Bryant

Sure. Yeah. They sued Disney for -

Josh Clark

What?

Chuck Bryant

They sued Disney a couple years ago for that movie, Wild Hogs, about all the middle-aged bikers, Martin Lawrence and Tim, uh -

Josh Clark

Yeah. Tim, uh - what's his name?

Chuck Bryant

Tim Allen and Travolta and William Macy, just terrible.

Josh Clark

I'm sure.

Chuck Bryant

I would have sued, too.

Josh Clark

I can't believe you saw it.

Chuck Bryant

No. I didn't see it. Are you kidding me? I saw that - saw that they sued.

Josh Clark

Yeah. So what did they sue over? These guys weren't supposed to be Hells Angels, were they?

Chuck Bryant

I think so. They sued because they said they used the Hells Angels logo and everything without their permission.

Josh Clark

Huh.

Chuck Bryant

I don't know if they were, specifically, but they used it in the film.

Josh Clark

Yeah. I wonder if the antagonists were Hells Angels or something.

Chuck Bryant

Maybe, but all I know is they sued, and I couldn't find, as usual - you can never find out what happens with the lawsuit.

Josh Clark

No.

Chuck Bryant

It was probably some deal.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

But yeah, they sued because they are - like you said, they - they zealously guard their name. And they ride Harley Davidsons, but apparently are not required to do so.

Josh Clark

No. But it's - they almost exclusively ride Harleys.

Chuck Bryant

I - I can't imagine if you'd wheel up on a Honda that they're gonna say, "Come on in."

Josh Clark

Yeah. Come on in, brother.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

We'll jump you and prospect. They also - apparently a typical member drives about 20,000 miles a year.

Chuck Bryant

Really?

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Rides.

Chuck Bryant

We will get smacked down if we say that you drive a motorcycle.

Josh Clark

I told you [inaudible]. Yeah. So Chuck, you've seen - you know, we talked about the patches and - and you've seen guys wearing them here or there, right?

Chuck Bryant

Well, yeah. There's different patches, like if you're the president of your chapter you'll have a little patch that - like the Boy Scouts, sort of.

Josh Clark

Yeah. And there's all sorts - oh, man - there's all sorts of other patches and insignias that no one outside of the - the club - gang - whatever knows the meaning of.

Chuck Bryant

Oh, really?

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

I know the AFFA is a common one, but we do know the meaning of that because it's one of their slogans, which is Angels Forever, Forever Angels.

Josh Clark

Nice.

Chuck Bryant

And then, you'll also see 81 a lot of times.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

8 - H is the eight letter of the alphabet and A is the first letter, so 81, HA, Hells Angels.

Josh Clark

Yeah. And they'll call it like local 81 sometimes, it sounds, for like a union.

Chuck Bryant

And apparently, they also refer to themselves as 1 percenters.

Josh Clark

I heard about that, too.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

1 percent of the outlaw bikers giving 99 percent of respectable bikers a bad name.

Chuck Bryant

Yes, pretty cool.

Josh Clark

Yeah. It is kinda, isn't it? I told you. So Chuck, how do you become a member?

Chuck Bryant

Well, Josh, like I said, you need to own a working motorcycle. That's probably first.

Josh Clark

And have a driver's license.

Chuck Bryant

And have a driver's license.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

That's - that's funny that those are rules, but it makes sense.

Josh Clark

Also, you can't ever have applied to be a police officer or prison guard.

Chuck Bryant

I got another one. You cannot be a child molester.

Josh Clark

Hells Angels don't like child molesters.

Chuck Bryant

I know.

Josh Clark

They really don't.

Chuck Bryant

Good for them.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Because you know what? I don't either.

Josh Clark

The Hells Angels have a longstanding hatred of the cops and with good cause.

Chuck Bryant

Sure. Pigs as they call them.

Josh Clark

Sure. Hunter Thompson, our - our shared hero -

Chuck Bryant

Yes.

