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Inside the Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs
By Arthur Veno, Edward Gannon
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 2009 Arthur Veno and Ed Gannon
All rights reserved.
THE MAD PROFESSOR
'Let's go get a cup of coffee at Maccas,' they said.
Who was I to argue? The guys suggesting it were only the kingpins in one of the meanest bikie clubs in the land who'd asked me along to a meeting to 'discuss' a few things.
As I tentatively climbed into what turned out to be an extraordinarily loud car, I somehow knew there wasn't going to be any coffee. My arse is grass, I thought.
There was some small talk — they talked, I felt small — then they told me what was going on. I was at once relieved and frightened. They didn't want to kill me, but they wanted to do the next best thing — get me to grass a bikie. They told me how they had a problem with one of their members and his amphetamine factory. They wanted me to act as a go-between to dump him in it.
At that point I became one of the few outsiders to be not only privy to, but actually involved in, outlaw club business. This was incredible stuff. To dob in a brother in the bikie world is the greatest sin. Yet, here I was being asked to do just that. I'd lay a bet I was the first professor to ever be asked to do such a thing. I'd also bet I was the first professor mad enough to get myself into that situation.
I tell that story, which I'll expand on later, to answer the most common question people ask me: what does a middle-aged professor know about outlaw motorcycle clubs? Or, more specifically, what can someone who's never been a club member and who rarely rides a motorcycle reveal about bikie clubs?
I'd ask the same question. My answer is that things are not always what they seem. Gangs and bikie clubs are my professional and personal passion. I am often referred to as Australia's foremost independent expert on the outlaw motorcycle clubs because I've been studying them for 27 years. This currently makes me one of a small group of academics in the world who have made it their focus.
However, before I get into all that, I'd better tell you a bit about myself and how I fell into the world of the outlaw motorcycle clubs.
I'm a Yank, born in Burlington, Vermont, just below the Canadian border, in 1945. These days I live in Australia and hold dual Australian–American citizenship.
No sooner could I walk than Dad, a sergeant major in the US army, began his round of international postings. By the age of 12 I'd lived in Greece, Germany, Italy, France and Turkey, before we returned to the United States, to a town called Monterey, about 106 kilometres south of San Francisco. An incident was to occur in that town a few years later that changed the image of motorcycle clubs forever. That event also changed my life, for I was caught right in the thick of it.
I suppose my life was headed toward gang culture the moment we moved to Monterey. By this time Dad had retired from the army due to ill health, and was supporting his family on an army pension so, as you can imagine, we weren't destined for the flashiest part of town. We settled on the edge of a black ghetto, a part of town characterised by heavy gang activity.
The Hispanic and black gangs were the kings of the neighbourhood. Many of my mates joined these gangs, and I'd occasionally hang out with them. But I never joined a gang myself.
I discovered I had an aptitude for American football, or gridiron, as Australians call it. I was pretty good at it, to the point where it enabled me to gain sporting scholarships all the way through high school and junior college in Monterey, then onto San Francisco State University where I completed a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. However, I never made it to the pros. I did try out for the San Francisco 49ers, but I was only good enough to be a 'practice dummy'— the guys the good players batter around at practice.
I enjoyed the few bucks I earned, and I got the chance to rub shoulders with a few of the big names. Joe Montana arrived after I was in my final year in the 'meat squad', as we called it. Nathan Johns, the great all-pro defensive back, lived just around the corner from me in the Monterey ghettos.
My first contact with motorcycle clubs was at the Labor Day rally of 1964, held in Monterey. It was that weekend that left a scar on the reputation of all bikies across America.
I was home from university for the weekend and heard that the Hell's Angels were in town. A few mates and I decided to go and check them out. We'd heard about the demonic bikers, so when we got there we hung back cautiously for some time, just watching and absorbing. We eventually joined their party and were surprised to discover they were merely people committed to Harley-Davidson motorcycles and having a good time. We didn't find it at all threatening. To a 19-year-old they weren't a bad bunch of people to party with. However, the Hell's Angels' reputation was notorious enough for the police to organise a camp for the club at the beach on the outskirts of town. I estimate there were about 25 to 30 Hell's Angels at the camp.
That night there was a party at the camp, so my mates and I thought we'd check this out too. Unbeknown to us, there were two under-age girls at the party, one aged 14 and the other, 15. One girl was black, the other white and pregnant. The girls accompanied between two and five Hell's Angels down to the beach, away from the party, where it was later claimed a series of sexual attacks took place.
There were conflicting stories about the girls' willingness to participate in sexual activity. However, at the time, the girls appeared back at the campsite looking extremely distressed. We jumped to our feet and rushed over to the girls to find out what was wrong. I also remember many of the Hell's Angels gathering around to comfort the girls — it's an image that has stuck with me because it was so at odds with the image of the club.
When the police arrived the girls identified a number of men, who were arrested.
