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Hell's Angels, Page 3

Hunter S. Thompson

  And in some shocked American city a police chief will be saying—as the Monterey chief said in 1964 of the Hell’s Angels—“They will not be welcomed back, because of the atmosphere created.”

  ‡ Within a month the Diablos had disbanded—terrorized by a series of stempings, beatings and chain-whippings; the Angels hunted them down one by one and did them in. “Things like that don’t happen very often,” Terry explained later. “Other clubs don’t usually mess with us, because when they do, that’s the end of them.”


  Making of

  the Menace, 1965


  The daily press is the evil principle of the modern world, and time will only serve to disclose this fact with greater and greater clearness. The capacity of the newspaper for degeneration is sophistically without limit, since it can always sink lower and lower in its choice of readers. At last it will stir up all those dregs of humanity which no state or government can control.

  —Sören Kierkegaard

  The Last Years:

  Journals 1853–55

  The best thing about the Angels is that we don’t lie to each other. Of course that don’t go for outsiders because we have to fight fire with fire. Hell, most people you meet won’t tell you the truth about anything.

  —Zorro, the only Brazilian Hell’s Angel

  It was part of the cover story.

  —Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., explaining why he wapped the press with a bogus explanation of the Bay of Pigs Invasion

  Politicians, like editors and cops, are very keen on outrage stories, and State Senator Fred Farr of Monterey County is no exception. He is a leading light of the Carmel-Pebble Beach set and no friend of hoodlums anywhere, especially gang rapists who invade his constituency. His reaction to the Monterey headlines was quick and loud. Farr demanded an immediate investigation of the Hell’s Angels and all others of that breed, whose lack of status caused them to be lumped together as “other disreputables.” In the cut-off world of big bikes, long runs and classy rumbles, this new, state-sanctioned stratification made the Hell’s Angels very big. They were, after all, Number One—like John Dillinger.

  Attorney General Thomas C. Lynch, then new in his job, moved quickly to mount an investigation of sorts. He sent questionnaires to more than a hundred sheriffs, district attorneys and police chiefs, asking for information on the Hell’s Angels and “other disreputables.” He also asked for suggestions as to how the law might deal with them.

  Six months went by before all the replies were condensed into a fifteen-page report that read like a plot synopsis of Mickey Spillane’s worst dreams. But in the matter of solutions it was vague. The state was going to centralize information on these thugs, urge more vigorous prosecution, put them all under surveillance whenever possible, etc.

  A careful reader got the impression that even if the Angels were the monsters they seemed to be, there was not much the cops could do—and that indeed Mr. Lynch was well aware he’d been put, for political reasons, on a pretty weak scent.

  The report was colorful, interesting, heavily biased and consistently alarming—just the sort of thing to make a clanging good item for the national press. There was plenty of mad action, senseless destruction, orgies, brawls, perversions and a strange parade of innocent victims that, even on paper and in careful police language, was enough to tax the credulity of the dullest police reporter. The demand was so heavy in newspaper and magazine circles that the Attorney General’s office had to order a second printing. Even the Hell’s Angels got a copy; one of them stole mine. The heart of the report was a section titled “Hoodlum Activities,” a brief account of outlaw activities dating back for almost a decade. To wit:

  On April 2, 1964, a group of eight Hell’s Angels invaded the home of an Oakland woman, forcing her male friend out of the house at gunpoint and raping the woman in the presence of her three children. Later that same morning, female companions of the Hell’s Angels threatened the victim that if she co-operated with the police, she would be cut on the face with a razor …

  Early on the morning of June 2, 1962, it was reported that three Hell’s Angels had seized a 19-year-old woman in a small bar in the northern part of Sacramento and while two of them held her down on the barroom floor, the third removed her outer clothing. The victim was menstruating at the time, her sanitary napkin was removed and the third individual committed cunnilingus upon her …

  Early on the morning of October 25, 1964, nine Hell’s Angels and two of their female companions were arrested by Gardena police and sheriff’s officers after a riot call had been received from a Gardena bar. Police reported the group “started ripping up the whole place” after someone had splashed a mug of beer over one of the group. The bar was left in shambles, and pool tables covered with beer and urine …

  The Lynch report chronicled eighteen such outrages and left hundreds more implied. Newspapers all over the state carried highlights, along with the Attorney General’s assurance that police pressure would soon put an end to the problem. Most California editors gave the story prominent play for a day or so, then let it drop. The Hell’s Angels had made headlines before, and the Lynch report—based on a survey of old police files—contained little that was new or startling.

