Carsten Norton, May 2021 Keep in mind this is from a Danish translation. I did my best for the English translation…George Christie
Preface for Danish Version of Exile On Front Street. This introduction explains some of the history of the Scandinavian Bike War. It also touches on what seems to be the new normal, branding all exmembers “Out Bad.” This is an effort to silence them, it’s a form of cancel culture.
Jonke one of the most powerful and well known Hells Angels in Europe is now in "Bad” standing: Hells Agels can be big news in Denmark. That was the headline on the yellow breaking background that sounded almost like a contradiction when it took its
2 place at the top of Ekstra Bladet's website on the afternoon of November 18, 2020. The ouster of the 60-year-old Hells Angels Jonke, came after a few weeks of suspension and countless rumors, so it wasn't because the announcement was completely unexpected. The paradox of the news was more about the constellation of words. Jørn Jønke Nielsen's name linked to the message of being kicked out of Hells Angels. The club that he himself had helped establish in Denmark and had personified in public for four decades. Jonke was the man behind the murder of the Mackerel, club leader and arch enemies of
3 Danish Hells Angels. A controversial bestselling author, sought-after speaker, spokesman, co-founder of the infamous support club AK81 and much more.
Some would ask themselves what was Jønke without HA, but also what was HA in Denmark without Jønke? Another question that inevitably penetrated was: why? The announcements were partly about an undefined power showdown between Jønke and the other longtime member Svend "Svin" Erik Holst, and partly on a generational change, where younger members were tired of listening to the elder. But the
4 circumstances were lost in the closed and silence that characterises the outlaw environment and its outcasts. It was impossible to get clear or adequate answers.
A month and a half after Jønke's involuntary exit, I went to Spain to meet with George Christie. As the longest-serving president in HA's history and former number two in the club's international hierarchy, he should, if anyone, be able to sit in Jonkes place and assess how he was doing. In addition, due to his role as the organization's long-standing peacemaker par excellence, he had a special first-hand knowledge of the
5 Danish branch of HA and several of the country's prominent profiles. I will come back to that. Our meeting took place one rainy morning in a depopulated hotel bar marked by corona restrictions. Christie was welcoming and not a man who wastes his time. From the first second, he floated over with anecdotes and named the countless celebrities he has met and forged friendships with over a long life on both sides of the law. From Hells Angels icon Ralph "Sonny" Barger to Hollywood star Mickey Rourke. The setting, however, offered anything but familiarity and immersion, and even after 15
6 minutes, Christie suggested that the conversation could continue less formal conditions in his fashionable apartment a stone's throw away. Here he settled into a well-upholstered sofa overlooking the sea, asked interestedly about the current development in Denmark in the hope of understanding what was going on. He repeatedly stressed that, unlike Jønke, he had voluntarily chosen to leave his club after 35 years as president of the infamous Ventura chapter. Nevertheless, over the next several hours he did not hesitate to compare his own situation with that of the Dane.
7 Christie described the breakup he had experienced himself, and the Danish rocker now had to live through as emotional. He compared it to a divorce and even estimated that after so many years in HA, symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome could be developed by being excluded from the biker community.
George Christie's own life is inextricably linked to HA's history. He was born in 1947, the year before the club was founded. The seed of the dream of putting the winged skull on his back and cultivating free life on two
8 wheels already began to sprout in the Californian when he was a teenager. Specifically, one day in 1956 when he saw a biker holding a red light on his Harley- Davidson. When the light changed to green, the guy put the motorcycle into gear, he turned the throttle to the bottom and drove to the sound of the engine roar. The sight took Christie and almost sealed his fate. From that moment on, he aspired to be able to call himself an angel. Nine years later, he was admitted as a probationary member and began his career in the organization. This was
9 around the same time that Jønke acquired his first moped.
Exactly where the name Hells Angels comes from, there is disagreement. One explanation is that it is drawn from the eccentric playboy, flight pioneer and Hollywood director Howard Hughes' 1930 film Hell's Angels. It was the most expensive production of the time and was about the British Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. Another theory is that the organization was inspired by an American squadron that fought in China during World War II and called itself "Hell's Angels". The
10 name was painted on the snout of their planes.
