Hells Angels Still Alive and Violent, With California Arrests for Murder, Attacks on Rivals and a Marijuana Farm

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The Hells Angels' logo, the "death's head" on the back of a motorcycle vest. U.S. Attorney's Office

In an indictment that reads like a script for the violent television drama Sons of Anarchy, federal prosecutors on Monday charged 11 members of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang with wreaking death and destruction in California over the past 10 years.

Members of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang in Sonoma County, a scenic area of Northern California more often associated with posh wine tours, carried out attacks against rival gang members and anyone who disrespected a Hells Angel member or broke any of gang rules, federal prosecutors said.

The gang members kept a massive armory of shotguns, rifles, brass knuckles, a "homemade mace-type weapon" and a large number of knives—and back in 2007 they used mortgage fraud to obtain a home where they established an indoor marijuana farm, according to the indictment.

The most serious crime, however, took place when Jonathan "Jon Jon" Nelson, the president of the Sonoma County chapter of the Hells Angels, told an unnamed victim to meet with Brian Wendt, the president of the Fresno County chapter of the Hells Angels—with Wendt then murdering the victim, the indictment states

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Other crimes laid against the gang members include drug trafficking, assault, robbery, illegal guns and witness intimidation.

"This week we have taken a significant step toward bringing to justice an alleged conspiracy whose aim has been to commit violent crimes," U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch, of the Northern District of California, said in a statement Monday.

Another Hells Angels member sexually assaulted someone identified only as "Victim 6" last year, threatening during the attack to hurt Victim 6's family if they reported the assault.

While the Hells Angels are sometimes thought to be extinct or remnants of the 1960s counterculture movement, recent arrests—such as the arrest of six Hells Angels near New York City in March—show they are still active. There are about 800 Hells Angels members in the U.S., spread over 92 chapters in 27 states and up to 2,500 worldwide, the U.S. Department of Justice said earlier this year.

The indictment also revealed some of the inner workings of the Sonoma County chapter of the Hells Angels.

Becoming a member of the gang is a formal process, with the hopeful member first serving as a "hangaround" who performs menial tasks and tries to gain the respect of full members. The next stage in the process is to become a "prospect," at which point the prospective member can attend Hells Angels meetings, which are called "church."

Members Of Sonoma Motorcycle Gang Charged With Murder,
Racketeering Conspiracy, And Related Crimes https://t.co/amZA5nLqJW

— U.S. Attorney NDCA (@USAO_NDCA) November 20, 2017

"On motorcycle trips by the chapter, or 'runs,' they are expected to hold firearms," the indictment states. "A person generally is a prospect for a year before being considered for full membership."

The Hells Angels gang is intensely image-conscious and tries to frame arrests like the ones announced Monday as "a few bad apples" and not connected to the gang, says Julian Sher, a Canadian investigative journalist who has written books about motorcycle gangs, tells Newsweek. "The Hells Angels care more about their image than any other crime group," says Sher.

The Hells Angels charged Monday face up to life in prison if convicted on the top conspiracy charge.