Gone are the days when someone wanting to buy Hells Angels support gear only had T-shirts, hoodies, or lighters to choose from.
Now, the world’s largest outlaw motorcycle gang sells everything from masks and baby onesies to belt buckles and wallets.
But the OPP is warning people to think twice before buying merchandise supporting any outlaw motorcycle gangs, saying the proceeds fund organized crime in communities.
“We’re just reminding the public that when they purchase support wear, there’s a physical risk to them because they’re supporting organized crime,” said Det. Staff Sgt. Scott Wade, head of the OPP’s biker enforcement unit.
The biker enforcement unit, one of Ontario’s largest joint force operations, is about to roll out its annual campaign to educate the public on the perils of buying biker support gear, traditionally sold at festivals, motorcycle shops and via online stores.
Launched in 2018, the annual campaign was supposed to kick off before this summer’s festival season, but large-scale gatherings have been cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
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“The reason we’re doing this late this year is because there hasn’t been any motorcycle festivals,” said Wade, whose unit comprises about 50 members from 20 police forces and agencies.
The Hells Angels sold swag at Port Dover’s Friday the 13th gatherings — events that drew as many as 200,000 people to the Lake Erie community — until Norfolk council last year banned issuing vendor’s permits to motorcycle clubs with a criminal history.
Outlaw motorcycle gangs have strict rules that only allow members to wear their logos, but anyone can sport the clubs’ support gear, which traditionally doesn’t feature the gang’s name or logo.
Hells Angels support merchandise, for example, features the numbers 81 — representing H, the eighth letter in the alphabet, and A, the first — or the words Big Red Machine.
Toronto rapper Drake faced criticism after a photo of him wearing a Hells Angels support hoodie was posted on social media in 2018, including a rebuke from the OPP’s commissioner.
Both the Outlaws and the Hells Angels, longtime rivals with a history of violent clashes, have a presence in London. The Hells Angels are considered the dominant club, with an estimated 12 full-patch members, plus additional members of their support club, the Gatekeepers.