Myth of the 20th Century – Episode 69: Hell’s Angels – Sympathy for the Devil

Social Matter
May 12, 2018

Welcome to the Myth of the 20th Century. The podcast airs on Fridays.

— Brought to you by —

Adam Smith, Nick Mason, Hans Lander, Alex Nicholson, Hank Oslo and special guest James LaFond


Outlaws, biker gang, scourges and scoundrels, devils and angels. The names used to describe the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club are evocative of marauding barbarian hordes, an image its members no doubt seek to cultivate, at least implicitly. Officially the Hell’s Angels are a corporation with merchandising rights to the usage of their logo, and are motorcycle enthusiasts engaged in social activities and advocates for better technical understanding of automotive mechanics. Unofficially – they engage in a multitude of criminal acts including drug and weapon smuggling, prostitution, and murder for hire. The origins of the Angels is murky at best, but is usually traced to WWII veterans in California organizing around motorcycle rallies and forming clubs to escape some of the working class drudgery from which they often came, inspired by movies such as The Wild One with Marlon Brando in 1953. By 1966, with the release of Hunter S. Thompson’s seminal work on the Hell’s Angels, Hollywood was making movies about the Angels themselves. But by 1969, when the Rolling Stones selected the bikers to act as security for their concert in Altamont, California, the ‘summer of love’ seemed to come to a bloody end when the Angels stabbed to death a man wielding a gun and trying to rush the stage. The Angels’ reputation for violence has stayed with them ever since.


1945 – World War II comes to a close, creating a surplus of well-trained and disillusioned military men who are unable to properly adapt to military life.
July 4th, 1947 – The ‘Hollister Riot’ starts when over 4,000 disorganized motorcycle gangs descend on the town of Hollister, CA. The event is often seen as the impetus for later intrigue and organization of the Hells Angels.
1948 – The Bishop Family is credited with the first chapters of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club in San Bernardino and Fontana, CA.
1953 – The film ‘The Wild One’, starring Marlon Brando, is released. The popular and sympathetic look at rebellious motorcycle club outlaws provides more cultural impetus for HAMC cultural consolidation.
1961 – HAMC begins spreading across the continental United States, as well as internationally in New Zealand.
1966 – The Hells Angels’ primary motorcycle gang rivals, the Bandidos, are formed by Houston, TX dockworkers. This marks the beginning of a nearly 50-year struggle between the two clubs over territory and vice industry smuggling.
1966 – Hunter S. Thompson’s book ‘Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs’ is released, providing some of the greatest insights into the club’s hierarchy to date.
1969 – The Altamont Speedway concert becomes an inflection point for HAMC, after they are hired as security for Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. The Angels are involved in several acts of violence, including a stabbing, and develop a terrible reputation.
1970’s – HAMC becomes involved in the drug trade across California, and later much of North America. This creates most of the reasons behind their conflict with the Bandidos.
1982 – Operation Rough Rider begins in Baltimore, MD when the FBI, DEA, and various state police departments begin an undercover operation to purchase drugs from HAMC members. This leads to mass arrests across the country in 1985.
1984 – The international drug and territory war between the Bandidos and HAMC intensifies with the ‘Milperra Massacre’ in Sydney, Australia. This results in the death of four people and an international investigation into HAMC chapter activities.
Mid-1990s – Biker wars break out across the Nordic region between HAMC, Bandidos, and various other gangs.
Late-1990s – Biker wars in Quebec cost the lives of over 150 people and place the HAMC in the sights of several American, Canadian, and international law enforcement agencies.


– Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, Thompson (1966)
– Hunter S. Thompson meets a Hell’s Angel, CBC (1967) –
– Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Wolfe (1968)
– Gimme Shelter, Maysles (1970)
– Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirsig (1974)
– Running with the Devil – The True Story of the ATF’s Infiltration of the Hells Angels, Droban (2007)
– Breaking the Code, Matter (2014)
– Big Ron on Bikers, LaFond (2018) –