The biker gang wars are back.
With clashes between the Outlaws, Hells Angels, Mongols, Bandidos, and Pagans, police have launched intensified crackdowns across the nation and in Canada, and think we are at the start of a new war on wheels.
"I think it's just starting. I think it's going to be a long, hot summer in the biker world," said Detective Al Goetz, a Long Island, N.Y., officer who has investigated bikers for more than two decades.
Goetz and others in law enforcement consider the so-called "outlaw motorcycle clubs" a breed apart from most bikers, and describe them as fundamentally criminal organizations.
Supporters of the Big Five outlaw clubs — the Hells Angels, Pagans, Outlaws, Bandidos, and Mongols — insist the vast majority of members are law-abiding citizens with nothing more than a rebellious streak and an affinity for Harley Davidsons.
They say police are unfairly targeting them because of their reputations and image.
No one disputes the recent increase in violent clashes between the clubs, however, or the current crackdown by law enforcement agencies.
On Wednesday, Canadian police raided clubhouses and homes belonging to the Bandidos and arrested 62 club members.
Quebec's Hells Angels leader, Maurice "Mom" Boucher, was sentenced in May to life in prison for ordering the killings of two prison guards. He is appealing the convictions.
In April, a meeting of the principal clubs in Laughlin, Nev., turned deadly. Two Hells Angels and a Mongol were killed during a gun and knife battle in Harrah's casino there, and a third Hells Angels member was shot and killed while leaving town.
The Laughlin meeting was meant to settle disputes between the groups, but it appears more violence is on the way.
In February, a group of Pagans clashed with Hells Angels at the Angels' annual Hellraiser Ball on Long Island, N.Y. The incident left one Pagan dead and a Hells Angel charged with murder.
The recent round of violence is only the latest in the long, controversial history of the clubs. Six years ago, Bandidos members fired rocket-propelled grenades at a Hells Angels house in Denmark.
The Hells Angels were founded in California 54 years ago; other groups such as the Pagans and Outlaws soon started their own clubs. Many trace their roots back to groups from the 1930s and 1940s.
With a reputation for toughness and loyalty to fellow club members, the groups quickly carved out a niche in American culture, and movies such as The Wild Ones added to their image as modern-day cowboys.
When the American Motorcycle Association said that 99 percent of riders were law-abiding, the outlaw biker clubs proudly labeled themselves "1%ers," representing motorcyclists who rejected mainstream society.
Outlaw club members still wear "1%er" patches on their jackets, along with their club's insignia, known as "colors." Members of the major outlaw clubs are often called patch-holders, and protecting club symbols can be a matter of life and death, police say.
Hells Angels, Bandidos, Pagans, Outlaws, and Mongols
The Hells Angels today are the largest 1%er club, with chapters across the United States, as well as in Canada, Australia, Europe and elsewhere. They have about 2,100 members, says Lt. Terry Katz, a motorcycle gang expert with the Maryland State Police.
The Bandidos, based in the Southwest are a close second, also with about 2,100 members, following a rapid expansion in recent years.