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Hell's Angels

(Smithsonian Institution)

The Hell's Angels, formed in the early 1960s in the United States, profess to be a motorcycle club. Their detractors, including many in law enforcement, view them as an outlaw biker gang that is associated with violence and organized crime, in particular related to illegal drugs. The Angels, however, claim their membership consists mostly of relatively law-abiding citizens who have often been victims of media sensationalism.

The club's mottoes include "All for one, and one for all," in other words all Angels are expected to join a fight in which even one Angel is a participant; and "When we do good, no one remembers, and when we do bad, no one forgets."

You cannot join the Hell's Angels. "We don't recruit members, we recognize 'em." Members wear a colorful vest bearing the club's trademarked death's head logo, and woe betide anyone who would wear the colors without really being a member.

Author Hunter S. Thompson traveled with the club in the '60s and his adventures are chronicled in the book, "Hell's Angels."

The Hell's Angels enjoyed a special relationship with the Grateful Dead, the history of which was told by Tom Wolfe in his book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test[?].

Perhaps the most notorious event in Hell's Angels history involved a 1969 Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont, California Speedway. The Angels had been hired to do crowd security for a fee which was said to include $500 worth of beer. A shoving match erupted near the stage during a rendition of "Sympathy for the Devil," resulting in a fan being stabbed to death, allegedly by an Angel.

In April of 2002, dozens of Hell's Angels and Mongols were involved in a gunfight at Harrah's Casino in Laughlin, Nevada during the annual River Run. Three people were killed and 13 injured; the casualties included numerous casino patrons.

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There was also a group of World War II flying aces called Hell's Angels.

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