This move was entirely predictable. The Red Devils’ links to the Hell’s Angels are well known, and having served a mandatory period as an associate group, they have been given leave to wear some identifying Hells Angels insignia. All going to plan, then, in time they will become an official chapter, joining those of Auckland, Wanganui and Nomad.
The Red Devils formed in Nelson in 2009, and their modest ranks were made up of members of the Nelson Bays Motorcycle Club. Apart from their president, a former Road Knight president from Timaru, none had been in an outlaw club before.
The resolve of the fledgling club was quickly tested. Police claimed they were an organised criminal group and infiltrated them with an undercover agent. The arrests stemming from Operation Explorer, however, have never been tested. The forging of documents by police has meant the case is mired in the courts.
While this move by the Hells Angels will undoubtedly cause a stir, nothing much has changed except to expose as a fallacy the idea that police can crush outlaw clubs or gangs with force. While police pressure took some toll on the membership of the Red Devils, those who remained have a steely determination to stay for the long haul. Furthermore, the addition now of the Hells Angels brand is likely to assist in swelling the ranks of those wanting to join.
Cohesion caused by conflict with police is well evinced in New Zealand gang history, and numerous examples are outlined in PATCHED.
For the Hells Angels this history started in Auckland in 1961. Incredibly, this makes the first New Zealand chapter the fourth oldest in the world, and the first to form outside of California.
For years Nelson had just one outlaw club, and no other gangs, that being the Lost Breed. Now it has three (the third being the Rebels who set up shop just less than two years ago). In Nelson, then, we see a microcosm of New Zealand generally.
Four years ago I was suggesting the outlaw scene was in a moribund state but since then it has been expanding rapidly. The scene hasn’t seen such growth since the 1970s. The reasons for this are rather complex, but certainly popular media has played a part. Outlaw clubs, for certain people at least, have returned to vogue.
Brotherhood, booze and bikes. The outlaws, it seems, are back.
* Thanks to those who point it out to me, but ‘Hells Angels’ doesn’t have an apostrophe (a quirk of history).
** The photo is of an early NZ Hells Angel patch.