Many active-duty U.S. military members and veterans (MIL/VETs) are members of outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs), which have documented histories of violence and criminal activity. While MIL/VETs adopt the protocols of OMG culture in the pursuit of a positive social identity, unfortunately, many have arrests for their participation in OMG-related criminal activity. The brotherhood OMGs provide is a fundamental component of their culture; this thesis sought to better understand this component to help explain why some MIL/VETs transfer their identity from national service to OMGs.
To do so, this thesis provides an OMG-101-type framework to help readers understand the significance of the OMG culture that MIL/VETs must navigate. This culture creates a rigid environment in which OMGs exert control to maintain territory and protect their criminal enterprise. MIL/VETs and military motorcycle clubs (mil-MCs), despite their founding principles, have followed related protocols—which are sometimes violently enforced—and have been incarcerated for such behaviors. MIL/VETs and mil-MCs have contributed to OMG culture in turn: they have facilitated the expansion of criminal enterprises and have challenged the law enforcement entities that are charged with mitigating those crimes. Few MIL/VETs and mil-MCs are able to defy the rigid OMG culture, and those who are already entrenched in the culture value the positive identity it brings them more than they fear the risks of violence and incarceration. To demonstrate this, the thesis presents a case study that traces the evolution a MIL/VET motorcycle club that was originally formed to address veterans’ issues but eventually became a court-recognized OMG.
The thesis also uses social identity theory and the social identity analytical method to look beyond the sometimes irresponsible and anecdotal reasons why MIL/VETs are said to join OMGs, such as PTSD. The research found that OMG culture takes advantage of patron-client relationships, challenge-response cycles, and honor challenges to provide MIL/VETs a limited good—a positive social identity—through its pseudo-warfare environment. For example, OMG members wear uniforms, which are as sacred to the members as the American flag is to MIL/VETs. What’s more, OMGs provide MIL/VETs with the familiar bonds of brotherhood and the never-leave-a-brother-behind attitude forged through armed conflict and turmoil. Being accepted into a similarly honor-bound band of brothers is a powerful attraction to OMGs for MIL/VETs.
The findings in this thesis contribute to the study of OMGs and MIL/VETs who are seeking a positive social identity. By addressing the OMG environment and the motivations described in the thesis, researchers studying MIL/VETs’ transition to post-military life might assist service members and society by identifying suitable alternatives to OMGs.