News Out of Denmark
On the peach-coloured wall behind George Christie hang three signs with different words: Rock, paper, scissors.
"That's how we settled the conflicts between the motorcycle clubs," he laughs in his raspy, husky voice through the Zoom connection from the city of Ventura on the southwest coast of California.
It looks like a cozy and peaceful home, where the morning sun shines through the window and the dog barks. But for four decades, George Christie's life was anything but peaceful.
He was one of the very central members of the Hells Angels in the United States, he was the longest-serving president of the motorcycle club's Ventura branch and played an important role in the group's international expansion. The Danish branch was admitted in 1980, and that was the starting point for the gang wars, which are being retold in books and on the screen these years. First through the Cavling-winning book 'Bullshit', which is about to become a TV series, and most recently in a new documentary on Discovery, which follows the Danish Hells Angels from the 80s up to the great Nordic biker gang war.
In that documentary, George Christie plays a leading role.
When he left the Hells Angels 13 years ago, he was declared "out bad" by his old brothers. This means that he had return his colours, but with almost 40 years in one of history's most notorious biker groups, George Christie is a living link and testimony between the counterculture of the 60s and today's conflicts.
He served a sentence for complicity in a murder, of which he was since cleared, and he has been in solitary confinement in a case of tax fraud. It is a life story that has so far been the basis for three books he has written himself, and a possible TV series which is in development.
"Today I tell stories about my life", says George Christie
"So if someone in 100 years finds me interesting, they can't just make things up. That is what my mission is.”
George Christie was 10 years old when, in the mid-1950s, he first came face to face with an outlaw. This is how members of the motorcycle gangs that flourished in the post-war period in the United States became known as. Lawless rebels.
George Christie stood on a street corner in the San Fernando Valley with his father, who was chatting with a local businessman. Suddenly a man came by on a Harley with high handlebars. With long black hair and sleeveless denim jacket. As he drove away, the businessman looked at George's father and spat into the ground:
"Try to look at him, he's an animal. This is your America'.
But it was exactly the America that George Christie was hungry for.
"For 10 years after that, I couldn't get him on the motorcycle out of my head. It was everything I wanted to be,' says George Christie today.
When he returned home to Ventura in the mid-60s after serving in the Marines, he bought his first Harley. For several years he lived a parallel life. He had a house, a family and a job in the US Department of Defense where he was a communications consultant, but his passion was the motorcycle clubs he rolled with.
When George Christie joined the Hells Angels in Los Angeles, only six months passed before he was named vice president. Half a year later he was president.
The job in the Ministry of Defense was lost for good, and instead George Christie found himself in the middle of a bloody conflict with the rival gang The Mongols.
"People have asked me if I was in war as a Marine. No, but I learned that in California when I became part of the Hells Angels'.
In the United States of the 1960s, the Hells Angels became part of the counterculture that swept over the West Coast with San Francisco as the epicenter. Although the media and politicians told stories about the group's violent behavior, the Angels were also portrayed as a kind of anti-heroes. From Marlon Brando as a motorcycle rebel in the film 'Wild One’ to Hunter S Thompson, who in the book 'Hells Angels' wrote about the violence he experienced with the group, but also about their anarchist spirit.
"San Francisco had strong ties to the entire bohemian movement, from the beatniks to the hippies," says George Christie.
"And then you had the Hells Angels, who were an oddity in the counterculture".
The Hells Angels did not subscribe to the political part of the hippie movement, but there was a cultural overlap. The members became friends with the great rock stars of the time such as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane and acted as security guards at their concerts.
In 1969, when the Rolling Stones played a free concert on the Altamont racetrack outside San Francisco, the Hells Angels were also hired as guards. But it all ended in chaos, says George Christie, when concertgoers rushed towards the stage and tipping over the guards' motorcycles. A man pulled a gun and was killed by a Hells Angels while the music continued on stage.
It was a huge image problem for the Hells Angels, says George Christie.
"And that created a rift between us and the Rolling Stones".
It wasn't until eight years later that the band paid the $50,000 in legal fees that they, according to George Christi e owed the Hells Angels.
"They found out that we had sent someone to plant a bomb on Mick Jagger's yacht, and then suddenly we were sent a check".
But was there anything to the story? Were you planning to bomb Mick Jagger?
"Well, I wasn't there..."
So what was the Hells Angels all about back then in the 60s? Was it a battle for territories and drug trafficking that lay behind the conflicts?
"Funnily enough, it was never about that. It often started with us fighting for the favor of women. This is how our fight against The Mongols started and then it escalated to murder and other stuff. And when you look at the biker gang wars in Denmark, it actually all started with some people throwing insults at each other.”
What was your first impression of the Danish Hells Angels?
"That they were very cool guys. That they were serious. I had no doubt that the Danish members were everything that the Hells Angels should stand for.”
And what is the Hells Angels supposed to stand for?
"That you are ready to go all the way. People are often horrified when they hear this, but you have to understand that motorcycle clubs are a reflection of society. I was a Marine and what did they teach me? To kill people. So these outlaw motorcycle clubs are in a way a reflection of American society. And history keeps repeating itself”.
During the great Nordic biker gang war in the 90s between Hells Angels and Bandidos, George Christie was called in as a kind of peace broker.
He made it clear to the Danish members that their rivals were at least as ruthless as themselves. And that it meant a war where both sides would fight to the last drop of blood.
George Christie had developed a relationship with the former leader of the Bandidos, and a summit was set up in California in a house that had previously belonged to the rock group Eagles. There were six from Hells Angeles and six from the Bandidos who participated, says George Christie.
"It was a perfect place for a peace negotiation or a gunfight. Because there were no others around us. But we sat down and that's how we opened a dialogue”.
For George Christie, there was the struggle for peace with rivals, and then there was the struggle to protect the group's own reputation.
At the beginning of the 1980s, the Hells Angels had become "a brand", explains George Christie, and at the same time there were rumors from the FBI that the Hells Angels were helping to finance a possible terrorist attack towards the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984. It was about the worst publicity the group could get in the middle of the Cold War, he says.
"So when they started making disparaging remarks about our brand, we had to control the narrative. We will have to be at the forefront of this.'
George Christie had read that for a donation companies could be allowed to run a kilometer with the Olympic torch in a huge national procession in the weeks leading up to the Olympics. So George Christie and the Hells Angels applied for permission to join. Or rather: A company called Hamcus (an acronym for Hells Angels Motorcycle Club United States) applied, and thanks to a donation to the Paralympic Games, George Christie was able to put on a running shirt and take part in the torchlight procession.
As with his attempts to make peace with other clubs, not all Hells Angels approved of this kind of PR move.
"But I convinced them that it was a smart thing to do. We got a lot of positive publicity", says George Christie today.
When he left the Hells Angels in 2011, George Christie could no longer recognize the motorcycle club he had spent half his life defending.
The angels had ended up like those they rebelled against at the dawn of time, he says.
"We were supposed to be outlaws, we were supposed to be these free thinkers. But now we are fighting against all the other motorcycle clubs who have the same ideals as us. It makes no sense if you ask me'.
So how do you feel today about having been part of a gang that over the years has been notorious for murder, rape and drug dealing?
"History speaks for itself. I'm not trying to glorify my life in any way, but I'm not going to apologize for it either. It is what it is”.
And what about the future of the Hells Angels?
"Hells Angels have the ability to achieve whatever they want. I wish them all the best”.
He looks up from the Zoom screen. Time is up, and George Christie will move on to record a new podcast, where he will once again tell the story of the lawless rebel who found his America in one of history's most notorious gangs.