Outlaw Bikers and Patched Street Gangs: The Nexus Between Violence and Shadow Economy

Author: Bradley, C1

Published in National Security Journal, 15 May 2020


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Outlaw bikers, patched street gangs and violence make good headlines and stimulate fierce rhetoric in politics, but does this reflect the nexus between gangs, violence and crime? This article analyses gang membership in Aotearoa New Zealand and the nexus between violence and the shadow economy. Patched gangs as a deviant sub-culture have a long history in Aotearoa New Zealand. Drawing on the cultural tenets of the outlaw bikers of North America, outlaw bikers and patched street gangs grew to such an extent that they now have a presence in most towns and cities in Aotearoa New Zealand. One of these tenets is violence and sets patched gangs outside the standard characteristics of hyper-masculine groups: violence also makes gangs well-placed to control areas of the shadow economy. This paper seeks to locate gangs in the cultural landscape of Aotearoa New Zealand and interrogate what attracts young men to these groups applying General Strain Theory. This paper also investigates the tenets of gang culture with a focus on violence and the role it plays in dominating aspects of the shadow economy. Future trends in the face of an increasingly international gang landscape will be considered while issues in obtaining accurate data on gangs will be discussed. It is the author’s contention that increased economic inequality will see gang membership rise with a move by some groups to position themselves to further control the drug trade through the threat or use of violence and the utilisation of transnational networks. The author also contends that some gangs will resist such moves towards organised criminal behaviour.

Keywords: Outlaw Bikers, Patched Street Gangs, Shadow Economics, Violence, Aotearoa New Zealand.


Large patched street gangs and the patched outlaw biker clubs have a long history in Aotearoa New Zealand made up of young males with disproportionate numbers of Māori actively engaging in membership.2 These young men follow strict rules of the sub-culture; a factor which will be discussed below. This paper examines the impact of modern social pressures to explain gang membership and their place in the shadow economy. By exploring the tenets of gang membership, particularly violence, this paper seeks to show that by using the threat of violence within the criminal milieu, gangs are well placed to dominate markets within the shadow economy in alternative communities that see violence as a commodity and recognise its power.


1 Dr Carl Bradley is a Research Fellow with Massey University, Centre for Defence and Security Studies. He researches the changing culture of Outlaw Bikers and Patched Street Gangs as well as indigenous response to colonisation. Carl thanks those who provided feedback of the initial paper given at the 2019 Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand conference. Email contact: C.M.Bradley@massey.ac.nz

2 The author accepts that there are marked differences between outlaw biker clubs and patched street gangs. However, when considering the main tenet of violence that is recognised by both groups, and potential criminal activity, this article looks broadly at both groups within this context of patched membership, violence and crime. There is also an understanding by the author that some outlaw bikers reject the label “gang” but it is used here following Jarrod Gilbert’s definitions of these sub-cultural groups See Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand. (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2013) p. IX.