Joshua O’Bryan regained consciousness on July 12 inside the Kool Kats Tattoo Parlor in Englewood after being choked and beaten. His wrists and ankles were hogtied, and he was bleeding.
With members of Denver’s Hells Angels Motorcycle Club all around him, shop owner Dusty Ullrich started blacking out O’Bryan’s “Death Head” tattoo, the emblem signifying membership in the notorious biker group. In its place, Ullrich scrawled the word “Bad” into O’Bryan’s skin as other Hells Angels photographed the ritual on their phones.
“If you ever tell anyone about this,” Ullrich said, “I will (expletive) kill you and slit your throat.”
But O’Bryan told police about what happened, launching a five-month investigation into the notorious bikers that came to a head in November when authorities raided the Hells Angels’ clubhouse in Denver’s Highland neighborhood.
During the early morning raid there and at other locations, officials seized methamphetamine, cocaine, cash and dozens of firearms. Thirteen Hells Angels members, ranging from 30 to 81 years old, were charged with violating Colorado’s organized crime act, along with a litany of assault, burglary and kidnapping charges. A 14th person affiliated with the Destroyer motorcycle gang also was indicted.
For months, the accusations against the 14 men were secret because their arrest affidavits were suppressed. But earlier this month prosecutors outlined their case against the Hells Angels in Denver County Court during preliminary hearings for three defendants, and their arrest affidavits were released after a Denver Post reporter appealed to the courts to unseal the documents.
The entire case hinges on O’Bryan, the former member who said he was beaten by men he once called his brothers after they suspected he was talking to law enforcement following an earlier raid on his Lakewood motorcycle shop, according to an arrest affidavit.
O’Bryan told investigators he could provide intricate details on the Hells Angels Denver chapter’s involvement with stash houses of meth, prostitutes, arms deals and money laundering across the country.
“If you want ‘loves and hugs’ you go to the … Rocky Mountain chapter,” O’Bryan told investigators, according to an arrest affidavit. “If you want guns and drugs, you go to the … Denver Charter.”
Defense attorneys for the Hells Angels said in court that the prosecution is basing its entire case on the word of a man who had warrants out for his arrest in multiple counties, including drug possession, car theft and failing to appear in court. When police originally contacted O’Bryan in July, he gave them false identification.
“It doesn’t take a huge leap to understand he had motive to fabricate,” Brian Russo, the lawyer for Hells Angels president Jason Sellers, said during the hearing. “He was in serious trouble with the law, serious trouble with people he asked for help. He became overwhelmed and availed himself of the first opportunity, creating this fiction.”
O’Bryan told investigators that before things went haywire, he had devoted his life to the Hells Angels, giving up his marriage and a job where he earned $85,000 annually.
Everything changed after Lakewood police raided his motorcycle shop last year and arrested O’Bryan on firearms charges. One of the tenets of being in the Hells Angels is members don’t talk to law enforcement. And O’Bryan believed the others were nervous that he had, the arrest affidavit said.
On June 28, O’Bryan told authorities he was ambushed by a group of Hells Angels at a stash house in Erie, where he was punched, shot at and stabbed before escaping. Then in July, O’Bryan said, he was beaten in a garage, taken to the Englewood tattoo parlor where his tattoos were inked over — a tactic used when the Hells Angels want someone out. O’Bryan said he was left bleeding in a Denver alley while the Hells Angels stole thousands of dollars worth of tools, motorcycles and cash from him, according to the arrest affidavit.
A week after the July assault, O’Bryan contacted authorities from the Jefferson County jail.
During a series of interviews, O’Bryan told investigators about the make-up of the organization and the extent of their illicit activity, according to the arrest affidavit. He said he had four pounds of meth from the cartel in his Lakewood shop before it got raided, bound for Hells Angels chapters in other states. O’Bryan claimed he knew the locations of stash houses in Minnesota and Arizona and said the club has informants in law enforcement around the Denver metro area, who give them a heads up on investigations and raids.
The organization also steals motorcycles for parts and engages in a “high number of arms deals,” O’Bryan’s testimony in the arrest affidavit states.
It is unclear whether law enforcement is taking action on stash houses or chapters in other states. The charges against the Denver chapter’s members relate to the two assaults in June and July against O’Bryan, in addition to the overarching organized crime counts.
Defense attorneys have shown they will attack O’Bryan’s credibility. He omitted key pieces of his story when speaking with investigators, such as not telling authorities he stole a truck in Erie the night he was assaulted.
“The government is aware their evidence they rely on is from someone who has a distant relation with the truth,” Russo told the judge. “They know they have problems with this witness. This looks very sexy for them, but the takeaway is they’re relying on a prevaricator. They don’t have anything else.”
Time will tell whether their tactic will work. But Denver’s Hells Angels have a history of avoiding legal trouble when targeted by law enforcement.
In 2003, the city paid $50,000 to settle a lawsuit after 18 members were thrown to the ground outside their headquarters and held for hours, with police finding no illicit activity. The city issued a formal apology.
Five years later, Denver and Mountain View police were forced to apologize — and pay money again — after they held eight bikers at automatic rifle-point for more than hour without probable cause during a traffic stop. The cities paid $14,000 as part of the settlement.
Like most of their immediate neighbors in the sparse high-desert town of Chino Valley, Arizona, the Schafmans were familiar with the two-story stucco house opposite their multi-acre property on Yuma Drive. How could they not be? For many years, it was a well-trafficked Hells Angels hangout. Members of the colorfully named Skull Valley chapter, which was the Angels’ main garrison in north-central Arizona until disbanding in 2006, used it as their clubhouse. A biker still lived there, but he was ailing and infirm, tethered to oxygen tanks and a motorized scooter. The house – which once roared with all-night bacchanals and fleets of hard-revving Harleys – had been silent for years.
Less well known to the good people of Yuma Drive were the occupants of a house about 300 yards down the road. Michael Diecks and his wife, Leslie, had recently moved into the single-family home with their three children – an unremarkable arrangement if not for the fact that Diecks, also known as “Mad Dog Mike,” was a full-patch member of the Vagos motorcycle club.
The Hells Angels and Vagos – also known as “Green Nation” in the outlaw-biker world for their signature color – have a chippy history, to put it mildly. As so-called “one-percenter” MCs, they emerged from the same amniotic Southern California/Inland Empire biker culture to become bitter rivals, with the Angels playing the proud, powerful incumbents to the Vagos’ motivated upstarts. They’ve brawled hard and often. Over territory. Over nasty remarks. Over whatever.
“They’ve been going at it since the late ’60s,” according to Steve Trethewy, a former Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) officer who served 25 years on the department’s anti-gang unit. “They’ll fight, then go dormant, then fight again, then patch things up. It’s all about power and territory.”
Had they been privy to this information, the citizens of Chino Valley might have been less startled by the pop-pop sound of gunfire that raked across Yuma Drive on Saturday, August 21, 2010, shortly after noon. In an instant, their grassy, wide-open neighborhood took on the guise of a Waziristan warzone. The Schafmans – who declined comment for this article – told investigators they heard “approximately 100 shots fired” during the 10-minute gunfight, but official estimates put the number closer to 50. The battle left five bikers wounded, netted 27 arrests and resulted in nine indictments. One year after the melee, virtually everything else about the case, which has yet to go to trial, is still in dispute. The Yavapai County Attorney accepts the Vagos’ account of the incident – in essence, that the Hells Angels fired on them unprovoked as they rode past the two-story stucco house, triggering the fusillade – while the Hells Angels and their attorneys broadly maintain that it was an ambush on the part of the Vagos.
