33 Hells Angels Photos That Put You Inside The Notorious Biker Gang

Published April 4, 2018
Updated April 6, 2018

From rape to robbery and meth to murder, the Hells Angels have earned their reputation as history's most infamous motorcycle club. These vintage photos take you inside the gang.

Hells Angels Risky Rider
Hanging Out
Biker Couple
Cop With Hells Angels Biker
33 Hells Angels Photos That Put You Inside The Notorious Biker Gang
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This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the most notorious motorcycle club the world has ever known: the Hells Angels.

Decades later, the infamous biker gang still makes regular headlines for its counterculture lifestyle and criminal activities.

The roots of the Hells Angels trace back to Fontana and San Bernardino, Calif. just after the end of World War II. Upon returning from the war, many G.I.s felt bored with the return to civilian life and longed for the brotherhood and excitement that they'd had within the military.

Various loosely organized motorcycle-riding clubs sprang up, and among these was one that took its name from a wartime flying squadron, which itself was named after the fighting aviators of a famous 1930 film: Hells Angels. However, contrary to popular belief, none of the founding members of the first Hells Angels were part of the World War II flying squadron, though squadron member Arvid Olsen did suggest the name to the club's founding members.

The group's reputation and membership grew during the 1950s, but it was during the turbulent 1960s that the Hells Angels bikers truly made a name for themselves. During this time, members of the club could often be seen sporting their "death's head" insignia on highways, in bars, and at rock concerts.

Furthermore, the Hells Angels were seen as the torchbearers of what was known as the "one percenter" motorcycle clubs, meaning that they live an outlaw lifestyle different from the other 99 percent of bikers.

This notion perhaps reached its peak in 1969 at California's infamous Altamont Speedway Free Festival when a concertgoer was stabbed to death by the Angels, who had been hired by The Rollings Stones as security to help deal with the crowd.

The victim, an 18-year-old man named Meredith Hunter, tried to rush the stage before drawing a gun. Hells Angel Alan Passaro then stepped in and stabbed Hunter, killing him. Passaro was charged with murder but ultimately acquitted, with the jury having seen footage from the concert that showed Hunter raising his gun. After Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger criticized the Angels over the incident, they plotted (unsuccessfully) to have him killed.

The stabbing came not long after California's Attorney General Thomas C. Lynch issued a report on motorcycle gangs like the Hells Angels that labeled them as dangerous to society and sparked national media interest. Likewise, films about the Angels as well as author Hunter S. Thompson's reports from inside the group helped invite more attention toward the group and Oakland president-cum-national spokesman Ralph (Sonny) Barger in particular.

Over the ensuing years, the group did not shake its violent reputation. As TIME wrote, "Many Hells Angels have clearly lived up to their lawless image — arrests and convictions for drug trafficking (especially meth), assault, weapons possession and even murder have trailed the group for decades."

As recently as 2002, three bikers were killed in a brawl between the Angels and the rival Mongols gang at a Nevada casino. And in 2016, a Hells Angels member shot a man who'd simply moved a traffic cone in front of their New York headquarters.

While the motorcycle outfit to this day remains no stranger to violent crimes, the organization maintains that the crimes committed by a few members have been unfairly portrayed by the media and law enforcement to represent the club as a whole. It's not uncommon for charters to regularly participate in various charity rides in an effort to shake the negative publicity that has followed the bikers for decades.

Police raids and headlines reporting biker fisticuffs have done little to stifle the growth of the Angels — which have hundreds of charters on every continent in the world except Antarctica, with their headquarters in New York City.

Despite the group's worldwide proliferation, becoming a patch-wearing member of the group requires more than simply riding a Harley. Interested members must be invited by a "fully-patched" member and must not be a police officer, a former police officer, or anyone who even applied to be a police officer.

There are also questions as to how race affects membership eligibility. While the overwhelmingly white club doesn't claim to be racially segregated as a whole, Sonny Barger stated in an interview, "We probably have enough racist members that no black guy is going to get in."

Whether it's a matter of race, drugs, or violence, the Hells Angels' way of life has long been one of controversy and conflict, both with the law and the norms of society as a whole. It's that commitment to living by their own rules though, for better or worse, that has captivated the public's interest in them for decades. See for yourself in the gallery above.


After this photographic trip through Hells Angels history, see some more of the past's most infamous motorcycle gangs in action. Then, step inside the rebellious world of outlaw country music of the 1960s and 1970s.

Joel Stice
Joel Stice is a writer who enjoys digging into all things pop culture, history, science, and anything weird.
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