I am on vacation, and so have only been able to take notes on the posts I want to write for the past week. Here is the outline I jotted down in the car:
When Capitalism Devours Democracy
Ken Star, Mueller, the media, and endless for-profit, anti-nation investigations into the president. (Actually, Tom Nichols’s discussion about the evolution of talk radio and Cable News and their deleterious effects on political discourse is one of the better parts of his book, The Death of Expertise.)
The overly complex legal code + endless investigation + the media + advertising dollars => undermining government function.
Watergate, White Water, Monica, Russiagate, etc.
Can you imagine the national reaction if someone tried to investigate George Washington the same way? It would have been seen not as “anti-George Washington,” but as fundamentally anti-American, an attempt to subvert democracy itself and interfere with the proper functioning of the nation.
Note the complexity of the modern legal, economic, and tax systems, which simultaneously make it very hard for anyone doing much of anything to comply with every single law (have you ever jaywalked? Accidentally miscounted a deduction on your taxes?) and ensure that, with enough searching, if you want to pin something bad on someone, you probably can.
Even though you believe in your heart that you have done nothing wrong, you have no idea whether you might be admitting that you did something that is against the law. There are tens of thousands of criminal statutes on the books in America today. Most of them you have never heard of, and many of them involve conduct that nobody would imagine could ever be a crime.
(Unless you’ve been pulled over for speeding. Then obviously you pull out your driver’s license and talk like a normal human.)
In short, the media discovered, with Nixon and Watergate (at least within the past century or so,) that constant presidential scandals could be good for ratings, and certain folks in the government discovered with Bill Clinton and Monica and Lewinsky that if you go digging for long enough, eventually you can find some kind of dirt to pin on someone–even if it’s completely irrelevant, idiotic dirt that has nothing to do with the president’s ability to govern.
This creates the incentive for the Media to constantly push the drumbeat narrative of “presidential scandal!” which leads to people truly believing that there is much more scandal than there really is.
Theory: Monica, Benghazi, Russiagate, and maybe even Watergate were all basically trumped-up hogwash played for ratings dollars. (Well, clearly someone broke into the Watergate hotel.)
The sheer complexity of the modern legal system, which allows this to happen, also incentivizes each party to push for constant investigations of the other party’s presidents. In essence, both sides are moving toward mutual defect-defect, with the media egging them on.
And We the People are the suckers.
I feel like there are concepts here for which we need better words.
Welcome to the final volume in our exploration of the anthropology of crime, Frank Lucas and Aliya King’s Original Gangster. Unlike the other book in this series, this one is actually (co)authored by the criminal himself. This provides a unique perspective, but also introduces the question of whether the author is entirely honest–but since I have no way to independently verify his story, I’ll just be reporting matters as he tells them.
It’s been a month since I finished the book, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. It’s an interesting read, for sure, but I am ambivalent about giving criminals more attention–on the other hand, the book has already been made into a movie, so what’s one more reader?
Lucas’s story begins in 1936, when, at the age of six, he witnesses his cousin’s head blown off by the KKK. He soon began stealing food to help feed his impoverished family, and left home at the age of 14. I forget why, exactly, he decided to set off on his own, but he quickly ran into trouble, was arrested and put into a chain gang. With a little help he managed to escape and made his way to New York City, where a helpful bus driver got him to his final destination:
“Right here! Go. Get off! This is Harlem.”
I stood on 114th Street and 8th Avenue and looked to my right and to my left. There was nothing but black people as far as I cold see. And there were all kinds of black folks: men and women of all ages and sizes, some who looked dirt poor (but not as poor as me) and some who looked straight-up rich.
I threw out my hands and screamed out as loud as I could, “Hello, Harlem USA!”
Harlem has an interesting history of its own. The British burned down the small, Dutch town during the Revolutionary War. New York City expanded into Harlem, and after the Civil War, the area became heavily Jewish and Italian. By the 30s, the Jews had been replaced by Puerto Ricans (the Italians lingered a little longer.)
In 1904, black real estate entrepreneur Phillip Payton, Jr., of the Afro-American Realty Company, began encouraging blacks to move from other New York neighborhoods to Harlem (which had particularly low rents then because of a housing crash.) According to Wikipedia:
The early 20th-century Great Migration of blacks to northern industrial cities was fueled by their desire to leave behind the Jim Crow South, seek better jobs and education for their children, and escape a culture of lynching violence. During World War I, expanding industries recruited black laborers to fill new jobs, thinly staffed after the draft began to take young men. … In 1910, Central Harlem was about 10% black. By 1920, central Harlem was 32.43% black. The 1930 census showed 70.18% of Central Harlem’s residents as black… As blacks moved in, white residents left. Between 1920 and 1930, 118,792 white people left the neighborhood and 87,417 blacks arrived.
Between 1907 and 1915 some white residents of Harlem resisted the neighborhood’s change, especially once the swelling black population pressed west of Lenox Avenue, which served as an informal color line until the early 1920s. Some made pacts not to sell to or rent to black Others tried to buy property and evict black tenants, but the Afro-American Realty Company retaliated by buying other property and evicting whites. …
Soon after blacks began to move into Harlem, the community became known as “the spiritual home of the Negro protest movement.” … The NAACP chapter there soon grew to be the largest in the country. Activist A. Philip Randolph lived in Harlem and published the radical magazine The Messenger starting in 1917. … W. E. B. Du Bois lived and published in Harlem in the 1920s, as did James Weldon Johnson and Marcus Garvey.
You know, some books are written in a way that lends themselves quoting, and some are not. This book had a great deal of interesting material about crime and particularly Lucas’s development as a criminal, but most of it went into too much depth to easily quote. (I do longer quotes for books out of copyright.) This passage works, though:
I never even thought about getting a regular job. That just wasn’t me. From the moment I saw my cousin’s head blown away in front of me by the Klan, I had no faith in doing things the “right” way. … I watched my parents break their backs for next to nothing because they tried to play by the unfair rule of the sharecropping system. Just seemed like trying to do things the so-called right way got you nowhere…
There were two Harlems back then. There were the high-society folks, the people who lived in the fancy brownstones overlooking Central Park or up on Mount Morris. … I didn’t notice these people. I knew they were there, but it was like they were in black and white. …Those people up on Mount Morris had solid educations, which gave them a hell of a lot more options than I had. …
The underworld was in full, living color. The prostitute and their pimps, the number runners and their clients, the drug dealers and, most especially, the gamblers, who always had lots of money. They spoke a language I could read, write, and understand fluently.
Just to recap, our author showed up in Harlem at the age of 14 or so with the clothes on his back and not enough money to ride the bus. He found a warm place to sleep with the other homeless and began stealing food. This progressed to stealing money, and as the author puts it:
A few months after I started stealing anything not nailed down in Harlem, I was introduced to the heroin trade.
Hoffmann, working at Bayer pharmaceutical company in Elberfeld, Germany, was instructed by his supervisor Heinrich Dreser to acetylate morphine with the objective of producing codeine, a constituent of the opium poppy… Instead, the experiment produced an acetylated form of morphine one and a half to two times more potent than morphine itself. The head of Bayer’s research department reputedly coined the drug’s new name, “heroin,” based on the German heroisch, which means “heroic, strong” (from the ancient Greek word “heros, ήρως”). …
In 1895, the German drug company Bayer marketed diacetylmorphine as an over-the-counter drug under the trademark name Heroin. It was developed chiefly as a morphine substitute for cough suppressants that did not have morphine’s addictive side-effects. Morphine at the time was a popular recreational drug, and Bayer wished to find a similar but non-addictive substitute to market. However, contrary to Bayer’s advertising as a “non-addictive morphine substitute,” heroin would soon have one of the highest rates of addiction among its users.
Like Frisbees and Kleenex, Heroin was once a brand name that has become synonymous with the product.
Lucas isn’t out to take heroin. He wants to sell it–probably a less risky and more profitable venture than robbing people at gunpoint. But by now he’s attracted some unwanted attention.
In the underworld environment, cops are the natural enemy of a drug dealer. It was my job to just stay out of their way, but that rule only applies to cops trying to do their job. Crooked cops have no rules and no ethics. And some of them get a badge just so they can have a license to beat people up and rob them.
If I ever turned a corner and saw Diggs and his partner, Pappo, my stomach sank and my temper jumped a few degrees. …
“You got a reason to have your hands on me?” I’d say.
“We can make one up if you don’t shut the fuck up,” they’d say.
Diggs and Pappo beat him up a lot, until one day Lucas went a little crazy and threatened to kill them, after which they left him alone.
If I recall correctly, Lucas was only about 17 at this time, so this was around 1947, maybe into the early 50s.
