by Sev Pearman
This month’s selection is for those who enjoy behind-the-scenes stories. The Brotherhoods is an insiders look at Australian outlaw motorcycle clubs. American-born author Arthur Veno has a Ph.D. in social psychology and has been studying the groups formally for over seventeen years. He is referred to as “Australia’s foremost independent expert on outlaw motorcycle clubs.”
Mr. Veno states right at the start that he is neither a “one percenter” in general nor a member of any specific outlaw motorcycle club. He doesn’t even ride a cycle. He prefers to describe himself as a “ten percenter;” that he is able to move on the edge of outlaw culture, but cannot travel within it. By offering calming strategies to both police and outlaw clubs, he has helped minimize many conflicts between the two. This unique ability has permitted entry into their society.
The author provides a necessary history of clubs, their structure and organization. Their rise after WWII is detailed, along with the hyping of events at Hollister in 1947. He details club officer hierarchy as well as the democratic importance of Parliamentary Procedure in club meetings. He shares many anecdotes from past and present riders of the rigid rules and commitment required of club members. Members are required to attend all runs, meetings and club business. Family and work are second.
Many stories of inter-club fights are included, often told by members from both sides. Mr. Veno writes about the ongoing feud between the Hell’s Angels and Bandidos as well as Australia’s most notorious biker event, the Father’s Day Massacre of 1984, in which seven people were killed.
Animosity between outlaw clubs and the police is detailed in Chapter Thirteen (The Big Blue Gang) Mr. Veno argues that police target outlaw clubs for cheap public relations. It is easier to harass riders than it is to crack corporate crime and multinational drug syndicates.
Drug use, manufacture and distribution are also frankly discussed. Bikers seem to accept alcohol and marijuana consumption, but anything else is denied. Officially, almost all Australian clubs ban narcotics and syringe use. They feel that it is too risky; that needle-users are untrustworthy; that narcotic use brings unwanted attention to the club as a whole.
An entire chapter is devoted to the topic of methamphetamine use and manufacture. While no rider admits to using speed, neither do any of them deny it. Most clubs have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of how members earn their living. While bikers have been arrested for crank manufacture and distribution in the past, Clubs feel it is an individual problem. They claim that it is the crime of a specific member, not the Club as a whole. Or as one Outlaw states, “The chapter isn’t criminal, but some criminals are in the chapter.”
The Brotherhoods is an entertaining read. To his credit, Mr. Veno backs his data with extensive endnotes. Perhaps fearing retribution, individual riders aren’t identified nor are their stories confirmed. I believe that the author wanted to write a book on biker culture like Hunter S. but didn’t want to get pummeled. This factual hedging keeps The Brotherhoods from equaling Thompson’s excellent Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga. Recommended with three out of four cylinders.
Weekend Rider–One helluva read.
Infiltrator–“Me and my bro are gonna kick yer ass”
One Percenter–Its all lies, man.