Welcome to our final post on Jay Dobyns and Nils J ‘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