The violent world of rebel motorcycle clubs is the focus of History Television´s original new six-part series Outlaw Bikers, premiering in October. Each episode offers an intimate and unprecedented look into the personalities, structure, subculture, rituals and criminal activities of various biker gangs, including the Hells Angels and the Mongols, and documents the efforts of fearless U.S. federal agents who went undercover to infiltrate the gangs – and lived to tell about it. Using dramatic re-enactments and expert analysis, Outlaw Bikers shines a spotlight on the lives of the world´s most dangerous and infamous motorcycle gangs.
The first episode gives us the gripping and often harrowing story of Billy Queen, a veteran Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agent who successfully penetrated the San Fernando chapter of the Mongol motorcycle club, only to get caught up in the dark lure of the Mongol brotherhood. For the mission, Queen – who detailed his experience in the bestselling book Under And Alone (Random House, 2005) – assumed the alias Billy St. John, a bearded, beer-drinking motorcyclist. Initially, the gang tested Queen´s loyalty by forcing him to participate and witness the transportation of drugs, trafficking of firearms, motorcycle theft, and other crimes. But his St. John was so convincing that he soon achieved "patched-in" gang-member status and eventually rose to the office of treasurer, where he had access to evidence of the gang´s criminal activity.
After 28 months with the Mongols, Queen´s real identity began to take a back seat to his new persona. And despite the criminality of the gang, Queen came to respect and admire their camaraderie and their willingness to fight and die for one another. While riding, drinking and brawling with the Mongols, he developed strong bonds with his new brothers and eventually found himself conflicted between his genuine sense of allegiance to them and his duty as a federal agent.
TORO asked Billy Queen some tough questions about his incredible ride and the pitfalls and consequences of venturing too close to the abyss.
Q: Before you infiltrated the Mongols, had you done any undercover work? How did you verse yourself in biker culture to pass the inspection of some seriously paranoid and violent individuals?
A: I had been doing undercover work for ATF for 17 years before starting the Mongol UC [undercover] operation. I was riding with the Hells Angels as a hang-around when asked to do the Mongol UC thing. I had an extensive UC background plus I had been riding bikes for most of my adult life. I had also done a couple of biker cases as a case agent and found them to be interesting organized criminal organizations.
Q: The Mongols were always secondary in terms of size and reach to the Hells Angels. Why were they infiltrated and not the Hells Angels?
A: The Mongols are the only Outlaw Motorcycle Gang to go to war with the Hells Angels and beat the Hells Angels down. The Mongols are a significantly more violent gang than the Hells Angels and were committing a significantly greater amount of violent crime around the Los Angeles area, which put the investigation before an HA investigation. It is true that the HAs are significantly larger than the Mongols, however, it is a mistake to believe that the Angels are more dangerous.
Q: Clearly, an element of fear pervaded your undercover work. Red Dog, for instance, the Mongols´ sergeant-at-arms, claimed he knew you were a cop from the get go, and stated that he would cut your throat if you turned out to be a problem. Can you talk a little about fear and how you overcame it?
A: I was afraid, quite often, most of the time for my own life and at times for the lives of others. Red Dog is a cold-hearted career criminal who has no problem with hurting people. However, Red Dog was only one of a long line of cold-hearted individuals in the Mongols. He just happened to be one who decided to focus his attention on me. Fear can be a good thing when you use it as a reality check. It keeps you from stepping over the edge into a situation of doom. If you let it control you, it can be a bad thing. Just like animals, people can sense fear and that would put you into a situation where the bad guys can see it. Mongols want people in their gang that can cause fear, they don´t want people who fear other people. They prey on the weak and they can sense them. If you show weakness and fear you´ll become a victim rather than a member of their gang. Oh yes, Red Dog claims that he knew I was a cop, however, Red Dog took me along on several criminal escapades that could send him to prison. If he knew I was a cop, why would he do such a thing?
Q: In the documentary you talked about the Mongols´ esprit de corps, and how their loyalty and love rivaled anything you´d seen in the military and police. Can you expand on this a little?
A: Mongol Brothers put their arms around me and told me that they loved me. I stood with them and fought against Mongol rivals. I knew at times my life depended on them. I lived with them and knew their families and I fought an internal battle with myself on many occasions with this. They truly loved Billy St. John but they would have killed Billy Queen and often it was hard to separate the two. It was hard to testify against some of them, however the more violent members like Red Dog, it was a pleasure testifying against them. The love and loyalty they have for each other is second to no other organizations I have been involved with.
