How to Join an Outlaw Bike Club
Omni: How long were you a rebel?
Wolf: I rode with them for about three and a half years.
Omni: How does one go about joining an outlaw motorcycle club?
Wolf: It’s a subtle matter. The biker must first establish a strong friendship with an established member, who becomes his unofficial sponsor. Having a sponsor act as a screening agent is necessary because a club like the Rebels MC is a closed paramilitary organization. The sponsorship member will be held personally accountable for any indiscretions on the part of the guest. On the other hand, if the member recruits a promising prospect, he gains status in the club, along with a friend and potential ally in future club politics.
Omni: Then you’re in?
Wolf: Early participation is by invitation only. In the beginning, even the seemingly innocuous act of joining members for a beer can fall under scrutiny by patch holders. To ride with the club on a run, a biker first must have his name brought up at the weekly meeting. Two negative votes are enough to overrule him. But even 100 percent approval does not mean the biker’s presence will go unchallenged. If a member thinks a guest is “fucking things up” during a club event, he has a right to ask the sponsor to tell the guest to leave. All this is just to be accepted as a “friend of the club.”
Omni: That sounds like a lengthy selection process.
Wolf: Yeah. The entire period of socialization takes from six months to three years. There are four stages — biker, friend of the club, striker (or prospect), and initiate — you have to pass through before becoming a patch holder, a club member. So the transition from citizen to outlaw biker involves crossing a series of borders that lead away from the mainstream of conventionality into the outlaw biker community.
Omni: Did you strike?
Wolf: No, when it got to the point where I was being told I should be striking I decided to terminate the study because I could no longer ethically continue it. At that point, I realized in the process of getting close to the club, I had gotten too close to the club.
Omni: Meaning what?
Wolf: Meaning I didn’t want to disclose anything about them to the outside world. I came to understand the necessity for secrecy, for these boundaries. As far as bikers are concerned, the best publicity is no publicity.
Omni: How did you convince the Rebels to let you study them for your dissertation?
Wolf: I was over at Wes Albert’s house working on his bike. He knew I was an anthropologist, and he said, “Have you ever considered doing a study on the Rebels?” So I brought it before the executive committee, who brought it before the general membership. After the vote, Alberts said, “Geez, I was surprised! They voted to let you do it.” After that I did extensive interviews with seven or eight members, to get a more detailed personal profile.
Omni: Were you criticized by other anthropologists for belonging to an outlaw club?
Wolf: Some would say it’s illegal. Others would say it’s unethical, that I should have gone in there as an anthropologist and said, “I just want to study you people.” And I’d say, “Yeah, well, maybe some anthropologists have done it that way, and maybe that’s why there are no other studies.” If they went in and did that, I think there’d be a relatively short conversation. I hope it would be short for their sake! The Rebels are a closed society. I had to go in there with the idea that, all right, I’ll ride with these people as a friend of the club, attempt to gain their trust, then propose this study to them. That’s what made this a three-year gamble.