Obviously Lucas has interacted with a lot of police officers, since he’s been arrested a few times and spent many years in prison. He doesn’t have much negative to say about honest cops, but crooked cops–who not only beat him, like Diggs and Pappo, but also extorted money from him–earn his ire.
Of course, Lucas was actually a criminal, but why did he attract so much attention from police officers who were content to beat him up a bit and then let him back out on the streets? If the crooked cops knew he was dealing, why didn’t he attract the attention of honest police officers before becoming a multi-millionaire drug lord? Were the crooked cops just more attuned to criminal activity (being, essentially, criminals themselves)? Was there just not enough solid evidence to convict Lucas in a court of law, but more than plenty to randomly harass him? Does arresting people require a lot of paperwork?
Lucas was eventually arrested and sent to prison (in 1975, though his 70 year sentence was eventually reduced to 5 plus parole.) Throughout the period Lucas was operating–primarily the 1960s and early 70s–heroin, crack, and crime hit NYC like a sledgehammer. How much was Lucas’s fault is debatable (though it was surely a lot.) But the attitude of “let’s just beat up the criminals a bit and then put them back on the streets” couldn’t have helped.
It’s getting late, so let’s continue this next Friday.
Welcome to our final post on Jay Dobyns and Nils Johnson-Shelton‘s No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels. (The subtitle is a bit of an overstatement–while Dobyns does meet Sonny Barger, he’s never part of Sonny’s circle. The authors may not have had any control over the book’s title, though.) This has been an interesting, often intense book. I’ve not quoted as much as I usually do because the book is new, under copyright, and obviously the authors would like for you to buy a copy and read it yourself.
One of the themes running through the book is the intersection of crime, drugs, poverty, and innocents (children) caught in the middle. It’s a part of America where meth is rampant and lives are broken.
And how do the Hells Angels (and other motorcycle clubs) fit into this? Are they spontaneous order or disorder? For people who grew up neglected, abused, or merely on the outside of society, does the “brotherhood” of bikers provide an essential, tribal sense of belonging?
Indeed, one of the mysteries the book touches on repeatedly is that this “criminal” organization receives nigh unwavering support from the general public. When they go to clubs, they’re given an introduction over the loudspeaker (“Everyone, the Hells Angels are partying with us tonight!”) Women are thrown at them. (Dobyns, who is married, has to get another undercover police officer to fake being his girlfriend to explain why he isn’t having sex with any of the women throwing themselves at him.) All of the motorcycle clubs in the area, even the totally mundane ones, respect the HAs; there are HA “support” clubs scattered around the nation.
(In any area where the HA aren’t dominant and some other club is, people look up to and respect that club.) People buy Hells Angels t-shirts and as Dobyns notes, even some police officers form their own motorcycle clubs, at least somewhat modeled on the Outlaw clubs.
By contrast, while people do look out for and respect their local Mafia bosses and drug dealers, they don’t form gang fan clubs or wear Mafia-themed t-shirts.
Meanwhile, job demands were wearing on Dobyns (as usual, I’m using “” instead of blockquotes for readability):
“I was running ragged. The life of an undercover cop is not one of leisure. I was up every morning at seven, going over notes from the night before or transcribing audio from one of my recorders. the notes couldn’t be half-assed or glossed over, they had to be dead-nuts on. Then I’d do my expenditures, and those had to be to the penny… Then I’d contact the suspects–some of whom were occasionally crashed out in the living room while I did reports behind my bedroom’s locked door–and set up meetings and deals for the day or week. Then I’d call Slats and go over everything with him. Then I’d meet a task force agent to exchange notes and evidence. Then I’d start making my runs, seeing the boys, hitting the spots–just being seen is a job in itself. Then I’d make my scheduled meetings, do the buys I’d set up, Hit the club houses, and have conversations.
“Some days I’d ride from Phoenix to Bullhead and back … The sun would set, the heat would dissipate, and the nights would begin. I’d go out and, despite drinking, would try to stay lucid enough to be able to defend myself, JJ, Timmy, or Pop if any of us got made. The stress of being in near-constant mortal danger is what we were trained to endure, but undertaking it day after day is enough to fry anyone. I’d get home, cross myself, smoke cigarettes, down coffee, jot down notes and reminders, and then try to get a few hours sleep before doing t all over again the next day.”
EvX: According to Donnie Brasco, (The Way of the Wiseguy,) he didn’t set foot in an FBI office for the whole 6 years of his undercover operation. Obviously his phone and house were bugged, but it sounds like he didn’t have to check in with his supervisors or get most of his moves approved by anyone. Of course, that was in the 70s (and New York.) The FBI’s standard procedures have likely changed a bit since then (from the sounds of it, toward “more bureaucratic control and less liability” but ironically, “more likely to die from exhaustion while trying to ride a motorcycle at night.”)
Assassination of Sonny’s Successor?
“Daniel “Hoover” Seybert had been shot through the forehead on March 22. He’d been killed in the parking lot of Bridgette’s Last Laugh, a Phoenix bar, surrounded by his brothers, who conveniently–and ludicrously–didn’t see a thing. According to the Hells Angels witnesses, Hoover had just started his bike when he suddenly slumped over the bars. there was no exit wound. they didn’t hear a discharge. Some claimed that until they saw the wound in his forehead they thought he’d had a heart attack. … they were all convinced the shooter must have been a Mongol.
“We weren’t so sure. The medical examiner concluded that the wound was from a small-caliber, close-range shot. … Hoover was revered and respected nationally and internationally by friend and foes–he’d been groomed as Sonny’s replacement… His death devastated the club and drove their paranoia to new heights. …
“There was plenty of internal tension among the Angels in those days, centering on which way the club was headed, what they’d symbolize as they continued their wild ride through American cultural history. … Generally, younger members felt as though they’d joined the Hells Angels to raise hell, to do what they wanted to, when they wanted to, and not be told otherwise. Older members–members, it should be said, who’d lived this freer, hell0-raising lifestyle in decades past,–preferred to rest on their laurels, doing whatever they could not to attract attention from the law. These Angels were content with being old-time kings of the hill and selling T-shirts at motorcycle rallies.”
EvX: Again, this gets back to the question of what the organization is. The HAs got their reputation by being violent, but once you’ve got that reputation, why not sit back and enjoy it? Crime is dangerous and can lead to getting arrested; partying is fun. But the younger members have different ideas of fun. They don’t want to avoid trouble; they want to go out and raise hell.
Back to Dobyns:
“Time passed in a blur. Back in Phoenix, on the eight, I worked out with Dan… the crazy musclehead Angel I’d met when our Solo Angeles crew came to town back in January. He pumped his iron, vein in his neck bulging, and waxed hopeful about the end of his parole… JJ and I went with Bobby on the ninth to set up a T-shirt booth at a run. He intimidated the guy in charge into giving us free passes and the best booth location. Bobby said he was going to run the Americans Motorcycle Club out of there if he saw them. He and Teddy bitched about how they hadn’t been giving the Angels their due respect and that they were going to force the Americans out of the area, maybe even the state…
[They get news of a possible conflict with another club and get called in:]
“He addressed us. ‘Expect to kill tonight. Expect to shoot. Expect to die, go to jail, or skip country.’ …
“Teddy and Bobby looked on as Joby loaded the Jeep with the shotgun a box of shells, a sap, an ax handle and three or four knives. Teddy looked distraught. …
“He spoke, contemplating the ground. ‘I”m not happy about this, but this is what we do. I’m proud of ya and I’m proud of the Hells Angels. Ya be there for them, and they’ll be there for ya. Do what ya gotta do, but I want y’all to come back alive.’ He gave each of us a big hug.
“Bobby hugged us too. As he finished with me he grabbed my shoulders and said, ‘Remember, Bird–a Hells Angel may not always be right, but he is always you bother.’
“Teddy spoke again. ‘Half of what’s mine is yours. Don’t forget that either.’
“Their words made sense. Even though I’d sworn an oath to fight guy like these, I’d bought into some of their credo. I knew that any of these guys, and more than a few others across the state, wold gladly take a bullet for me. In that instant I believed in some of what the Hell Angels stood for. I was genuinely touched.”
EvX: Luckily, based on Dobyns’ and the other undercover cops’ information, the police intercept the guys they were going to potentially fight and no violence occurs.
The Wild Pigs:
“The Williams run was easy. … I wandered around with Bobby, acting as his bodyguard.
“We came across a group of bikers who called themselves the Wild Pigs. One of their guys walked up to us, his hand extended to Bobby. He wore a big shit-eating smile. He said, ‘Hey, pleasure to meet you.’
“Bobby raised his sunglasses and looked at him intently. He did not offer his hand in return. ‘Get fucked.’ …
“The Wild Pigs were cops, guys with badges who paraded around on weekends like a One Percenter club. In my mind, as in Bobby’s, they were a fucking abomination.”