Surely, on the other hand, the
promoters of the club were white veterans of The Second World War and rode Harley- Davidson motorcycles. Several of them had belonged to more or less randomly assembled groups of soldiers returning from overseas missions. They were restless and longed for the atmosphere of brotherhood, excitement, and fear they had lived in during their service. As compensation, they formed biker communities and created a new life in
11 which they sought out or even created the excitement on the Californian highways. The phenomenon became known to the public after a rally in the Californian city of Hollister in July 1947. Behind the event was the nonprofit American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), but the event also attracted hordes of adrenaline-hungry young men who got drunk and drove up and down the main street in a drunken state. The commotion put the police force in overdrive, and the trouble makers came into the media spotlight. According to the myth, a spokesperson for the AMA subsequently
12 distanced himself from the riots, saying that 99 percent of American motorcyclists are law-abiding citizens. The wild bikers embraced the idea and declared that they were the one percent who did not respect the rules of society. They wore the 1% patch as an accolade, called themselves outlaw bikers and gathered in cliques with their own rules. The groups evolved into gangs, of which POBOB – Pissed Off Bastards of Bloomington – was one of the more well-known and formed the rootstock of what, with the creation of the so-called Mother Chapter in
13 the San Bernardino area of California on March 17, 1948, became the Hells Angels. In 1954 and 1957, two more HA clubs opened in San Francisco and Oakland, which were later incorporated into the parent organization. The latter department was founded by Ralph "Sonny" Barger, who, by his own admission, was not aware of the existence of the original club – and in time would play a crucial role in George Christie's life.
Barger had grown upwith his grandparents in a tough Oakland neighborhood plagued with
14 drug problems and crime. According to his autobiography, Hell's Angel (2001), it was only the fear of needles that saved him from becoming an addict himself. At 16, he forged his birth certificate and joined the Army. Fourteen months later, the scam was discovered and Barger was kicked out. When he returned home, he started looking for a motorcycle club that lived up to his expectations. The model was the main character Johnny Strabler in the director László Benedek's film Wild One (1953). The role was played by Marlon Brando, and Barger meticulously copied the star's style of
15 clothing with Levi's jeans, white T-shirt with a pack of Camel cigarettes stuck up his sleeve, black boots and belt with silver buckle.
When he failed to find a suitable club, he and some mates decided to make their own. One of the friends, Don "Boots" Reeves, had a mark sewn on the back of his leather jacket. A skull with a pilot's helmet and wings. Boots suggested that they name themselves after the brand:
"Hells Angels". The 18-year-old Barger loved the idea. The name and brand were a perfect fit for them, he thought. Because that's what
16 they were: angels of hell. And it was here that the winged skull was dubbed Death Head.
In April 1957, the gang ordered the club's first back brands in a local shop that made sports trophies. It was only then that they became aware that there were other clubs of the same name in California. In addition to the name, the groups shared values and agreed to join forces. Each department - chapter - had its hometown added as the lower part of the brand on the west. The spread of what would become the
17 world's best-known and infamous motorcycle club was underway.
However, the organization only
became known to the public eight years later when California Attorney General Thomas C. Lynch issued a report on so-called outlaw motorcycle gangs and their "gangster activities". Lynch had spent six months investigating the bikers and especially HA, which by then had grown to have 446 members in the sunshine state. In addition, 438 other bikers were identified. They were organized into clubs such as Satan's Slaves, Coffin Cheaters, Outsiders, Cavaliers,
18 Comancheros, Iron Horsemen and Galloping Goose. The latter name was adopted in the 1970s by a Danish motorcycle club, which played a central role in the establishment of HA in Denmark.
The Outlaw bikers were not like the average American motorcyclist, Lynch concluded. They appeared in droves, armed, ravaged, raped and threatened people into silence. As a result, the police had difficulty obtaining witnesses when the bikers' cases went to trial and an explanation had to be
19 given. Many times the bikers ended up walking free. 874 arrests had led to only 300 convictions against 151 HA members. Only 85 of those convicted ended up in prison. In the eyes of the authorities, a dispiriting statistic, and as if it were not bad enough, the bikers took advantage of the time behind bars to strengthen their image by also performing brutally there.
