Rules Hells Angels Have To Follow

The infamous Hells Angels biker gang has been given a lot of bad labels over the years — outlaws, criminals, drug dealers, and so on. Not to say that those are inaccurate descriptions for many of their members who have been convicted of several different crimes, from weapons possession to drug trafficking meth, assault and even murder. But while these terms do not define all of them, the vast majority can truly be viewed in another way too, as warriors.

In 1948, World War II veterans created the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC) when they were growing restless in peacetime, and surplus bikes from the military were dirt cheap. "Hell's Angels" also originally came from the popular nickname for bomber squadrons, so the organization has a strong military foundation. And like them or not, warriors are known to live by a code. The HAMC is no different.

There are few who know the Hells Angels better than former president of the Oakland, California, chapter, Ralph "Sonny" Barger. And in his book, "Hells Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger," he says the motorcycle club "tries to exist with as few rules as possible." But the rules they do have are vital to the survival of the club. This means that if a member breaks the most important parts of the code, there are severe consequences. Some are simply expelled and forced to abandon everything they know. Others are not so lucky and lose their lives.

Members have to be voted in

There are a lot of wannabe badasses in the world who would desire to join the Hells Angels for both the notoriety and respect that comes with membership in such a group. Though ultimately, few make the cut, so the club can take as long as it needs to determine if someone has the necessary commitment and loyalty to become a member. According to the Vancouver Sun, prospective members have to go through a lengthy process before they can even be considered, which could last as long as a few years.

In the first stage, one can become what is referred to as an "official friend" of the club if the majority of the chapter approves the move in a vote. The new "friend" also needs to have a full member as a sponsor before reaching this initial step. Once voted in, the newbie is tasked with the grunt work around the club house, such as guard duty, cleaning, washing motorcycles, and so on. But the prospective members are not allowed to attend meetings.

After passing the newbie phase, "official friends" are promoted to "hangarounds" who are allowed to wear a small black-and-white patch of the chapter they are trying to join, but that's it. Then eventually, they reach the final stage as "prospects." For somewhere between six months to two years, prospects are truly tested to see if they have what it takes to be a Hells Angel. Once this period is over, the prospect becomes a full member if the majority of the chapter votes their approval.

Patches and vests are part of a strict dress code

Equally as important as the membership process are the rules regarding the club's patches and "Death Head" insignia. The Hells Angels and other motorcycle clubs are the only organizations that are considered criminal by the police but still openly display their symbols and colors, notes the Vancouver Sun. According to Sgt. Jacques Lemieux, a Canadian police expert in motorcycle gangs, the Hells Angels want everyone to know that they are part of the most powerful biker gang in the world. This is done not only to intimidate those around them but also shows their fierce loyalty to the club.

After proving to have what it takes to represent the club, full members are allowed to wear the Hells Angels patches, but no one else may ever do so. Even prospects can only wear the letters "MC" and the lower rocker that shows the territory controlled by the chapter. As Sonny Barger says, members are willing to "fight to the death" for their club and the symbol that represents it as well. So, if someone is caught wearing a patch without being a member, he will get his ass kicked.

Vests are also an essential part of the club's mandatory dress code, mostly because that is where all the patches are placed. So, when a Hells Angel is arrested, he tries to give his vest to another member to protect it. But a good example of how much more the patches mean to the Angels over the vest is that when they are in the ER, doctors are allowed to cut through the vest in a medical emergency but are forbidden to cut a patch no matter how grave the injury.

Members always back their brothers

Like how soldiers depend on their comrades in battle, the Hells Angels know that other members will always be there for them when in trouble. According to another former Hells Angels president, George Christie, the main rule is to always back other members (via History). The support is there even if it could lead to violent, bloody encounters.

Christie learned the importance of this rule before he was even a Hells Angel in 1976. When he was a prospect for the Los Angeles chapter, an outsider with a bad attitude pissed off the club president, known as "Old Man John." So, John hit him several times and threatened to cut the man's throat with a knife as he looked up at Christie to see his reaction. After seeing in his eyes that Christie was willing to back whatever action John took, the president was satisfied with the recruit. John then cut off the imposter's jacket and kicked him out of the bar.