Josh Clark

- wrote about the Hells Angels, and we can talk about that a little more in depth, but he said that - he was talking about how the average Hells Angel views the establishment or the law.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

And he said, "He knows that somewhere behind the moat, the mean cop had scrawled his name on a blackboard in the big briefing room with a notation beside it, 'Get this boy. Give him no peace. He's incorrigible like an egg sucking dog.'" So apparently, that's how Hells Angels tend to view the cops.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. Why couldn't we get Johnny Depp to have read that. Wouldn't that have been great?

Josh Clark

Maybe we - no.

Chuck Bryant

No.

Josh Clark

That would have been great.

Chuck Bryant

So back to membership, if you wanna be a member it takes a little while. Sometimes it can take a year or more.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

To become a full patch member, as they say.

Josh Clark

So you start out as a hang around.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. That's what it's called.

Josh Clark

Basically, you just hang around them.

Chuck Bryant

But you're - you're invited to hang around, like you can't just hang around.

Josh Clark

Oh, really?

Chuck Bryant

And be a hang around. They'll say, "What are you doing here, square? Get out of here. Drive your motorcycle on outta here."

Josh Clark

Or they'll hit you over the head with a tire iron.

Chuck Bryant

Right. When you drive up in your Volvo to hang around.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

So yeah, you're invited to hang around and you can attend some events, evidently, as a hang around. Then you are made an associate if you do a good job as a hang around.

Josh Clark

How do you do a good job as a hang around?

Chuck Bryant

I would guess - this is just a guess, but if I was a Hells Angel I would say that you don't cause a lot of trouble, you're fun to be around.

Josh Clark

And you bring chicks to the party?

Chuck Bryant

Sure. That probably doesn't hurt.

Josh Clark

No? Okay. So after the hang around, you become an associate, and then what?

Chuck Bryant

You become a prospect, and this is, apparently, full acknowledgement that you are in the pipeline for official membership consideration.

Josh Clark

Yeah. Do you remember when we did our fight clubs podcast?

Chuck Bryant

Uh-huh.

Josh Clark

And we talked about how fight clubs, especially in California, are often used to like jump in prospects into gangs?

Chuck Bryant

Oh, yeah. Sure.

Josh Clark

These would be the people who are on their last night.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

And they get thrown into like a cage match with a bunch of other people.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

And I imagine it gets pretty ugly.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. No thank you is what I say. And actually, if you're a prospect at this point, you can participate in the club activities but you cannot vote. You don't have voting privileges yet. I know that seems funny, doesn't it, that they vote?

Josh Clark

Yeah. Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

It's a democracy.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

And Josh, what's after that?

Josh Clark

After that, my friend, you are a full patch member.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

You are allowed to wear the deaths head logo.

Chuck Bryant

Uh-huh.

Josh Clark

You can wear your top and lower rocker.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. You get your jacket.

Josh Clark

Yeah. And apparently - and this is - this is one of those things that it may or may not be lower - it could be, who knows - but apparently, during initiation there is a bucket filled with feces and urine passed around and dumped on the person, and they're never allowed to wash their colors.

Chuck Bryant

So that's on their - on their jacket?

Josh Clark

Forever.

Chuck Bryant

Well, that's not fun.

Josh Clark

No, it's not. And I - I don't think that this is correct. Apparently, our buddy, Hunter T, wrote that.

Chuck Bryant

Oh, really?

Josh Clark

And -

Chuck Bryant

Did he get in trouble?

Josh Clark

He didn't get in trouble. He got away with murder, apparently.

Chuck Bryant

Not literally.

Josh Clark

No.

Chuck Bryant

Okay.

Josh Clark

But Sonny Barger said that that's just not true.

Chuck Bryant

Okay. That doesn't sound like it would be right. Seems like they would not want to desecrate their colors.

Josh Clark

Well, it would be gross.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. And that's just a thought.

Josh Clark

All right.

Chuck Bryant

I'll give some advice. If that's what you're doing guys, knock it off. You should respect your own colors.

Josh Clark

Advice for the Hells Angels from Chuck Bryant. The end.

