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“Hells Angels”. Sixty years after the biker gang was founded in Fontana, California, the name still can conjure fear, myth, and curiosity.
George Christie was a Hells Angels member for 40 years, 35 of those as leader of the Ventura, California chapter. His one-man play based on his book about his years in the club is being performed in Las Vegas.
Christie told KNPR’s State of Nevada that he became attracted to the outlaw biker lifestyle after seeing an outlaw motorcycle club member on the street when he was a kid. He noticed that everyone around him was very concerned about the biker but the biker seemed to not care.
He said the image stuck with him and became a life-changing event.
Another important moment in his early life pushed Christie even more into an outsider mentality.
In high school, he was accused of cheating on an IQ test. The principal refused to believe that he scored well on the test because Christie did so poorly in school.
Christie said he left the meeting with the principal feeling like he wasn’t accepted and was labeled a cheater.
“I thought to myself, ‘if this is polite society, no thank you,” he said.
Shortly after graduating from high school, he joined the Marine Corps. When he was discharged from the Corps, he bought a motorcycle and joined the Hells Angels.
But Christie also held a job with the Department of Defense, had a house, was married and had children. It was at night and on weekends that he was running with outlaws.
“I was accepted for who I was, what I was,” he said, “There was a lot of brotherhood back then. It was all based on brotherhood and motorcycles back then.”
He said in the 60s and 70s you couldn’t buy a custom motorcycle. People who wanted a custom motorcycle had to build one themselves. That brought people who loved motorcycles together.
He worked for the Department of Defense until 1978 when officials at the department found out he was a leader of an outlaw biker club.
It was around that time that the Hells Angels got into a war with the rival club the Mongols.
Christie said it started in 1977 during a bike swap and escalated with fights, shootings, and even bombings.
He said it got so bad that a Los Angeles mob boss eventually called him to ask them to stop the war. Christie said the mob was concerned the biker war would interfere with their flow of money.
Christie said bikers couldn’t go a few blocks without being stopped by police.
“That’s when the whole bike dynamics changed,” he said, “It changed from a live-and-let-live free-loving society to very territorial, ‘don’t push on us, this is our area.’ There were deaths on both sides”
It was a stint in prison that gave Christie the vision to change that dynamic.
While in prison, Christie found that clubs didn’t fight with each other behind bars.
“If we can get along in this confined, cement society called prison, why can’t we get along here in the real world?” he said.
When he got out, he went on a quest to end the violence. It mostly worked until the Laughlin River Run in 2002.
Many people in Southern Nevada will remember the brawl during the annual biker bash. It was at Harrah's casino between members of the Mongols and Hells Angels gangs. Three people died.
“We had been at war with the Mongols for years, but I had negotiated somewhat of a moratorium on the violence between the two clubs and this just blew it all out of the water again,” he said.
He said the day after the fight he tried to negotiate another peace but it didn’t work.
“It is a very hot and heavy war,” he said.
Christie disputed the idea that the fight is over drug dealing territory
“Law enforcement always spins it that we are fighting over drug territory. I’ll tell you that we’re fighting over egos,” he said.
It was the fights between motorcycle clubs that eventually led Christie out of the club.
He wanted to end the wars, but others in the club didn’t share that vision and in fact, some of the younger members wanted to start more trouble with other clubs.
“I felt that groups were fracturing off, doing their own thing if you will. It was tough,” he said, “I decided that if I stayed in the club it would strictly be ego driven. That I didn’t want to be the guy who used to be a Hells Angels leader.”
He walked into a club meeting and told them he was leaving.
“’You guys no longer share my vision,’” he said of his final speech to his club, “’You can’t be a leader if people don’t see your vision with you and they don’t share it with you.’ I took my patch off and I folded it up and said, ‘we’re running out of people to fight. If you watch and read your history, historically, if people run out of people to fight they turn inward. I don’t want to be here for that.’”
He said the walk from the meeting table to the exit was the longest walk of his life.
“We have become the people that we rebelled against and I’m gone,” were the last words he said to his club. That was seven years ago.
Now, he lectures law enforcement officers, defense attorneys and others about life inside the motorcycle club.
“The Hells Angels is not a criminal organization. It is an organization full of criminals,” he said.
While there are regular working guys in the club, many members see the patch as carte blanche to work any criminal angle they can, Christie said.
His manager suggested he turn those lectures and stories from his book into a one-man play.
“I feel like I’m back in action when I’m on stage,” he said, “I feel like I’m riding my motorcycle again 100 miles an hour on the freeway.”
To no one’s surprise, Christie has known many people on the wrong side of the law, including one run-in with the notorious Las Vegas mob enforcer Tony “The Ant” Spilatro.
Christie said in the 70s he came to Las Vegas with some of his crew. Not long after walking into the Riviera, Spilatro came up to him.
“And this little guy comes up to me – I mean little – and he confronts me and he says, ‘I don’t know what the hell you guys are doing here but I’m going to tell you: you’re not welcome here, you’re not wanted here. We hope you’re not here to plant a flag.’ I said, ‘no we’re here to have fun!’ and he says, ‘you like to have fun?’ We wound up hitting it off,” Christie said.
Christie and Spilatro ended up drinking and gambling that night. Spilatro showed him how to play craps.
It wasn’t until seeing the movie “Casino” in which Joe Pesci plays the infamous Spilatro character that Christie realized who had shown him around the town that night.
Christie's book "Exile on Front Street: My Life as a Hells Angel and Beyond" has been adapted into a one-man show titled, "Outlaw."
It's at Las Vegas's Art Square Theatre June 22 through June 24.
George Christie, author of "Exile on Front Street: My Life as a Hells Angel and Beyond"