Yves Lavigne sees himself as an embattled but undaunted crusader against evil. His mission is to expose outlaw motorcycle gangs-the Hells Angels in particular-as criminal scum of the earth.
In his first book, Hells Angels: Taking Care of Business (published in 1987), Lavigne revealed the Angels' sophisticated organization and unsavoury activities. He wanted to destroy the myth of the Angels as "the last truly free men-those who dare break laws." In fact, they were pure outlaw evil, "the gang out of which all outlaw motorcycle gangs grow, the primal ooze out of which the last link crawls, white trash on wheels." They may once have been a rough and tough, but benignly marginal, brotherhood dedicated to "bikes, booze, and boobs". But the Angels changed, said Lavigne, into "a multi-national, multi-million dollar business that peddles drugs, pussy, and death."
In Hells Angels: Into the Abyss, Lavigne resumes his campaign against biker thugs. The book tells the story of the Hells Angel Anthony Tait and his two-year stint as an informant against the Angels for the FBI.
Tait had army experience with small arms and explosives. He had honed his street-fighting skills as a bouncer in the roistering back-alley bars and clubs of Anchorage, Alaska. Already a member of a local outlaw bike gang, Tait became associated with the Angels in 1982, and was made an official member when he won his "patch" the next year. He vaulted up through the gang's ranks to become the virtual aide-de-camp to Ralph (Sonny) Barger, the cunning and ruthless Angels godfather, an American outlaw legend who had dominated the gang for thirty years.
Yet Tait looked, in Lavigne's words, "like a salesman from Dubuque, Iowa." And, indeed, photographs of Tait show a trim (by biker standards), short-haired, conservatively moustached, "Joe Citizen" young man with a pleasantly engaging grin. For Barger, however, Tait was the Hells Angel of the future, a man as much at ease in a suit as in his "colours". Tait could unobtrusively visit the club's sixty-seven chapters around the world (today, there are eighty-five chapters in seventeen countries) taking care of business with articulate and intelligent persuasion rather than the crude, smelly, farting-and-belching brute force that had been the Angels' traditional method of governance.
But if Barger thought Tait was the Angels' future, he couldn't have been more wrong. Almost as soon as he joined the club, Tait approached the police and offered to give them information about his new brothers. In 1985, he signed a contract with the FBI to become a paid informant. He gave the Feds detailed information about the gang's organization and criminal activities. And for two years, Tait wore a "wire", a microphone-transmitter, that sent to FBI tape recorders many of his conversations with fellow Angels. He also recorded the proceedings of the monthly chapter meetings (known as "Church") that he attended as an increasingly powerful Angel officer.
In constant and mortal danger of exposure and the predictable fate of all organized crime squealers, he struggled to hide the "wire" and keep his cover intact in the face of the Angels' notoriously strict and sophisticated security and counter-intelligence procedures (the gang had its own informants in various police forces, for example).
Tait's last assignment was to set up stings for a number of the Angels' biggest drug chemists and dealers, who made industrial-sized batches of methamphetamine in state-of-the-art, portable laboratories. The operation had to be cut short to prevent a hit by the Angels on members of a rival gang. In November, 1987, six hundred FBI agents and police raided Angels chapters across the country and arrested thirty-eight high-ranking gang officers.
The club had been formed in 1947 by a group of California World War II air force veterans-weary survivors old before their time-who needed something to keep the combat adrenaline pumping. (Veterans have always been the club's main source of recruits; they made up ninety percent of its members during the Vietnam War.)
The Angels may once have embodied the venerable American tradition of the outlaw, somehow purer and more authentic than the hypocritical law-abiding society that proscribed and hunted him-the image of the wild young biker rebel as romantic hero was fixed in the public imagination by Marlon Brando as the gang leader in Stanley Kramer's 1954 movie, The Wild One. Lavigne convinces us that that image has always been dangerously false.
Lavigne tells an interesting story in a workmanlike style, with occasional excursions into dark-and-stormy-night prose as he condemns the Angels' drug trade as a dire threat to civilization as we know it. Perhaps the Hells Angels, and all the other mafias around the world, really might combine some day to drag us all down into criminal chaos. If that ever happens, there's no doubt that Lavigne-emphatically-told us so.
Derek Lundy is a Toronto lawyer and writer. He is the author of Scott Turow: Meeting the Enemy (ECW).