For the actors involved, the who-shot-first question is paramount. For the rest of us, not so much. In fact, in a case that stokes age-old questions about Arizona’s most powerful bike club, hints at a potentially violent restructuring of the outlaw-biker pecking order and – pursuant to court documents obtained by PHOENIX magazine – reveals provocative details about the crime-fighting methodology of Arizona’s anti-gang units, the question of which band of well-armed hombres shot first seems mostly academic.
By most accounts, outlaw-biker affiliation is on the rise in Phoenix and elsewhere. So the more pressing question is: Will it happen again? And where?
As dozens of Yavapai Sheriff’s Office and DPS vehicles swarmed the neighborhood of Yuma Drive shortly after the shooting, a Vagos biker on the scene described the aftermath in no uncertain terms:
“We’re in a war.”
“We’re not a gang,” Michael Koepke, seated in his lawyer’s office, says evenly. “People always slap that thing on us. We’re about brotherhood and riding bikes. And that’s it.”
Well-groomed, fit and articulate, Koepke is part of the Hells Angels’ new guard. Even with his wrist-to-wrist tattoos, the 28-year-old ex-Army infantryman and aspiring Muay Thai prize-fighter seems more Team America than America’s Most Wanted. If he traded in the leather cuts for a pair of pleated wool slacks, Koepke could pass for a lawyer himself.
He’s also one of the six men – all associated with the Hells Angels’ Arizona Nomads chapter – facing prison time for the Chino Valley shootout, on a menagerie of charges ranging from aggravated assault to disorderly conduct with a weapon.
Koepke’s objection to the “gang” label isn’t just a matter of semantics; in fact, it carries very tangible legal consequences for the 2,500-member-strong worldwide organization. Arizona’s law enforcement entities – including its anti-gang task force, the multi-agency Gang & Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission (GIITEM) – classify the Hells Angels as a criminal street gang, which means courts can apply enhanced sentencing to lawbreakers. Simple assault becomes a multi-year stretch in prison. A bar fight becomes “felony riot.”
The Angels dispute the criteria. They claim to be mischaracterized and misunderstood, victims of a zealous law enforcement camp bent on crushing their authority-averse lifestyle.
Of course, the gang stigma is nothing new for the Hells Angels; it has faithfully accompanied them since the club’s earliest days in the Southern California steel town of Fontana, circa 1948, even as they grew into the world’s biggest and most recognized biker entity. Certainly, they can seem like a gang, with their iconic death-head patches and hard-as-nails mystique, but members readily tick off reason after reason why the “gang” descriptor doesn’t fit. Disavowing the stigma has itself become something of an institutional passion for the bikers; a sort of sacred incantation, like stone-writ Druidic verse. Certainly, the Angels’ larger-than-life reputation can salt the impressions of law enforcement personnel. Last November, Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office Detective David Zavos – the lead investigator in the Chino Valley case – offered a grand jury the following impressionistic analysis of the combatants: “The Vagos, for the most part, are not a real aggressive gang. They are somewhat family oriented, opposed to the Hells Angels, who are more into criminal enterprise.”
That makes Koepke shake his head. “Family oriented. I’m not sure what that means. I have a 1-year-old son and a wife, and I’m totally devoted to them. Doesn’t that make me family oriented? I’m not sure what it has to do with anything.”
Yavapai County Superior Court Judge William T. Kiger had similar reservations, kicking the original indictments back to a grand jury after weighing Zavos’ testimony – a short-lived but significant legal victory for the Hells Angels. A defense counsel noted that the Vagos and Hells Angels have near-identical law enforcement profiles; both appear on a Department of Justice list of MCs with suspected involvement in serious crimes such as drug distribution and witness intimidation.
A Vagos member involved in the shootout did not respond to an interview request through an attorney.
From the beginning, the Chino Valley case seemed freighted with special small-town tensions. Ironically, one of the accused Angels – Larry “Scotty” Scott, a former college football player and on-again, off-again thoroughbred racehorse owner – previously coached Zavos’ teenage son in his capacity as the defensive coordinator for a local high school team. “[The detective] told me my days as a coach were done,” Scott, who has since left the team, alleges.
Privately, the Angels acknowledge that some of their members break the law, perhaps even at a statistical pace higher than non-bikers. But they deny that criminal activity is an institutional part of the Hells Angels culture, or that the club maintains a criminal hierarchy within its ranks, à la the Mafia and other corporatized criminal rackets. Richard Gaxiola, a Phoenix-based attorney who represents Koepke and has defended Hells Angels in previous cases, insists that the seven-point Arizona statute for defining a criminal street gang is “overly broad” and a “crass gambit for GIITEM to justify government funding” by turning the Hells Angels into perennial hobgoblins.
“If you look at the street-gang criteria – self-proclamation, official clothing or colors, written correspondence and so on – then the Blue Knights, which are a national law-enforcement motorcycle club, they’d have to be classified a criminal street gang, too,” Gaxiola says. “At the end of the day, the Hells Angels is nothing more than a group of guys who love to ride motorcycles and hang out with like-minded individuals. Sure, some of them are knuckleheads, but most have jobs and wives and kids. Most of them are veterans. They’re stand up guys.”
Though some law enforcement figures acknowledge the Angels’ improved public image over the years – “I call it their spit-and-polish,” one DPS officer says – others point to ugly incidents, such as the murder of 44-year-old party guest Cynthia Yvonne Garcia by three members of the Mesa chapter in 2001. The Angels disavow the crime. They insist that each of their chapters are semi-autonomous entities with their own bylaws and values, and that applying the crimes of one member to the whole club makes as much sense as, say, penalizing the Phoenix PD for a corruption scandal in the LAPD.
“Everybody is his own man in the Hells Angels,” one longtime member says. “Each chapter governs itself. That’s what the authorities never understand. I mean, there’s a chapter back east that doesn’t even let its members smoke pot. That’s why those conspiracy charges never stick. There’s no conspiracy.”
Naturally, the authorities tend to disagree. “They’re very well structured,” says Trethewy, now a spokesman for the law-enforcement think tank Rocky Mountain Information Network. “They have bylaws, they go to meetings and pay dues, they use trademarks and copyrights, and they commit crime. I’d say that makes them a criminal organization.”
Trethewy dismisses the “few bad apples” notion, citing a recent internal DPS report that suggests the majority of the Arizona Hells Angels – who number somewhere around 110 – have rap sheets that include felony arrests: “That’s not a cross-section of society. I don’t care what you say.”
Still, federal and local authorities have had mixed success making racketeering and conspiracy charges – the Kanye and Jay Z of anti-organized crime legislation – stick to the Hells Angels over the years. The ATF’s much-trumpeted, multi-million-dollar Operation Black Biscuit – touted as “the most successful undercover operation ever pulled against an outlaw motorcycle club” when it culminated in 2003 – failed to yield any convictions for the 16 Arizona-based bikers charged with racketeering or running a criminal enterprise.
Black Biscuit initiated the demise of the Skull Valley chapter and temporarily hobbled the statewide club by jailing several of its top personnel, but in its aftermath, the Arizona Hells Angels were indistinguishable from their old selves: They were still the unquestioned lords of Arizona’s outlaw bikerdom.
It was hardly routine for the Hells Angels and the Vagos to have more than two dozen combined bikers in Chino Valley on the same weekend. The town was no longer an HA chapter seat, and only one of the Angels charged in the shootout was a Chino Valley resident. Meanwhile, the Vagos were believed to have only a scattered presence in Yavapai County; most of the suspects detained after the shooting were visiting from cities such as Kingman, Phoenix and Bullhead City.
