You Gotta Be Dirty: The Outlaws Motorcycle Club In & Around Wisconsin Book Review By David Walton - IJMS (2022)

You Gotta Be Dirty: The Outlaws Motorcycle Club In & Around Wisconsin Book Review By David Walton - IJMS (1)You Gotta Be Dirty: The Outlaws Motorcycle Club In & Around Wisconsin
By Michael Grogan
Wisconsin: Badger Wordsmith, 2016
ISBN-13: 978-0-692-77436-6

Michael Grogan’s book, You Gotta Be Dirty: The Outlaws Motorcycle Club In & Around Wisconsin (2016) landed on my desk a few weeks back—and I’m glad it did. As the title suggests, it focuses on the Outlaws Motorcycle Club (MC) and adds another chapter to our historical understanding of the 1%er outlaw motorcycle clubs. In this review I’ll offer some brief contextualization, give an outline of its aims and contents, what readers can expect from reading it and bring out what I think are the book’s merits.

Ever since Hunter Thompson’s Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga (1966) there has been an almost constant trickle of books recounting the exploits of 1%er outlaw clubs, either told from within (like Frank Reynolds’ Freewheelin Frank (1967) George Wathern’s Wayward Angel: The Full Story of the Hells Angels (1978) and Sonny Barger’s Hell’s Angels: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club (2000) or told by others with access to ex members (Tony Thompson’s Outlaws: Inside the Hell’s Angel Biker Wars (2011) or by those on the outside looking in like…. Of course, Hunter Thompson was positioned in-between, an outsider allowed to eavesdrop on the Hell’s Angels and get closer to the club (in much the same way that Daniel Wolf did in The Rebels: A Brotherhood of Outlaw Bikers (1991)). The general focus of these books has been on the clubs themselves and while the police and other law agencies have often played important roles in the narratives they have, more often than not, very much been in the background. However, this is where Michael Grogan’s book differs and, in my opinion, has something relatively distinct and important to offer. I write ‘relatively’ because there have been a number of studies written by undercover agents who have infiltrated 1%er clubs (Alex Caine’s Befriend and Betray (2009), William Queen’s Under and Alone (2011), Jay Dobyns No Angel (2010) are just three fairly recent examples); however, Grogan claims no privileged insider knowledge but his interest is clearly shaped by how the Wisconsin Outlaws Motorcycle Club which broke, evaded and to some extent succumbed to (the often weak arm of) the law.

Grogan begins his book by emphasizing the difficulty of unravelling the history of 1%er MCs, given that, as many authors have made clear, clubs shroud themselves in secrecy and, in the case of the Outlaws some search warrants and police reports are no longer available. This seems to me to be a wise move and what it necessitates is a historical technique that relies not on an insider view of the Outlaws activities but on government documents, newspaper reports and personal correspondence with law enforcers. This point of a view situates the focal point very much from the perspective of those whose job it is to enforce the law. While this might seem as if the book is an apology for police agencies (and while it is in no way pro-1%er MC) it is critical (if very respectful) of the Milwaukee Police Department and what Grogan sees as the leniency and inefficacy of the criminal justice system in the 1960s and 70s. In this respect the book resembles the 1967 biker action-flick Born Losers (T.C. Frank, alias Tom Laughlin of Billy Jack fame) where the MC is able to put the finger up to law enforcers–until the end when the MC is finally subdued by the law. Grogan’s study suggests that owing to the excessive leniency shown by the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office, in failing to react with sufficient severity (by giving low bail for offenses like sexual assault, shootings and murders) it took some thirty years before federal prosecutors could make any real headway in terms of prosecuting criminal members of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club.

Drawing on Randy McBee’s recent excellent book Born to Be Wild (2015) and other studies Grogan’s book dedicates his first two chapters to an exploration of how what he calls ‘outlaw motorcycle gangs’ in the United States (some colleagues might object to the use of the word ‘gang’ rather than ‘club’ as insufficiently accurate) have evolved. This examination of the customs, norms and traditions enables the writer to trace the migration of what he calls this ‘dangerous, complex, and narcissistic ideology’ to Wisconsin (the writing style here alerts the reader to the perspective of the author). In this section there is some valuable contextual information (for those not familiar with the subject) on the genesis of 1%er clubs starting with the disaffected Second World War veterans and the infamous Hollister incident in 1947 which, with the aid of film and the media, helped to imprint the outlaw image on the consciousness of North America and, later, on other parts of the world. Grogan also links the outlaw clubs to other organized criminal groups like the mafia, which helps to see them within a broader perspective. Other important topics explored by Grogan are club membership and colors, the role of women, the social-political philosophy behind the clubs, the code of silence and brotherhood and the international spread of the 1%er clubs.