The media was soon onto it, portraying the Hell's Angels as 'dirty stinking thugs ... repeatedly raping ... girls aged 14 and 15'. Some stories said the girls were on a date with two boys and were in the middle of roasting weenies (sausages) on the beach when 4000 Hell's Angels appeared over the dunes and, according to one account, said to one of the boys, 'Don't worry, son, we're just going to break the girls in for you.' The boys were alleged to '... have fought like tigers to save the girls'.
The three US television networks covered the event, and reporters from the New York Times, the Saturday Evening Post, Time, Newsweek, The Nation and other national newspapers descended upon Monterey. Emotions in the town ran high.
Four Hell's Angels members were arrested and charged with rape, only to have the charges later dropped. By this time it was too late: the legend of the outlaw motorcycle club had been forged indelibly in the minds of the public. Another 'Folk Devil' had been created.
It also made a huge impression on me. I could really see how the bikies were vilified, with the media trying to make them seem evil. I was there and I just couldn't see that they were as evil as they were made out to be. I didn't discount that they could be, but I needed to know more before I made up my own mind. I suppose my life-long academic search started that weekend.
A few years later, when I was studying for my PhD at the University of California at Berkeley, near San Francisco, I had my next formative experience with the bikie clubs.
The local Hell's Angels and the university students had been getting along fine until the anti-Vietnam War issue arose. At the time, Berkeley was a hotbed of anti-war protest in the United States and the club members, with their military roots, took umbrage at the students' constant barrage of criticism of the Vietnam War. This led to a violent confrontation between the Hell's Angels and the students at a Berkeley campus protest. (This was shortly after Hell's Angels president Sonny Barger had written to the President offering a platoon of Hell's Angels for service in the war.) Student and hippy demonstrators marching from People's Park encountered a line of police at City Hall. As they approached the police line a group of Hell's Angels roared in on their bikes and parked between the police and the protesters, then got off their bikes and stood in front of the police, abusing the marchers, who were quite surprised by their arrival. As they approached the bikies, things got ugly and a few of the marchers were chain-whipped and stomped.
Once more, I found myself in the thick of it all. Luckily I wasn't in the firing line when the scuffles started, and it didn't turn into one of those real stompings of which the clubs are capable; it was more a political statement of support for the armed servicemen overseas.
Nonetheless, it proved to be another watershed experience, not just for me, but also for the United States, and it consolidated the country's views of the bikie clubs.
So, now I had been involved in two remarkable events in outlaw motorcycle club history. Whether I liked it or not, I suppose I was being drawn towards the bikies, through my studies of criminal psychology, my personal experiences, and the circumstances in which I had grown up.
I was forever running into various club members around San Francisco, and even went on a few runs (organised group rides). A close mate of mine was in the Gypsy Jokers and I went to open nights at his club and others, where I got to know more about them. I was even the celebrant at a bikie wedding, officiating at the marriage of my Gypsy Joker friend after I bought a lifetime preacher's licence in the Universal Life Church for a dollar. It's a legitimate religious order in the United States. Many Hell's Angels and other club members are part of it. I actually joined for taxation purposes, as well as to have the ability to marry and bury friends. Being a member of the church also entitled me to visit prisoners to 'save their souls', which led me to become even more heavily involved in the clubs.
As part of my PhD in social psychology, I worked as a research psychologist in the prisons on a program called the Prisoners' Union, a prisoners' rights advocacy group. The union ran the San Quentin Train, a van that took prisoners who had been released from the notorious San Quentin Prison to Berkeley or San Francisco. Many of them were hard cases who'd been inside for a long time, so the union offered them short-term accommodation in a halfway house. My work involved looking at violence and family background. It meant I was forever coming across bikies in prison.
After finishing my PhD, I had three choices: I could go to Cambridge University in the United Kingdom to do some postdoctoral study, or to the University of Queensland in Australia for a tenured academic position, or I could stay in the United States where I had a post-doctoral fellowship at the Langley Porter Neuro-Psychiatric Institute. Langley Porter would have allowed me to continue my research but there were virtually no academic jobs available. I chose Australia.
I arrived in Australia in 1974, ready to begin my new career. I immediately encountered something I was not prepared for — Queensland. I'd arrived at the height of Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen's reign. From San Francisco, the centre of the counterculture, free love and dope smoking, I had moved to an incredibly tight, right-wing regime that seemed to outlaw any sort of public thought, let alone the slightest whiff of counterculture. Man, that was tough.
I endured it for four years, before I decided to escape to Sydney and the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics, where I was appointed senior research fellow. From there I moved to the University of Zambia, Africa, for three years, where I was to head the department of psychology, philosophy and religion. Well, that was the plan. They changed their minds about letting me teach religion on the first day on the job because they didn't want me filling students' heads with any crazy Quaker notions.
I had a great time in Zambia, but I eventually found myself back in Queensland, where I set up my own private practice as a human-relations consultant.