So what brought them to Chino Valley if not to fight? Both clubs have credible alibis. For the Vagos, it was a bring-your-kids weekend barbecue at the Diecks’ place – a common enough pastime in the biker world. Meanwhile, the Angels were in town to visit Teddy Toth, the ailing ex-president of the Skull Valley Chapter. Sent to prison following the ATF’s Black Biscuit operation several years prior, Toth had gotten “off paper,” or released from parole, just that weekend. After years of state-mandated biker solitude, he was finally allowed to openly fraternize with his HA confreres.
It was undoubtedly a case of wrong-place, wrong-time, but to understand the tensions that led to the shootout, one must first examine the unique history of the Arizona Hells Angels and the band of Harley-riding, hirsute rogues that preceded them – a club called the Dirty Dozen, which ruled the state’s biker community from its inception in the late ’60s to its merger with the Hells Angels in 1997.
Named after the iconic World War II action movie starring Lee Marvin and Jim Brown, the Dirty Dozen – who numbered about 120 during their peak – offer a useful compare-and-contrast study with the current Hells Angels. The Cliff Notes version: The Dirty Dozen were several degrees more ruthless and aggressive, according to longtime member Robert “Chico” Mora, who “patched-over” to the Hells Angels during the aforementioned merger.
“Oh, we were obnoxious assholes,” Mora cheerfully confides when quizzed about the Dirty Dozen. “We did terrible, depraved stuff all the time. Don’t get me wrong: The Hells Angels are every bit as tough. But it was a different culture back then. Much wilder.”
A massive, wise-cracking hulk of a man with the letters
A-R-I-Z-O-N-A tattooed across his belly and a scraggly mane of gray-streaked hair, Mora exudes Falstaffian delight as he recounts his days as a hell-raising, debauchery-crazed Dozen regular. There were orgies, brawls, all-night block parties and balls-out Harley sprints across greater Phoenix.
It was a fast, dangerous life. He points to the extensive scarring on his lower legs where surgeons stitched together the two limbs, including the blood vessels underneath, in a successful gambit to save a foot severed in a bike wreck. He was hospitalized for several weeks until the foot healed and doctors de-conjoined him.
Photos – From left: Also known as Green Nation, the Vagos motorcycle club was founded in Corona, California, in 1965. According to the DOJ, the club boasts approximately 600 members spanning 24 chapters in the U.S., and 10 more chapters in Mexico. In Arizona, they are concentrated in Mohave County. • Founded in Montebello, California in 1969 by Hispanic Vietnam War veterans, the Mongols M.C. memorably brawled with the Hells Angels in the deadly Laughlin, Nevada, riot of 2002. The Latino-majority club is believed to have a tertiary presence in Arizona, including a Mesa chapter that hosts its own Facebook page.
Dirty Dozen lore is full of wild tales. Old timers recall a weekend evening – sometime in the mid-’80s – when a pair of Dozen bikers cut the fuel lines on a row of rival motorcycles outside a bar in Mesa, creating a sort of daisy chain of flammable spillage. They then lit a makeshift fuse, inducing a spectacular inferno that they admired while munching on Jumbo Jacks down the street.
So the Dozen were hard-core. They were also intensely territorial, boldly confronting and intimidating any rival club that failed to recognize their primacy in Arizona. In the early 1980s, Mora himself served just more than three years in Florence State Prison for the shooting deaths of two members of Bad Company – an outlaw bike gang based in New Mexico that was attempting to set up a chapter in the old mining town of Globe. Mora – who was president of the Dirty Dozen’s Globe chapter at the time – claims that the Bad Company bikers were harassing members of the community and “acting like jerks.”
Mora summoned the two bikers to a popular roadhouse in Globe, where he laid out his ultimatum. “I told them to behave themselves,” Mora recalls. “And respect my authority. Then one of them pulled a gun on me. So I defended myself.”
The Vagos were another out-of-state club that attempted to plant a flag in Arizona during the Dirty Dozen reign, according to Trethewy. In 1990, the Vagos even managed to start a Phoenix chapter in the heart of Dirty Dozen territory, led by a biker named Don “Arizona Don” Halterman.
The honeymoon period was brief.
“From what we know, that was the first time [the Dirty Dozen] and the Vagos squared off,” Trethewy says. “There was some shooting and pipe-bombs. Somebody put a pipe-bomb on Arizona Don’s front door. That was it. There was too much heat on them. The Vagos left Phoenix.”
For the next seven or eight years, the Dozen ran a tight ship in Arizona. They also won the respect of seminal Hells Angels organizer Sonny Barger, who served out a four-year federal conspiracy conviction in Arizona from 1988 to 1992. By all accounts, Barger – who later moved to Cave Creek – took a serious shine to Arizona during his incarceration, which could only have facilitated matters when the Dirty Dozen weighed the Angels’ offer of a friendly merger. In effect, the Dirty Dozen would be trading in their double-six dice emblem for the Angels’ trademarked death-head skull patch.
In 1997, members of the two clubs convened in the HA clubhouse in Oakland – a converted Arthur Murray dance studio, of all things – and the patch-over was consecrated. The benefits for both clubs were manifest. On one hand, the Hells Angels acquired a big, geographically critical state with lots of wide-open roads and no serious rivals, thanks to the Dozen’s cleansing efforts. Conversely, the former Dirty Dozen bikers scored instant prestige as members of the most powerful and recognizable brand in the biker world – the death-head patch promised them “a bigger playground,” in the words of Mora.
It also meant embracing the Hells Angels’ more image-savvy and disciplined ethos. According to Mora, the stereotype of the meth-slinging, brawl-seeking, recklessly hostile Hells Angel is a vestige of wilder times – something that continues to exist on the pages of Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, but not in real life. “I have a three-part gospel for staying the fuck out of prison,” Mora explains. “One: Don’t commit senseless, needless violence against the citizenry. Two: Don’t sling dope. And three: Don’t print the government’s money. Follow those rules, and the cops will more or less leave you alone.”
Indeed, there’s an adage in the biker world that the safest neighborhood in any city is the one with a Hells Angels clubhouse. After all, the Angels don’t tolerate any petty crime in their immediate sphere and generally endeavor to avoid scrutiny by the authorities.
The Hells Angels-as-neighborhood-watchdog theory may very well have stock – unless they happen to be having a shootout with the Vagos.
The Chino Valley shootout was not the first time the Hells Angels and Vagos warred on Arizona soil. On June 11, 2009, five members of the Arizona Nomads – a roving Hells Angels chapter with no official clubhouse – allegedly mixed it up with a pair of Vagos at Lazy Harry’s Sunshine Saloon in Bullhead City near the Colorado River. Two members of a Hells Angels affiliate club, the Desert Road Riders, were also implicated. It was described by DPS as the biggest “in a series of violent assaults inside several bars” in Bullhead City. Five months later, all seven HA-affiliated combatants were arrested for felony rioting.
The spike in biker hostilities in Bullhead City initially puzzled authorities, because members of the Vagos’ Tri-State chapter – based in the string of river towns where Arizona, California and Nevada meet – had been operating in northwest Arizona since at least 2000 with relatively little incident, according to Sgt. Ernie Severson of GIITEM. “I ran the unit for Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City, and the two gangs mostly kept to themselves,” Severson says. “The Angels let the Vagos have Havasu. They didn’t really contest it.”