Eight chapters are dedicated to further the reader’s understanding of how the Outlaws came into existence and how they sought to dominate other 1%er clubs in and around Wisconsin. These chapters also go into considerable detail about the key members, and the vicissitudes, of the police forces, like Milwaukee Police Department’s twelfth police chief, Harold Breier, and Sergeant Frank Miller, who would be instrumental in bringing many members of the Outlaws to justice. These chapters include the recounting of how Outlaw members evolved from intimidating ‘ruffians’ to ‘deadly eradicators’ (49), the typical crimes perpetrated by the club (based in and around stolen vehicles, trafficking drugs and arms) and the brutal and violent incidents that arose from the Outlaws’ conflicts with other clubs and their ten-year confrontation with the Heaven’s Devils MC, which refused to concede to their demands. Like many books in the field, this makes compulsive reading and, in the convoluted plots drawn out through time, the violence, beatings, retaliations and deaths, often resembles a scaled down version of the blood-curdling narratives found in series like The Last Chapter and Sons of Anarchy (and the myriad number of films dedicated to biker mayhem) only this, of course, in all its crudity, isn’t fiction and we read about how both club members and innocent ‘citizens’ are injured, maimed or killed.

This unrelenting tone, intertwined with police efforts to convict perpetrators of crime, is sustained in the final three chapters where Grogan brings the reader to the 1990s when the Outlaws where involved in violent attempts to impede the Hell’s Angels expansion into their territory which lasted seven long years. These chapters also chart how the federal and state law enforcement agencies gradually developed the means to challenge the outlaw gangs and their criminal activities–including what Grogan considers ‘an at-will urban terrorist network’ (4).

While Grogan’s study is an investigation of a subculture, the book is historical rather than ethnographic so does not draw on sociological or cultural theory to shape its ideas in the way that studies like Stanley Cohen’s Folk Devils and Moral Panics (1972), Paul Willis’ classic analysis of British rockers, Profane Culture (1978), or Daniel Wolf’s ethnographic study of a Canadian MC, The Rebels (1991), do. There are many books in this subgenre which function at the level of anecdotal evidence (like Yves Lavigne’s Hell’s Angels: Three can keep a Secret if two are Dead (1987)) but this is not the case here. Grogan draws on the press, police records and personal connections with law enforcers and all sources are cited and he offers considerable substantiating evidence. He also provides useful glossary of abbreviated terms (although this might have been extended).

I have a couple of observations on things I think might have been treated a little differently (which I hope will serve as constructive criticism). I would like to have seen the book situated with relation to other books in the field to help to bring out its particular contribution and originality. On page two the author claims that his historical focus is ‘non-ideological’. Post Marx and Foucault etc., I don’t think this is any longer a viable claim. I’m not accusing the author of trying to distort the information but, as Hayden White and a host of other writers have suggested, all history is a form of writing and decisions have to be taken about what to include and exclude, chapters have to be structured and historical plots formulated. The plot in Grogan’s book is interesting but not, from my perspective, beyond ideology. Grogan also states that he thinks that government documents, newspaper reports and other primary sources ‘generally speak for themselves’. Surely not! In fact, I think the value of the book, and its art, is in the way that the author is able to make them speak in a coherent and intelligible form. I’m not sure the rape recounted on page 81 needs such lurid detail (although it does convey something of the sheer horror suffered by the victim). There are a few typos scattered through its pages but otherwise it reads very well.

This is not a book designed for those looking to challenge the image of the 1%er outlaw clubs as violent, criminal organizations; it tends to confirm what many earlier books have established but, of course, this does not diminish the book–it has to stand up according to its own aims–and it certainly achieves this. It is not as broad ranging as some of the histories of 1%er clubs but in my opinion it does give valuable insights into the particular machinations of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club (and their associates and enemies) in and around Wisconsin connected to the (more or less efficient) cat and mouse attempts by the law enforcers to trap patch members who were considered or suspected of being involved in criminal behaviour or activities. As suggested earlier, lenient sentences and modest bail conditions, in Grogan’s view, often helped the Outlaws make a mockery of the criminal justice system and sections of the book serve as an indictment of the legal system.

In this review I have deliberately avoided recounting the most hair-raising incidents of the book in an effort not to steal the writer’s thunder. In short, it is a highly readable and dramatic history, a veritable rogues gallery of 1%er outlaws where guns, theft, rape, brutal inter-gang violence, explosions, innocent deaths, near escapes, police successes and failures all coalesce into a rich, if bloody, kaleidoscope that ranges over a considerable historical period. All this in 190 pages. I would urge anyone interested in outlaw clubs to read You Gotta Be Dirty: The Outlaws Motorcycle Club In & Around Wisconsinby Michael Grogan because it makes a valuable contribution to the literature and will, I suspect, spark debate in terms of its general focus.