EvX: Dobyns is running into a problem. He has documented plenty of illegal gun and drug sales, but nothing really new or incriminating for the organization as a whole. He’s still on the outside, a member of the “Solo Angeles” club that just rides a lot with the Hells Angels. He wants to become a full member, but prospecting for a club takes time. There are rules, they’re strict, and they don’t let a lot of people in. Meanwhile, his bosses are getting tired of the operation; it’s a lot of expense, hassle, and stress to pay him to go drinking and riding motorcycles if he’s not getting any information they don’t already have.
So Dobyns tries to expedite the prospecting process by proposing a hit job. He’ll show his devotion to the HAs by going down to Mexico and killing one of the Mongols, the HA’s rivals. He is essentially given the club’s blessings to do this, but I note that it was Dobyns‘s idea, not the club’s.
So, if you’re ever in a club that the FBI might be infiltrating, and some guy is proposing something violent or illegal, it’s best to say no.
“He handed me the pistol, I checked the safety and stuck it in my back pocket. I said I had to go, that I’d be in touch, and that I’d be back in a few days.
“He grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me close, hugging me tight, slapping my back hard. He pushed me back, looked into my eyes, and said, ‘I want you to come home. All of you.’
“Don’t worry, bro, we will. We will.”
[Obviously, Dobyns does not actually kill anyone. They stage a photograph to make it look like they killed the dude.]
“But I was no Angel. The Mongol murder was not as simple as it appeared. …
“The fire at Joby’s camp had smelled like lamb chops for a good reason. The blood, skin, and brain that spattered out of the Mongol’s clothes had belonged to a lamb, not a man.”
It almost works, but the Hells Angels, they’ve got rules:
“On the thirtieth, Timmy, JJ, and I went to Skull Valley to talk things over. … We were told that we weren’t going to get patched [that is, receive their Hells Angels patches], even though the local shot-callers had sided with us. The problem went back to Laughlin… when some Angels had been fast-patched after the riot. This pissed off the European Angels. Those guys were over there fighting their rivals with RPGs, blowing up entire clubhouses, and none them got patched early. We were told that Europe simply outnumbered the United States and none of our guys wanted to step on their European counterparts’ toes.”
EvX: Two interesting things here. One, people did get fast-patched after the Laughlin (River Run) Riot. So violence on behalf of the club is definitely rewarded. The other interesting thing is that the European Angels sound like they are getting into a lot more violence than the American ones.
But this leaves Dobyns in the lurch. With no fast patch, the FBI decides to stop the operation. Dobyns has come far–he’s apparently considered a member of his local club even if the HA international says he needs more time–but not far enough. He’s pulled out and essentially disappears.
The case’s search warrants get executed on July 8:
“Staci, Bobby’s girlfriend, called after we started knocking the Angels down and left a frantic message, saying, ‘Bird [Dobyns’s alias], it’s Staci. I don’t know where you are, but wherever it is, stay there. They’re coming for the guys. It looks like they’re coming for all the guys. I don’t know what the fuck is going on Hopefully I’ll see you soon…’
“What was going on was predawn SRT and SWAT raids, conducted in Arizona, Nevada, California, Washington, and Colorado. The total haul was impressive. More than 1,600 pieces of evidence were collected: over 650 guns, eight of which were machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, and other prohibited weapons; dozens of silencers; explosives, including pipe-bombs, napalm, blasting caps, dynamite, and grenades; and over 30,000 rounds of live ammunition. …
“Owing to lack of evidence, Ralph “Sonny” Barger was left untouched. …
“By the summer of 2004 the Hells Angels had issued two death threats against my family and me. Over the following years they would issue three more. …
“ATF didn’t take the threats seriously. … My paranoia grew, and was only made worse by ATF’s refusal to recognize what I knew was a mortal situation. They belittled my concerns and downplayed my accomplishments… It was a dreary business, but heart-breaking and eye-opening. I’d expected to be betrayed by the Hells Angels, but not by the people I’d worked so incredibly hard for.”
EvX: Obviously we’re reading this through Dobyns’ POV. Maybe his superiors have a completely different version of things.
But there’s a lot of betrayal here. Dobyns betrayed men he’d called “brother” and had called him “brother.” Yes, many of these men were criminals, but they also would have taken a bullet for him. Even after Dobyns completely disappeared without warning or goodbye, people in the midst of life-destroying SWAT raids (raids Dobyns caused) tried to warn and protect him.
And in the meanwhile, the organization that was supposed to have Dobyns’s back and protect him didn’t.
Operation Black Biscuit [the codename for the case] ultimately failed:
“Sadly, disputes over evidence and tensions between ATF and the U.S. attorneys killed our case. Most of the serious charges were dismissed in early 2006, and as a result, hardly any of the guys who were charged with RICO violations saw the inside of a courtroom. …
“Those were dark days. The press and the defense attorneys, not privy to the turf battles fought between the case agents and the prosecutors, hung the blame on the undercover operation. We were called rogue actors, reckless and impulsive, and the Hells Angels’ legal representation publicly yoked us, confident the case would never go before a jury…
“In the beginning I thought of the Black Biscuit case as a classic Good-versus-Evil struggle. I knew the brutality and intimidation brought by the Hells Angels was real. Violence was their way of life. … Our team of elite investigators was an ideal adversary to the Hells Angels, and everyone on the task force was proud to throw themselves into taking down such an evil organization.
“But as we’ve seen, things aren’t always so cut-and-dried. I went in deep and realized that the Hells Angels weren’t all bad–and I wasn’t all good.”
“When we do right, nobody remembers. When we do wrong, nobody forgets.” — HA motto
“For those who don’t know, [Ralph “Sonny” Barger] was the man–the legend, really–who molded the Hells Angels into what they are. it’s not a stretch to say that Sonny Barger is a visionary who essentially created the image of the outlaw biker as we know it. He had help, to be sure, and the names of his cohorts dating back to the late fifties through the present are legendary in the biker world… these men created the image–the leather, the hair, the grime, the hardness, the silence, the impenetrability, the bikes–everything that constitute an outlaw biker. …
“Without the Hells Angels we wouldn’t have floor-model Harleys that look like stripped-down scream machines. No ape hangers… no bitch bar, no spool wheels, no front-end extenders. … The HA were obsessed with going fast, and without this obsession bikes would be slower. They were relentless in stripping their bikes of all but the barest essentials. The formula was simple: less weight plus bigger engines equaled more speed. Every pound they shed gained them two miles per hour. Thus “choppers”–chopped-down motorcycles. What they did was mimicked by everyone who wanted to be a Hells Angel but couldn’t be.”
EvX: When you get down to it, the motorcycle is a machine. A car is also a machine, but a car is a machine with a lot of metal between you and the engine. A chopper is a machine that has minimized the amount of metal between you and the engine. The motorcycle is about the closest you can get to just riding on an engine, riding straight down the highway on pure power.
Hells Angels International:
“[Berger] saw that the Angels could go international, that though American in origin, they needn’t be limited to America’s borders. As I’ve said before, I believe that the Hells Angels, and to a lesser extent all American-style biker gangs, are this country’s only organized-crime export.”
According to Wikipedia:
Numerous police and international intelligence agencies classify the Hells Angels as one of the “big four” motorcycle gangs, along with the Pagans, Outlaws, and Bandidos, and contend that members carry out widespread violent crime and organized crime, including drug dealing, trafficking in stolen goods, and extortion, and are involved in prostitution. Members of the organization have continuously asserted that they are only a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who have joined to ride motorcycles together, to organize social events such as group road trips, fundraisers, parties, and motorcycle rallies, and that any crimes are the responsibility of the individuals who carried them out and not the club as a whole. …
The HAMC acknowledges more than one hundred chapters spread over 29 countries. The Hells Angels motorcycle club founded a chapter in Auckland, New Zealand in 1961 and has since taken over gangs in Wanganui. New Zealand had the first chapter of the Hells Angels outside the United States. Europe did not become widely home to the Hells Angels until 1969 when two London chapters were formed. The Beatles‘ George Harrison invited some members of the HAMC San Francisco to stay at Apple Records in London in 1968. … Two charters were issued on July 30, 1969; one for “South London”—the re-imagined chapter renewing the already existing 1950 South London chapter—and the other for “East London” …The London Angels provided security at a number of UK Underground festivals including Phun City in 1970 organized by Mick Farren. They awarded Farren an “approval patch” in 1970 for use on his first solo album Mona, which also featured Steve Peregrin Took (who was credited as “Shagrat the Vagrant”).