Ultimately, the uneasy peace collapsed. And the reason? Severson believes it was a matter of patches.
A quick primer on outlaw biker attire: The vests, or “cuts,” favored by most rank-and-file bikers reveal a deep cache of information about the wearer, via the patches affixed to the front and back of the garment. The front patches denote personal details like rank, exploits and chapter affiliation. The back patches, or “rockers,” cover the more organizational stuff. The top rocker indicates the name of the club. The middle patch is the club’s emblem: In the case of the Hells Angels, the famed, winged death-head; in the case of the Vagos, a muscle-bound caricature of the Norse god of mischief, Loki, set against a green field.
The bottom rocker is particularly critical for American outlaw bikers, and the key to the Bullhead City incidents, in Severson’s opinion: It identifies the wearer’s state of residence. But the “Arizona” rockers on the bottom of the cuts worn by the Arizona Hells Angels are more than simple identifiers – they’re also an expression of status; they confer power and authority, and wearing them is historically a privilege that the most dominant outlaw motorcycle clubs reserve for themselves.
Mora, the one-time Dirty Dozen capo and current Arizona Hells Angel, says that he and his Dirty Dozen comrades would scour the streets and bars of Tucson in the early 1990s, looking for rival bike clubs sporting the “Arizona” rocker. Once they made contact, Mora would issue an ultimatum: “I told them to lose the rocker. If they refused, we’d cut it off their backs. If they obeyed, no problem. Let’s have a beer.”
For years, the Vagos in Bullhead City and other parts of Mohave County wore “California” rockers. That changed about two years ago, Severson says. “Then they started sporting Arizona rockers, and that’s when the problems started. That’s more than likely what precipitated the fight in Bullhead City.” Concurrently, the number of Vagos operating in Arizona climbed sharply. Not just in Bullhead City and Mohave County, where Severson currently counts “15 or more.” Also in Yavapai County. And in Phoenix.
It was clear to law enforcement that the Vagos – a rising MC with designs on Mexico and the Southwest – were making a push into Arizona. It seems likely that the Hells Angels noticed, too.
The issue of Arizona rockers was potentially a contributing factor in the Chino Valley gun battle. So was the curious proximity of the Vagos house to Toth’s two-story stucco dwelling. Outlaw bikers are sensitive to affronts. The Hells Angels could not have been pleased by the symbolic violation of their turf. Asked to estimate the odds that a full-patch Vagos biker would move within three doorsteps of the old Skull Valley clubhouse and not know it, one Hells Angels says, “No chance at all.”
The upshot: Neither side came to Chino Valley on August 21 to brawl, necessarily. But a brawl – somewhere, sometime – was all but inevitable.
According to documents released by the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office in September 2010, Vagos Tri-State vice president Aurelio Figueroa – who witnessed the shootout – had at least some inkling of the trouble to come. After the battle, he told a Sheriff’s Office detective that he asked a group of Vagos from the Phoenix area not to attend the Chino Valley get-together, presumably to avoid a run-in with the Hells Angels, but that five of them came anyway.
On Friday night, the Vagos posted security details at the Diecks’ house. After the shootout, authorities would confiscate a tidy arsenal of weaponry at the residence, including 10 handguns, one Norinco SKS rifle, two fighting knives and numerous boxes of ammunition.
Moreover, Diecks told authorities that for several months leading up to the shooting, a Hells Angels prospect would ride past his house and “[point] his fingers at him simulating a weapon,” according to a news story that ran in the Chino Valley Review on September 15, 2010.
The volatile air-mixture of suspicion and tension almost certainly informed an incident Saturday morning when a group of three Hells Angels prospects – later identified as Scott, Bruce Schweigert and Robert Kittredge – crossed paths at a nearby Circle K with a pair of Vagos associates named Alfred Azevedo and Clay Messina. Yavapai County Superior Court documents show that Azevedo lived in Kingman at the time and was a “hang-around” – that is, a Vagos gadfly with aspirations of becoming a prospect.
Azevedo – whose version of the events figured prominently in a Sheriff’s report – told investigators that one of the Hells Angels “approached him and asked if he was a Vagos.” That was the extent of the encounter – a surveillance video provided to authorities confirms that no physical confrontation occurred – but it evidently rattled Azevedo and Messina to the extent that a phone call was made to the Diecks residence alerting the Vagos to the effect that “the Hells Angels were trying to get them,” according to the report.
Evidently, the summons was taken to heart. Shortly after the phone call, a convoy of Vagos bikers left the Diecks residence and scrambled eastbound down Road 3 in Chino Valley toward the Circle K. Finding no Hells Angels, they continued westbound up Road 4, making a wide loop that would take them past the Hells Angels residence on their way back to the Vagos house.
And that’s when MC mayhem broke loose. According to a report filed by Detective Zavos, a Vagos biker named Bob Blankenship – who held the rank of Sergeant-of-Arms for the Tri-State Vagos – was shot as he executed a U-turn in front of the old Hells Angels clubhouse. The Vagos returned fire, wounding Hells Angel biker Kevin Christensen in the abdomen. (None of the five injuries from the battle was life-threatening.) The outnumbered Angels retreated into the house, where the firefight continued for approximately 10 minutes.
The Yavapai County Attorney’s case against the Hell Angels chugged along in appeals court until May, when a sensational bit of information emerged about one of the key witnesses in the shootout. Alfred Azevedo, the Vagos hang-around who summoned the cavalry after the Circle K incident, was at the time also a confidential informant for GIITEM. And a scorned wannabe Hells Angel to boot.
According to documents filed in Yavapai County Superior Court, Kingman-based GIITEM Detective John Morris started using Azevedo to spy on the Vagos in May 2010. As a “paid reliable informant,” Azevedo had previously worked for law enforcement entities and was known to provide sound information about underworld dealings.
“[Azevedo] was hanging out at Bike Night quite a bit, which was a Wednesday night event in Kingman,” Morris told defense attorneys in an hour-long interview. “And he ended up running into one of the Vagos members that lived in Kingman, went to the guy’s shop the next day, and within, I don’t know, an hour… was invited to the international Vagos run in Parker. So that was pretty much how easy it was.” As Azevedo’s control officer, Morris was responsible for monitoring his activity and debriefing him. Consequently, the lawman was alarmed when word trickled up to Kingman about the gun battle in Chino Valley.
“I was worried about [Azevedo] being involved in the shooting,” Morris recalls. Upon hearing the news, he jumped in his car and high-tailed it to the scene of the crime, alerting the lead detective, Zavos, that he had an informant embedded in the Vagos.
Presumably to protect Azevedo’s confidential status, Zavos never disclosed the nature of the hang-around’s involvement with GIITEM during the initial grand jury evidentiary hearing in November. The facts only came to light in May after a court-ordered sheriff’s office report. By that time, Azevedo was no longer useful as an informant, having helped Morris execute a Vagos-related fraud case in Kingman. In other words, his cover was blown. “[The fraud case] pretty much let the cat out of the bag,” Morris says.
Citing ethical rules, both Yavapai County Attorney Dana Owens and defense counsel Gaxiola declined to comment on the Azevedo matter, but the presence of a GIITEM asset in the case does invite some second-guessing. In the wake of the shooting, law enforcement obviously sought to preserve their Vagos informant. Might that have skewed the case against the Hells Angels? And what about Azevedo’s motives? According to Morris, Azevedo tried to “hang out with the Hells Angels” in Kingman before courting the Vagos, but they “kept kind of just shunning him.” Was he bitter over the slight? Could he have lit the powder keg on Yuma Drive by misrepresenting the Circle K encounter?
