Allies of the global motorcycle gang the Hell's Angels have formed a chapter in Nelson as the club seeks a foothold in the South Island.
Four newly-patched Red Devils members appeared on a charity ride last month believed to be the first time the club has been seen in New Zealand.
Police say their arrival is sinister and could create conflict with Nelson's long-standing Lost Breed Motorcycle Club.
Nelson Bays Area Commander Inspector Brian McGurksaid people were naive if they thought the Red Devils was a social club.
The Red Devils are official supporters of the global Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC).
McGurk said they had links to international crime syndicates, were part of a sophisticated criminal organisation and "may be a conduit for illicit drugs and criminal activity".
Police were aware a group of Nelson men had been "seeking affiliation" with the Hell's Angels for some time.
"I think basically they (the Hell's Angels) want a presence in the South Island."
Potential confrontation between the Lost Breed and the Red Devils was real as one group sought to hold their ground and the other to take it over, he said.
More Lost Breed members had been openly wearing their patches in recent months and members of other Hell's Angels support clubs, the Headhunters and Road Knights, have been seen in Nelson, McGurk said.
Nelson police would disrupt the clubs' activities, he said.
The Lost Breed has made headlines for a series of drug-related incidents and confrontations since it formed in 1976.
But its presence has been seen by many in the past as a deterrent to the establishment of the Mongrel Mob, Black Power and Highway 61 in Nelson.
The club has moderate public backing, with recent writers to The Nelson Mail opposing the arrival of the Red Devils.
The new Nelson chapter is listed on websites and joins Red Devils chapters across Europe, America, Canada and Australia.
The two New Zealand chapters of the HAMC have a long history in their club's world.
The Auckland Hell's Angels received their charter in 1961 and was the club's first chapter outside the US and fifth to be established overall.
Christchurch-based cultural anthropologist and former police detective inspector, Dave Haslett, who has extensively studied the outlaw biker world, said the formation of the Red Devils was a hands-off way for the Angels to test the water.
"These puppet clubs ultimately only patch over when they have proven themselves, recruited sufficient numbers and local support, shaken down their structure and fought their corner if they have to."
The Lost Breed and the Angels were not traditional enemies, but they do represent separate strands in the New Zealand outlaw club structure, he said.
"To the best of my knowledge the Lost Breed and the HAMC have uneasily coexisted for many years without any apparent overt friction."
"But the core Lost Breed members have their own history with their long-standing club and some will not want to start all over again by prospecting for another larger club."
It was unlikely Lost Breed members would give up their colours, which are an integral part of their identity and brotherhood, he said.
"Their clubs and their colours are incredibly important to them; it is their family and says who they are."
Haslett said the appearance of Red Devils was a form of club evolution and did not automatically mean the outbreak of gang warfare or a surge of drug running and illegal activity.
Many club members were responsible family men, fathers and workers, who lived under a strict club code similar to mainstream society, he said.
New Zealand Police Association president Greg O'Connor said the appearance of the Red Devils was sinister.
"People need to understand that, whatever the public relations, motorcycle gangs are formed for one thing and that is to facilitate crime and they should not be seen as anything else."
"The appearance of this Hell's Angels support gang should be seen as sinister."
The Lost Breed could not be contacted. The Red Devils declined to comment.
- © Fairfax NZ News