Chuck Bryant

So now, you are a full patch member.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

You are in the Hells Angels and you're - you're a member for life. That's why they say Angels Forever, Forever Angels. There is no retirement.

Josh Clark

No, there's not. And even if you're not allowed to associate with the Hells Angels anymore because of your terms of parole, you're still considered a Hells Angel.

Chuck Bryant

Sure. Right.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Pretty cool.

Josh Clark

So Chuck, let's talk a little more about Hunter T.

Chuck Bryant

Okay.

Josh Clark

He literally wrote the book on Hells Angels.

Chuck Bryant

Yes.

Josh Clark

And the mid-'60s - early mid-'60s -

Chuck Bryant

He wrote an article in '65 in The Nation.

Josh Clark

Yeah. Yes.

Chuck Bryant

And then, that article got book publishers sniffing around, saying, "You should write a book on this."

Josh Clark

Sonny Barger also wrote - wrote - or read that article and he liked it.

Chuck Bryant

Oh, really?

Josh Clark

And he said it was a little exaggerated but he liked Thompson's writing style.

Chuck Bryant

Of course.

Josh Clark

So when Thompson started hanging around some of the bars that the Berdoo chapter, or Oakland chapter, hung out at - I think it was Oakland, they - they finally introduced him to Sonny Barger.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

And Barger said, "You know what? Fine. You can hang out with us in return for two kegs of beer," which by the way, Hunter Thompson never paid up on.

Chuck Bryant

No wonder it went south.

Josh Clark

And - and Hunter spent the next year hanging out with the Hells Angels. Apparently, he helped them unload shipments of meth, like planeloads of meth.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

He helped them - he went on a gun run with them at least once.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

When they got into it with the cops, he apparently jumped into his car and pulled the trunk hatch down on them. And Sonny Barger said that that was it. He was like, "After that, I never looked at Hunter Thompson the same way again." He figured out he was a coward.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

But he was also kind of a skinny guy and a literary type, so -

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. I don't think he ever claimed to be a - wise with the fisticuffs, which is why he carried guns.

Josh Clark

Right. And then, finally, this whole thing ends, this whole association ends when Hunter gets the crap kicked out of him by the Hells Angels, some of which he considered friends, right?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. Well, actually, what I read was that he later said the ones who actually did the beating were the ones he wasn't hanging around with the most.

Josh Clark

Gotcha.

Chuck Bryant

And they were sort of on the - on the fringe there.

Josh Clark

You know what happened?

Chuck Bryant

Well, I - I couldn't find - I heard that they - he made a remark at a party.

Josh Clark

He did.

Chuck Bryant

And I couldn't figure out - I couldn't find what that remark was.

Josh Clark

A Hells Angel by the name of Junkie George had his dog with him.

Chuck Bryant

Hippie Rob?

Josh Clark

No.

Chuck Bryant

No? Okay.

Josh Clark

No, this is not Hippie Rob,

man

Chuck BryantRight.

Josh Clark

Although, I could see Hippie Rob knowing Junkie George.

Chuck Bryant

Sure.

Josh Clark

Anyway, Junkie George had his dog with him and his dog bit him, and Junkie George kicked his dog. And Hunter Thompson walked up to him and said, "Only punks slap their old ladies and kick their dogs." And Junkie George did not like that one bit.

Chuck Bryant

That's what started it, aye?

Josh Clark

Yeah. So he - he put the smack down on Hunter Thompson. A bunch of other guys jumped in and Hunter Thompson drove himself to the police station. The police turned him away, and he drove himself to the hospital where he was treated. And he never hung out with the Hells Angels again.

Chuck Bryant

And that was the end, but he did publish the book, Hells Angels: the strange and terrible saga of the outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Josh Clark

Right. And apparently, a lot of it was exaggerated, but this is where Sonny Barger said he wrote the book for law enforcement.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

Like law enforcement all read it, and they were like, "Oh, well, this is what we're dealing with," and a lot of it was exaggerated.

Chuck Bryant

Right. Well, gang rape was in there, and I don't know if that was exaggerated or not, but he said he witnessed gang rape on more than one occasion and that they used it as a form of punishment.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

And he said that they admitted that it was a form of punishment, the Hells Angels did.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

So I will say allegedly here, but it was in the book.