As reflected in their police interviews, the Vagos maintain that the shootout was a premeditated event on the part of the Hells Angels. Justin Kaufman, a Vagos hang-around from Mesa who was driving his black Range Rover near the crime scene, told Sheriff’s Office investigators that the Angels had been planning the attack “for a while.”
All factors for a jury to weigh in trial, if a trial ever happens. As this issue went to press, the case was still mired in appeal and pre-trial litigation. A joint-motion to dismiss the charges against the Hells Angels was pending.
Whatever the outcome in the Chino Valley case, Arizona will be left with the same uncertain outlaw-biker predicament: One large, entrenched biker brand, very well known to the public, and a smaller but fast-growing challenger, significantly less well known. And neither looks to back down.
“We’ve seen a definite upswing in biker numbers for all clubs,” Sgt. Robbie Milam of GIITEM’s Phoenix office says, citing the popularity of the biker-themed cable show The Sons of Anarchy as one explanation. “The Vagos got a foothold in Mohave County and now they’re in Phoenix, and that indicates they’re trying to make inroads.”
How will the Hells Angels respond? What will happen the next time a group of guys wearing the death-head patch catches sight of a sea of muscular-Loki-green, or vice versa? With Valley-area chapters and clubhouses in Phoenix, Mesa and Cave Creek, the Angels maintain they’re not the belligerent party. Officially, they say the Arizona rocker is a moot issue. “We don’t enforce anything like that,” Koepke says. “That’s the old mentality. People are free to wear whatever patch they like.”
Law enforcement confirms that the Hells Angels appear to have loosened up their bottom rocker policy. Milam reports that members of the Mongols Motorcycle Club – another traditional Hells Angels enemy – have been sighted wearing the Arizona rocker in Mesa, and that two Hells Angels-affiliated clubs, the Hooligans and the Sons of Hell, recently began wearing the Arizona rocker with the Hells Angels’ blessing.
“That occurred in April, so we’ll see if that’s a change in philosophy on the Angels’ part.” Milam says.
Still, Milam – whose declined to estimate the number of Vagos operating in greater Phoenix, other than to say “significant” – predicts that Chino Valley is just the tip of the iceberg: “There’s still gonna be a turf battle regardless of who wears what.”
For the Arizona Hells Angels, the changing outlaw-biker landscape presents an age-old dilemma for powerful men and alpha-dominant organizations, of dynasties stretching from ancient Rome to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls – i.e., the challenge of holding the center. Of staying on top.
How the Hells Angels choose to handle the dilemma may well determine how close the turf battle comes to the Valley’s doorstep. “It’s a tough predicament,” one longtime member concedes. “We’re the only ones with anything to lose in this whole shebang.”
A Tucson Police Department incident report obtained by PHOENIX magazine lays out the scene. On June 24, 2017, about a dozen members of the Black Kingz motorcycle club (MC) – an affiliate of The Outlaws, a major “one-percenter” MC based mainly in the U.S. Midwest and Southeast, with no documented presence in Tucson – were enjoying a group outing at Venom show club on Tucson’s east side. Shortly after midnight, two Black Kingz members, 33-year-old Davaress Bolden and 23-year-old Frederic Bayles, went inside the club’s bathroom, followed a few seconds later by a 64-year-old strip-club gadfly named Tommy Hook, who was not known to have any ties to the bikers. However, he did have a reputation for “[offending] people with his comments,” according to an employee of the club. Another witness was less subtle: The one-time federal auditor was “a piece of shit” who got into a lot of fights.
What exactly transpired between the three men after entering the bathroom is uncertain, but Hook stormed out about 30 seconds later and summoned an acquaintance sitting at the bar. Hook re-entered the bathroom with his friend in tow. According to a statement later obtained from Hook’s friend, the two bikers – Bolden and Bayles – and Hook exchanged angry words, and the bikers beat him “with their hands.”
Sadly, Hook’s propensity for getting into scrapes with fellow strip-club habitués would be his final undoing on this particular evening. Summoned by his friend, a pair of doormen found Hook on the bathroom floor in a pool of his own blood, with a fatal blunt-force head wound. Along with their Black Kingz confréres, Bolden and Bayles escaped into the night.
After a brief manhunt, both suspects were apprehended. Bayles, facing second-degree murder and aggravated assault charges, credibly claimed self-defense and ultimately plead down to class 4 negligent homicide with no incarceration. Bolden, who described himself as the biker gang’s “ring leader,” according to a witness, scored a similar deal.
These are the broad strokes of the case, but the devil – or the Angels, if you will – is in the details. According to witness statements in the TPD incident report, the Black Kingz were not in town merely for lap dances and bottle service. Likened by one witness to an outlaw-biker “farm team” or second-tier club, the Kingz were “in Tucson… to recruit new members and open up a branch.” Given their close ties to the bigger, better-known and more-feared Outlaws, it’s not a tremendous cognitive leap to assume they were laying the groundwork for an Outlaws chapter, as well. Although he was living in Phoenix at the time, and was arrested there, Bolden told a witness he hailed from Memphis – a city known to be Outlaws-dominant.
Insiders say such blatant MC prospecting would not have happened on Arizona soil 20, 10 or even five years ago. According to law enforcement officials, journalists and members of the MC community itself, Arizona is known unofficially as Hells Angels territory – and has been for decades.
But that could be changing. Along with the Tucson beating incident, several violent clashes in the Valley suggest alien MCs are getting more aggressive in Arizona, leading some observers within the outlaw-biker community to wonder if the Hells Angels – the world’s biggest, most illustrious motorcycle club, and one that’s still considered an organized crime syndicate by the U.S. Justice Department – are losing their exclusive grip on the Grand Canyon State.
“There’s an idea out there that Arizona is becoming an ‘open state,’” says one source with multiple ties to the local biker community, and who wished to remain anonymous. “What that means is, if you were an MC, and you wanted to ride through the state showing your logos and so forth, you had to get the HA’s permission. If you wanted to set up a chapter somewhere, you had to go to them, swear fealty to them, and get their permission. But that’s not the case anymore. It’s open.”
True or not, the perception of Arizona’s “openness” has likely drawn more MCs into the Valley – and some members of the state’s oldest and most entrenched bike club don’t appear to be ready to turn the other cheek.
On a typically hot, dry Arizona afternoon in October 2016, Hells Angels legend Sonny Barger quietly bid adieu to Cave Creek. It marked the end of a two-decade Arizona residency for the seminal outlaw biker, who punched his way into the popular consciousness in the pages of Hunter S. Thompson’s best-selling 1967 memoir Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs while serving as the president and co-founder of the club’s influential Oakland charter.
Rolling Stone later called him “the baddest man on two wheels.” In the insular and doggedly secretive world of MCs, he’s the closest thing to a celebrity.
It would be disingenuous to call Barger “media-shy” – he holds court over 401,315 followers on Facebook, and maintains his own website – but he rarely engages the news media, particularly after undergoing a laryngectomy in the early 1980s while battling throat cancer. True to form, his lone public pronouncement on the topic of his departure from Arizona was elegant simplicity itself: “I want to announce that I have officially rejoined the Oakland Charter,” a Facebook post from August 22, 2016, reads. “Heading Home!”
The question is: Was Barger’s departure from Arizona an invitation for other MCs to move in?