  The Angels seemed headed for obscurity once again, but the tide was turned by a New York Times correspondent in Los Angeles, who filed a lengthy and lurid commentary on the Lynch report. It appeared in the Times, dated March 16, under a two-column headline—which was all the impetus the story needed: the rumble was on. Time followed with a left hook titled “The Wilder Ones.” Newsweek crossed with a right, titled “The Wild Ones.” And by the time the dust had settled, the national news media had a guaranteed grabber on their hands. It was sex, violence, crime, craziness and filth—all in one package. Here is Newsweek’s 1965 description of a Labor Day Run to Porterville a year and a half earlier:

  A roaring swarm of 200 black-jacketed motorcyclists converged on the small, sleepy southern California town of Porterville. They rampaged through local bars, shouting obscenities. They halted cars, opening their doors, trying to paw female passengers. Some of their booted girl friends lay down in the middle of the streets and undulated suggestively. In one bar, half a dozen of them brutally beat a 65-year-old man and tried to abduct the barmaid. Only after 71 policemen from neighboring cities and the Highway Patrol, police dogs and water hoses were brought into action did the cyclists jump on their Harley-Davidsons and roar out of town.

  Both Newsweek and Time compared the 1963 “invasion” of Porterville with a film called The Wild One, based on a similar incident at Hollister, California, in 1947, and starring Marlon Brando … which Time called a “slice-of-seedy-life picture about a pack of vicious, swaggering motorcycle hoods called the Black Rebels.” But The Wild One passed quickly into oblivion, said Time, because “the characters were too overdrawn and the violence they wrought was too unrelieved to engage the credulity of its audience.”

  Who, after all, could believe that a gang of two-wheeled Huns might invade and terrify a whole California town? Not Time. At least not in 1947, when the first such incident occurred; and not in 1953, when the film was released; and not even ten years later, when the same thing supposedly happened again, in a different town. But March 26, 1965, eighteen years after the first so-called motorcycle riot in America, Time finally came to grips with the story, and the editors of that journal were alarmed. The Huns were real! They’d been holed up somewhere for eighteen years, polishing their motorcycles and greasing their chain whips until California’s Attorney General decided to introduce them to the press. Time’s West Coast legman lost no time in forwarding the terrible news to the Luce fortress, where it was immediately transformed into two columns of supercharged hokum for the National Affairs section: “Last week it [The Wild One] was back—and in real life!”

  “Lynch amassed a mountain of evidence about Hell’s Angels,” said Time, “… the thrust of which shows that the group has
more than lived up to its sinister moniker … It was a rape case that ignited Lynch’s investigation. Last fall, two teen-age girls were taken forcibly from their dates and raped by several members of the gang.” This was a flagrant libel, for in fact all charges against Terry, Marvin, Mother Miles and Crazy Cross were dropped less than a month after their arrest. In their eagerness to get at the hair and meat of the story, Time’s interpreters apparently skipped page one of the Lynch report, which clearly stated that “further investigation raised questions as to whether forcible rape had been committed or if the identifications made by the victims were valid. By letter dated September 25, 1964, the District Attorney of Monterey County requested dismissal of charges in the Monterey-Carmel Municipal Court, which request was with the concurrence of the Grand Jury.” Not quoted in the report were the comments of a deputy district attorney for the county: “A doctor examined the girls and found no evidence to support charges of forcible rape,” he said. “And besides, one girl refused to testify and the other was given a lie-detector test and found to be wholly unreliable.” This was pretty dull stuff, however, and Time couldn’t find room for it. The article continued instead in a high-pitched, chattering whine, with a list of phony statistics:

  Founded in 1950 at Fontana, a steel town 50 miles east of Los Angeles, the club now numbers about 450 in California. Their logbook of kicks runs from sexual perversion and drug addiction to simple assault and thievery. Among them they boast 874 felony arrests, 300 felony convictions, 1,682 misdemeanor arrests and 1,023 misdemeanor convictions, only 85 have ever served time in prisons or reform schools.

  No act is too degrading for the pack. Their initiation rite, for example, demands that any new member bring a woman or girl (called a “sheep”) who is willing to submit to sexual intercourse with each member of the club. But their favorite activity seems to be terrorizing whole towns …

  Time then told the same Porterville invasion story that appeared simultaneously in Newsweek. The article continued:

  When they are not thus engaged, the Angels—sometimes accompanied by the young children of a member or by the unmarried females who hang out with the club—often rent a dilapidated house on the edge of a town, where they swap girls, drugs and motorcycles with equal abandon. In between drug-induced stupors, the Angels go on motorcycle-stealing forays, even have a panel truck with a special ramp for loading the stolen machines. Afterward, they may ride off again to seek some new nadir in sordid behavior.

  There was clearly no room for this sort of thing in the Great Society, and Time was emphatic in saying it was about to be brought to a halt. These ruffians were going to be taught a lesson by hard and ready minions of the Establishment. The article ended on a note of triumph:

  … all local law enforcement agencies have now been supplied with dossiers on each member of the Hell’s Angels and on similar gangs, and set up a co-ordinated intelligence service that will try to track down the hoods wherever they appear. “They will no longer be allowed to threaten the lives, peace and security of honest citizens of our state,” said he [Lynch]. To that, thousands of Californians shuddered a grateful amen.