In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a major expansion of the club into Canada. The Quebec Biker war was a violent turf war that began in 1994 and continued until late 2002 in Montreal. The war began as the Hells Angels in Quebec began to make a push to establish a monopoly on street-level drug sales in the province. A number of drug dealers and crime families resisted and established groups such as the “Alliance to fight the Angels”. The war resulted in the bombings of many establishments and murders on both sides. It has claimed more than 150 lives and led to the incarceration of over 100 bikers. …
A list of acknowledged chapters can be found on the HAMC’s official website.
“These contradictions fascinate me. The Hells Angels are separate from society, but they’re rooted in it. They’re nonconformists, but they all look the same; they’re a secret society, but also flamboyant exhibitionists; they flout the laws of the land, but they’re governed by a strict code; their name and their Death Head logo represent freedom, individualism, toughness, and lawlessness, but both name and logo are protected by legal trademarks.”
EvX: It sounds to me like they aren’t so much “non conformists” in the abstract as “non conformists” relative to a particular society. How many of these guys would succeed and be happy in the corporate world? People who think cars–which I regard as terrifying 2-ton death traps hurtling at 60 miles an hour down the road–as “cages” and want to take their chances with getting their flesh grounds straight onto the road do not strike me as people who’d be inclined to sit still in a cubicle all day.
Rather, the HAs and similar groups have opted out of mainstream society and formed their own, alternative society–a tribe of their own, replete with its own initiation rituals, tribal dress, symbolic brotherhood (the members of real tribes are usually quite closely related,) their own history and lore, and even their own army. By doing so, they leave the world in which they are at the bottom, and create a world where they are at the top.
But they still live in our society, and ironically, they definitely will sue you if you use their logos:
In March 2007 the Hells Angels filed suit against the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group alleging that the film entitled Wild Hogs used both the name and distinctive logo of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation without permission. …
In October 2010 the Hells Angels filed a lawsuit against Alexander McQueen for “misusing its trademark winged death heads symbol” in several items from its Autumn/Winter 2010 collection. The lawsuit is also aimed at Saks Fifth Avenue and Zappos.com, which stock the jacquard box dress and knuckle duster ring that bear the symbol, which has been used since at least 1948 and is protected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. … “This isn’t just about money, it’s about membership. If you’ve got one of these rings on, a member might get really upset that you’re an impostor.” …
As of December 2013, the Hells Angels sells its branded merchandise at a retail store in Toronto, Canada.
Some final notes from Wikipedia on who can and can’t become a Hells Angel:
In order to become a Hells Angels prospect, candidates must have a valid driver’s license, a motorcycle over 750cc, and have the right combination of personal qualities. It is said the club excludes child molesters and individuals who have applied to become police or prison officers.
They might be outlaws, but they have standards.
To become a full member, the prospect must be voted on unanimously by the rest of the full club members. Prior to votes being cast, a prospect usually travels to every chapter in the sponsoring chapter’s geographic jurisdiction (state/province/territory) and introduces himself to every Full-Patch member. This process allows each voting member to become familiar with the subject and to ask any questions of concern prior to the vote. Some form of formal induction follows, wherein the prospect affirms his loyalty to the club and its members. The final logo patch (top “Hells Angels” rocker) is then awarded at this initiation ceremony. The step of attaining full membership can be referred to as “being patched”. …
The club claims not to be a racially segregated organization, although at least one chapter allegedly requires that a candidate be a white male, and Sonny Barger stated in a BBC interview in 2000 that “The club, as a whole, is not racist but we probably have enough racist members that no black guy is going to get in it”. At that time the club had no black members.
…Wooley [a black guy] became an associate of the Hells Angels Montreal chapter in the 1990s and later tried uniting street gangs in Quebec after Boucher was imprisoned.
In another interview with leader Sonny Barger in 2000 he remarked “if you’re a motorcycle rider and you’re white, you want to join the Hell’s Angels. If you black, you want to join the Dragons. …We don’t have no blacks and they don’t have no whites.” …Tobie Levingston who formed the black motorcycle club East Bay Dragons MC wrote in his book that he and Sonny Barger have a long-lasting friendship and that the Hells Angels and Dragons have a mutual friendship and hang out and ride together.
In a 1966 article about motorcycle rebels in the African-American community magazine Ebony, the Chosen Few MC stated that they see no racial animosity in the Hells Angels and that when they come into Chosen Few territory they all get together and just party. A Hells Angel member interviewed for the magazine insisted there was no racial prejudice in any of their clubs and stated “we don’t have any negro members” but maintained there have not been any blacks who have sought membership. At one point in the 1970s the Hells Angels were looking to consolidate the different motorcycle clubs and offered every member of the Chosen Few MC a Hells Angel badge, but the Chosen Few turned down the offer.
We should of course be skeptical about what people tell reporters–people don’t always want to admit in writing that they hate other people and might want to kill them. But we can contrast this against the HA’s attitude toward the Mongols, who are frequent subjects of ire in the book and whom the HA got in a shootout with back in 2002.
Meanwhile, Dobyns’ undercover persona is so good, the local police go after him:
“On the way home, on a dark side street deliberately taken to avoid a confrontation, we were pulled over for a traffic stop. …
Typically, when a mixed-club group of bikers is stopped, and Hells Angel are among those present, they get the most thorough attention. Everyone knows the Angels are the ones to be wary of, and that given an inch they will take it a mile. They must be attended to first.
“But they weren’t….
“An officer approached JJ and me from behind. When he got about ten feet from us, he racked a shell into the chamber of his shotgun…
“I didn’t appreciate the sound of that shotgun…
“Over the bullhorn a young, angry voice said, “Bird, [Dobyns’ undercover name] do not let go of your handlebars until ordered to do so. Do you understand?” I nodded yes. I held the bars with a death grip….
“The Angels were told to remain on their bikes. …
“I was led to the curb and told to kneel. I was led at the barrel of a loaded and charged shotgun. …
“The guys were cuffed and lined up curbside. No one but me had to kneel. No one but me had a gun drawn on them. The Angels couldn’t believe it, but as far as these cops were concerned, I was more dangerous than they were. …
“Meanwhile, Officer Shotgun talked to me. … He said, “You gotta move on, Bird, you gotta get the fuck out of my town.” “Meanwhile, Officer Shotgun talked to me.
“I said, ‘You can arrest me or lecture me, but I won’t take both, so make up your mind.’ “
EvX: Note Dobyns’s persona is demanding respect. He doesn’t get it from the police, but it was important for the observing Angels.
“He didn’t like that. He put his boot in between my shoulder blades and pushed me to the ground. Since I was cuffed I caught the pavement with my cheek. He kneeled, leaned in close, and whispered into my ear: “Motherfucker, if I ever see you in this town again I will fucking bury you in the desert where no one will ever fucking find you.”
“My recorder was going. I thought, Not good, dude. Not good for you. I knew this guy desperately wanted me out of his town and I knew he wasn’t using approved methods. I wanted to tell him what I was, but I couldn’t. It would be months until he learned how close he’d come to ruining his career that night.”
EvX: I once took a self-defense class taught by a retired police officer who claimed to have taken criminals out to the Everglades Swamp and left them for the alligators.
On the one hand, sometimes the justice system has trouble getting convictions against people who are actually violent criminals, and then you wonder if things wouldn’t be better if the police did more vigilante violence.
And then there are cases like this, where the police are dead wrong.
Respect, body language, and some interesting characters:
“On the thirty-first we waltzed into the Pioneer Saloon in Cave Creek and got a full introduction over the PA. …
“Everyone was there, and I mean everyone. Sonny, Johnny Angel, Hoover, Smitty, Joby, Bob, Fang–every guy who had any kind of influence in the state.
“Sonny came up and greeted each one of us, and in one of the greatest moments in bike investigator history, we got a group shot with him: Just Sonny Barger and Johnny Angel in the middle of a row of Sol Angeles, aka cops…
“As we left the side room I bumped into a short, roided out live wire with a shaved head. He looked like my shorter, wider twin. …
“The live wire asked, ‘What the fuck? You’re fucking Bird, aren’t you?’ He stabbed his finger at me, tapping me hard right were the bullet had come out of my chest.
“‘Yeah. that’s right.’
“‘Shit! I’m fucking Dirty Dan. And I need to talk to you. Come with me.’ … ‘I heard all about you, Bird. You’re some kind of crazy fucking cowboy, ain’t you? Shit, brother, I love that.’ …
“He asked about Mexico. I said I went to Mexico often. He said he’d heard there were Mongols down there. I said there were, but not too many. He said that as soon as his parole was up, he’d like to come with me, see if we could find some. I said great. He said find some and then kill ’em. I said awesome. He said we’d be a two-man massacre crew. I said, “Dirty Dan, you’re the kind of Hell Angel I’ve been waiting to meet.” He said that he liked the way I carried myself, that the club needed more guys like me. …
“After several minutes we parted company just as abruptly as we’d come together. We agreed to met and work out at the gym. He yelled, ‘All right! Later, Bird.’