David Walton is Senior Lecturer and coordinator of cultural studies at the University of Murcia and has taught courses on popular cultures, postmodern cultures, the history of thought, and literary and cultural theory. He currently teaches courses on cultural theory and cultural practice at undergraduate level, and comparative postmodern literatures and cultures at master’s level. He is a founding member, and currently President, of the Iberian Association of Cultural Studies (IBACS), which is dedicated to the promotion of the area on the Iberian Peninsular. He has organized a number of conferences and published widely in cultural theory, cultural studies and visual cultures. Recent books include Introducing Cultural Studies: Learning Through Practice (SAGE, 2008) and Doing Cultural Theory (SAGE, 2012), and his latest publication (with Juan Antonio Suárez) is Culture, Space and Power: Blurred Lines (Lexington, 2015). Recently, he has also published chapters and articles on new sexualities, the satire of Chris Morris, graffiti culture, the interfaces between philosophy and cultural studies and road racing on the Isle of Man TT.

FAQs

What is a 1 percenter biker? ›

One percenter

Some outlaw motorcycle clubs can be distinguished by a "1%" patch worn on the colors. This is said to refer to a comment by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) that 99% of motorcyclists were law-abiding citizens, implying the last one percent were outlaws.

What does being a 1 percenter mean? ›

one-percenter (plural one-percenters) A member of the top one percent of a population by wealth, ability, etc. ( same as the ninety-ninth percentile), especially in a society with high wealth inequality.

What does OAA stand for Outlaws? ›

The Outlaws Motorcycle Club, incorporated as the American Outlaws Association or its acronym, A.O.A., is an outlaw motorcycle club that was formed in McCook, Illinois in 1935. It is one of the largest Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs in the world and rivals the Hells Angels. Outlaws Motorcycle Club.

What states are Pagans MC in? ›

They are currently active in California, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, West Virginia, Washington State and Puerto Rico.

Who is the Hells Angels biggest rival? ›

The Outlaws and Hells Angels have been death rivals since day one. Great attempts are being made by the Hells Angels to reactivate the North Carolina chapter.

Why do bikers point down? ›

That's the most common variant, MotoSport reports. But why do riders do it? The two-finger motorcycle wave is often a way of telling your fellow riders to stay safe, BikeBandit explains. Those two fingers pointed down symbolize keeping your bike's two wheels on the ground.

What patches should you not wear on a vest? ›

We highly recommend for your safety and the safety of others (especially those you ride out with) that you never, ever wear any patches associated with the Hells Angels, Mongols, Outlaws, Bandidos, or Sons of Silence. These 5 Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMGs) earn their patches over years of service to their MC.

What does the 1 tattoo mean? ›

Some outlaw motorcycle clubs can be distinguished by a 1% patch worn on the colors. This is claimed to be a reference to a comment made by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) in which they stated that 99% of motorcyclists were law-abiding citizens, implying that the last one percent were outlaws.

What is a 3 er biker? ›

Many outlaw motorcycle clubs will give people one-third of their patch after they complete certain trials, giving them the second part of the patch after additional trials. It's only after their entire initiation process has been completed that they are given the third part of the patch.

What do the colored wings on a biker vest mean? ›

Red Wings means wearer had oral sex while female was menstruating. Purple Wings means wearer had oral sex with a female corpse. Green Wings means the wearer had oral sex with a woman who has. a venereal disease. Gold Wings means wearer performed sexual relations with a woman.

What is a 1% Hells Angel? ›

The term "one-percenter" is said to be a response to the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) comment on the Hollister incident to the effect that 99% of motorcyclists were law-abiding citizens and 1% were outlaws.

What does a filthy few patch mean? ›

22 A member who has done prison time 666 Patch worn on an outlaw member's colors, or tattoo, symbolizing the mark of Satan. 666 Patch worn by the Hells Angels: 666 = FFF = Filthy Few Forever. The Filthy Few is the Hells Angels “Enforcer” Squad.

What is the largest motorcycle club in the United States? ›

American Motorcycle Association. The American Motorcycle Association (AMA) isn't just the largest motorcycle club in the US, it's the largest in the entire world. With a membership that runs into the millions, the AMA is the loudest, proudest proponent of biker's rights in the country.