Josh Clark

Thompson apparently also lent his notes to another journalist at least equally good by the name of Tom Wolfe.

Chuck Bryant

Yes, of the - of The Right Stuff Fame, as well as the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Josh Clark

Yes. The Hells Angels factor hugely in the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which is actually about the Merry Pranksters.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

And I think in 1965, the Hells Angels went to the Berkeley Oakland border and beat the tar out of some leftie antiwar protesters, college students.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

Beat them up and then vowed to break up any antiwar demonstration they ever came across. So Hunter apparently took Allen Ginsberg, the poet, and Ken Kesey, the leader of the Merry Pranksters and introduced them to Sonny Barger, then went off his own way. And that meeting kind of made peace between the hippies and the Hells Angels.

Chuck Bryant

Well, they took acid together, right?

Josh Clark

[Inaudible] famously, yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. And I think Ginsberg even wrote a poem about the Hells Angels.

Josh Clark

Yeah?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. I couldn't find it, though.

Josh Clark

Okay.

Chuck Bryant

But I - I would like to see it at some point.

Josh Clark

Are you sure you didn't dream that?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, man. It was a beautiful poem. No. He really did write a poem, though.

Josh Clark

Okay.

Chuck Bryant

It's a funny thing about Allen Ginsberg hanging out with the Hells Angels.

Josh Clark

I know.

Chuck Bryant

It's really weird.

Josh Clark

Especially like the head Hells Angel.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

Yeah. But yeah, Sonny Barger said that he loved acid and it was the one thing that he - his people and the hippies had in common, or one of the main things, and they did plenty of the acid tests at La Honda and just did all sorts of crazy stuff with the Pranksters.Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Those were the days, huh?

Josh Clark

Those were the days, and actually, let me say another thing about law enforcement. Apparently, when Hunter Thompson was hanging out with the Hells Angels, their - their - their influence and their membership was drastically on the wane.

Chuck Bryant

Oh, really?

Josh Clark

And then, a guy named Thomas Lynch, who was the attorney general for California at the time, he issues a report on the Hells Angels. And it is ridiculous and bloated and exaggerated and - but apparently it just blew up the Hells Angels street cred, and all of a sudden they were just - their - they had more members than ever after that report.

Chuck Bryant

Huh.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

So sometimes it works against you when you try and quash something.

Josh Clark

Yeah. Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

So I guess we should talk about some of the good they do and some of the bad they've done because there's divided opinion. The Hells Angels, they raise money for charity, they're famous for their - their work with the Toys for Tots, and they do charity rides and stuff like that over the years. And I think they've cleaned up their act a lot probably now compared to what it was like in the '60s. But they've had some scrapes with the law many, many times along the way.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Notably, at Altamont Speedway.

Josh Clark

That was a big one.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. We can't talk about the Hells Angels without talking about this. This was the Altamont free concert and it was famously recorded in the concert film, Give Me Shelter.

Josh Clark

It was apparently the day the '60s died.

Chuck Bryant

Is that what they say?

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Is that what that stupid song is about from that guy?

Josh Clark

American Pie?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. He's not talking about that, is he?

Josh Clark

No. It's about the death of Buddy Hawley.

Chuck Bryant

Oh, that's the day that music died.

Josh Clark

Either way, screw him. I hate that song.

Chuck Bryant

I do, too. Anyone who can listen - sit still, sit down and listen to that song all the way through, write in, and I've got a prize for you. You're a special person.

Josh Clark

And we're gonna send your information to Hells Angels.

Chuck Bryant

So back to Altamont, it was a free concert there, and a bunch of bands played, Jefferson Airplane and the Rolling Stones. The Dead was supposed to play.

Josh Clark

They helicoptered in.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

And then, by that time things had gone south.