“I yelled, ‘Later, Dirty Dan.’
“We’d been in a complete bubble. Hours after that, when were were winding down at the UC house, Gundo told me that when Dan and I started talking, all eyes turned to us. Our body language looked overly confrontational. Gundo said, ‘Man, I thought you two were gonna hit the deck. I was leaning against the bar with my hand on my gun… I thought we were about to be in the middle of an ass-beating shoot-out.’
“I laughed and said, ‘You kidding me? … I fucking loved that guy.’ …”
EvX: For the most part, the talk about killing Mongols sounds like a lot of talk, except during the 2002 River Run Riot, which occurred near the beginning of the book. Wikipedia summarizes:
The River Run Riot was a violent confrontation between the Hells Angels and the Mongols motorcycle clubs that occurred on April 27, 2002, in Laughlin, Nevada during the Laughlin River Run. The conflict began when members of the Hells Angels went to Harrah’s Laughlin to confront members of the Mongols who had allegedly harassed vendors that sold Hells Angels related merchandise. Mongol Anthony Barrera, 43, was stabbed to death, and two Hells Angels, Jeramie Bell, 27, and Robert Tumelty, 50, were shot to death.
Even by the end of the book, it was not clear what the essential nature of the Hells Angels really is. 1% clubs are ostensibly composed of criminals–that’s what the 1% means–but are they actually criminal organizations, or just organized criminals? The Angola Prison in in Louisiana, for example, publishes a newspaper, The Angolite, written by the prisoners. Obviously everyone who work on the paper is a criminal, but The Angolite isn’t a criminal organization, it’s just a newspaper. By contrast, the Mafia, while run by a set of related families from a particular ethnic background, obeying particular cultural codes, exists for the sole reason of committing crime. The Angolite is organized criminals; the Mafia is a criminal organization.
This may sound a bit existential, but for the police (and the HAs) it’s essential. If the HAs are just like-minded guys who want to ride motorcycles together, support their incarcerated brothers, hand out toys and bicycles to poor kids, and sell t-shirts, then they have every right to do that. Having once committed a crime does not preclude your right to hang out with other guys and ride motorcycles together. It doesn’t preclude your right to have a logo, copyright it, and sue Toys R Us if they violate it.
By contrast, if the HAs are actually using their organization to commit crimes, then the police can shut them down and seize their assets (logos included.)
This distinction is essential for Dobyns. The police can prove that plenty of individual people have committed crimes. He’s purchased plenty of illegal guns, for example. The River Run Riot was caught on surveillance cameras, and at least some of the perpetrators were arrested and convicted of murder. But it takes more than that to prove that an organization is actively conspiring to commit crimes.
The government tried to charge the Hells Angels under RICO (the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) back in 1979, but couldn’t make it stick:
In 1979 the United States Federal Government went after Sonny Barger and several members and associates of the Oakland charter of the Hells Angels using RICO. In United States vs. Barger, the prosecution team attempted to demonstrate a pattern of behavior to convict Barger and other members of the club of RICO offenses related to guns and illegal drugs. The jury acquitted Barger on the RICO charges with a hung jury on the predicate acts: “There was no proof it was part of club policy, and as much as they tried, the government could not come up with any incriminating minutes from any of our meetings mentioning drugs and guns.“
Here, from Jay Dobyns, the first federal agent to infiltrate the inner circle of the outlaw Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, is the inside story of the twenty-one-month operation that almost cost him his family, his sanity, and his life.
Getting shot in the chest as a rookie agent, bartering for machine guns, throttling down the highway at 100 mph, and responding to a full-scale, bloody riot between the Hells Angels and their rivals, the Mongols…
Reminiscent of Donnie Brasco’s uncovering of the true Mafia, this is an eye-opening portrait of the world of bikers… one that fully describes the seductive lure criminal camaraderie has for men who would otherwise be powerless outsiders. Here is all the nihilism, hate, and intimidation, but also the freedom–and, yes, brotherhood–of the only truly American form of organized crime.
So what do all of these books on criminals have to do with anthropology? Traditional anthropology looks at pre-industrial societies such as Hadza hunter-gatherers or reindeer-herding Sami. With the rapid spread of industrialization, anthropologists feared that information about our own human past and the variety of forms societies can take would soon diseappear.
After our long look at Siberia, I wanted to find something different. If people can write about Gypsies, why not the poor of our own society?
I began this project thinking of criminals as aberrations, people in whom something had gone wrong or who had decided to abandon normal social norms. Now that I am at the end (typing up my notes,) I realize that many criminals as respected, integrated members of their societies whose behavior could be, under different circumstances, not only normal but beneficial. What is the difference, after all, between a criminal who sells illegal drugs and an honest business man who sells alcohol and tobacco? Between a gang member who kills a rival gangster for invading his turf and a soldier who kills an invading enemy?
Many thieves and violent criminals are kind and loving to their own families. Pablo Escobar, the notorious Colombian drug lord, had a devoted wife, loved his children, and gave away so much money to Colombia’s poor that 25,000 people attended his funeral. And even Mafia bosses, for all their crimes, have families and are treated with the respect in their own neighborhoods. (The fact that the locals often like or sympathize with the local criminals can interfere greatly in police efforts to track down and arrest those same criminals.)
Note: this is not all criminals. Drug dealers and serial killers have very different motives. Drug dealers want to make money. Serial killers want to kill people. Some criminals are, indeed, aberrant, psychotic people. Many are impulsive, low-IQ, or unable to succeed in life without resorting to crime. And most have a very low regard for the lives of others.
For obvious reasons, there aren’t a whole lot of ethnographies of criminals or criminal organizations, but Dobyns’s account of infiltrating the Hells Angels (no apostrophe) comes close.
Let’s begin with a bit of reflection about getting shot when he was a rookie cop (As usual, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes for readability):
“If anything, the shooting proved that my job, and therefore my life, was not glamorous in any way. Pathetically, I’d imagined that undercover life would be like Miami Vice–full of cigarette boats, fast cars, expensive clothe, and perfect tens in bikinis sitting in my lap while I negotiated with drug kingpins. Instead, I confronted toothless strippers and disgruntled Vietnam vets, and did deals with jonesing tweakers in trailer parks while getting shot by a broke-dick ex-con who lived with his mom. …
“In the years between the shooting and the summer of 2001, I’d done and seen things that citizen simply don’t do or see. I’d been in another shoot-out, I’d had an inhuman number of guns shoved in my face, I’d bought and sold tons of drugs, and I’d made hundreds of solid collars. I’d worked African-American gangbangers and Italian mobsters with Chris; the Aryan Brotherhood with Special Agent Louis Quinonez, and bikers from Georgia to Colorado with a bunch of different partners, including one of my ATF mentors, Vincent Cefalu.”
On to his next assignment, in a city worth describing:
“Bullhead City is near the southern tip of Nevada, ten hours from where I lived in Tucson. It’s a broken-down town full of semi-employed mechanics who’ve shacked up with women who are–or were–“dancers.” It’s a meth capital teeming with high-school dropouts, and it’s all set down in a brown and tan valley that looks more like Mars than Earth. Across the brown Colorado River is Laughlin, Nevada, Bullhead’s dusty twin sister, with her winkling strip and brand-name outfits: Flamingo, Golden Nugget, Harrah’s. …
“By the end of the following week I was holed up in Bullhead at Gretchen’s Inn, a contemptible riverside hideaway off Route 95. From the outside it looked harmless, but from the inside it was something else. A fleabag meth flophouse, busted locks on the doors and windows that wouldn’t close, people screwing all day and night. I slept with my arms folded over my chest and one of my beloved Glock 19s in my hand.”
EvX: I’ve been a bit afraid of very cheap hotels ever since reading about a horrible crime that happened in one that I’m not going to link to because I don’t want to look it up again. So far I’ve managed to structure my life so that I can avoid bad neighborhoods, pretending more or less that they aren’t there when I’m not looking at them. But of course they are there, broken-down places full of drugs and broken dreams.
According to Wikipedia’s climate data, Bullhead City’s average high temperatures (average, not record) from June through September are 107.7, 112, 110, and 103.7 degrees F.
But back to the story, where our undercover cop needs to buy some guns:
“Sugarbear’s informant, Chuck, would take me to Mohave Firearms for some introductions…
“Here’s what I said:
“What’s up? This’s a nice place you got here, looks like you know your business. Yeah, Jay’s my name, but everyone calls me Bird … Yeah, I ride. You see a patch on my back? Well, then I’m not a One Percenter*, so quit asking… But listen, I got another business, maybe you can help me out? I need guns. Small ones, big ones, fast ones, slow ones. No papers. …
“The next day he sold me two .45s, no papers, no forms. All cash. It was too easy.
