They may account for just a small fraction of gang members in the U.S, but that doesn’t stop outlaw motorcycle gangs, or ‘One-Percenters’ as they’re also known, to be seen by American law enforcement as being one of the most dangerous gangs in their jurisdiction. With an image cemented by television shows like Sons of Anarchy, One-Percenters are portrayed as violent criminals involved in everything from drugs and contract killing to other organised crime.
Coining the term
The term ‘One-Percenters’ was first used after the annual Gypsy Tour motorcycle race took place in Hollister, California on July 4th, 1947. Nearly 4,000 motorcycle fans descended on the town, with many racing cars and drinking for three days before the police were called in to end the event.
Although 55 bikers were arrested on charges of misdemeanour with no violence against any locals or damage to property, many newspapers and Life magazine sensationalised the bikers’ booze-filled antics in what became known as the ‘Hollister Riot’. Thanks to attention-grabbing headlines and a set-up photo of a biker surrounded by broken beer bottles, the public soon associated motorcycle groups with violence and unruly, gang-type behaviour.
Shortly after, the American Motorcycle Association allegedly tried to defend bikers’ reputation by stating that the public image of bikers was tarnished by only a ‘one percent deviant’. Although 99 percent of bikers were law-abiding citizens, it was the ‘one percent’ causing trouble, who were nothing more than ‘outlaws.’ The AMA has since denied using the ‘one percent’ reference and say that it is a misquote, but that didn’t stop it the term from catching on, with many outlaw motorcycle gangs proudly calling themselves ‘One-Percenters’.
The term ‘One-Percenters’ may have taken off after the Hollister incident, but the culture of outlaw motorcycle gangs had been growing since the end of the Second World War. When millions of young men came back after the war, they struggled to readjust to life as a civilian. Missing the risk-taking of war and the camaraderie meant, biker clubs filled the void with male bonding and dangerous activities.
‘Outlaw’ motorcycle clubs used to refer to clubs that weren’t recognized by the AMA as they did not follow AMA rules, but these days there is little difference between Outlaws and One-Percenters. It’s argued that although all One-Percenters are outlaw clubs as they don’t follow AMA rules, that doesn’t mean all outlaw motorcycle clubs are One-Percenters and take part in criminal activity.
The Big Four
It became easy to distinguish these so called One-Percenters by the diamond-shaped 1% patch they wore on their leather jacket. Clubs associated with being One-Percenters include Outlaws, Pagans, Bandidos and the infamous Hells Angels. These are deemed by the authorities as being the main ‘Big Four’ of the One-Percenters, but there are hundreds of other One-Percenters clubs which exist within the biker subculture. The main One-Percenter clubs also have chapters in the UK, with Hells Angels and the Outlaws having officially affiliated clubs in England and Wales.
The Hells Angels, founded in 1948, are one of the most recognised of the One-Percenters. Enemies of the Hells Angels include the Bandidos, founded in 1966, and the Outlaws, which was founded in 1935 before the post-war motorcycle club boom. The typically secretive Pagans club was founded in 1959 and although smaller than others, is included in the ‘Big Four’ due to a propensity toward violence and criminal activity. Another One-Percenter group on the rise is the Mongols, a Latino gang from Los Angeles, which is growing quickly in the US and starting to go international.
Since the 1990s, the geographic distribution of the One-Percenters has changed considerably. Whereas the Hells Angels were in the West Coast and the Northeast, the Mongols in Southern California and so on, now the One-Percenters are expanding into each other’s territories which causes violent conflict.