Across US Violence Between Rival Outlaw MCs Rises

Providence, Rhode Island was once Raymond Loreda Salvatore Patriarca's fiefdom, and now it's where violent confrontations between outlaw motorcycle clubs are on the up.

Santo Trafficante Jr., once among the most powerful Mafia bosses in the United States. controlled organized criminal operations in Florida, where the Outlaws, or the American Outlaw Association, is the dominant outlaw motorcycle club.

Last year in Newark, New Jersey, a Hells Angels associate was brutally beaten with baseball bats in what law enforcement believed was part of a broader attempt by the Pagans Motorcycle Club to expand its territory into northern New Jersey.

Outlaw MC violence was spotlighted this summer in Las Vegas, when an undercover agent who infiltrated a Las Vegas chapter of the Vagos Motorcycle Club for two years offered a glimpse into the underworld of outlaw bikers as he testified during a federal racketeering trial.

“If the leadership decides to declare war,” Agostino Brancato, the lead undercover agent in Operation Pure Luck, told jurors, “people are going to die.”

In cities across America, outlaw motorcycle cycle clubs have been filling the void created by the contraction of traditional organized crime groups like Cosa Nostra.

Membership in outlaw MCs is rising and with it the number of violent incidents between rival clubs.

Why is this happening now? Television, partly is causing this resurgence, according to some experts.

“The overall motorcycle gang world — it’s just kind of been rejuvenated,” Detective Ryan Mahoney of the R.I. State Police Intelligence Unit, recently said, citing the popularity of the TV show “Sons of Anarchy.”

“I think that whole motorcycle world is growing,” Mahoney said. 

The FBI has designated the Hells Angels, the Pagans, the Outlaws, and the Bandidos as the "Big Four" with a large enough national impact to be prosecuted under the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute.

There's variations at the State level. The California Attorney General for example also lists the Mongols and the Vagos Motorcycle Club as among the major local outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Biker culture started to emerge after World War II. The Outlaws formed in Chicago in 1959 and now have chapters in over two dozen countries.

Florida has been home to various Outlaw chapters since the 1960s, and the gang has been active in Tampa as early as the ’70s. The most well-documented Outlaw activity in the state has taken place in Key West and other parts of South Florida.

Outlaws are identified by “Charlie,” the red and black logo of a skull over crossed pistons, which appears on member’s uniforms. To be initiated a patched member, prospective Outlaws must go through a probation period that includes coming to meetings, also known as attending church.

Rhode Island intelligence recently told Target 12 that they had identified "seven major outlaw motorcycle groups active in the United States," then they listed only six: the Hells Angels, Outlaws, Mongols, Sons of Silence, Bandidos, and Pagans.

At least three--Hells Angels, Outlaws and the Pagans--are active in Rhode Island, with a fourth, the Mongols, possibly planting roots there.

Used to be only the Hells Angels rode the streets of Rhode Island, or they were historically the largest club in the area, and thus the only game in town, for years. Then in 2014, the Outlaws Motorcycle Club planted their flag in Woonsocket, a city in Providence County, and ever since, violent clashes between the clubs have been arising in Rhode Island.

Membership in the MCs also has been rising since the Outlaws' emergence in Rhode Island. That's also true of affiliate clubs aligned with a major outfit.

Outlaw MCs in Rhode Island is the topic of a recent report by Target 12, which examined police reports and court affidavits, and interviewed law enforcement officials about what's happening there.

Mahoney estimates there are about 30 affiliate clubs in the state.

(In July, The president of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club’s Rhode Island chapter and two others were indicted on charges stemming from a shooting incident in June outside the Providence clubhouse. Joseph M. Lancia was arraigned  on charges of assault with intent to murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, discharging a firearm while committing a crime of violence, and carrying a pistol without a permit, the state police said. The state police say Lancia is president of the Hells Angels in Rhode Island, and that he fired a gun at a man driving by the Messer Street clubhouse. The man was not hit by gunfire, but the roadway was shut down for hours as heavily armed police swarmed the area.)

With all those rival clubs showing up in "the Ocean State," local intelligence and law enforcement agencies have grown increasingly concerned about innocent bystanders getting caught in literal crossfires. 

That isn't something law enforcement typically would be concerned about with when probing the Mafia. The mob, or traditional organized crime, is in many ways the perfect criminal foil for the law. Mobsters will rob, cheat, and steal from everyone. But when it comes to murder, they tend to only kill each other. (Unless of course they're with the Colombo family and at war with each other.)

The violence of the MCs is much more unpredictable.

Recent violent clashes in Rhode Island highlighted by Target 12

A 2017 incident included a brawl in the streets of Providence after investigators say a rival club – later identified as the Thug Riders – taunted member of the Hells Angels by driving by their Messer Street clubhouse and revving their engines.Hells Angels members to hop on their bikes and give chase, ending in a street fight, according to eyewitnesses interviewed by detectives. When police arrived the bikers were gone.

In Fall River last month a member of the Sidewinders – a motorcycle club affiliated with the Hells Angels – was shot and killed by a member of the Outlaws following a late-night brawl outside a bar. Joseph Noe, 25, was arrested and charged with murder. He has pleaded not guilty.

In 2018 a member of the Pagans motorcycle club was shot while riding in a pack on I-95 North near the Connecticut border. The club was on its way back from a gathering in Delaware. The biker survived, but the shooter was believed to be part of a smaller rival gang that got wind the Pagans were traveling through Connecticut.

A Glocester police report from 2017 detailed another turf battle. Police say surveillance video showed members of the Lost Horseman motorcycle club – which is affiliated with the Hells Angels – arrive at a building used by a group aligned with the Outlaws, wielding baseball bats. Witnesses told police they heard the men yelling for someone inside to come out. The video shows the men – adorned in leather jackets – wailing on the building with the bats, smashing windows and knocking out a security camera.