Hells Angels spread wings
Ulrich Detrois can’t hold down a job. He spends his days at home, sometimes taking a ride on his motorcycle. But to do so is to risk his life. He’s a former Hells Angel.
“The Hells Angels have put a prize on my head,” Detrois — known as Bad Boy Uli — tells Metro. “But I try to live a normal life. If someone shows up at my house with an automatic rifle, it simply means my life is over.”
Speaking to the press, too, is a risk to Detrois’ life. Unfortunately, Detrois is unusual in being a former Hells Angel. According to new figures from Europol, motorcycle gangs are growing a dramatic pace. During the past five years, the Hells Angels and rivals like the Bandidos and the Outlaws have launched more than 120 new chapters in Europe. Today more than 425 chapters of motorcycle gangs operate in Europe; in North America there are some 300 chapters, though the FBI estimates there may now be as many as 520 in the United States alone.
The gangs claim they’re simply interested in riding their choppers.
“But that’s not the truth at all,” says Detrois. “The Hells Angels are a thoroughly criminal gang, and all new members are aware of this. Everyone has to help out in things like murders. I joined because I wanted to continue running my brothel.”
According to Europol, most motorcycle gang members have previously been convicted of crimes. Prisons are now the gangs’ preferred recruitment spot, while hooligans are an increasingly popular pool.
“The gangs make money through extortion, drug trade, arms trafficking and prostitution,” explains Europol spokesman Soren Pedersen. “And they’re dangerous to the public because they often have shootouts to establish their superiority over each other.”
Gang members vow to share criminal profits with their chapter. But when Detrois, a then-vice president, criticized how some Angels enriched themselves, he was kicked out. The Moscow chapter has been tasked with killing Detrois. But he doesn’t regret becoming a member.
“It was a good life,” he says. “I got to travel all over the world.”
Prospective members of a gang must show their interest by showing up at bars and other places frequented by gang members in the hope of being seen.
After a while, a current member may invite the newcomer to become a supporter, a position that includes performing menial tasks like repairing motorbikes and taking out the trash. If successful, a supporter is upgraded to “prospect status,” which can last for several years. “Prospects are invited to fights so members can see how they behave,” explains former Hells Angels Vice President Ulrich Detrois.
When the Angels rose from Hell
Sixty-two years ago, returning WWII veterans and disgruntled members of clubs like the Pissed Off Bastards of Bloomington founded the Hells Angels in California. (The club says it doesn’t use an apostrophe because there are many hells.) “Hell’s Angels” was a common name among WWII bomber squadrons.
The organization gained worldwide notoriety at a Rolling Stones concert in San Francisco, where its members acted as security guards and one of them killed a spectator. Though they’re not the oldest, the Hells Angels remain the world’s largest gang. But today the “Angels” have stiff competition from the Bandidos, the Outlaws and the Pagans.
“Motorcycle gangs are as organized as Mexican drug cartels and the Mafia”
60 seconds with …
Tom Barker, professor of criminal justice, Eastern Kentucky University; former biker and police officer
Which gang rules the scene today?
The Hells Angels have more members than the other groups, but the Bandidos and the Outlaws are equally powerful. The leading groups are growing particularly fast. Even though they were founded in the United States, they now have more chapters overseas than in the U.S.
Which crimes do motorcycle gangs specialize in?
They’re as organized as the Mafia and the Mexican drug cartels. In fact, they often cooperate with the drug cartels. They’re particularly involved in drug trafficking, but they aren’t picky. If there’s a way of making money, the biker gangs will do it. For example, they run off-shore gambling websites. But they operate under the radar. They use other groups, like street gangs and youth gangs, to distance themselves from the crimes. This limits the risk of being arrested.