Hells Angels - Part 1 of 2

The leather-jacketed, long-haired biker of the open road is an icon of American culture, but law enforcement agencies have long maintained that motorcycle clubs like the Hells Angels are criminals and menaces to society. These two films follow US federal agents’ attempts to prove this, beginning with a look at an elaborate, controversial undercover operation which aimed to expose the truth about the Hells Angels.

Formed in 1948 in San Bernadino, California, the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club has approximately 3,000 members divided into 255 charters. The club organises social events and raises money for charity, but the federal authorities suspect that it is actually a highly organised criminal gang. To prove it, they sent Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agent Jay Dobyns undercover to get the evidence.

This decision was prompted by the bloody events of three months earlier, when a huge brawl between the Angels and their rivals, the California-based Mongols, erupted at a casino near Las Vegas and claimed the lives of three bikers.

Sergeant Gary Hood, of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department, thinks that the incident was evidence of the bikers’ lawless tendencies: “They’re criminals,” he maintains. “They’re no different than the Mob.”
Angels leader Sonny Barger disagrees. “We were just a bunch of guys who liked to ride motorcycles and have fun together,” he claims of his involvement with the club. But former FBI operative Tony Tait, who infiltrated the club in the 1980s, insists that this fun-loving image is a sham: “What goes on behind closed doors is entirely different.” Tait’s undercover work led to the prosecution of 25 Angels in 1987 –including Barger, who was found guilty of conspiracy to murder and sentenced to 25 years in an Arizona
federal prison. Upon his release, Barger stayed in Arizona and persuaded a local club to switch allegiance to the Hells Angels.

A number of the Arizona Angels were involved in the deadly casino mêlée, after which the ATF realised that it was time to act. They devised an undercover operation dubbed Operation Black Biscuit to infiltrate the network of smaller support clubs around the Angels. They created the Arizona Solos, a fictional club comprising agents, cops and informants who would befriend the Angels in order to gather evidence against them. Dobyns would head up the team, alongside James ‘Pops’ Blankinship –a former drug dealer who worked as an informant for the ATF.

As the operation got underway, the Solos invited the Angels over for a party –and secretly filmed them with hidden cameras. One of the Angels was Calvin Schaefer, the main shooter at the casino, who was captured on tape setting up gun deals and using illegal drugs. If crimes like these could be proven to be part of a larger criminal conspiracy, the sentences handed down would be enormous. And with each
transgression caught on camera, the team’s confidence grew. “We started telling ourselves, ‘Maybe we can do this. Maybe we can get over on these guys’,” Dobyns remembers.

After a close call in which his cover was almost blown, the Angels told Dobyns that he had to join their club if he wanted to continue riding in Arizona. The ATF were concerned about this dangerous new development, but knew that it was the only way to get the evidence they needed. Dobyns hooked up with the tiny Skull Valley charter and began the ‘apprenticeship’ required, but the strain of living this double life soon began to take its toll on him.

A daring plan was needed to quickly bump the undercover team up the ranks of the Hells Angels. But would the ATF’s next move deliver results –or would Jay Dobyns and his men have risked their lives for nothing?

About the author

  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • ITV1
  • ITV2
  • 4
  • E4
  • Film4
  • More4
  • Five
  • Fiver
  • Sky1