Barger was one of those who had been
imprisoned, and according to the book Englenes deeds (1997) written by the late crime reporter and editor-in-chief of Ekstra Bladet, Ambro Kragh, the HA leader was
20 notorious for his brutality in prison. His philosophy was that if someone does something wrong to you, then don't make yourself a judge. Kill him first, and then let God be the one who judges," Kragh quotes one of Barger's former cellmates as saying. Thomas C. Lynch sent a list of named gang members to California police and shared his revelations about the biggest clubs with the media. A strategy that would be called spin today. The report contained startling details and received massive publicity. In March 1965, The New York Times described one of the recording rituals
21 Lynch had heard of from multiple sources. New members had to bring a woman or girl - called a sheep (sheep) - to a meeting. The sheep would then have to agree to have sexual intercourse with all members. It was not clear whether the
newspaper had sought out sources other than the report to have the information confirmed or denied. In August of that year, the punchy boyhood magazine The Man's Magazine published an article describing the bikers with equal parts fascination and horror: "They call themselves Hells Angels. They ride their machines, rape and steal like
22 a cavalry on raids – and they boast that no police force can destroy their motorcycle club. "
Attention to bikers and their lifestyles
inspired others to investigate the phenomenon. The year after the publication of the Attorney General's report, author Hunter S. Thompson made his debut with Hell's Angels (1966). The book was a journalistic tale in which the writer himself found himself in the middle of events, which was innovative at the time. The genre was nicknamed "gonzo" and formed a school for generations of writers worldwide. Thompson
23 had been following the HA from the San Francisco area for 12 months and had befriended several members from the Oakland club in particular, including Sonny Barger. After the release, however, the bikers felt exploited and believed that Thompson profited financially from their stories. Tensions culminated at a party where Thompson fell out of favor and was beaten up by a member called "Junkie George". This did not diminish the public interest, and random house publishing spoke diligently about the attack in further marketing. The book became a bestseller, Barger became
24 HA's public face, and the bikers were the subject of great fascination in the United States.
The stories about HA helped define the motorcycle lifestyle as one of the counter- and subcultures of the time. It symbolized freedom, excitement and fraternity, and it appealed to young men -- like George Christie, who was fascinated by the lifestyle and women who didn't want to live in the same predictable way as their parents with permanent jobs, suburban houses, two children and cars in the driveway. However, women were excluded from being admitted
25 as equals and could at most hope of gaining the status of so-called Old Lady by becoming a permanent girlfriend or wife of a full member.
In Hollywood, B-filmmakers exploited rocker culture in a string of so-called biker films such as director Roger Corman's The Wild Angels (1966) starring Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra as the outlaw rocker president "Heavenly Blues" and his girlfriend, "Mike" respectively. Today, Christie describes the films as "out of context". They were taken too literally by the audience of the time,he believes, but they nevertheless helped
26 establish a connection between the film industry and the outlaw bikers. As Christie explains in this book, friendships emerged between feted actors and outlaws, which today may seem outlandish. The films also helped spread the story of the Hells Angels outside the borders of the United States. Throughout the Western world, cliques emerged in which young men imitated the American idols, put homemade back marks on the denim vests and – for many – dreamed of one day joining the now international brotherhood.
At the end of the 1970s, HA was in its organization and culture so strong that it was possible to compare the club with global franchises such as 7-Eleven and McDonald's, where there are strict rules on how much each department may differ in, for example, interior design and product range across national borders. Members of the organisation, for example, had to wear the same kind of clothes, ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles and follow the club's code of honor, respect and fraternity. Thus also when Denmark was going on the club's world
28 map. Here, the now discarded Jønke was also at the forefront of the ranks.
Welcome 81, stood on a giant banner strung out on the façade of a Swiss mountain hotel, where he together with four other representatives from the Copenhagen prospec tclub MC Denmark spent the days between Christmas and New Year 1980. In addition to marking the coming turn of the year, the welcome greeting with one of the favorite abbreviations and number codes of the environment was the eighth and first letter of the alphabet, H and A. According to
29 Jønke's first autobiography My Life (1985), the delegation had travelled to the Alpine country to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the local HA's and to attend a meeting with an unspecic agenda. In addition, they crossed their fingers that during the stay they would be advancing from prospects to Full-Patch. The hopes should turn out not to be in vain. On New Year's Eve at 18:00, the Danes and 17 of their comrades at home were promoted to full members of the world's largest and most notorious biker club. Included as division number 40 worldwide with the right to wear the desired Death
30 Head on his back. The shooting of the 22 men was the culmination of a year-long trial. The four High Copenhagen biker clubs
Nomads, Dirty Angels, Iron Skulls and Galloping Goose had already joined forces in 1976. They formed the Union association to be stronger against the two rival groups Nøragersmindebanden and Filthy Few, which later merged under the name Bullshit. After a few years, the Union clubs, with the intervention of West German HA's, were admitted as aspirants under the name Galloping Goose MC before advancing to prospects.