“Through the years I was often amused by how quickly suspects decided to trust me.”
EvX: Note: I cut a lot from this conversation. This just gives you some of the flavor. Dobyns needs to convince these guys that he’s a genuine buyer of illegal guns, not, oh, an undercover cop. And he does.
*A 1%, if you aren’t familiar with the term, is a member of an outlaw motorcycle club such as the Hells Angels.
Back to the story: working class Americans like their guns. Some of them really like them:
“Varvil proceeded to let us into his gun vault, a fifteen-by-twenty-foot room off the cluttered garage. Every wall of the room was lined with guns of every kind from damn near every decade of the twentieth century and probably two dozen countries.”
The Prison Run:
“Thousands of bikers stage up and slowly ride out to the prison complex in a massive pack of chrome, steel, leather, and denim to pay their respects to those unfortunate enough to be doing hard time. As the ragged column crawls past the yard, orange jumpsuited inmates caged behind thousands of feet of curlicued razor wire stand at parade rest while the bikers file past, saluting, hooting and hollering. To establish some semblance of order, the law comes out in a show of force. Helicopters, interpersonnel vehicles, cruisers, motorcycles, SUVs, paddy wagons–the whole fleet.”
“They talk about rehabilitation. They call it a “justice” system. But in reality this place is designed to destroy a man. The system has been designed to break, not to better a person. A man’s most valuable possession is his freedom. In this place they take that away. …
“For the last 24 years the Florence Prison Run has been a show of support by the Brothers still on the outside for all of the Brothers who are unfortunately under the care of the state on the inside. … The inspiration for the run was the incarceration of a brother. Running the prison was a way for the locked up Brother to feel and hear the presence outside and know, without a doubt, that he was remembered.”
Some background on why ATF wanted to infiltrate the Angels:
“At the time ATF had some real interest in the Angels. … This kind of case is built around existing police reports, warrants, affidavits, arrests, convictions, financial document, and public records. Slats [one of the ATF agents] sought to prove that the Angels were a criminal organization, indictable under RICO …
“the Angels had been in Arizona for a little under five years… before them the state’s top One Percenters were the Dirty Dozen. The Dozen had been violent and well-established. …
“The Angels came onto their turf when Ralph “Sonny” Barger, the iconic godfather of the Hells Angels, “retired” his forty-year presidency in Oakland, California. He’d served a prison term in the Phoenix area and had fallen in love with the climate and the state. … The Dirty Dozen were in a hard spot… They were tough, but they lacked the resources… of the Hells Angels. The Dozen’s members were given a choice: Disappear or patch over to the Angels. Most enthusiastically chose the latter. …
“These facts were significant. For a club to go from nonexistent to the main show in town in under five years proved… that the Angels were wielding their influence ably and willfully. These are the types of bricks that RICO cases are built with.”
EvX: In other words, regardless of whatever else the Hells Angels were up to, if they used violence or the threat of violence to force the Dirty Dozen out of Arizona, then they could be indicted under RICO.
That “regardless,” though, haunted me throughout the book. What were the Hells Angels up to, besides controlling territory? Selling drugs? Buying guns? I have some answers, but we’ll get to them later.
A certain curious difficulty:
some biker investigators assimilate and sympathize with their adversaries. Some even form their own clubs. This has always been a mystery to me. Cops don’t mimic mafia dons or dress as Crips and Bloods and form up neighborhood sets, so why would some choose to create their own motorcycle clubs patterned after criminal syndicates? …
Instructions for riding with the Angels:
“We’ll be at the back, keeping up. We gotta keep up. They blow a light, we blow a light. They get traffic stopped, we get traffic stopped. Mesa rides like the Blue Angels on Memorial Day. Other charters hate riding with ’em ’cause they’re such fucking road Nazis. Stay eighteen inches off the wheel in front of you. And stay back. Never, ever cross the line of a full patch’s front wheel. You pass one of these guys and there will be hell to pay.”
Murder at the local Hells Angels clubhouse:
“There was a bar on one side with a small triangular stage wedged next to it. A twelve foot long Death Head painted on one wall, an adjacent wall covered with trophies and memorabilia. …
“At least on person had already been killed on the floor of the Mesa clubhouse. … On October 25, 2001, a forty-something woman named Cynthia Garcia was partying with the boys at Mesa. During the course of that night she had the drunken balls to insult the Angels on their home turf… she was beaten unconscious by patched members Mesa Mike and Keven Augustiniak and a prospect, Paul Eischeid…
“[They] hauled the body, which was still technically alive, into the carport and dumped it in the trunk of a car. They drove Garcia out to the desert. … They stabbed her repeatedly. They took turns trying to cut off her head, which they wanted to leave on a fencepost for the vultures. …
“Cynthia Garcia, a mother of two, had made a bad decision, and she was dead for it.”
EvX: one theme that comes up constantly in these books–here, in Donnie Brasco’s The Way of the Wiseguy, and eponymousy in Bourgeois’s In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio is respect.
Some people say that North West Europe has a Guilt Culture, while many Asian countries have a Shame Culture. I’m not exactly sure what the difference is, but in a guilt culture, people are told that God is watching them even when they are otherwise alone and will know if they have sinned. God knows if you pick your nose. God knows if you don’t wash your hands after using the toilet. And God definitely knows if you kill someone, even if no one else finds out.
By contrast, high-crime groups (including groups that hail from NW Europe) seem to have what I’m going to call Respect Cultures. In Respect Cultures, one’s social standing is of paramount importance, and disrespect can be grounds for murder.
The danger here is three-fold:
People from Respect Cultures are often at the bottom of the American totem pole–cause and effect unclear, but this seems like a bad combination either way.
People in Respect Cultures believe in rigid hierarchies in which they do not treat social inferiors as equals.
People in Respect Cultures will not hesitate to use violence to secure or increase their position.
More hierarchical societies obviously lean toward Respect Cultures, while more egalitarian societies lean toward Guilt Cultures. In atomized, egalitarian cultures, individual behavior is kept in check via internalized norms that one should not violate the “social contract.” By contrast, in hierarchical societies, your behavior is dictated by your position within the social pecking order. You have certain obligations to the people above you (often monetary) and obligations to the people below you (such as organizing economic opportunities or providing for their safety.)
For criminals, respect is absolutely vital, because respect translates into other criminals staying out of your turf. You respect a criminal because he can kill you; you disrespect him if you think you can kill him.
More on riding motorcycles:
“The Mesa boys rode like fearless banshees on crack. Jesus Christ himself could not have ridden a motorcycle better, faster, or tighter than Mesa… they kept no more than eighteen inches off the wheel in front of them–and they were often closer than that. By the time the lead riders had banked into a turn, the guy three bikes back had already leaned his shoulder into the thin air. They moved like a snake chasing a rabbit through its burrow. They blew lights and ignored traffic. The rabbits–everyone who wasn’t on a chromed-out Harley-Davidson, everyone who was ensconced in the “cage” of a car or truck, everyone unfortunate enough to be a pedestrian, everyone who was not a Hells Angel–ran scared. …
“Hells Angels live for their club and their brothers. One of there credos is “Step down or aside for no man, no law, no God.” They are free men unto themselves. At the root of this liberty is the experience of riding a bike. Their Harley Davidsons are the vehicles of their emancipation. Emancipation from society’s rule and expectations; from a life of work and obligations, from other men, wives, girlfriends, and family. … The things that the rest of us depend on for safety and consistency were never there for these men. They’re outcasts. The way they see it is, why should they return any favors?
“For these men it is the smallest of steps from outcast to outlaw.”
EvX: I wish the book had gone into more detail on what made these men “outcasts” in the first place.
“The irony is that while their appearance and lifestyle are clearly set up in opposition to those of us who live straight lives, they are hardly distinguishable from one another. Their individuality is confined by a rigid conformity. All wear the same kind of clothing, ride the same brand of bike, adhere to the same set of club rules. All must report once a week to “church” meetings, and all must pay monthly dues. The cuts [biker vests] forever remain the property of the club, as do the “skin patches,” the tattoos that each new member must receive. If for whatever reason a brother quits the club, then the Hells Angels are bound to go to his residence and remove every article of clothing, furniture, and memorabilia that contain ay reference to the Hells Angel–not merely to punish and divest him, but because the stuff simply is not his. … if he leaves on bad terms, then those tattoos are carved off–in some cases taken back with a cheese grater, or with a clothes iron on the linen setting. …
“the Hells Angels’ rules were legion and covered damn near everything … The Hells Angels have rules that govern their bikes, their appearance, their behavior, their old ladies, their engagement in criminal activity, their handling of rivals.”