Most friends and affiliates of the club – don’t call it a gang, lest you get on their bad side – disavow such thinking. Now 79 years old, Barger is no longer a street enforcer and hasn’t been for some time, they point out. Moreover, the Hells Angels themselves contend they’re a decentralized organization – a confederacy, more or less – with independent charters that govern themselves and set their own agendas.
“It doesn’t matter where Sonny lives… the club is what it is,” Cave Creek resident Candy Chand says. Friendly with Barger and his wife, Zorana, Chand is an Oakland transplant who moved to Arizona around the same time as Barger and occasionally posts paean-like news columns to the now-defunct HuffPost contributor platform about the club. She also writes faith-based inspirational fiction – “Sonny calls them my ‘Jesus books,’” she says with a chuckle.
Though Chand doesn’t attend “supporter parties” or other club events, she has met many Arizona Hells Angels off-hours, and says Barger’s decamp for California did not cause much hand-wringing among them. “It doesn’t diminish them. [The Hells Angels] have charters all over the world.”
Indeed, the Hells Angels’ dominion over Arizona predates Barger. In a sense, it predates the Angels themselves.
A quick bit of Arizona biker history: For several decades, dating back to the late ’60s, the dominant MC in Arizona was a band of Harley-riding, hirsute reprobates called The Dirty Dozen. Named after the eponymous criminal soldiers in the Lee Marvin/Jim Brown action movie, the Dozen brawled mercilessly with rival clubs and became a main preoccupation of Arizona law enforcement during the 1970s and 1980s until “patching over” – e.g. merging – with the Hells Angels in 1997.
In an interview with PHOENIX in 2011, one of the architects of that merger – late Hells Angels street enforcer Robert “Chico” Mora – described how Dirty Dozen bikers sanitized Arizona of rivals before trading in their iconic double-six dice emblem for the Hells Angels Death Head patch.
“Oh, we were obnoxious assholes,” Mora cheerfully confided, describing the earlier club’s modus operandi. “We did terrible, depraved stuff all the time. Don’t get me wrong: The Hells Angels are every bit as tough. But it was a different culture back then. Much wilder.”
Part of that culture was engaging motorcycle-mounted rivals whenever and wherever they found them. In the early 1980s, Mora served three years in Florence State Prison for the shooting deaths of two members of Bad Company – an outlaw bike gang based in New Mexico that was attempting to set up a chapter in the old mining town of Globe.
Mora recalled that he summoned the two bikers to a popular roadhouse in Globe, where he laid out his ultimatum. “I told them to behave themselves,” Mora said. “And respect my authority. Then one of them pulled a gun on me. So I defended myself.”
Later, in the early 1990s, the Dozen waged warfare on another out-of-state club, called the Vagos, who were attempting to plant a flag on Arizona soil. Led by a biker named Don “Arizona Don” Halterman, the Vagos even managed to start a Phoenix chapter in the heart of Dirty Dozen territory.
The honeymoon period was brief, as described by former Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) officer Steve Trethewy. “There was some shooting and pipe-bombs. Somebody put a pipe-bomb on Arizona Don’s front door. That was it. There was too much heat on them. The Vagos left Phoenix.”
Such exploits did not go unnoticed by Barger as he served out a four-year conspiracy conviction in a medium-security federal prison near Black Canyon City from 1988 to 1992. In fact, his admiration for the Dirty Dozen may have facilitated his decision to leave Oakland for the Valley and its warmer, more salubrious climate. Faced with a friendly takeover offer from the one-and-only Hells Angels – essentially the Google of outlaw MCs – the Dozen had little choice. In 1997, members of the two clubs convened in the HA clubhouse in Oakland – a converted Arthur Murray dance studio, ironically – and the patch-over was consecrated.
By most accounts, Barger served in an emeritus or advisory capacity as a member of the Hells Angels Cave Creek charter – he didn’t hold an officer position, and was rarely seen at rallies and public events – supporting the contention that his departure carries mostly symbolic, rather than tactical, weight for the Arizona biker community.
But it’s also true that Barger’s vanishing act coincided with a general hemorrhaging of “old-guard [Arizona] guys who weren’t afraid to mix it up [with other MCs],” in the words of the anonymous source. In 2013, Mora – who held the title of “street warlord” during his Dirty Dozen days – died of natural causes. Soon after, Mike Koepke, a member of the club’s feared “Nomads” charter – and a principle figure in the much-publicized HA shootout with the Vagos in Prescott Valley in 2010 – retired from the club to start a career as a Prescott fireman (see PHOENIX August 2016).
Now firmly on the straight-and-narrow, Koepke says he no longer has regular contact with the Hells Angels and can’t comment on the club’s politics or motivations. But asked if he could recall an instance of seeing – or hearing about – a phalanx of enemy bikers riding unmolested on a major Arizona highway without the HA’s blessing, to a strip club or otherwise, he says, “No, I can’t recall that.”
Valley cocktail maestro Brandon Casey had barely taken possession of his new bar, The Woodshed, on Baseline Road in Tempe when the deadly biker melee erupted across the street.
The date was August 17, 2016 – about a week, coincidentally, before Barger’s Facebook announcement. According to Tempe Police Department spokesman Sgt. Ronald Elcock, four members of the Mongols MC – like the Hells Angels, a “one-percenter” club with roots in Southern California, but predominantly Latino – approached a single Hells Angel biker at the Final Round Sports Bar & Grill at Baseline and Mill Avenue. “The Hells Angel was by himself, and the [Mongol bikers] started a fight,” Elcock says, citing the official incident report.
According to an ABC15 report the evening of the shooting, the fight spilled out into the parking lot, where the shooter – whom PHOENIX independently verified through court documents as Wayne Whitt, a member of the Hells Angels’ Mesa charter – fired six shots before fleeing on his bike, killing one of his assailants. Though Tempe PD declined to name the deceased, a GoFundMe page launched in the wake of the shooting suggests it was Richard “AZ Slick” Garcia, a member of the Mongols’ Mesa chapter. Tempe PD ultimately declined to press charges against Whitt, deeming the shooting self-defense. (The three surviving Mongols – Efren Ontiveros, John Magana and Frank Gardea – were all arrested and are still awaiting “adjudication,” according to Elcock.)
Covered by all local TV news stations, the shooting was an eye-opener, because it demonstrated how MC violence can erupt in unexpected places. The Mill/Baseline neighborhood in Tempe is not regarded as a rough neighborhood – the street is lined with white-collar offices, mid-level restaurants and apartments. Kiwanis Park is a block south.
“I was super surprised it happened,” says Casey, former head mixologist at Citizen Public House, who was interviewed by local TV reporters outside his bar the day after the shooting. “I grew up in downtown Tempe… Biker gang violence wasn’t a thing. So I [found it] more confusing than anything.”
The incident also illustrated the increased diversity of the Valley’s MC culture and, arguably, the spasms of violence that can happen without a clearly defined alpha. The Mongols claimed one Arizona chapter – Mesa, which operates its own Facebook page – in 2011. Today, a Mongols-affiliated website lists four chapters in the Valley, though MC experts in law enforcement caution that clubs sometimes inflate their numbers. The Arizona Hells Angels are believed to have around 100 active members, but an information request to DPS’ Gang & Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission (GIITEM), which oversees most MC-related investigations in Arizona, was not returned by the time this issue went to press.
If there is a larger battle brewing between the Hells Angels and Mongols, law enforcement isn’t saying. “We don’t have intelligence [to that effect],” Elcock says. “We haven’t heard about retaliation from that incident… and no rising tensions or any other shootings.”