Chuck Bryant

Well, yeah. They - the Stones helicoptered in, too, and what - what happened was the Stones hired the Hells Angels - although there's been back and forth over the years whether or not they were hired for the show by the organizers or whether the Stones specifically hired them as their personal security. And it's a he said, she said type of deal with the Stones saying, "We did not hire them specifically," and the Hells Angels saying, "Yes, you did. You said you'd give us $500.00 worth of beer if we would - we would be your bodyguards."So they show up. They park their bikes between the audience and the stage. The Stones go on and - actually, before this happened the violence had been escalating at this - at this show. Free show in the '60s at Altamont, it was not good. There were, I think, two or three deaths and numerous fights and beatings breaking out. And one of the Hells Angels smacked down Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane, knocked him unconscious, and the Grateful Dead see this, and their like, "We are outta here. This is not our scene. And we're not gonna play and we're leaving." And they got back on their little helicopter and left.

Josh Clark

Have you seen that footage?

Chuck Bryant

Oh, yeah.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

And yeah, Give Me Shelter's great. If you guys haven't seen that you should definitely watch it. So back to the Stones, the Stones take the stage, things start to devolve into violence, and a guy named Meredith Hunter pulls a gun, points it at the stage. You can see all this in the film, and he gets jumped and stabbed to death by Alan Passaro, a Hells Angel, famously. And the concert stopped and the Stones had a pretty awful time with the PR, obviously, about this.

Josh Clark

And apparently, the Hells Angels were exposed for plotting to kill Mick Jagger for criticizing them after that.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. True. And Passaro actually got off scot-free.

Josh Clark

Yeah. Self-defense.

Chuck Bryant

He was acquitted. Yeah because the - the film clearly showed that that guy had a gun and he did pull it. And so he -Josh Clark: Who was he aiming at?

Chuck Bryant

They don't know. They said it was toward the stage and you can't really tell from the footage, from what I remember. But the reports were that he was going to kill the Rolling Stones.

Josh Clark

Right.

Chuck Bryant

Which I didn't know that that was gonna happen back then.

Josh Clark

So the Hells Angels already had a pretty rough reputation, and this - this just cements it, right?

Chuck Bryant

Oh, yeah, big time.

Josh Clark

So they just kinda go balls out, which is a motorcycle term and not a vulgar expression, by the way, we learned.

Chuck Bryant

We did learn that.

Josh Clark

And by - throughout the '70s, they own the market on methamphetamines.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

Apparently, just the Berdoo chapter alone - this is a law enforcement estimate from 1979 - right after they staged a raid on that chapter's clubhouse, where Sonny Barger was, that this - this chapter alone controlled five meth labs that could make $160,000.00 worth of pills a day. And this was 1979, man.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. That's crazy.

Josh Clark

Yeah. So they don't call it like biker speed for nothing. It was because the bikers, specifically the Hells Angels, cornered the market on methamphetamine in the '70s. They were also - they also sold, allegedly sold, cocaine, heroin, pretty much anything.

Chuck Bryant

Sure.

Josh Clark

Prostitution was a big one, apparently.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. And over the years, they've been indicted and accused and booked for everything from rape to murder. Sonny Barger himself was in federal prison for four years for conspiring to blow up a rival gang's clubhouse. I don't know what the gang was, probably the Mongols, is my guess.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

And so yeah, they run afoul the law quite a bit over the years.

Josh Clark

They definitely do, but if you'll notice, Sonny Barger got four years in federal pen, right?

Chuck Bryant

Yes.

Josh Clark

You never hear about a Hells Angel being put to death. By God, you would hear about it if it happened.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, I would imagine.

Josh Clark

You never hear about them getting life imprisonment, so you start to get the impression after everything you hear about the Hells Angels, but then these piddly convictions that are slapped against them that maybe they are right in thinking that law enforcement and the establishment has it out for them.

Chuck Bryant

I think they definitely have it out for them and they probably have participated in illegal activities throughout the years, but it's a big organization. And like you said, if there's a small handful of actual convictions compared to their vast history that's - you know, that's not too bad.

Josh Clark

I guess it's not too bad.

Chuck Bryant

I'm not saying they're great guys or anything, but it's not like they've been run up on, like you said, murder charges like all over the place.