What bike do Pagans ride? ›

Membership. Members of the Pagans must be at least 21 years of age. They must also own a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with a 900 cc engine or larger. The Pagans operate a rigid, hierarchical group.

Who's the biggest motorcycle club? ›

The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club

As harleyliberty.com notes, the Hells Angels is the world's largest biker motorcycle club with chapters spread across all four corners of the globe.

What does support 81 mean? ›

It stands for the 8th letter of the alphabet which is an H, and the 1st letter of the alphabet which is an A, HA = Hells Angels.

What do Hells Angels do for a living? ›

In fact, they have become more conscious of protecting their image from misuse even as law enforcement officials have cracked down on the Hells Angels, saying they represent a criminal gang on six continents, trafficking drugs and guns and engaging in money laundering, extortion and mortgage fraud.

What does it mean when a biker puts his fist up? ›

Biker Code Hand Signals: Indicate To Turn Right

In the image below, you can see that the biker code hand signal for a right turn is to hold your left fist up with your arm at a 90-degree angle.

What does tapping your helmet mean? ›

High Beams On—When a rider taps their head, it is usually to indicate that high beams are on. In some groups, it can be used to mean that there are cops ahead. Debris on Road—If a rider shakes his leg, it is usually meant to tell the riders behind him that there is debris coming up ahead on that side of the road.

What does it mean when a biker puts his helmet on the ground? ›

All bikers know that putting the helmet on the floor is bad luck, what everyone doesn't know is that; the helmet on the ground is the international rescue signal of the biker code.

Are Hells Angels 1 percenters? ›

The larger one-percenter clubs (e.g., Hells Angels MC, Mongols MC, etc.) are at the top of the criminal hierarchy in the world of the outlaw biker and determine much of its dynamics.

What is a 3 percenter motorcycle club? ›

It's an Outlaw Motorcycle Club

Many outlaw motorcycle clubs will give people one-third of their patch after they complete certain trials, giving them the second part of the patch after additional trials.

Are there any black 1 percenter motorcycle clubs? ›

The Zulus Motorcycle Club, or Zulus MC, is a club for one percenter motorcycle enthusiasts. The club has a history of almost 50 years and is known for being one of the first black one percenter motorcycle clubs. Well known black one percenter clubs include the State Burner's MC EST.

What are the ranks in a motorcycle club? ›

The most common ranks are Founder, President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, Road Captain, SGT at Arms, Member and Prospect. Clubs may also have a Tail-Gunner, enforcer and a chaplain. Patches are used to identify rank and position within the club.

What is the most violent motorcycle club? ›

Warlocks. The Warlocks have such a brutal reputation that many outlaw bikers refuse to associate with them. The gang has a history of extreme and wanton violence, including assaults on rival leaders and indiscriminate killings of police officers.

What patches should you not wear on a vest? ›

We highly recommend for your safety and the safety of others (especially those you ride out with) that you never, ever wear any patches associated with the Hells Angels, Mongols, Outlaws, Bandidos, or Sons of Silence. These 5 Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMGs) earn their patches over years of service to their MC.

What does a 3% patch mean? ›

A 3-piece patch is also used to signify that the club is not necessarily a 1% club and that the American Motorcycle Association has not sanctioned it. A three-piece shows that the club in question has been approved by the dominant club in the area or state.

Are Hells Angels white only? ›

Most Hells Angels members are white males who ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Each is known by a “legal,” or official, name, which may be a colourful nickname. Membership status is tightly controlled.

What do Hells Angels do for a living? ›

In fact, they have become more conscious of protecting their image from misuse even as law enforcement officials have cracked down on the Hells Angels, saying they represent a criminal gang on six continents, trafficking drugs and guns and engaging in money laundering, extortion and mortgage fraud.

What bike do Pagans ride? ›

Membership. Members of the Pagans must be at least 21 years of age. They must also own a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with a 900 cc engine or larger. The Pagans operate a rigid, hierarchical group.

What does a Sgt at Arms do in an MC? ›

In the MC subculture, the Sergeant-at-Arms is responsible for ensuring that the Bylaws and standing rules of a club are not violated and that orders of the chapter officers are executed in an expeditious manner. He is responsible for policing and keeping order at all meetings and club events.

What does Nomad mean in MC? ›

A nomad is a member of a motorcycle club (which may or may not be an outlaw motorcycle club) or similar club who is not a member of a specific charter of the group. Some nomads live in geographical areas that have fewer than the required numbers to form a charter.

What does road captain mean? ›

(more generally) One who is in charge of a group while it is travelling or patrolling a road quotations ▼ (figuratively) A leader who steers or directs a group. quotations ▼ (historical) A person who has official responsibility for maintaining a section of road.

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