The celebration of the final pass
continued with a celebration when Jønke and his comrades returned to the clubhouse in Titangade in Nørrebro a few days later. Those who still had old marks on the vests ripped them off in euphoria, although the club did not yet have complete patches for everyone. The broadcasters had only brought home five vests with marks from Switzerland. Members took turns wearing them while they waited for the rest to show up in the mail. All the brands were produced in the UNITED States and, referring to the older lady who hand-sewn them, were called 'Betty
32 patches'. However, the club's expansionary development in Europe, among others, made it difficult for her to keep up with demand. However, passers-by in Titangade did
not have to be in any doubt that the occupants of the white property were advanced. The clubhouse in the former workshop could now officially call itself "Angels' Place" and was provided with a man-high sign with a logo and name features between the shuttered windows. Inside, the walls were decorated with HA-related ornaments in countless shades.
From the very beginning, the Hells Angels turned out to be of an – in the Danish context – unprecedented calibration. The club quickly manifested itself as a professionalised, rule-bound and hierarchical group that was not only hostile to competitors, but actively sought to wipe them out. The rivals Bullshit, who conceded defeat and disbanded in 1988, succeeded, while in the 1990s the Great Nordic Biker War against the Bandidos claimed the lives of 11 people and injured 96- before the parties, after fighting each other with everything from firearms and hand grenades to car
34 bombs and anti-tank missiles with defense attorney Thorkild Høyer, reached a peace agreement. Which brings me back to George Christie and the special role that in late summer 1997 brought him extra close to the danish brothers at the time. Just over 23 years later, during our conversations in the apartment in Spain, he clearly remembered the fateful meeting with the warring Scandinavian clubs.
It took place in Spokane, which with its then 318,000 inhabitants was the second largest city in Washington state. It was also declared
35 HA territory. Nevertheless, the number of back marks in the streetscape on Thursday 7 August 1997 seemed unusually high. About 100 of the club's members from both the west and east coasts were present to attend a major rally - including the presidents of all the countries - to take part in a major meeting. In addition, several representatives from international departments as well as people from support clubs had turned up. However, a small group of both HA's and Bandidos members were not only there because of the meeting, but had an errand that they handled with great discretion. They
36 had set each other up at a local breakfast restaurant, which they thoroughly searched for eavesdropping equipment, before any of the up to eight representatives from each club walked in the door. Among them – and as the only Danes – was the HA profile Blondie and the Bandidos' then Danish president, Jim Tinndahn. Both were as members of international biker clubs by definition barred from entering the United States, but with the intervention of Danish police they had been equipped with special visas by the American Federal Police, the FBI. It was a prerequisite that the service was
37 informed in the early hours of departure and flight number so that they could monitor them.
Prior to their arrival at the venue, local
biker leaders had been provided with a phone number for a "federal service" that they could call if local police tried to interfere with the event. The agenda consisted of one item: the negotiation of a peace agreement between the two clubs in Denmark and the consequent unproblematic coexistence in the Nordic countries. From the American side, both clubs had sent their heaviest dealers. George Christie led the HA
38 delegation. In addition to being president of Ventura California, he was ranked only under Sonny Barger who was conspicuously absent.
Known for his diplomatic skills, he had
previously been the club's preferred negotiator during disagreements with other 1% clubs such as Mongols, Pagans, Outlaws and Bandidos. He knew that lasting solutions to conflicts had to be found at the negotiating table and not with firearms. Christie was a peacemaker- and he was the one who showed up at the negotiating table in Spokane - sent a clear signal of how
39 seriously Hells Angels' international organization took the conflict in Denmark. To match Christie, the Bandidos had
sent the later world president - 'El Presidente' - George Wegers. In addition to having a big voice in his own organization, Wegers swung well with Christie. They each belonged to their own club, but had respect for each other.