The code of silence is mandatory

Club meetings are a vital part of the club to discuss all sorts of important business. But what is not talked about is any sort of illegal activity. The club's security is of utmost importance, so these subjects are completely avoided in official discussions. Even though the Hells Angels do not consider themselves a criminal organization, they still acknowledge that some of their members may be involved in activities outside the law. Because of this, no members are allowed to discuss these outside activities at the club or in any way that would tarnish the reputation of the MC.

George Christie claims that the reason law enforcement agencies categorize the club as criminal is because it is easier for them to target the entire organization rather than specific individuals within the club. If this is the case, it would be easy to see why since it is nearly impossible for the police to infiltrate the Hells Angels, according to the Review Journal. Strict rules have created highly effective barriers to law enforcement, such as the years-long membership process and the structured hierarchy of the club, along with the careful restrictions over what is discussed.

Members must ride in a specific order and pull over together

As a motorcycle club, the Hells Angels spend a considerable amount of time on their bikes and often travel together as a group. With a chain of command similar to a paramilitary organization, the established hierarchy is respected at all times, which is clearly seen when they ride. According to Sgt. Mark Baker of Minnesota State Patrol (via Duluth News Tribune), the Hells Angels ride in a specific formation with the president in the front, followed by the road captain and the sergeant of arms, and then the rest of the members with the prospects in the back.

To keep the order in place, all members pull over at the same time, as well when riding together, especially if a member is pulled over by a police officer. Not only does this showcase their solidarity, but it is also an act of intimidation to say that if you go after one member, the rest have his back.

Members cannot work for a prison or be a cop

Before someone can even try to become a member, there are certain things that instantly disqualify a person. Understandably, rapists can never join the Hells Angels. Though the club also does not want their members to have any connection to law enforcement whatsoever as well. This means that if someone took any steps to become a police officer or prison guard, there is no chance he can ever join the club, says the The Things. Even if it is found out that someone only applied for a job, that still disqualifies the person.

At first, it might seem like the reason for this is simply because members are known to be involved in criminal activities. However, another valid explanation is that the HAMC does not want someone who has taken an oath to uphold the law. The Hells Angels should be every members' top priority, so they do not want the potential for any other organization to test that loyalty.

Never rat out fellow members

One of the most obvious rules is that members are prohibited from incriminating their fellow brothers, or the entire club as a whole. According to The Things, no matter what law enforcement agency is interrogating them, the Hells Angels will keep their mouths shut. If a member is caught giving any sort of information to the police, he will face severe consequences and will probably be kicked out of the club.

But the club takes this a step further in order to ensure its secrecy and protect itself. So, members are also forbidden from giving out any sort of personal information about their brothers without permission. The Hells Angels state this publicly and will go so far as to not even answer questions about missing members. This may seem extreme, but its just another reason why law enforcement struggle so much when trying to infiltrate the HAMC for investigations.

Always a Hells Angel

The initiation process of the HAMC is so long and thorough because it is meant to attract the most loyal members possible who are in it for the long haul. So, the Hells Angels do not officially recognize any retirement from the club and expect members to stay for life. A chapter becomes a member's new family, and his brothers gather to honor his memory when he dies.

However, the club acknowledges that some members have been forced to disassociate themselves due to problems with the law. Other members have been expelled for breaking a rule that should never be broken. For some of these men, getting kicked out is not enough of a punishment and have had their Hells Angels themed tattoos burned off.

There are also members who have resigned and were just forced to return anything with the Hells Angels name or "Death Head" insignia, according to Britannica. One of the most famous examples of this is the retirement of George Christie. According to the former member, he explained his reasons for quitting and thought he left on good terms with the club, as per Vice. However, Christie was shocked weeks later to discover that he was not in good standing and was instead "out bad." The result was the end of all contact with men that used to consider him a brother.