A chat board on a website called AZ Independent Daily tells a slightly different story, with devotees of the two clubs trading racially tinged barbs and claims of dominance in the Valley. “Maybe if the Mongols didn’t fly their patch in AZ, where they are not endorsed by the CMC [Arizona Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs], they wouldn’t get into shootouts with the state’s dominant MC,” one user chides.
“Quit with your nonsense this was chicken head territory the Mongols are moving in like they took Cali away from the chicken heads,” a Mongol supporter responds, using a common epithet for the Hells Angels Death Head emblem.
Another poster makes reference to the unsolved murder of Hells Angels Cave Creek member Patrick Eberhardt, who was gunned down on his bike in North Phoenix in 2015. Sources close to the club have privately expressed surprise that the murder has not resulted in any public reprisals, especially given Eberhardt’s bloodlines – his father is Cave Creek charter president Robert “Spa Bob” Eberhardt. According to a Phoenix police report obtained by this magazine in 2015, one of the two unnamed suspects in the ongoing investigation into Eberhardt’s death is a Mongol member.
Then again, reprisals have a way of spinning out of hand for MCs, as the 170 indictments handed down in the wake of the well-publicized 2015 Hells Angels shootout in Waco, Texas, demonstrate. And online message boards rarely reflect diplomatic reality – fortunately.
Koepke, the retired Hells Angel – who escaped prosecution for the non-lethal Prescott Valley gun battle when it was revealed that one of the enemy combatants was a paid confidential informant – disavows the idea that the Arizona Hells Angels can or should go to war over territory.
“I don’t think it benefits anybody to have ongoing warfare and clashes [among MCs],” he says. “And [protecting territory] was certainly not something that was adopted or talked about when I was in the Hells Angels. If someone does something [threatening], you have a right to defend yourself… but anyone can start a club.”
One possible scenario: As Arizona grows in population and demographic complexity, the Hells Angels may have to accept a new reality – as they once did in California – where different clubs hold sway over different parts of the state.
If that is the case, bystanders like Casey just hope everyone in the Valley’s newly competitive MC community gets the memo. “We haven’t seen any bikers in the area since [the Tempe shooting],” he says. “But who knows? People are saying it’s a weird power-vacuum thing.”
MC Cheat Sheet
The term “one-percenter” was adopted by defiant outlaw bikers after organizers of the 1947 Hollister, Calif., biker rally insisted that troublemakers in the motorcycle world only constituted “one percent” of total membership. Know a few of them with this handy glossary.
Founded by disaffected WWII vets in 1948, the “Red & White” achieved primacy in the biker wold behind the emergence of its powerful Bay Area charters in the 1960s.
Also known as Green Nation, the MC was founded in Corona, Calif., in 1965. According to the DOJ, they boast around 600 members in the U.S., including some in Northern AZ.
Founded by Hispanic Vietnam War vets, the MC memorably brawled with HA in the deadly Laughlin riot of 2002. They’re believed to have a growing Valley presence.
America’s oldest MC (est. 1935) has no known AZ presence, but is a longtime HA rival; Barger’s 1988 federal conviction stemmed from an alleged plot to blow up an Outlaws clubhouse.
One-percenter motorcycle club
This article is about the motorcycle club. For other uses, see Hells Angels (disambiguation).
|Abbreviation||HA, 81, HAMC|
|Founded||March 17, 1948; 73 years ago (1948-03-17)|
|Founded at||Fontana, California,|
|Type||Outlaw motorcycle club|
|Worldwide (467 chapters in 59 countries)|
The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC) is a worldwide one-percenter motorcycle club whose members typically ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles. In the United States and Canada, the Hells Angels are incorporated as the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation. Common nicknames for the club are the "H.A.", "Red & White", "HAMC", and "81". With a membership of between 3,000 and 3,600 and 467 charters located in 59 countries, the HAMC is the largest motorcycle club in the world.
Numerous police and international intelligence agencies, including the United States Department of Justice and Europol, consider the club to be an organized crime syndicate.
The Hells Angels originated on March 17, 1948, in Fontana, California, when several small motorcycle clubs agreed to merge. Otto Friedli, a World War II veteran, is credited with starting the club after breaking from the Pissed Off Bastardsmotorcycle club over a feud with a rival gang.
According to the Hells Angels' website, the club’s name was first suggested by an associate of the founders named Arvid Olsen, who had served in the "Hell's Angels" squadron of the Flying Tigers in China during World War II. It is at least clear that the name was inspired by the tradition from World Wars I and II whereby the Americans gave their squadrons fierce, death-defying titles; an example of this lies in one of the three P-40 squadrons of Flying Tigers fielded in Burma and China, which was dubbed "Hell's Angels". In 1930, the Howard Hughes film Hell's Angels showcased extraordinary and dangerous feats of aviation, and it is believed that the World War II groups who used that name based it on the film. According to the Hells Angels' website, they are aware that there is an apostrophe missing in "Hell's", but state that, "...it is you who miss it. We don't".
Some of the early history of the HAMC is not clear, and accounts differ. According to Ralph "Sonny" Barger, founder of the Oakland charter, early charters of the club were founded in San Francisco, Gardena, Fontana, Oakland and elsewhere, with the members usually being unaware that there were other clubs. One of the lesser-known clubs existed in North Chino/South Pomona, in the late 1960s.
Other sources claim that the Hells Angels in San Francisco were organized in 1953 by Rocky Graves, a Hells Angel member from San Bernardino ("Berdoo"), implying that the "Frisco" Hells Angels were very much aware of their forebears. The "Frisco" Hells Angels were reorganized in 1955 with thirteen charter members, Frank Sadilek serving as president, and using the smaller, original logo. The Oakland charter, at the time headed by Barger, used a larger version of the "Death's Head" patch nicknamed the "Barger Larger", which was first used in 1959. It later became the club standard. The first chapter to open outside California was established in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1961.
The Hells Angels are often depicted in semi-mythical romantic fashion like the 19th-century James–Younger Gang: free-spirited, iconic, bound by brotherhood and loyalty. At other times, such as in the 1966 Roger Corman film The Wild Angels, they are depicted as violent and nihilistic, little more than a violent criminal gang and a scourge on society.
The club became prominent within, and established its notoriety as part of the 1960s counterculture movement in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury District, playing a part at many of the movement's seminal events. Members were directly connected to many of the counterculture's primary leaders, such as Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, Timothy Leary, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Mick Farren, and Tom Wolfe. Writing a book about the club launched the career of "Gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson. From 1968-69 the Hells Angels of San Francisco headquarters was at 715 Ashbury (across from the Grateful Dead house at 710 Ashbury).
In 1973, members from several branches of the organization protested at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing about a proposed transportation plan that included restrictions on motorcycle use and sales to get California to meet the new Clean Air Act standards.
The Hells Angels' official website attributes the official "death's head" insignia design to Frank Sadilek, past president of the San Francisco charter. The colors and shape of the early-style jacket emblem (prior to 1953) were copied from the insignias of the 85th Fighter Squadron and the 552nd Medium Bomber Squadron.
The Hells Angels utilize a system of patches similar to military medals. Although the specific meaning of each patch is not publicly known, the patches identify specific or significant actions or beliefs of each biker. The official colors of the Hells Angels are red lettering displayed on a white background—hence the club's nickname "The Red and White". These patches are worn on leather or denim jackets and vests.
