When George Christie was a kid in California in the mid 1950s, he caught sight for the first time of a long-haired, denim-jacketed biker, and knew that life was for him. By the late 60s, after a stint as a reservist with the Marines, Christie was hanging out with the Questions Marks and Satan Slaves, two California outlaw motorcycle clubs that lived in the shadow of the elite: the Hells Angels. The Angels were the top of the food chain in outlaw-bike culture, and it was Christie's dream to join the infamous club, a prospect he often likens to running away and joining the circus.
By the mid 70s, Christie had realized that dream, and in his forthcoming book, Exile on Front Street: My Life as a Hells Angel, and Beyond, he describes his roughly four decades with the most notorious biker club in American history. From founding the Ventura, California, charter to carrying the Olympic Torch in the Los Angeles games to starring in his own History Channel series, Outlaw Chronicles, Christie emerged as perhaps the definitive (if controversial) public face for a deeply polarizing group.
So it isn't exactly shocking that he ran into some trouble with the law along the way. Among other things, Christie was charged with orchestrating a murder for hire involving the leader of the Mexican Mafia prison gang, before eventually being acquitted in 1987. And in 2011, he was arrested over the firebombing of rival tattoo parlors four years earlier, pleading guilty to one charge and doing about a year in prison. It was around this time that Christie says he decided to leave the organization he called home—a split that quickly got ugly, with rumors swirling that he was forced out after turning government informant.
VICE chatted with Christie to learn what it was like to be a Hells Angel, why they parted ways, and how his life has changed since.
VICE: What was it about the Hells Angels and outlaw motorcycle clubs in general that was so attractive to you in the first place?
George Christie: I felt there was really a code of honor despite what society at-large would think. These were guys I could trust. I knew if I confided in them or told them something, they wouldn't take it and use it against me. It was very esoteric and closed, and once you were accepted and people knew who you were, you had a real family and an extended home. I could go anywhere in California, and I always had a couch to sleep on, a place to work on my bike.
It was like one continuous party—and I'm not talking about being intoxicated all of the time. We were coming out of the 60s into the 70s, and that whole counterculture thing was kind of unhinging. Here was a group of individuals who had rules and regulations that you had to adhere to, all about honor and self-respect and discipline. A lot of people might find that hard to believe, but that's what it was all about.
You were once the yin to [Hells Angels leader] Sonny Barger's yang—a key part of the group as a prominent spokesman. How did that relationship deteriorate?
There was a period when I really looked up to Sonny. But one of the things that I felt was really interesting was the first time I went to prison, I went to FCI Terminal Island and asked one of the brothers on the yard, "Who do we have a problem with in here?" and he said, "We don't fight in prison."
Clubs that we were fighting with on the streets we didn't have a problem with inside—in fact, we would interact with them. So when I got out in '87, I started reaching out to a lot of the different clubs, negotiating truces with the Outlaws, the Bandidos, the Mongols. I even talked to the Pagans a few times. That was my vision, and I think Sonny's interest didn't go beyond his own little orbit.
Why did you ultimately sever ties with the club?
I felt we became the people we rebelled against, and that's exactly what I told them at the meeting when I left. At one time, we would interact with all the clubs up and down the coast, and by 2011, we were fighting every major outlaw-bike club in the United States—plus law enforcement. That's where some people lost perspective of what the initial intent was of the whole outlaw lifestyle. It seemed more military, like an army fighting another army.
Was it always your plan to write a book about your time with the Angels, and did you anticipate blowback?
After my departure from the club in 2011, there was a lot of misinformation going on about me. I had [formally] quit the club. I went to the meeting, and I did it the way you're supposed to, followed protocol, faced everybody, and I said I think we have different visions and I'm going to call it a day, and I took my patch off, folded it up, put it on the table, and everybody seemed to understand my position. And then a couple of weeks later, I think, Sonny Barger was instrumental in getting my status changed. I got a phone call that I was no longer "out in good standing"—I was "out bad" with no contact.
They went on a campaign to shame me in social media, and all of a sudden I had people I've never met before, who weren't even club members, who were maybe who you'd call loose associates or fans or whatever, coming at me, making accusations and whatnot. I decided to set the record straight.
Is that the extent of how ugly it got—some broken friendships?
If they want to say I'm "out bad," I don't have a problem with that, but they're also inferring that I am an informant, which is absolutely not true. If I am, who did I testify against, and what trials did I testify at? There's no paperwork on me. The US attorneys sealed my case files [over the allegations of arson and conspiracy to commit arson against rival tattoo parlors] because there are ten informants in it. From that point on, all the records were sealed. They seal cases all the time, and I was the only one who went to jail.
What's the big deal about being "out bad?" It sounds like it's still hanging over you.
Being "out bad" with no contact in the outlaw-motorcycle world is like a stigma—they don't want people interacting with you, they don't want people talking to you. Club members who I was friendly with after I left had their memberships in jeopardy if they communicated with me.
When I left, it kind of reminded me of a divorce: At first, everyone wanted to be amiable. They weren't happy about my decision, but they understood it. As things progressed, it became aggressive, and it was hard to take. The phone rings and you pick up, and it's one of your former brothers and he tells you you're no longer a friend to us. That's my whole life, because I didn't have many friends outside the club. It was a hard pill to swallow.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Check out Christie's book, which drops September 20, here.
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