So what’s the whole point?
“If you become a Hells Angel, everything else about you becomes moot. You’re no longer John J. Johnson–you’re a brother. A soldier. A unit of fear. … Drinks become free, and pussy is never more than a dick’s length away. … You’re suddenly capital-R Respected. If you’re done wrong by someone, the whole club is duty-bound to do wrong back to that person.”
EvX: This, right here, I think is it.
Throughout the book, I kept asking, “but what is the point?” The contrast with Brasco’s description of the Mafia is stark. The Mafia has a point: to make money. Drug lord Frank Lucas, in Original Gangster, had an obvious goal: to make money. But the Hells Angels are not obviously making much money. Perhaps they are, but are being very careful about not showing it off. Or perhaps some of them are, just not the ones Dobyns hung out with.
No, I don’t think money is the main point, though they probably make money when the opportunity presents itself. Rather, the Hells Angels and other groups like them are in it to control resources and territory. Drinks, women, bikes, and highways. That’s what they want, and by being the biggest bad-asses around (and pushing out any competing bad-asses, like the Dirty Dozen,) that’s what they get.
This is good place to wrap up for the week. See you next Friday.
“On May 18, 2009, just two weeks before Smith’s graduation from Harvard, her boyfriend Copney and two accomplices shot and killed Cosby in the basement of Kirkland’s J entryway.
“An aspiring songwriter from New York City who frequently visited Smith and stayed in her room, Copney was convicted of felony murder of the first degree at the conclusion of his trial in April. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. …
“A senior in Lowell House at the time, Smith watched Jiggetts load the gun in her room before the men brought Cosby to Kirkland House to arrange the drug rip. Smith gave Copney and his accomplices her Harvard ID to gain access to the Kirkland basement, where Cosby was shot. Cosby later died from a bullet wound to his abdomen.
“Upon Copney’s return from Cosby’s shooting, Smith hid the gun in her blockmate’s room in a bag under her bed. She then called a taxi to help with the men’s getaway to South Station, where the four boarded a bus to New York. Smith returned to Harvard the next day.”
“The U.S. Department of Education has dismissed a complaint filed against Harvard this spring by 64 Asian-American groups accusing the University of discriminating based on race in its admissions practices.
“The complaint, filed in May, accused the University of unfairly denying admission to highly qualified Asian-American students while admitting similar applicants of other races.”
Everyone knows they do it, but they still get away with denying it. (A similar lawsuit is ongoing, though.)
“The MIT Physics Department is committed to increasing the diversity of its faculty and student populations to improve our excellence and to better serve the society that supports our work.”
“Like in many physics departments, white males are over-represented in our student and faculty populations. There are several reasons to pursue change, seeking to increase the number of women and under-represented minorities in our community:”
Make that two minority groups: “Under-represented minorities” is code for “Piano-playing Asians need not apply. We have enough of you already.”
The whole thing is a painful ball of nonsense and lies. Putting more of group X, Y, or Z into the MIT physics department has zero effect on whether or not the department serves the society that supports its work. For that matter, who the hell do you think supports the MIT physics department? Asian men, white men, and Jewish men. THOSE ARE THE PEOPLE THAT SUPPORT YOU. Don’t shit on them.
When I need some physics, maybe a quark proven to exist or a new state of matter created, do I care the race or gender of the physicist? No! I just want them to prove that quarks exist and create new states of matter.
“TRACEY MEARES: It’s a pretty good example of a police officer. He’s angry because she said no.
“KASTE: Tracey Meares is a professor at Yale Law. She was also on President Obama’s police reform task force. She’s actually surprised by how well this traffic stop went at first. But the cigarette was the turning point. Meares says it looked like a case of contempt of cop. That’s when a police officer tries to reassert authority in the face of disrespect. And she says it’s not justified.
“MEARES: Given that he is a police officer with the power to take her life that it’s incumbent on him to make the first move and maybe tolerate a little bit more disrespect.”
“Also, we’ll sit down with a Yale Law professor who is on President Obama’s task force examining policing, as America grapples with a series of deaths of African Americans after confrontations with police.”
(The rest of the interview is audio, so you’ll have to listen to it yourself.)
“Despite the improvements, East Haven police still have work to do, including fulfilling the remaining requirements in the consent decree, said Michael Wishnie, a Yale Law School professor who represented the plaintiffs in the civil rights lawsuit.
“The kinds of structural racism and practices that have long existed in East Haven take a long time to change,” Wishnie said. “I think it’s far too soon to claim victory.”
“In Connecticut, California slaying suspect Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez would have been held for pickup by Immigration and Custom Enforcement officials only if he had a violent felony in his background or there was a court order in the case. …
It agreed to hand over the person if they already were the subject of a removal order; they were gang members or part of an anti-terrorism database; of if they had been convicted of a felony. This was codified into statute as part of the Connecticut Trust Act. …
“Under the revised policy, the Connecticut Department of Correction will no longer enforce ICE detainer requests and Administrative warrants solely on the basis of a final order of deportation or removal, unless accompanied by a judicial warrant, or past criminal conviction unless it’s for a violent felony,” Commissioner Scott Semple wrote in a memo to ICE. “
Maybe I’m just too tired, but I can’t figure out what this article is trying to say about the difference between Conn and CA law.
“President Barack Obama’s war against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq currently is illegal, many scholars say, and as the one-year mark for U.S. intervention approaches one constitutional law expert has an idea for how to prove it in court.
“Yale University law professor Bruce Ackerman, like other critics of the war’s current legal grounding, says Obama is violating the War Powers Resolution by committing the U.S. military to hostilities without specific authorization from Congress.
“It’s historically been tough to establish standing to make such claims in court. But Ackerman has a plan. …”
“The effort is part of a broader National Science Foundation-funded AccessEngineering initiative, which supports students with disabilities in pursuing engineering careers and promotes accessible and universal design in engineering departments and courses.
“A lot of universities are creating these more casual prototyping spaces where students can have more of a DIY experience, as an alternative to a traditional machine shop,” said AccessEngineering co-principal investigator Kat Steele, a UW assistant professor of mechanical engineering whose Human Ability & Engineering Lab focuses on developing tools for people with cerebral palsy, stroke and other movement disorders.
“Because this is a big growth area for engineering schools, we wanted to help with some best practices and guidelines so that as these new spaces are being created they can be accessible to the widest group possible.”
Cerebral Palsy is caused by brain damage, and somewhere around 30-50% of sufferers are also intellectually disabled. While I know personally a very capable engineer who must use a wheelchair, severely disabled people, on the whole, tend to have things wrong with them that also impact their brains. Making cerebral palsy accessible labs will catch only a very small number of geniuses who happen to have cerebral palsy; by contrast, just spending the same money to hire people who have already graduated with STEM degrees and can’t find jobs would do far more to create more science in the world. Instead of actually hiring scientists to do research, universities want to throw buckets of money at specific identity groups just to look good.
“The move distances Harvard from a corruption case involving one of the contractors who helped oversee the land, and comes shortly after a change in leadership at Harvard Management Company, which invests the University’s $35.9 billion endowment. …
“HMC began purchasing timberland in 1997. It invested heavily in timber under the guidance of then-President and CEO Jane L. Mendillo, who resigned in 2014 after a tumultuous six-year stint as the head manager of Harvard’s endowment. Her replacement, Stephen Blyth, comes from a background in public markets and faces high expectations to bring Harvard back to its pre-recession dominance in investment returns.”
“Unlike the procedures for students at other parts of the University, Law School students involved in cases of alleged sexual harassment will now be guaranteed access to an attorney, paid for by the Law School, during the different stages of a case. After professional investigators examine a case, a separate adjudicatory panel, whose members are not affiliated with Harvard, will determine guilt, potentially after a hearing. A school-specific Title IX committee, staffed by tenured professors, will oversee the process for investigating and adjudicating cases of alleged sexual misconduct between Law School students. …
“The apparent implementation of the school’s procedures marks the close of a lobbying process that Law School professors, unhappy with Harvard’s new approach to Title IX, began last year. Harvard’s new policy and procedures, unveiled last July, altered its new definition of sexual harassment and centralized its process for handling cases, a fact administrators lauded as a positive step forward. It also adopted the preponderance of the evidence standard for determining guilt.
“But quickly afterward, both in closed-door meetings with top University officials and in an open letter published in The Boston Globe, several Law School professors pushed back. They charged that the University’s framework was biased against the accused and did not offer adequate due process. …
“The discord between the Law School and central administrators has also made some Law professors increasingly wary of centralized administrative rule at Harvard.”
