How The Hells Angels Became America's Notorious Black Sheep

By | July 2, 2019

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Members of the Hells Angels gang, acting as both security and hoodlums, jump the stage with Jorma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane on December 6, 1969 at the Altamont Speedway. Source: (Photo by Robert Altman/Michael Ochs)

What's the deal with the Hells Angels? Are they a peaceful band of motorcycle enthusiasts, or are they violent criminals? The group rose to prominence in the postwar years by cultivating ambiguity -- hey, they were just some regular guys out to have fun, right? But then, there was the murder at Altamont. The story of the Hells Angels isn't simple, and the legacy of the organization -- as dangerous thugs or rugged individualists -- endures to this day. Here's a look at the origins and notable traits of the Hells Angels

The first Hells Angels Motorcycle Club was founded in Fontana, California in 1948. They named themselves after a bomber group in World War II who took their name from a 1930 Howard Hughes movie. Following the end of the World War II, men returning from overseas and those who were just done with the establishment started riding together, but the men who made up the Hells Angels were of a different breed.

The group existed underground throughout the 1950s, but by the ‘60s they were a topic of national conversation. Squares were titillated by the Angels and the group was happy to put on a show. The world of the Hells Angels is one of chaos, drugs, and destruction, and in the ‘60s everyone wanted in on their lifestyle. These are just a few stories about the notorious life and times of the Hells Angels.  

They Worked Security Altamont

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Source: (20th Century Fox)

The Altamont Speedway Free Festival held on Saturday, December 6, 1969, was the west coast’s answer to Woodstock. Booked by the Rolling Stones on a lark, the festival was held together with duct tape and a prayer, with the Angels, hired as security. The bikers were paid in $500 in beer for their time, which the group slammed while they assaulted the audience.

During the final set of the night, as the Rolling Stones played “Under My Thumb,” biker Alan Passaro stabbed 18-year-old Meredith Hunter to death after the young man allegedly brandished a gun. Passaro was acquitted after claiming self-defense. The footage of the attack is visible in the documentary Gimme Shelter