"Listen to me. There is room for everyone, and we have the same common enemy: the police. But because of the war, we lose members who are imprisoned or die.
40 You have to prepare to one day put the conflict behind you," Christie began.
They were anything but responsive. "We're not going to give up. We're
going to kill them all," one said.
Christie, in his own words, tried to be
diplomatic: "You're not going to kill all Bandidos members. That's not going to happen."" He then questioned the Danes about their views on the conflict and the prospect of peace. Blondie already knew him, and Christie regarded him as intelligent, strategic and probably the most powerful HA in
41 Europe. Tinndahn knew less about, but he remembers him as "less sophisticated, but very dedicated". Christie was aware that grief and vengeance after losses and humiliations from the conflict could play a role in the Danes' way of acting. After all, they had big egos. He was also aware that a sudden peace could be a bitter pill to swallow for those members who had fought and paid with their freedom. Therefore, he put the situation into perspective with an example from his own life.
"There's a guy from my chapter who's in jail for blowing up two Mongols. I feel torn
42 because while he's serving time for the two killings, Mongols are visiting me in the clubhouse to negotiate peace. You have to realize that one day this will stop, and you're going to have to drop that rhetoric with the fact that it's going to last forever," Christie explained.
As the meeting progressed, it seemed as if the dialogue was becoming increasingly constructive. There was talk that the two clubs could merge, and according to Christie, at one point Wegers suggested retaining HA's name and incorporating the Bandidos' colors, red and yellow. The idea was controversial,
43 because name and colors are central and inseparable symbol elements of a club. American bikers are happy to mention the marks on their vests under the collective name colors. It was also the subject of the proposal, but the dialogue was in itself a step forward. Still, Christie didn't dare make false hopes.
"Right now you sound sensible, but when you get home, hate breaks out again," he said.
"Yes, unless we reach an agreement,"
the Danes replied in agreement.
After nearly five hours of negotiations, the company was preparing to break up. Christie felt there was a mutual understanding between the parties, and he had a clear sense that they were ready to make a peace deal on the ground.
"But then they had to talk on the
phone with Thorkild Høyer," recalls Christie, who thought he was a politician. He didn't have the imagination to imagine that it was a defense attorney acting as a mediator. In his view, this could never take place in the United States.
"It seemed like he had his own agenda. That he wanted them to wait until they got home," Christie said.
According to Høyer, the explanation was that it was important that a peace agreement was communicated in such a way that everyone in the environment listened and understood the message. Supporters and other sympathizers in particular were known to be combative and unruly, and it would be disastrous if someone acted on their own because they had not perceived that the conflict was over.
46 Before the parties parted ways in Spokane, it was agreed to extend the ceasefire and hold another meeting two weeks later, but the day before, HA canceled. They didn't think there was anything more to talk about. A few days later, the club then turned up the rhetoric further, declaring that there was no basis for extending the ceasefire or for further talks. HA did not believe that the Bandidos were seriously committed to reaching an agreement. Every hope seemed to be out.
After Blondie and Tinndahn went home, Christie's phone rang. It was a
47 reporter from The Washington Post newspaper.
"Is this George Christie?" "And ..." The journalist asked some questions
about the war in Scandinavia.
"I don't really know anything," Christie replied. He was surprised that someone from the press had gotten wind of the meeting. "Did you meet with the Bandidos from the U.S. and Europe and HA from Europe in Washington, D.C.?"
Christie knew that it was the straight path to getting into trouble in HA to talk over
48 this in the media. He decided to take the reporter at his word.
"No, I have never met with anyone in
D.C.," he said without lying, since the meeting had taken place in Washington state and not the capital of the United States. Christie waited for the next question, but no more were asked.
Back in Denmark, the situation appeared to be deadlocked. Hells Angels had slowed down negotiations, and within the club people joked that Blondie had at least got a great trip to the States. But exactly a month
49 after HA extinguished hopes for peace, a deal still appeared to fall into place. The parties agreed to send a representative from each department to a meeting on Thursday 25 September 1997 at 12 noon. The meeting took place at Karlebo Kro in North Zealand, which for the occasion was discreetly guarded by plainclothes agents from the Police Intelligence Service. In total, about 20 representatives from the two clubs participated, who over the past 18 months had fought each other throughout Scandinavia.
