I WAS A HELLS ANGEL FOR 40 YEARS. THIS IS THE ONE TIME I DOUBTED THE OUTLAW LIFESTYLE.

During an especially violent clash with a rival club, I began to wonder how long I’d last.

In the spring of 1977 I walked into a swap meet in Anaheim, California, with eight other Hells Angels. We were on guard right away as we realized we were in a sea of Mongols, a smaller, newer club in Southern California that had taken in Chester Green, a former Hells Angel from the Bay Area. Chester had left us in disgrace and, for months leading up to the swap meet, had been quietly filling the Mongols with ideas that the Hells Angels were vulnerable.

I was walking next to Kid Glenn, a six-foot-two, 230-pound Hells Angel from San Bernardino. Like the rest of us, he was wondering what we had walked into. Kid had a linebacker’s frame, muscular with no belly. He was quick with a bright smile and was smart for a biker, but had a reputation for toughness. It was the first time we had met. Like everyone else, he knew a bad scene when he was in one.

“What the fuck is going on with all these Mongols? Do we have a problem with them? Why are all these assholes here?” At a glance it looked like we were outnumbered at least five-to-one; law enforcement would later put their numbers at anywhere from forty to a hundred, to our nine.

“I don’t know, Kid,” I answered.

He turned to the other Angels. “We got to stay together, man. If the shit happens, we just hold our ground back-to-back.”

Everyone nodded and closed ranks. “Yeah, man.” Except for the one person who wasn’t hearing him, a Los Angeles Hells Angel.

A clot of Mongols walked toward us, the crowd parting as they came through. But we were Hells Angels. We gave way to nobody. Green was right in the middle of the Mongols. He and the L.A. Hells Angel locked eyes. No words, just a look. Then without so much as a “How do you do,” the Angel swung on him and connected. It was on.

Brawls are faster and messier than anything staged in a movie or on TV. Everyone was immediately pumped with adrenaline and just reacting, not thinking. It was absolute chaos. Fortunately, being outmanned in a close-quarters fight isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world. Only so many guys can get to you at one time. If you can keep your cool, you can maneuver opponents so that they’re in one another’s way and don’t have a clear shot at you. In a place like a swap meet, there is also a lot of stuff lying around that you can use to your advantage. Tables and carts can slow enemies down and create a defensive barrier. Mostly, though, there are weapons everywhere. The first thing most of the Angels did was grab something lethal. Prospect Cliff Mowery – a confidential informant, as we would later find out – grabbed a beefy kickstand and started swinging it. Another Angel grabbed a piston-and-rod, which made for a deadly club.

The young Ventura chapter of Hells Angels poses in front of their clubhouse.
The young Ventura chapter of Hells Angels poses in front of their clubhouse.

Jesse, a stocky, sandy-haired young Angel, was beside me when he was bull-rushed by a Mongol tank. This guy was a barrel-chested monster of a man but not a smart fighter. Rather than grab ahold of Jesse or land a haymaker, he rammed Jesse in the chest and knocked him backward. I watched out of the corner of my eye as Jesse flew and landed across a vendor table. The table collapsed, and Jesse wound up on the floor surrounded by heavy, forged-iron sprockets. It was a lucky break. He grabbed the largest gear within reach, jumped up, and started swinging for all he was worth. I’ve never seen anything like it, before or since.

The teeth of a machined motorcycle gear have sharp edges. A gear is heavy as hell. The big Mongol was the first to learn how much Jesse loved to fight, as the gear cut open a savage gash in the big man’s face, eyebrow to chin. Jesse gave other Mongols more of the same. Chunks of flesh and trails of blood were flying everywhere as he took full swings at attacker after attacker. The Mongols around him were screaming, holding gruesome wounds, divots taken out of their faces.

The fight, like most, ended as fast as it started. The nine Hells Angels held their ground as the Mongols broke and ran, but in the end we were really the losers. We did look vulnerable; although we held our ground when hugely outnumbered, the Mongols had fought us in a public forum and had not only lived to tell their tale but were holding their ground in the aftermath.

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