I then spent some time in Perth at Curtin University as director of Community Psychology, before moving to Charles Sturt University in Bathurst. I finally settled at Monash University, where I held a number of roles including director of the Centre for Police and Justice Studies. In 1999–2000 I spent 12 months in South Africa working for Technikon SA, and at the University of South Africa as a visiting research fellow studying violence among street gangs. It was a great experience and led to my appointment as Dean at Monash University's new South African Arts Faculty. However, the campus was put on the back burner due to low enrolments, so I took a retirement package to grow trees on my farm. After a couple of years Monash asked me to return to become an adjunct professor in their School of Social and Political Inquiry. In recent years I have worked with the Gypsy Jokers in Adelaide to try to soothe relations with the Rann government and have helped police in almost all Australian states devise techniques to prevent bikie wars and eliminate the criminal element of the outlaw clubs. I'm also a recognised expert on bikie culture for the Supreme Courts of New South Wales, Western Australia, Victoria and South Australia. I guess my business card slogan should be 'Have mouth — will travel' in relation to bikies. My most recent professional activities have been working for the Secretariat of the Joint Standing Parliamentary Committee to review the Australian Crimes Commission's Serious and Organised Crimes Act and helping the New South Wales police force attempt to stop a very nasty war brewing in that state. More on that war later.
The Australian motorcycle club scene kicked in just as I arrived in the country, so I naturally kept an interested eye on what was happening. It wasn't until 1981, though, that the professional interest I maintain today began to develop.
That year, I went to Bathurst for the annual Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix only to find myself in the midst of yet another watershed event for the motorcycle movement. Tension between the police and the bikers, which had been brewing for years, finally boiled over into a massive riot. Boy, was it a blue. Ninety police were injured and 100 arrests were made. It turns out there had been rioting between the bikers and the police at the races on and off since an incident in the late 1970s, when police had driven over a woman sleeping on the ground, scalping her. In an already highly charged atmosphere it proved the trigger that caused the situation to explode.
After my experiences at Bathurst I applied for a grant from the Australian Institute of Criminology to study why the riots were occurring and how the event could be run more peacefully. They loved my application, offering me more money than I'd asked for. Of course, I accepted.
My wife, Elizabeth, and, later into the project, a student of mine, Rudi Grassecker, joined me in looking at the problem. We were an interesting team. Elizabeth has a BA in psychology; however, more importantly for the study, she had served in the police force for three years. Rudi, on the other hand, is a dedicated biker with a thirst for understanding what's going on around him.
We interviewed and surveyed bikers, police and townsfolk. For three years we studied the event, sending people in to mingle with the bikers and to see what was going on. In that time we felt we'd worked out the problem. Our report to the Australian Criminology Research Council — which is comprised of the most senior bureaucrats of the justice system in all states and territories — indicated that it was the policing style that was the fundamental cause of the violence. Their heavy-handedness was like a red rag to a bull for the bikers. We suggested they back off a bit and consult with the bikers before the event to set a few rules that everyone could live with.
The report fell upon deaf ears in the New South Wales police force. Instead, they chose the opposite path, adopting a get-tough stance. This only served to produce the most violent clashes ever seen at Bathurst, with more than 525 charges laid after a massive riot in 1985.
By this time, many bikers had grown sick of the violence and decided to boycott the following year's event. Crowds dropped to less than a quarter of previous years, eventually driving the Grand Prix out of Bathurst, and down to Phillip Island in Victoria.
In contrast, the Victoria Police took our recommendations on board, and Liz, Rudi and I were appointed advisers to the Major Incident Planning Unit, which was designing the Phillip Island event.
Our plan worked fantastically. For instance, when the Coffin Cheaters flew their flag from the island's major hotel we were able to talk to all the clubs to make sure it wasn't a problem. A senior Hell's Angel from the club's Nomad chapter met with the police and sorted out the issue in a few minutes.
Excerpted from The Brotherhoods by Arthur Veno, Edward Gannon. Copyright © 2009 Arthur Veno and Ed Gannon. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
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Table of Contents
ContentsCHAPTER ONE THE MAD PROFESSOR,
CHAPTER TWO 1% OF HISTORY,
CHAPTER THREE THE LURE OF THE BIKE,
CHAPTER FOUR FROM BIKER TO BIKIE,
CHAPTER FIVE THE CLUBS,
CHAPTER SIX RULES, BLOODY RULES,
CHAPTER SEVEN FUN AND GAMES,
CHAPTER EIGHT HIT AND MYTH,
CHAPTER NINE CHICKS AND OL' LADIES,
CHAPTER TEN BOMBS AND BASTARDRY,
CHAPTER ELEVEN THE WAR,
CHAPTER TWELVE THE OUTLAWS,
CHAPTER THIRTEEN ON THE NOSE: CLUBS AND DRUGS,
CHAPTER FOURTEEN THE BIG BLUE GANG,
CHAPTER FIFTEEN UNDER SIEGE,
CHAPTER SIXTEEN FLIGHT AND FIGHT,
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN THE FINAL RUN,