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Tory Shepherd: Outlawing bikies just adding to bromance

Tory Shepherd
The Advertiser
November 05, 2013 11:36PM

ON THE Gold Coast, bikie gangs "are actively targeting hot-blooded young Muslim and Eastern European men" from Sydney to boost their numbers.

Sounds a little sexy, no?

Elsewhere in Queensland, they're "recruiting their own children to breed the next generation of outlaw motorcycle gang members", while in Geelong they're recruiting online, according to a range of newspaper reports.

All this activity is a result of the latest anti-bikie splurge by police and politicians. There will be new strike teams, new anti-gang laws, and plenty of new tough-on-crime rhetoric. So the bikies are bolstering their numbers.

The authorities are pitching the new moves as a war, claiming they'll "destroy" the gangs.

Such bad-arse talk is a boon for the bikies' brand - and it's their brand that helps them recruit new members.

On the Hells Angels website (note no apostrophe, because according to the website there are "many versions and forms of Hell", although that still doesn't make grammatical sense), they make it clear that their name and logos are trademark protected. They link to merchandise stores. They have a clear, global brand.

On the Mongols website (the bikies formerly known as the Finks) there's a slick video marketing the members as wild and tough, but with a soft side.

They roar around, give the camera the finger. Then they're pictured gently kissing their children, or their female accoutrements are shown swaying to music.

The overall impression, though, is of rebels. A counter culture, united in the romance of being the outcasts. A bikie bromance.

They must love it every time the cops refer to them as ''outlaws''.

Mark Lauchs, a senior law lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology, outlines the different sorts of bikies in Australia. There are the Conservatives, who like to ride bikes, get drunk, fall over. And the Radicals who go further and enter the world of organised crime. Then there are the ''Nike Bikies'', who wear designer clobber and may not even own a bike.

"(They) are organised criminals simply pretending to be bikies in order to piggy back on the brand: The Power of the Patch," he writes on academic website The Conversation .

The Power of the Patch spreads beyond bikies to bikers; Harley Davidson's marketing director Adam Wright says "the outlaw movement has given Harley Davidson an edge of toughness". It delivers adventure, escapism.

Even a middle-class accountant can revel in the idea of being an outlaw.

When the Labor government created tough new South Australian laws in 2008, bikie lawyers warned that the very act of declaring war on bikies would make the bikie lifestyle more appealing to young people.

Monash University's Dr Arthur Veno, who wrote a number of books about bikies, warned about a "moral panic attack" that was completely disproportionate to the actual amount of crime committed by outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Associate Professor Terry Goldsworthy, one of the nation's top bikie experts, said last week moves like tearing down fortifications made "pin-up boys" of bikies and gives them a "badge of honour". The Bond University criminologist pointed to the Mongols proud claim to be "the baldest".

Every chest-beating thing that gets said about cracking down on bikies could become slogans for the bikies themselves. The baldest of the bad. Evil. A scourge.

All of it helps unite the gangs against the external enemy - the law - and strengthens their internal loyalty, as well as their pride in being "one percenters". Being a one percenter gives bikies the feeling of belonging they're after - different to the 99 per cent who sheepishly follow society's rules.

It ups the feeling of brotherhood, of mateship, of being part of a tribe.

Dylan Jessen - a former footballer who joined the Finks - says he wants to leave gang life. His lawyer says all he really wanted was the same sort of camaraderie he had from football.

That's the sort of relationship that gets its strength from the us-versus-them mentality, the same mentality the police and the politicians keep reinforcing and that reached a ridiculous peak with the idea of making bikies wear pink in jail.

Some bikies do bad stuff, and of course they should be stopped. The question is whether ongoing and noisy crackdowns are the most effective way of doing that, and how much we should worry about the unintended side effect of loudly promoting Brand Bikie.
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