The Epic Motorcycle Gang War (Everyone's Forgotten About)
Way too many things out there have the word "war" in it without actually being wars. Take, for example, the War on Drugs (we'll revisit the name once it's possible to send heroin to The Hague), War and Peace (actually a novel), or Warren G. Harding (in reality a bunch of soggy paternity tests that got stuck together and gained sentience). The Great Nordic Biker War involving the Hells Angels and the Bandidos outlaw motorcycle clubs feuding all over Scandinavia and Finland, though? That was a war. A really crazy one, too. Here's why:
It Involved Proxy Battles, Diplomacy, And Broken Pacts
In the late 1970s, fueled by Scandinavia's desire for more extreme office design efficiency and flatter ways to pack furniture, the drug trade for amphetamine, coke, and MDMA exploded all over Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. The drugs were primarily trafficked by the country's emerging biker gangs, which pretty soon became one of the most powerful criminal organizations in all of northern Europe. Once enough independent clubs were formed, the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club stepped in and announced with a great big smile: "We happily accept you into the HAMC family!"
And when some of the clubs said "Hang on, what if we don't want to join you?" the Hells Angels put their hands on the other club's shoulders, squeezed hard, and repeated: "We happily accept you into the HAMC family." But they weren't smiling anymore.
To be totally clear, a lot of the clubs joined the Hells Angels willingly, but some fought against these takeovers by affiliating with another American outlaw motorcycle club that Emily in Paris'ed its way to Europe: the Bandidos MC.
A few dropped bodies later, and the two clubs decided that their ongoing fighting interfered too much with their illegal drug business. So, in 1993, they organized a summit in Paris where they signed a non-aggression pact. Yeah, remember all those times in Sons of Anarchy when the bikers held their own parliamentary meetings and acted like some kind of outlaw government? It was like that.
This marked the beginning of the Great Nordic Biker War (1994–1997). Wanting to avoid an open conflict, the Hells Angels and the Bandidos started fighting using probationary chapters and prospect clubs, like when HAMC-affiliated Rebels MC opened fire on the HQ of the Bandidos-hopeful Morbids MC in Helsingborg. Another time, when a group of 15 Bandidos was ambushed and ended up killing a member of the HAMC-affiliated Rednecks MC, the relation for this was also carried out by other clubs. With time, though, the HAMC and Bandidos started entering the fights themselves, the former using more organized, strategic attacks while the latter relied more on guerilla-style warfare.
The war eventually involved chapters, prospects, and club affiliates in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Things got so bad that the American leadership of HAMC and the Bandidos had to get involved, first meeting in Houston and then in Copenhagen to try and resolve this conflict. They failed and things eventually got much worse. Rocket launcher worse – that's the worst kind of worse!
The Two Sides Fought With RPGs, Anti-Tank Missiles, And Grenades
All in all, the Great Nordic Biker War was probably fought by close to 500 people, and both sides had such huge stockpiles of weaponry that just standing near them would probably be enough to give all of their members residual lead poisoning.
Between 1994 and 1997, there were 36 break-ins at the Swedish Army and Danish Home Guard armories because they apparently all kept using the same bargain Ikea padlock that they had to build themselves and were left with five "spare" parts every single time. The majority of these thefts were carried out by the two MCs, who made off with handguns, machine guns, rifles of all kinds, grenades, landmines, and anti-tank missiles. Other weapons the HAMC and Bandidos acquired from ex-USSR countries and Yugoslavia, including even more rocket-launchers and grenades. After placing them together so they'd kind of look like giant robo dongs with tiny testicles (we assume), the two clubs got to firing the weapons at each other as often as possible.
Between 1994 and 1996, the Bandidos or an affiliated club carried out about 12 missile attacks using either Swedish AT4s or Russian RPG-22s. Most of these attacks were aimed at clubhouses or garages and only resulted in explosive property damage while a 30-year-old Michael Bay got an erection that he couldn't quite explain. Tragically, though, in October 1996, the Copenhagen Hells Angels' party attended by over 150 people was the target of yet another missile attack that took the life of Janne Krohn, a single mother and civilian not involved in the club's criminal activities. Nineteen other people were seriously injured.
Bombs and grenades were used even more frequently. Explosive devices were planted in clubhouses, private homes, and bikes so often, it was a miracle the bikers didn't become paranoid and refused to open their eyes, fearing that someone planted a bomb in their eyelids or something. And in 1996, a Bandidos vice-president held in a Danish prison was seriously injured when someone threw a grenade into his cell. About a month later, two Copenhagen chapter HAMC bikers were injured when someone threw a grenade into their house from a passing car.
And all that senseless pain and suffering and civilian casualties were of course tragic, but there's no denying the fact that ...
The Great Nordic Biker War Had A Wile E. Coyote Aspect To It
Motorbikes are basically metal horses equipped with tanks full of dino-explode-juice, which are situated literal inches from your crotch. They are an inherently cartoonish concept, and, as a result, so was the Great Nordic Biker War, at least at times.
In 1997, the HAMC tried to assassinate a Bandidos member by sending him an electric razor that was secretly stuffed with plastic explosives. If the plot hadn't been discovered, the biker would have blown himself up, together with most of his neighbors, the second he plugged in the razor.