This is perhaps an excessive level of formality given A. the number of people who get raped at HLS every year, and B. the fact that rape is already illegal under completely normal criminal laws, so I don’t see any reason why universities should set themselves up as parallel court systems in the first place instead, but at least HLS appears to be holding back from the full madness.
And over at the Harvard Crimson, we get some student opinions:
“Today, Ferguson, Missouri will be holding its first city council elections since Michael Brown was shot and killed last August. The city of Ferguson has been around for 121 years; during those first 120 years, only three black candidates ran for city council. This year, there are four black candidates for the Ferguson city council. This is no coincidence. Many of those in Ferguson realize that to prevent the next police officer’s bullet from killing another unarmed, black teenager, they need the ballot.
Yet, fresh off the heels of the 2014 midterm elections, which saw the lowest voter turnout since World War II, I am still worried. I am worried that our generation is losing sight of what it means to even have the right to vote. I am worried that not enough young people, people of color, and people who care about social justice are participating in the political process.”
“It is difficult to believe that the Republican Party will win a presidential election in the near future when Tea Party candidates like Ted Cruz—whose announcement speech included numerous religious references and alluded to repealing the Affordable Care Act and eliminating the Internal Revenue Service—run in the primaries and pull the eventual nominee into supporting more ideologically extreme platforms.”
Yup, Ted Cruz sure did turn out to be the right-wing ideologue for liberals to fear.
The flipside of criminals is, obviously, the police. No consideration of criminality can be complete without some consideration of the folks making the technical determination.
That involves more people than just the police, of course.
Much of the time, the police do a decent job. But the Legal/Justice System is out of whack. Has been for as long as I’ve been paying attention.
Some major issues:
1. Major corporations use lawsuits to destroy their competition. Maybe good for them; definitely bad for humanity.
2. Corporations and the wealthy pass laws that benefit themselves at the expense of everyone else.
3. The wealthy have way more ability to use the system to their advantage.
4. Politicians pass a lot of laws just to sound good, with terrible effects.
5. Prosecutors pursue convictions even when they know they probably have the wrong guy; judges are complicit. (This is a biggie.)
6. Plea bargaining.
7. Prisons are shitty.
It is fairly easy to imagine the police (and related folks,) after dealing day in and day out with criminals, begin to think less in terms of specific crimes, and more in terms of making sure that dangerous “criminal types” stay behind bars for a good, long time. So what if the guy didn’t commit this particular crime? He looks like a criminal; he probably did something.
Statistically speaking, they’d probably be correct. Take recidivism rates; knowing that 84% of carjackers will commit another crime, how eager would you be to let a carjacker out of prison? Would you try to find some reason to keep them in?
But what about the 16% who never commit another crime again in their lives? (Or at least, don’t get caught). It is unfair to imprison them for the rest of their days for the sins of others, after all. Next we’ll be imprisoning people for pre-crime.
The Justice System involves a lot of people who have to deal with a lot of very dangerous people in stressful situations; mistakes will be made. To be clear: this is a hard job, and one mistake can have quite disastrous consequences. In a nation of >300 million people, you will hear horrible stories of things gone horribly wrong no matter how great things are overall. Thus the importance of determining whether we are just hearing about tragic but basically random accidents, or regular, systematic abuses that we can actually do something about.
Unfortunately, I suspect we tend to focus on the former, rather than the latter–probably because the latter involves reading things like DOJ statistics, which appeals to most people like moldy pie.
In a good world, people can trust the police. Our justice system, unfortunately, does not inspire trust. This really needs to be changed, or else I just don’t see how the country can function.
“3 in 4 former prisoners in 30 states arrested within 5 years of release” (from the Bureau of Justice Statistics press release, April 22, 2014.)Inspired by my recent musings, I thought I would refresh my memory on recidivism stats–I have a vague memory that murderers tend not to recidivate, (murderers tend to stay in prison for a very long time) and that car jackers do, but it’s a bad idea to make claims based on vague memories of old data.
So here’s what the press release has to say:
“An estimated two-thirds (68 percent) of 405,000 prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within three years of release from prison, and three-quarters (77 percent) were arrested within five years…
More than a third (37 percent) of prisoners who were arrested within five years of release were arrested within the first six months after release, with more than half (57 percent) arrested by the end of the first year.”
We could probably save some time and effort if we could effectively identify those third before releasing them. HOWEVER, I don’t know what percent of these people are being re-arrested on parole violations that the rest of us might not really consider “crimes”, like missing a meeting with one’s parole officer or forgetting to register one’s address.
“Recidivism rates varied with the attributes of the inmate. Prisoners released after serving time for a property offense were the most likely to recidivate. Within five years of release, 82 percent of property offenders were arrested for a new crime, compared to 77 percent of drug offenders, 74 percent of public order offenders and 71 percent of violent offenders.”
I’m guessing violent offenders spent longer in prison, and thus were older when released.
“Recidivism was highest among males, blacks and young adults. By the end of the fifth year after release, more than three-quarters (78 percent) of males and two-thirds (68 percent) of females were arrested, a 10 percentage point difference that remained relatively stable during the entire 5-year follow-up period.
Five years after release from prison, black offenders had the highest recidivism rate (81 percent), compared to Hispanic (75 percent) and white (73 percent) offenders.”
So, while while the chances of being a criminal vary widely between groups, criminals from all the groups recidivate at fairly similar rates. This suggests that we are probably actually arresting the subset of people who are criminals most of the time.
“Within five years of release, 61 percent of released inmates with four or fewer arrests in their prior criminal history were arrested, compared to 86 percent of those who had 10 or more prior arrests.”
Maybe guys with 10 prior arrests shouldn’t be released until they’re well over 40?
Some finer grain on recidivism by specific crime, after five years (note: this does not tell us the new offense,) from the PDF:
Looks like my vague memories were correct. Murderers are the least likely to recidivate, probably due to the personal nature of many murders (you’ve got to really hate that guy,) and murderers being older when released, but they are still folks who aren’t great at solving inter-personal problems or running their lives. Rapist probably figure out non-illegal ways to have sex, or else get old enough to be less interested in it. Drunks probably learn to call a cab when drunk.
Relatively speaking, of course. A 50 or 60% recidivism rate still isn’t something that inspires great confidence. To be clear, again, this is not data on how many released murderers commit another murder or how many released rapists commit another rape–this is arrest for any crime. A further breakdown of re-arrest by new crime vs. old crime would be interesting.Carjacking, by contrast, looks like the Xtreme sports of crime–people attracted to this form of violent thrill-seeking seem unlikely to change their spots or find more legal alternatives.
From the abstract: The role of parenting in the development of criminal behavior has been the source of a vast amount of research, with the majority of studies detecting statistically significant associations between dimensions of parenting and measures of criminal involvement. An emerging group of scholars, however, has drawn attention to the methodological limitations-mainly genetic confounding-of the parental socialization literature. The current study addressed this limitation by analyzing a sample of adoptees to assess the association between 8 parenting measures and 4 criminal justice outcome measures. The results revealed very little evidence of parental socialization effects on criminal behavior before controlling for genetic confounding and no evidence of parental socialization effects on criminal involvement after controlling for genetic confounding.
In other words, looks like my basic thesis is holding up. Overall, I suspect it is far easier to fuck up a kid so they don’t meet their full potential (say, by abusing/neglecting) than to get rid of the effects of negative traits. It’s probably best to try to work with people’s inclinations by finding them life-paths that work for them, rather than trying to mold them into something they aren’t.
I understand rioting. I understand being really fucking mad about something. Anger is a natural and valuable response to certain conditions. If a lion is trying to eat your kid, for example, a sudden burst of anger that drives you to kill that lion or die trying is totally reasonable. In the modern world, we have a lot fewer lions, but there are still plenty of threats.
So if you really believe that your people, your community, your extended family, people who look like you, etc., are under literal, homicidal attack, then the most sensible thing to do is get mad as fuck about it. The sensible thing is to get so damn mad that no one will risk killing any of your people ever again, because if they do, you’ll burn their city the fuck down.
So rioting is perfectly sensible.
The only question is, do the police actually target any particular groups of people?
Well, no. They don’t. We’ve got some pretty good data on the subject (victimization surveys, etc.,) and the police really don’t seem to disproportionately kill black guys. Police have a very high encounter rate with blacks, yes, but this is largely due to blacks committing a lot of crime. (Again, victimization surveys indicate this.)
I read a story the other day about a white man who died after a police officer shot him in the stomach for not showing his ID while dropping a cat off at an animal shelter. I don’t see any riots for this guy, even though his death is just as awful as every other police brutality death.
I really do hope for less police brutality. But the narrative is a lie.