  No doubt there was some shuddering done in California that week, but not all of it was rooted in feelings of gratitude. The Hell’s Angels shuddered with perverse laughter at the swill that had been written about them. Other outlaws shuddered with envy at the Angels’ sudden fame. Cops all over California shuddered with nervous glee at the prospect of their next well-publicized run-in with any group of motorcyclists. And some people shuddered at the realization that Time had 3,042,902 readers.‡

  The significant thing about Time’s view of the Angels was not its crabwise approach to reality, but its impact. At the beginning of March 1965 the Hell’s Angels were virtually nonexistent. The club’s own head count listed roughly eighty-five, all in California. Routine police harassment had made it impossible for the outlaws to even wear their colors in any city except Oakland. Membership in the San Francisco chapter had dwindled from a one-time high of seventy-five to a mere eleven, with one facing expulsion. The original Berdoo (including Fontana) chapter was reduced to a handful of diehards determined to go down with the ship. In Sacramento a two-man vendetta in the form of Sheriff John Miserly and a patrolman named Leonard Chatoian had made life so difficult that the Angels were already planning the big move to Oakland … and even there the heat was on for real. “Shit, we never knew when they was gonna bust into the El Adobe and line us up against the bar with shotguns,” Sonny Barger recalls. “We even started drinking at the Sinners Club because it had a back door and a window we could get out of. I mean the heat was on, man. We were hurtin.”

  A good reporter, if he chooses the right approach, can understand a cat or an Arab. The choice is the problem, and if he chooses wrong he will come away scratched or baffled.

  —A. J. Liebling

  At the time of the report the State of California had admittedly been dealing for fifteen years with a criminal conspiracy of the most vicious kind—yet in the five single-spaced pages devoted to the Hell’s Angels’ hoodlum activities—most involving anywhere from a dozen to a hundred outlaws—the report mentioned only sixteen specific arrests and two convictions. What was a man to think? Another part of the report stated that of 463 identified Hell’s Angels, 151 had felony convictions. This is the kind of statistic that gives taxpayers faith in their law enforcement agencies … and it would have been doubly edifying if the 463 Hell’s Angels had actually existed when the statistic was committed to print. Unfortunately, there were less that 100. Since 1960 the number of active members has never been over 200, and easily a third of these are Hell’s Angels in name only … old grads, gone over the hump to marriage and middle age, but donning the colors once or twice each year for some major event like the Labor Day Run.

  The Lynch report mentioned several of these annual affairs, but the descriptions were not entirely objective. For obvious reasons, policemen rarely witness a crime in progress, so they have to rely on others to tell them what happened.

  Newsweek’s version of the Porterville raid‡ was lifted almost verbatim from the Lynch report. Another version of that affair had appeared on September 5, 1963, in the Porterville Farm Tribune. It was an eyewitness account, written within hours of the action by a Tribune reporter named Bill Rodgers, who was also Porterville’s mayor. The headline said: THEY CAME, THEY SAW, THEY DID NOT CONQUER.

  Porterville police knew by Saturday morning that the motorcycle clan of California might hit Porterville during the weekend.

  … By late afternoon there were riders beginning to congregate at Main and Olive, with the Eagle Club as their drinking center. A few riders were in Murry Park. No one that we saw was out of line.

  By early evening great numbers had begun to arrive and there was a build-up at Main and Olive. Our phone got hot as people wanted to know what the city was doing about the situation. We were urged to call out the National Guard, to order wholesale arrests, to deputize citizens and arm them with axe handles and shotguns.

  Around 6:30 P.M. we checked Main Street. The show was starting. Perhaps 200 of the motorcycle clan, including some women and children, were becoming boisterous; some were crowding out into the street molesting motorists and pedestrians; a hundred or more motorcycles were parked on the east side of Main.

  We returned to the police station. Torigian and Searle were handling things there, Porrazzo joined them. There was still no violence, or no real reason to make arrests. It was a case of waiting as the situation developed. Decision was made to close Murry Park.

  About 8:00 P.M. radio word came that the motorcycle group was pulling out, heading east. It was possible they would stay out of town. But a few minutes later a fight and accident was reported in a club at the city line in Doyle Colony and an ambulance was requested. It was also reported that the clan was moving back into town.

  Decision was made at this point to force the motorcycle group out of town …

the evening the city police switchboard was cluttered by calls, some of them legitimate, but many of them from anonymous people announcing they were citizens, demanding protection, insulting the police.

  Traffic was bumper to bumper on Main Street; 1,500 local people stood around at Main and Olive to see what would happen. The motorcycle clan, perhaps 300 strong at this point, was living it up drinking, tying up traffic, breaking bottles in the street, using profane and insulting language, putting on what they considered a show.

  Police were hampered by the heavy traffic and the mass of spectators. We moved through the area in a loud-speaker-equipped police car asking Porterville people to move out of the area. Result—no one moved, others came in to see what was happening, the motorcycle clan booed.

  The Main Street block from Garden to Olive, then from Oak, was closed to traffic; Highway Patrolmen were on the south, city police on the north. The area rapidly cleared of traffic; the clan group figured they had it made, that police were turning a block of Main Street over to them.

  By 9:30 P.M. officers of the mutual aid group were assembled at the city police station. Torigian briefed them on plan of action—move south down Main Street in cars; walk the final half block; head the motorcycles south; no one goes north. Highway Patrol units would remain south of Olive and Main. Take no lip or no abuse; either they move out or they go to jail.