A year earlier, the Bandidos MC set up a missile launcher in a factory next to a Hells Angel clubhouse in Hasslarp, Sweden, then tied a piece of string to the trigger, attached the other end to their car, and launched the projectile while flooring it and making their escape. Yeah, they literally used the method kids use to pull out their teeth as inspiration for an act of domestic terrorism. The attack did some structural damage but that's about it. There's a good reason why all these types of attacks had so few victims.
See, anti-tank missiles and grenades are specifically made to exploded upon impact with heavy armor. Like, in a tank. It's right there in the same. When the ordnance hits anything softer like concrete or brick, though, it doesn't always explode, like when the Undertakers MC fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the clubhouse of Overkill MC in Helsinki and it just got stuck in the wall while the Undertakers did their best Marvin the Martian impression.
Plus, the police say a lot of the Russian and Yugoslavian rocket launchers that the MCs bought were prone to malfunction at best, and total scams at worst. For some reason, though, we don't feel too bad for the clubs getting ripped off like this. Nor do we feel too bad for the two drunk bikers that tried to throw grenades into a Hells Angels clubhouse in Espoo, Finland, but only ended up blowing themselves up. (They lived, but we doubt they ever lived that one down.)
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The End Of The War Was Announced On Television
After over three years of bloody fighting, on September 25, 1997, the Bandidos Europe President "Big" Jim Tinndahn met with Hells Angels Europe President Bent "Blondie" Nielsen in Denmark to discuss helping the latter find a tougher nickname. Oh, and also to declare the end of the Great Nordic Biker War. In front of TV cameras and reporters. You know, like you would in a real war because this was very much that thing.
Now, both sides were very careful to avoid the word "peace" because outlaw bikers are a lot of things: criminals, drug dealers, murderers, accidental dieselpunk Santa cosplayers, but they are not liars. They knew that, at best, they could be like parents who finally decided to get their shit together after years of kind of dropping the ball and letting their kids literally get away with murder.
They would try to be more attentive but a lot of permanent damage had already been done, and there would no fixing that by simply being sterner when telling their members "No! No more murder! It will ruin your drug dealing!" They pretty much said as much during their televised truce talks: "We cannot give guarantees that there will be no more incidents, but we can actively intervene and ensure that those who defy the cooperation agreement are excluded from our biker culture."
The truce divided the Bandidos and HAMC territory across Scandinavia and Finland down to individual clubs, bars, and cafes, and there was some initial optimism that the agreement would hold. The entire ceasefire was the result of the clubs' American and European leadership holding long peace talks in Colorado and then in Seattle, with the whole thing being mediated, of all people, by the police, which provided security for some of their talks. There was also the matter of public opinion, which turned strongly against the clubs after their fighting killed two civilians. The blowback from that, plus the increased police scrutiny, interfered too much with the gangs' business, and like in a reverse Christmas movie, they finally realized that it was money that they cared about the most.
Almost overnight, the crime rates between the clubs fell to pre-conflict levels and there was hope. Which should tell you everything you need to know about how bloody the Great Nordic Biker War was when criminal organizations concentrating on dealing drugs across four countries was considered an improvement to how things used to be.
The War Changed Scandinavia Forever
To everyone's credit, the truce lasted about 14 years, until the Bandidos president Jim Tinndahn announced that the agreement was null and void after the Hells Angels admitted six Bandidos defectors to their ranks. A year later, a 17-ton truck with a brick placed on the pedal plowed into a Bandidos property. There were no casualties but it looked like Scandinavia was on the brink of a whole new biker war. Fortunately, this time, the police would be ready for them.
Ever since the Great Nordic Biker War came to an end, the police have upped their surveillance and intelligence-gathering concerning outlaw motorcycle clubs. They finally started treating them like the serious crime syndicates that they were, and knew when to step in or who to arrest to stop another armed conflict from breaking out.
The Great Nordic Biker War forever changed Scandinavia. 138 people were sentenced to a grand total of 240 years in prison. Some figures put the total cost of the war, from the property damage to police overtime, at more than half a billion dollars. A lot of that money went into creating separate wings in prisons to keep opposing biker inmates as far away from each other as possible. Some say a young Elon Musk heard about it and suggested two Space Prisons in geosynchronous orbit, constantly orbiting the Earth on opposite sides of the planet. But we looked into that and it turned out we made that story up just now. (Hey, we were as surprised as you are.)
Also, a bill nicknamed the "Rockerloven" ("Rocker Act") passed the Danish Parliament in 1996, allowing the normally super liberal and forgiving Danes to evict biker gangs from their headquarters. Combined with improved police tactics, monitoring, and harsher sentences, this all helped keep another bloody conflict from erupting after a few guys decided to get new pictures on their jackets. Huh, sounds kind of silly when you describe it accurately like that. But it's actually a very serious situation. The number of outlaw bikers in Scandinavia is growing with each year, and currently, it looks like the main thing keeping them from going at each other, is the clubs shifting a lot of their focus to ... attacking immigrants. Urgh.