The short answer is: it depends on the type of motorcycle club. Let‘s dig deeper into military regulations and MC culture to see what serving personnel can (and can‘t) do.
A Brief History of Military MC Membership
Motorcycle clubs have strong ties to military service dating back to WWII veterans looking for camaraderie. Throughout the 1950s-70s, it was common for active duty soldiers to join clubs.
But outlaw gangs began growing, and in the 1980s the Department of Defense officially banned military personnel from joining certain groups like the Hells Angels.
While not explicitly prohibited, membership in outlaw MCs is considered incompatible with military values. An estimated 2% of soldiers today are involved in motorcycle clubs, mostly smaller local groups.
By the Numbers: Military Discipline and Outlaw Activities
- In 2021, the Army criminally charged about 150 soldiers (0.1% of all troops) with gang-related offenses.
- Outlaw MCs like the Mongols and Bandidos are linked to 2,500-5,000 crimes annually, including drug trafficking, extortion, and violence.
- From 2010-2020, about 500 Marines and sailors faced courts-martial related to banned group activity.
So while a statistical minority, military membership in criminal MCs poses real risks.
Can Active Duty Soldiers Join an Outlaw MC?
In short, no. Outlaw motorcycle clubs like the Hell‘s Angels and Pagans are off-limits for military personnel, even though not specifically named in policies.
Why are groups like the Mongols banned when others are okay? Outlaw MCs fail to meet the military‘s definition of "legitimate organizations" based on these factors:
- Engaging in or advocating criminal activity.
- Threatening the U.S. constitutional form of government.
- Discriminating along lines like gender, race, or ethnicity.
- Using force or violence against others.
It‘s clear outlaw MCs check most of these boxes. So joining them risks expulsion or criminal charges.
Navigating the Gray Areas in Military Regulations
Department of Defense Directive 1325.06 governs service member participation in extremist organizations. But some gray areas exist that troops attempt to take advantage of:
- The rules mostly focus on on-duty activity. Off-duty participation is murkier.
- "Motorcycle enthusiasts" are called out as being allowed, not specifically MCs.
- Definitions like "extremist organizations" leave room for interpretation.
However, military case law consistently takes a hard line that MCs count as extremist groups. So while loopholes exist on paper, the real-world risks are high.
Mainstream vs. Outlaw: Key Differences in MC Culture
Not all MCs are created equal. It‘s vital to understand the differences between mainstream and outlaw clubs.
Most military members attracted to the MC lifestyle stick with mainstream "mom and pop" clubs like HOG (Harley Owners Group) with these traits:
- Legal, public-facing operations and community service.
- Open membership to all approved motorcycle brands.
- No territorial disputes or initiation rituals.
- Ride and rally focus vs regular club obligations.
- Welcoming to multiple demographics like women riders.
Meanwhile, the outlaw groups banned by military policy more closely resemble secret societies:
- Strict brand loyalty, usually only Harley-Davidson motorcycles allowed.
- Highly exclusive membership requiring prospecting periods and initiation.
- Expectations like weekly meet-ups and mandatory events.
- Strong overtones of violence, retribution, and hypermasculinity.
- Concentrated within prison and low income demographics.
This contrast shows why one category can align with military service while the other remains incompatible.
Gaining Acceptance into an MC as a Prospect
Curious how you would go about joining a motorcycle club? The process is lengthy and demanding.
MCs only consider members who have a personal in already. After being sponsored, prospects undergo months or years of proving themselves through:
- Attending all club events without absence.
- Following the orders of full patch-wearing members.
- Being hazed and challenged to demonstrate worthiness.
- Keeping club secrets and displaying total loyalty.
At the end, you might fully join the brotherhood. Or be rejected without explanation. Patience and obedience are required.
Do you have what it takes?
The Importance of MC Patches and Insignia
Patches represent achievements and status. But don‘t even think about wearing unearned patches to look cool. Within motorcycle culture, few things are more despised and disrespectful.
Here are some of the key insignia:
- Top "rocker" – Shows MC name.
- Center "logo" patch – Club image like grim reaper or eagle.
- Bottom "rocker" – Local chapter location.
- Side patches – Special honors like "Sergeant at Arms."
You‘ve probably seen 3-piece back patches on vests at biker rallies. Those full colors take years to earn as a member.
Patches must be given by the club through accomplishments. Anything else risks outcast or violence. Respect the culture.
Women‘s MCs – A Different Breed
While rarer, don‘t assume all MCs are male-only bastions. Women‘s MCs grant female riders the same tight-knit loyalty and belonging.
But key differences exist:
- Smaller memberships than men‘s MCs, but dedication runs deep.
- Less prominent outlaw component – more focus on fundraising.
- Exclusivity is still strict. Must be experienced, dedicated rider.
- Less emphasis on large back patches. Smaller insignia worn.
So ladies aren‘t just pillion passengers. Many embrace the independence and sisterhood of the MC life too.
Parting Thoughts on Military Service and MC Membership
Joining a motorcycle club while serving your country provides excitement. But use extreme caution – outlaw groups especially do not mix well with military values.
Seeking camaraderie is understandable but consider more reputable options. And never lie or attempt to hide MC involvement from commanding officers.
At the end of the day, is the brotherhood of an MC worth jeopardizing your military career and principles? Weigh the risks carefully. Ride safe and ride smart.