As George Rowe freely admits, he would never be mistaken for an angel. When he saw his hometown of Hemet, California being taken over by the Vagos motorcycle gang though, he became incensed. And when an acquintance of his disappeared after an altercation with them, Rowe decided to take action. His story is detailed in the new Gods of Mischief: My Undercover Vendetta to Take Down the Vagos Outlaw Motorcycle Gang.
Outlaws have always fascinated the American public. There is the ongoing mystique of figures such as Jesse James or Billy the Kid in the old West. Then came the gangsters such as Al Capone, or the bank-robbing duo of Bonnie and Clyde. The outlaw biker gangs appeared after World War II, and the first celluloid celebration of them was The Wild One (1951), starring Marlon Brando. The Hell’s Angels’ legend was sealed with Hunter S. Thompson’s first masterpiece, The Hells Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga.
Thompson’s book was published in 1967, and one of the first things I noticed about Rowe’s experience was how little had changed since then. Becoming a member has always been about fitting in. Although the author had given up dealing and using drugs 10 years prior to this, he seemed like a worthy Vagos prospect. As a matter of fact, he had been approached previously by various members about joining them. He looked and acted the part, which is what counted the most.
Still, there is an initiation process, and some of the things Rowe was forced to do were pretty funny. The first step for a prospect is to be a “hang around.” The hang-around guy is not a member, but is expected to jump in if there is any trouble, and to do whatever a full-fledged Vagos tells him to do. One particularly memorable episode occurred at an outdoor party. Rowe was told to stand on the top of a Porta-Potty, and sing the pledge song. While he was up there, the thing started rocking, and quickly tipped over. Rowe landed on the wrong side, and the contents of the makeshift toilet flowed all over him.
After seven months, he became a patched member of the club. Now that he was in, he would be a part of all Vagos business. Because of Rowe’s previous experience dealing drugs, he and his handler decided that focusing on illegal guns would be the best idea. He was wired up for the meetings, and was understandably a bit nervous at first. Another memorable moment comes when he and the rest of the guys are being checked by a presumably high-priced security expert. The “expert” passes a wand over the fully-wired Rowe, (who is scared to death he is going to be caught), and announces him “clear.”
Just to make things a bit more interesting, Rowe was living with a crazy single mother. Before he went under, he was advised by just about everybody to cut her loose. As he mentions a few times, he did not really think through the fact that their lives would be forever intertwined by his actions. When the bust went down, nobody would believe that she was unaware of his undercover life. She really had no choice but to go into the witness protection program with him, even though she was incensed to find out what he had actually been doing. She considered herself a Vagos “old lady.”
Gods of Mischief is a fascinating book, and features a number of amusing situations that could only have happened in the biker world. Rowe’s evidence led to the arrest of 25 Vagos members on various charges. As he notes at the conclusion though, it is as if what he did never happened, as far as the Vagos are concerned. It seems they have bounced back, and are as strong as ever. They even have a new chapter in Hemet. Rowe, his girlfriend, and her daughter are now in the witness protection program, and completely cut off from their former lives.
I have read a number of books about men who have gone undercover, and usually feel very little sympathy for them in the end. In every other case I have come across, it was either a guy who had been caught, and had turned, or was a cop. Rowe’s experience in Gods of Mischief is completely different. He had done plenty of bad things in his life, and had done time for them. But in this case, he volunteered, because he wanted to rid his hometown of the Vagos. Even though he was warned by his handlers about what he was going into, he ignored them, and went ahead.
It is hard not to admire the man, and feel for his plight today. He can never go back, and the Vagos have already rebounded from the 2006 bust. Nobody ever said life is fair, but at least George Rowe tried to make a difference. No matter what, his decision to go in was incredibly courageous. He lays out the whole story in Gods of Mischief, and it is a wild tale.