The men took their seats on a large table, and as the day progressed, they approached each other. The main points were which cities the two clubs had to have branches in and which were prohibited areas. In addition, it was essential not to record each other's members. The parties ended up reaching an agreement, and the mood eased from earnest to cheerful. Everyone was relieved that the disputes appeared to be over.
At 9 p.m. that evening, TV-Avis presented an outstanding performance that went down in
51 Danish tv and rocker history. For rolling camera, Blondie and Tinndahn marched into an anonymous-looking room with eggshell yellow walls and a yucca palm in the corner behind a table with three microphones lined up for the occasion. They sat down and shook hands that a " cooperation agreement "had now been concluded. Leaving aside leather vests and tattoos, it looked like the transmission of a peace process in the Middle East or Northern Ireland. During the interview, however, the two rocker profiles stressed that neither of them wanted to put the word "peace " in their mouths, as it
52 indicated that there had been a conflict. They wouldn't acknowledge that.
"The message is that now we are
working together to avoid the confrontations that have taken place," Tinndahn said.
'We can't give guarantees that there will be no more incidents, but we can take an active part in making sure that the people who step outside that cooperation agreement are excluded from our biker culture. That's what we can promise," Blondie added.
None of them wanted to elaborate on what the agreement entailed, but posterity
53 showed that the clubs had actually made a geographical breakdown, so the larger cities belonged to HA, while the Bandidos stayed out in the countryside. Whether the parties had actually been prepared to conclude the agreement in Spokane, or the following month's tug-of-war was a necessary part of the process, peace proved long-lasting. Christie was right that the solution should be found at the negotiating table and that the Danish HA's would not destroy the Bandidos.
I have been asked several times why it is important to deal with the history of Hells
54 Angels. Aren't bikers - and for that matter gang members - just some callous criminals who are better off being pinned to death? I do not think that is the case . The History also shows that it is not possible.
Since HA and bandidos made peace in
1997, the two biker clubs have had to tolerate the growth of new gangs such as Loyal To Familia, Satudarah, Gremium and NNV. To name but a few. The newer groups are not imported from the United States, and their identity is virtually never linked to the use of motorcycles. But in many areas they have copied the organisational structure and
55 expression of the bikers with backmarks, local branches, quota payment and a strict culture of obedience. Like the traditional biker clubs, they offer a kind of subcultural recognition and an ultra-mascultural community, where it is the notion of unconditional loyalty that determines the value and status with which one is surrounded. According to author and sociologist Aydin Soei, H-1000 is a glaring paradox:
"On the one hand, members and the best organized gangs promote themselves outwardly as freedom-loving outlaws and
56 outcasts, which do not want to be bound by the conformity of society. However, this contrasts with the fact that the individual's membership of the criminal organisation is conditional on him being able to say 'yes' to an internal culture of obedience, where the club's hierarchical rules must be strictly followed. Membership is therefore not an expression of individual freedom," he writes in the book Rockers and Gang Members in Denmark (2019).
George Christie's comparison of exiting
to a divorce isn't entirely skewed either. Rocker or gang life can best be described as
57 being married to your club. It is always the club first and the member's primary loyalty belongs to the club. It also means that everything else is downgraded, which Christie himself reflects on in detail in the depiction of his first marriage. The more he got involved in life with his brothers, the harder it became to maintain a relationship or, for that matter, friendships outside the environment. Outsiders were opting out, because they had difficulty being familiar with or condoning the outlaw lifestyle. In April 2021, 1.238 people were registered as affiliated with a biker or gang
58 group with Danish police. In the first three months of the year, they were charged with 1,916 criminal offences, the Narcotics Act or the Firearms Act. The previous year, 16 people lost their lives as a result of clashes in the gang scene. This was one more than the number of fatalities during the first two biker wars on Danish soil combined. Taleasily breaks all previous records in a sad statistic, and the development emphasizes that it is more relevant than ever to take the biker gang problem seriously. Any understanding of the present and future begins with history.