Josh Clark

Right.

Chuck Bryant

Although, this week they were in the news. The Vegas cops raided six Hells Angels locations in Las Vegas, and they seized records and knives and evidence because last year there was a brawl, once again, between the Mongols and the Hells Angels and two people were stabbed.

Josh Clark

I think - Chuck, allow me to interrupt.

Chuck Bryant

Okay.

Josh Clark

If we have anything to impart in this podcast, it's if you ever find yourself in the same room, same building, the same parking lot, the same town as a bunch of Mongols and a bunch of Hells Angels, get out.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. Do you know what happened in Vegas, though? It's actually kinda funny.

Josh Clark

Huh-uh.

Chuck Bryant

Two people were stabbed, so it's not funny, but -

Josh Clark

That's not that funny.

Chuck Bryant

- it was at a - they both show up at a - they were double booked at a wedding chapel, a Mongol wedding and a Hells Angels wedding were both booked at the same wedding chapel at the same time.

Josh Clark

Wow.

Chuck Bryant

Not good.

Josh Clark

No.

Chuck Bryant

And I'm sure the person who booked that didn't - wasn't brought up on charges or anything.

Josh Clark

No.

Chuck Bryant

When, in fact, they're probably the ones that originally are to blame.

Josh Clark

They sat back and went, "Wa, ha, ha, ha."

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, exactly.

Josh Clark

Right. So Chuck, what started out in Berdoo and then blew up in Oakland has grown into like a worldwide organization.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

Whether or not it's an outlaw biker gang or whatever, they have legitimate chapters in how many countries?

Chuck Bryant

29 countries.

Josh Clark

How many chapters?

Chuck Bryant

More than 100.

Josh Clark

Yeah. In all sorts of places, too. I think in 1984 they had their first South American chapter open in Rio.

Chuck Bryant

Crazy.

Josh Clark

Now they have them in Greece, Russia, Czech Republic, Wales -

Chuck Bryant

Luxemburg.

Josh Clark

Luxemburg.

Chuck Bryant

The Luxemburg Hells Angels.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

I don't know why that's funny to me.

Josh Clark

And apparently, the ones in Europe are going nuts these days.

Chuck Bryant

Are they?

Josh Clark

There's a huge turf war that's been ongoing in Scandinavia. Australia's having real problems with them, too. And there's things like rocket launchers showing up, grenades being used.

Chuck Bryant

Wow.

Josh Clark

Like in these gang wars.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. That's not like the old days with knives and fists.

Josh Clark

A rocket launcher.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

That's a different deal.

Josh Clark

I told you I was square.

Chuck Bryant

The - the first chapter outside the US was in New Zealand in 1961.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

And little known fact, George Harrison of the Beatles, God rest his soul, is allegedly responsible for bringing the Hells Angels to England.

Josh Clark

Yeah. He invited a couple.

Chuck Bryant

Invited a couple of dudes that he met in San Francisco, invited them over to England. They come over and hang out and boom, a London Hells Angels chapter pops up afterward.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Pretty cool.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Or is it?

Josh Clark

I don't know.

Chuck Bryant

And right now, Poland and Iceland are currently seeking chapters, so good luck to Iceland, is what I say.

Josh Clark

Go Poland.

Chuck Bryant

Yes.

Josh Clark

All right.

Chuck Bryant

Good luck with that.

Josh Clark

So that's the Hells Angels. I'm quite sure that there's a lot - a lot - you could even say a hell of a lot more information out there that we'll never find out because, again, Chuck and I are squares who will never get to hang out with a Hells Angel ever.

Chuck Bryant

Never.

Josh Clark

Mainly because we don't wanna get beat up.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

I'm - I'm not a big fan of throwing punches or taking them on the chin.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

It's just not me.

Josh Clark

No. I'm a fan of running away. If you wanna learn a little more about the Hells Angels, you can type that into the handy search bar at howstuffworks.com. You might also want to go onto the Hells Angels Motor Club website. It's pretty interesting. It's got links to other chapters, too. And also, congratulations to the Berdoo chapter on their 60th anniversary, which they recently had.

