Men who want to find a way out of outlaw bikie gangs are signing up to a Queensland Government-funded program to help them cut ties with the criminal subculture.
- Two of the former bikies who joined the program have given video testimonials
- Dan Kilian says the warring between clubs meant he was always watching his back
- Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll says police hope the program will reduce crime
Senior police outlined the program on Thursday, saying 21 former bikies had joined the growing “exit program”, including two who, along with their mothers, had given video testimonials about being seduced by the idea of the lifestyle and then finding the reality of gang life much more brutal.
Dan Kilian, a former Gold Coast Titans junior rugby league player turned Rebels member who spoke of his experience, said the violence of gang life and “warring” clubs left bikies hyper-vigilant.
“We were always watching our backs. Someone was always getting stabbed or someone was always getting shot, or bashed … house getting shot up.”
However, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) criminologist Mark Lauchs said most people stayed in gangs because they liked it and that research suggested those wanting out were likely to number “dozens out of the thousands of bikies in Australia”.
Mr Kilian said it was just three months from him meeting Rebels members to when he started selling drugs.
He said he felt the slide into gang membership was easy.
“It stands out. It looks enjoyable. But if you get your foot in that door, you’re f****d.”
The 24-year-old was arrested in a raid in 2014, and spent more than two years in jail.
Former Hells Angel Ben Geppert, whose brother Harry died in a fatal stabbing in 2019, said the bike lifestyle was attractive to young men.
“Everyone’s got it in them, you know? They see the money, they see the gold, they see the women,” he said.
“But there’s a lot more deep, dark things that underlie that lifestyle.”
His mother, Lisa Geppert, said losing her son to gang violence had deeply hurt their family.
“Nothing’s ever going to bring Harry back. I can’t say enough, that if you’re thinking of getting into this sort of lifestyle, it’s nothing,” she said.
“Your life is more important and your family’s life is more important.”
Mr Geppert said he held himself partially responsible for his brother’s death.
Detective Superintendent Roger Lowe said the testimonies of those who had been through the exit program were remarkably similar and that joining an outlaw motorcycle gang was not always owing to a desire to be involved in crime.
“Their personal journey into gangs would surprise you once you hear it,” he said.
Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said the program aims to prevent crime by stopping bikies from reoffending, and discouraging prospective members from joining.
“This is a preventative program that will help reduce crime,” she said.
“The program will help former gang members reconnect with their loved ones and community and to actually make positive choices.”
The support initiative is overseen by police and corrective services officers but run by a non-governmental organisation, which would connect ex-gang members with job and study programs, and drug, alcohol and mental health treatment.
Detective Superintendent Lowe said it was “not an informant program” but tried to stop former bikies from slipping back into crime by addressing what could cause them to rejoin the outlawed gangs after leaving or heading to jail.
“It is a real turning point in an individual’s life when they leave a gang,” he said.
“There’s less crime in the community, there’s less harm to the community and less harm to themselves and their family.
“Ultimately, our best measure of success is those people who turn their back on an organised crime gang, those people who turn their back on crime and those people who change the trajectory of their life.”
Professor Lauchs said the research on which the program was based “was a bit of an indication that they’re talking dozens of people out of thousands of members that they’re aware of across the country”.
“So most people who are members of motorcycle gangs are very, very happy being members of the club and they don’t intend to leave,” he said.
But Professor Lauchs said the program was a positive step and would benefit from not being run directly by police.
“Any support that someone can get, that’s going to help them and their family, will certainly make things easier,” he said.
“There’s danger in the [bikie] life and motorcycle clubs have a reputation for enforcing the rules using violence.”
He said the constitution for the Rebels outlaw motorcycle club, which was founded in Brisbane in 1969, made it “quite clear that violence is an option to enforce the rules”.