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

Author: Bradley, C
Published in National Security Journal, 15 May 2020

Neo-liberal capitalist ideology and the widening gap in economic equality has placed modern society under considerable stress. Given the increasing numbers of patched gang members and their growing prison population (Table 2), Merton’s second adaptation of innovation and the search for status, respect and power can help explain the nexus between gangs and the shadow economy. But what makes such a connection possible?

Tenets of patched gangs and outlaw bikers

When we appreciate the cultural tenets of outlaw biker and patched street gang culture, we can begin to understand the nexus between some gangs and crime. The tenets of gang culture are the major characteristics that shape the inner structure and attitudes of the patched gang members, but also the outward appearance of the gang. Outlaw biker and patched street gang culture has an outward uniformity in its symbolic markers and perceived anti-social behaviours. Aspects of such behaviours, particularly the “barbarian culture” offences,30 are often taken up by politicians and media around election time and can be what shapes public perceptions of the outlaw biker and patched street gangs.

International literature on gangs and gang membership have identified tenets of the outlaw culture31 and these can also be applied to the patched street gangs of Aotearoa New Zealand. Before we look at the Aotearoa New Zealand context, we need to list such tenets, with some detail given to the para-military nature of gangs. Such a focus helps explain their ability to control the shadow world and criminal entrepreneurship. The key tenets from the outlaw biker culture include; being a “righteous” biker showing the qualities for toughness and violence;32a strong sense of brotherhood;33 military or combat cohesion;34 counter-cultural ideals;35 a male dominant society or saloon culture;36 and riding large American motorcycles within the context of outlaw bikers gangs and some patched street gangs.37 These tenets made their way to Aotearoa New Zealand when Jim Carrico unofficially established the Hells Angels chapter in Auckland in the early 1960s that followed the structure of the Californian Hells Angels.38

The idea of a righteous biker is taken from the North American literature on outlaw bikers and can be recognised as having what it takes to be a fully patched member of a gang. This can be applied across the gang cultural landscape where the tenet of brotherhood creates the social bonding based on an understanding of the strict rules that govern small group cohesion and culture. In this environment partying and fighting are attributes that hold currency. In a sense, these tenets form a web of inter-connectedness. In social interaction and the pressure of violent confrontation, potential gang members are introduced to the culture and assessed for their suitability