Chuck Bryant

[Inaudible]

Josh Clark

Yeah. And since I said the Berdoo chapter, I guess that means it's time for listener mail.

Chuck Bryant

Yes, indeed, Josh. I have a couple of corrections here, for a change, that we're going to acknowledge.

Josh Clark

What do you mean for a change?

Chuck Bryant

Well, we haven't read corrections in a while. First off, I want to say that Bernie Getz, Bernard Getz, is not a serial killer. I mistakenly said that, and -

Josh Clark

Spree killer, right?

Chuck Bryant

He didn't kill anyone. He shot some guys in New York, and no one died.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

And he was not even convicted of - of attempted murder or anything. And he's still alive and living in New York, and I feel like a big jerk because I got him confused with Charles Bronson and death wish. I was dead wrong, and I'm man enough to admit it. I'm sorry, Bernard Getz. You didn't - you're not a serial killer, obviously, so I apologize for that.

Josh Clark

Yeah. Okay.

Chuck Bryant

And we had angry people write in about that.

Josh Clark

Dude.

Chuck Bryant

That one lady, man, I think she's like Bernie Getz's sister or something.

Josh Clark

I think she was. She was scary.

Chuck Bryant

But I do feel bad because that's not right.

Josh Clark

Okay.

Chuck Bryant

We have a quick correction. Remember the Tlingit Indians that we were trying to pronounce?

Josh Clark

Uh-huh.

Chuck Bryant

Apparently, it's pronounced Clinkit, and we had people write in from Alaska. Matthew - actually, Matthew's from Seattle, Washington. He wrote in and says, "It's pronounced Clinkit."

Josh Clark

Clinkit.

Chuck Bryant

So there you have that.

Josh Clark

Thanks, man.

Chuck Bryant

And then, finally, we have another correction. Remember when I said about the Amish not being able to listen to us?

Josh Clark

[Inaudible]

Chuck Bryant

And that if they actually wrote in they would be liars? Not true because of what?

Josh Clark

Rumspringa.

Chuck Bryant

Yes. We had farmer John of New York write in and said that -

Josh Clark

We had a few people write in on this.

Chuck Bryant

Uh-huh. "The Amish - every Amish teenager - nearly every Amish teenager goes on Rumspringa where they effectively leave the community and live with us regular English folks, Americans, for a period of time, and they are free to indulge in the things that American kids indulge in."

Josh Clark

Drugs, drinking, smoking.

Chuck Bryant

Whatever, if they want, and podcast listening.

Josh Clark

Gambling. Podcast listening is definitely one.

Chuck Bryant

So evidently, we could very well have been heard by an Amish person.

Josh Clark

Here's my argument to that.

Chuck Bryant

Okay.

Josh Clark

Okay. So they go on Rumspringa to decide whether they want to live with the English or stay an Amish.

Chuck Bryant

Sure.

Josh Clark

But during this period, in my opinion, they're in some sort of middle ground between the two, so they're technically not Amish. So if one of them on Rumspringa heard this and sent it in, I'd be like, "Dude, you haven't made your decision yet. I don't wanna hear it from you."

Chuck Bryant

Or what if they heard our podcast and were so taken with it, they refused to go back to the Amish lifestyle.

Josh Clark

Or if they heard it and hated it so much they went screaming back to Ma and Pa.

Chuck Bryant

Right. That's more likely.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

So thank you, Farmer John, in New York. He says, "P.S., I am not Amish but I am a lowly cow farmer; although, Rumspringa would be pretty sweet." That's what he says.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

So I encourage John to go on his own Rumspringa.

Josh Clark

I went on my own Rumspringa.

Chuck Bryant

I'm still on mine.

Josh Clark

Well, if have a story about your own personal Rumspringa, whether were Amish or not, you can send it in an email to stuffpodcast@howstuffworks.com.Announcer: For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit howstuffworks.com. Want more howstuffworks? Check out our blogs on the howstuffworks.com homepage.