Never talk to the media

The Hells Angels do not want their private business to be known publicly, so as a precaution, members are not allowed to talk to the media. This is just another one of the many steps the club takes to retain their secrecy and security. It is important for them to keep personal information about members safe from reporters, but Sonny Barger admits there are other rules and parts of the Hells Angels code that will never be released to the public.

In 2009, evidence of the biker club's stance towards the media was on full display at their annual summer rally in Carlton, Minnesota. With around 500 of the notorious bikers in attendance, reporters went to the event but noticed that the Hells Angels would consistently stop talking or turn their backs on the media whenever they were present, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

Only Harleys are permitted ... for the most part

Although it is certain that all members must own a bike, it is only tradition that it has to be a Harley. Sonny Barger (via BBC) says "everybody in the club rides Harleys," but admits there is no rule that the motorcycle has to be Harley. One notable exception to the tradition is Buell, but even that is owned by Harley-Davidson.

However, the former chapter president is highly critical of Harleys and says they are a "piece of junk, in terms of machinery," while claiming there are many other members who would agree with him. But even if Japanese bikes perform better, he says that the Hells Angels will never give up their Harleys not only because of tradition but also for patriotism as well. Not to mention the love for that loud "grumble" sound they are famously known for, and the more low-end torque.

Members must show up to club events

Clubhouses are considered home to the Hells Angels, and an essential part of being a member is to attend the weekly meetings that take place there called "church." All sorts of club business is discussed regarding members and important issues like how to deal with the police or the media. According to George Christie (via History), these meetings can be very personal if someone needs to be disciplined, such as if a member has an issue with drugs or alcohol.

To the Hells Angels, showing up to "church" and club events not only shows commitment, it is also a sign of respect for the club. Exceptions can be made for sickness, work, or other serious emergencies, but otherwise members are expected to show up to all scheduled events. If a member misses a meeting without a good reason, he has to pay a fine of $50-100, notes Sam Barger in his book.

Only men can become members

Women are more than welcome to hang out at the clubhouse, especially if they are the wives and girlfriends of members, known as "old ladies." As an essential part of the lifestyle, these women spend much time with their partners, often on the road as well. And in the early days, "old ladies" even wore the treasured patches to increase the exposure of the insignia.

But even respected "old ladies" can only attend meetings on special occasions because women are not allowed to ever become official members. According to Sonny Barger (via BBC), the Hells Angels are "male chauvinist pigs as far as women are concerned but we have a right to be because we want to be."

The Hells Angels also rely upon women in key positions to gather intelligence on law enforcement agencies and rival gangs, says Sgt. Jacques Lemieux, as per the Vancouver Sun. The information obtained is vital to the organization, and the club has had these female spies as air traffic controllers and even in the military.

It is forbidden for members to join another club or gang

The Hells Angels want their members to be loyal to the club above all else. So, just like how they do not want their members taking oaths to serve the law, they also do not want their members loyal to another group. In the past, this rule was so strict that the HAMC did not allow their members to even join the American Motorcyclist Association, says Sonny Barger.

The rule is especially true for other clubs or gangs that do not have a good relationship with the Angels, which would be many biker gangs. Throughout its existence, the club has had conflicts with several other clubs, including the Pagans, Outlaws, Bandidos, and the Mongols. In 2011, the situation was described by George Christie as like armies fighting against each other with the Hells Angels hostile towards all the major clubs.

Hard drug use and drug burns are forbidden

The Hells Angels have been very open about their use of drugs like weed, according to History, and booze for quite some time. However, members are supposed to follow guidelines in order to limit some of the chaos that comes with drug use, such as some of the harder ones being unacceptable. The HAMC forbids the use of heroin and needles, mostly because it damages the reputation of the club.

Other rules are more specific for certain circumstances. Sonny Barger says that smoking weed, or even cigarettes, is prohibited during meetings. And especially if some members are under parole, probation, or might get drug-tested, no one should spike the booze because nobody wants to get messed up unexpectedly.

For a time, the club also banned rip-offs in drug deals, known as drug burns, because stealing damages the reputation of the club. However, the former chapter president claims this is no longer a rule because the cops have used it against them too many times to make criminal charges against the organization.