Red and white are also used to display the number 81 on many patches, as in "Support 81, Route 81". The 8 and 1 stand for the respective positions in the alphabet of H and A. These are used by friends and supporters of the club in deference to club rules, which purport to restrict the wearing of Hells Angels imagery to club members. The diamond-shaped one-percenter patch is also used, displaying '1%' in red on a white background with a red merrowed border. The term one-percenter is said to be a response to the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) comment on the Hollister incident, to the effect that 99% of motorcyclists were law-abiding citizens and the last 1% were outlaws. The AMA has no record of such a statement to the press, and calls this story apocryphal.
Most members wear a rectangular patch (again, white background with red letters and a red merrowed border) identifying their respective charter locations. Another similarly designed patch reads "Hells Angels". When applicable, members of the club wear a patch denoting their position or rank within the organization. The patch is rectangular and, similar to the patches described above, displays a white background with red letters and a red merrowed border. Some examples of the titles used are President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Sergeant at Arms. This patch is usually worn above the 'club location' patch. Some members also wear a patch with the initials "AFFA", which stands for "Angels Forever; Forever Angels", referring to their lifelong membership in the biker club (i.e., "once a member, always a member").
The book Gangs, written by Tony Thompson (a crime correspondent for The Observer), states that Stephen Cunningham, a member of the Angels, sported a new patch after he recovered from attempting to set a bomb, consisting of two Nazi-style SS lightning bolts below the words 'Filthy Few'. Some law enforcement officials claim that the patch is only awarded to those who have committed or are prepared to commit murder on behalf of the club. According to a report from the R. v. Bonner and Lindsay case in 2005 (see related section below), another patch, similar to the 'Filthy Few' patch is the 'Dequiallo' patch. This patch "signifies that the wearer has fought law enforcement on arrest." There is no common convention as to where the patches are located on the members' jacket/vest.
Intellectual property rights
According to The Globe and Mail the Hells Angels considered seeking an injunction to block the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation from broadcasting the miniseries The Last Chapter, because of how closely the biker gang at the center of the series resembled the Hells Angels.
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. The suit was eventually voluntarily dismissed, after the Angels received assurances from Disney that the references would not appear in the film.
On October 7, 2009, Fritz Clapp, attorney at law for the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation, contacted online games community FOCO, demanding the removal of all membership marks and club trademarks from the Los Santos Roleplay Forum. While the members of the community were skeptical at first, Fritz Clapp posted a tweet confirming his identity.
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. A handbag and scarf was also named in lawsuit. The lawyer representing Hells Angels claimed: "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." Saks refused to comment, Zappos had no immediate comment and the company's parent company, PPR, could not be reached for comment. The company settled the case with the Hells Angels after agreeing to remove all of the merchandise featuring the logo from sale on their website, stores and concessions and recalling any of the goods that have already been sold and destroying them.
In fall 2012 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, Hells Angels sued Toys "R" Us for trademark infringement, unfair competition, and dilution in relation to the sale of yo-yos manufactured by Yomega Corporation, a co-defendant, which allegedly bear the "Death Head" logo. In its complaint, Hells Angels asserted that the mark used on the yo-yos is likely to confuse the public into mistakenly believing that the toys originate with Hells Angels and Yomega filed counterclaims against Hells Angels for cancellation of the "Death Head" registrations on grounds of alleged fraud in the procurement of the registrations. The case settled and the lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice.
As of December 2013[update], the Hells Angels sells its branded merchandise at a retail store in Toronto, Ontario.
In 2019, the Hells Angels sued Redbubble in the Federal Court of Australia for infringing on its trademark, launching another suit in 2021 after providing evidence that Redbubble had continued to breach the trademark.
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.
After a lengthy, phased process, a prospective member is first deemed to be a "hang-around", indicating that the individual is invited to some club events or to meet club members at known gathering places.
If the hang-around is interested, he may be asked to become an "associate", a status that usually lasts a year or two. At the end of that stage, he is reclassified as "prospect", participating in some club activities, but not having voting privileges while he is evaluated for suitability as a full member. The last phase, and highest membership status, is "Full Membership" or "Full-Patch". The term "Full-Patch" refers to the complete four-piece insignia, including the "Death Head" logo, two rockers (top rocker: "Hells Angels"; bottom rocker: state or territory claimed) and the rectangular "MC" patch below the wing of the Death's Head. Prospects are allowed to wear only a bottom rocker with the state/province or territory name along with the rectangular "MC" patch.
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 charter in the sponsoring charter'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".
Even after a member is patched in, the patches themselves remain the property of HAMC rather than the member. On leaving the Hells Angels, or being ejected, they must be returned to the club.
The club is not officially a racially segregated organization. In the United States, at least one charter 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.
Outside the United States, non-white membership is relatively common and some chapters, such as in Turkey and South America, are almost exclusively non-white. Notable is Gregory Woolley, a high-ranking member of the Rockers MC in Montreal who was the protégé and bodyguard of Hells Angel boss Maurice Boucher (who spent five years in a notoriously white-supremacist motorcycle gang, the SS). Woolley became an associate of the Hells Angels Montreal charter 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. That's how it is whether anyone likes it or not. We don't have no blacks and they don't have no whites." When asked if that could change Barger replied "Anything can change, I can't predict the future." 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.
The HAMC acknowledges more than a hundred charters spread over 29 countries. The Hells Angels motorcycle club founded a charter in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1961 and has since taken over gangs in Whanganui. New Zealand had the first charter of the Hells Angels outside the United States. Europe did not become widely home to the Hells Angels until 1969 when two London charters were formed. The Beatles' George Harrison invited some members of the HAMC San Francisco to stay at Apple Records in London in 1968. According to Chris O'Dell, only two members showed up at Apple Records, Frisco Pete and Bill "Sweet William" Fritsch. Two people from London visited California, "prospected", and ultimately joined. Two charters were issued on July 30, 1969; one for "South London"—the re-imagined charter renewing the already existing 1950 South London charter—and the other for "East London", but by 1973 the two charters came together as one, called "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.
Members of the Spanish Charter were involved in a killing and tried.
A list of acknowledged charters can be found on the HAMC's official website.
Main article: List of Hells Angels support clubs
Over the years, the Hells Angels have amalgamated a number of smaller outlaw motorcycle clubs in a process known as a "patch-over".
Criminal activities and incidents
Main article: Hells Angels MC criminal allegations and incidents
Various United States law enforcement 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, extortion, and prostitution operations. 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.
In May 2019, a court in Utrecht issued a verdict that made the Netherlands the first country to completely ban the Hells Angels. The presiding judge of the court called it "a danger to public order and the rule of law". Other countries such as Germany had banned local chapters, but never before the entire club.
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Clubhouse hells angels arizona
Stop. Stop. Heels. The man abruptly yanked his hand out of his mother's backside. There was a fart, and, a stream of liquid feces spattered - gala the legs of the old woman and the headboard to which they were tied.Hells Angels MC Phoenix Clubhouse (After Coronavirus Lockdown)
The lights in the hall were dimmed, and this. Beauty, as if she had emerged from the jungle of Africa yesterday, began to quite openly stroke herself on intimate parts. Everyone decided that the striptease would begin now and greeted her with cheers and whistles, but events took a different turn. From four sides, four young men, naked to the waist, came up to her.
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Only now - gears. And all the women, no matter how much he is - and the cooks, ruddy drunk and rich, and the. Castellans, also ruddy and drunk (but they are bastards), and Murka, ruddy in one robe (and the top button on the robe is not buttoned - the robe is dispersed), in a wordall the woman, no matter how much he is, picks up a dashing chorus for Seryozha in chorus: The cooks are blushing, they are faint, looking at Seryozha, shaking from evil passion - now they will give.