Book Review – ‘Outlaw Bikers and Ancient Warbands: Hyper-Masculinity and Cultural Continuity’

Reviewer: Dr Damien Rogers
Review published in National Security Journal, 30 May 2022

outlaw biker groups as a ‘problem’ to be solved through a tough stance on crime, these material conditions are a root cause that is seldom acknowledged, let alone addressed, even as the social cleavages driven by economic inequalities continue to deepen.

Bradley identifies the main characteristics of these outlaw biker groups as brotherhood, which “excludes women and other men who do not share the patch or the hyper-masculine markers” (p.19); demonstrable warrior prowess; being bound by oath and honour and observing codes of loyalty and bravery; and outwardly celebrating “the gory and bloody nature of warfare” (p.24). The concept of hyper-masculinity, and the associated practices of prioritising the needs and wants of a small group of men ahead of other men and all women, is the key that unlocks Bradley’s thinking on the rise and spread of these groups, as well as on their modes of conduct. It is a concept that underpins, sustains and justifies the use of violence, including highly gendered violence against women used to control them through fear, and justified by a toxic logic of patriarchy that views women as little more than the property of men and who need to be protected from themselves and others. It is Bradley’s thesis that outlaw biker groups draw on, sustain, and advance this set of cultural ideas, values and practices, the roots of which go right back to Antiquity and the first efforts to record human history.

In order to accurately describe the main characteristics of his subject matter and to more comprehensively understand the outlaw biker’s world, Bradley draws not only on the very latest international scholarship from criminology, but also on recent news reporting, ‘true crime’ journalism and the memoirs of ex-bikers. Notwithstanding the book’s insightful exposition of a violent group in contemporary world affairs, perhaps the book’s most enduring intellectual contribution lies in its innovative comparative approach. Bradley not only sees similarities between outlaw bikers and ancient warbands, but consults an array of ancient sources – including the writings of Julius Caesar and Tacitus as well as Aneurin’s Golodin and the Old English saga, Beowulf, which are in turn buttressed by the work of archaeologists specialising in Iron Age societies – to devise a bespoke analytic framework to make sense of outlaw biker groups as a contemporary phenomenon. This is salient when researching violent groups that tend to be highly suspicious of outsiders. There are few scholars who possess the intellectual acuity required to design such a framework, but Bradley’s doctoral research at the Classics Department within the University of Newcastle, Australia, equipped him well for this arduous task.

This surefooted and intellectually productive effort has yielded an approach for making better sense of outlaw biker groups that will also enable a greater comprehension of other kinds of violent groups that draw on, and sustain, cultures of hyper-masculinity. Bradley not only concludes  that  “outlaw bikers are just one group within modern society that prioritise hyper-masculinity  in   the formation,  socialization  and enforcement  of