Q: It goes without saying that undercover work is perilous; were you at war with yourself over split loyalties?
A: The war within is over. When you are inside and emotions are high, this is when the personal turmoil is at its greatest and your views are most obscured. The bad side of the gang and its members will never outweigh the good side. I´m out and the picture is clear.
Q: Given that as a federal agent you were restricted from "breaking the law" (i.e. doing drugs), and that drugs seemed part and parcel of the biker lifestyle, how did you sidestep and avoid having to do drugs with your fellow gang-members? Did you really never do drugs?
A: I lucked out on the drug scene. Domingo, my chapter president had just gotten out of prison about the time I was coming into the gang. He was on probation and had to take a drug test every week, he could not even drink alcohol. When the drugs came out they would be offered to Domingo first, and when he turned them down I would put my arm around Domingo and say "Hey, if my president isn´t doing them, I´m not doing them." Domingo would put his arm around me and laugh, saying, "Yeah Billy, let´s get out of here." And that´s what we would do. I faked smoking grass on several other occasions. When you are in a party situation and a joint is passed to you, nobody is actually looking to see if you are inhaling the smoke. I never did do drugs. And, it should be noted that not everyone in the gang does drugs, although most do.
Q: How did you deal with the violence that came along with your job? Did you not have to inflict some punishment on some people in order to get respect? As Red Dog stated, "when you kicked somebody´s ass you earned respect."
A: I had my line in the sand and that line was murder and rape, I would not nor could not participate in that type of violence. I participated in the beating from time to time, however, I made sure that no one was seriously hurt during these times. Had it not been for my participation on occasions, people would have been killed or seriously injured. I did what I had to do to be accepted without crossing my own line in the sand.
Q: Did you regret that you were unable to return to police work or was it inevitable?
A: I never really returned to police work. I hid out in Texas for about two years, transcribing UC tapes and testifying against the Mongols. ATF didn´t really want me to return to the streets. They believed that my safety would be at risk by doing so. I was assigned to an intel group out of Charlotte, NC and never allowed to really go back to work. It was very disappointing for me. My life never really returned to normal and I´ll always be looking over my shoulder.
Q: How did you find writing a book about the experience? Was it positive, painful? How have you been received as an author?
A: Writing the book was a very different experience for me, both rewarding and painful. Under and Alone became a NY Times bestseller and has been translated into Japanese and German and is in 20-some countries around the world. I followed that up with a second book, Armed and Dangerous. I did relive the experiences both good and bad while putting it down in writing. Writing isn´t a natural thing for me, it´s more like a job. However, the results can be quite rewarding as they have been for me. But I´m a street cop and street cops like to be in the mix putting the handcuffs on the bad guys and actually making the streets safer. They don´t like sitting behind the desk and taking care of the paperwork. I never was very good and that, although I realized that the job isn´t finished until the paperwork is done.
Q: You stated how hard it was, especially in the beginning, and how miserable you were, but by the end of the two years undercover you seemed to have embraced the biker life/code to some extent?
A: Sure it´s true. Not all the time was spent worrying about my life. When I became a full-patched member of the gang, it was less stressful. Not to say the stress was gone, but I didn´t worry about someone shooting me every day. I lived with them, fought for them, partied with them and felt the love they had for me. Yes, it did make me feel guilty about what I was doing. It´s complicated and hard to explain if you´ve never been there, so I won´t try to explain it in this short piece. Just imagine having to testify against one of your family members.
Q: Is there honour among outlaws?
A: There is honour among outlaws. They will die for each other. They will go down without turning on each other. They love each other and though often twisted, they will kill for each other.
Q: Have you had any contact recently with any of the bikers?
A: I have not had any contact with any of them. They make it clear that my life would be in danger if I ran into any of them.
Q: Have you managed to heal some of the family wounds?
A: I lost big time on the family front. I fear that I will never recover from that loss.
Q: Was it worth it, in the end?
A: It was worth it to ATF, it was worth it to the people of the United States. It just wasn´t worth it to me. I lost too much personally.¨
Q: What´s next for Billy Queen?
A: Stay alive.
Salvatore Difalco is, among many things, senior writer for TORO and the author of Black Rabbit & Other Stories.¨¨