The new and improved America has no shame. Shame, to paraphrase a T.S. Eliot character, is now nothing but an obsolete response.
And, although this is still only February, the obvious winner of the Shameless Jackass of the Year Award for 2009 can already be named. We need look no further. Jay Dobyns is clearly a more shameless, self-dramatizing barrel of hogwash than either Bernie Madoff or the OctoMom.
Fact! Bernie Madoff never partied with motorcycle outlaws! Fact! The OctoMom got 14 kids without ever playing with a single gun! Fact! Dobyns dissed whole confederations of outlaw motorcycle clubs and strutted around Arizona for a year and a half with a pair of Glock 19s sticking out of his urban camouflage pants!
But wait! There’s more!
A South Carolina sheriff named Leon Lott almost became a finalist last week. Lott employed SWAT teams to arrest seven fairly normal college students. The South Carolina Seven’s real crime was that they had accidently stumbled into Sheriff Lott’s movie but, formally, they are accused of partying with celebrity Olympian and bong aficionado Michael Phelps. So close.
Lott’s supporters point out that he has publically bragged for decades that he intends for his police work to be seen as an homage to a fictional detective named Sonny Crockett. Crockett was a character in the mid-1980s television sensation Miami Vice. So very close.
But, fact! Just last week the now bitter and disillusioned Dobyns told the Tucson Citizen, “I thought I could be the next Sonny Crockett!” Wrap it up. Dobyns gets the award.
Dobyns Won’t Shut Up
No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey To The Inner Circle Of The Hells Angels, published last week by Crown Books, is the fourth retelling of Jay Dobyns’ role in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) “Operation Black Biscuit.” The idea of Black Biscuit was to catch various members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club breaking the law.
And, naïve people, who mostly know the world from tasting and sniffing various flavors of Tha Newz, probably think that catching the Angels breaking the law is sort of like catching ducks in the act of quacking. But, Black Biscuit proved that not to be so.
So, people with their minds still stuck in the old, unimproved America might think that Dobyns’ many interesting adventures merit, like at the most…what… maybe just one book?
But, fact! Former ATF Agent Dobyns just won’t shut up! At least not until he gets his million dollars, or his ten million dollars, or whatever the going rate is for being a celebrity hero these days.
Versions 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, etc.
In 2006, Julian Sher and William Marsden wrote a very unflattering portrait of the Hells Angels called Angels of Death and Operation Black Biscuit, starring Jay Dobyns, occupies about 150 pages of that book. The investigation, starring Dobyns, was the subject of Kerrie Droban’s slightly more skeptical 2007 book, Running With The Devil. In 2008, the National Geographic Channel produced a one hour documentary about Dobyns’ exploits. Dobyns has also been featured on America’s Most Wanted, Anderson Cooper 360 and The History Channel. And, now it is a new year so there must be a new book.
This book, which Dobyns “co-wrote” with Nils Johnson-Shelton, was sold more than a year ago under the clumsier title Almost Angels: The True Story of the First Cop to Infiltrate the Hells Angels-the World’s Most Infamous and Impenetrable Motorcycle Gang. But Almost Angels, unfortunately, turned out to be the title of a 1962 Disney documentary about the Vienna Boy’s Choir and today’s shameless authors have never been more aware that above all, their first obligation is to sell the secondary and tertiary rights.
Remember people. It isn’t about the property. It’s about the synergy.
Next The Movie
So next year, expect the movie. The film rights have allegedly been “sold,” which is much more serious in Hollywood than a mere “option,” to Twentieth Century Fox. That studio, owned by the same conglomerate responsible for the execrable Sons of Anarchy, has been trying to produce a big movie about the Hells Angels for almost a decade. The highly regarded action director Tony Scott (Top Gun, Crimson Tide, Last Boy Scout) was attached to a Fox film about the Angels in 2001 but the project fell through.
Steve Gaghan, who directed Syriana and won an Oscar for the screenplay of Traffic wrote the top frontis page blurb in this book. So, it might be reasonable to conclude that not only has Steve heard of this property but he really likes it, too.
Gaghan is often associated with a cinematic style called “hyperlink cinema.” You have seen this style of film even if you think the name is mumbo-jumbo. The Motion Picture Academy loves films that are made this way. So, No Angel, which is much more scenic and cinematic than previous tellings of Dobyns’ tale, will probably next be told on a big screen in overexposed shades of blue and brown, with minimal character arc, long expository speeches by the cops and extremely violent action sequences featuring low-life bikers with extravagant mustaches and unkempt beards.
Who knows? Two years from now you could be seeing Jay Dobyns at the Oscars. Such are the rewards of being the most shameless jackass of them all.
Those just now hearing about Dobyns for the first time need to know that Agent Jay was posing as a freelance gun dealer in Bullhead City, Arizona in the Spring of 2002. Dobyns was pretending to one of those gun dealers who doesn’t always make you fill out a form and show two kinds of ID. Bullhead City is the width of the Colorado River from the Laughlin, Nevada strip and when the great biker brawl of ought two broke out in Harrahs in the early morning hours of April 27 Dobyns, as he tells it, was practically an eyewitness. He was only about a mile away.
That deadly fight, between members of the Angels and members of the Mongols Motorcycle Club prompted the ATF to launch an uncover investigation. The investigation later incorporated the brutal murder of woman named Cynthia Garcia. Garcia was reportedly beaten at the Hells Angels Mesa Clubhouse, thrown into a car trunk and murdered in the desert outside town. In an attempt to conceal her identity the three Angels who killed her are said to have tried to behead her and gruesomely failed.
Dobyns was chosen to infiltrate the Arizona Angels because he had some previous experience with outlaw motorcyclists. He had a small role in the enormously botched investigation of the Sons Of Silence Motorcycle Club in Colorado Springs two and a half years before.
Sons Of Silence Case
Dobyns implies he had a major role in that case although public records say he did not. Dobyns calls the Sons “a minor biker gang in Colorado Springs.” At the time the indictments were announced United States Attorney Tom Strickland called them “a major outlaw motorcycle gang.”
Whatever they were the case was a text book case of a sloppy and half-assed law enforcement.
Of 42 people arrested, 21 turned out to not belong to the Sons at all. Eight motorcycles were seized without any warrant and returned vandalized. One of the bikes had “ATF” scratched into the paint. The ATF vandalized houses and was held accountable by the courts. One indictment centered around a bar fight which Dobyns now claims to have provoked. Cases against most of the defendants were quickly dismissed. Most of those to stand trial were quickly acquitted.
Evidence was suppressed because it had been improperly obtained or fabricated. One defense attorney, David Lane, called the case “indicative of a very slipshod job on the part of the government.”
Larry Pozner, a former head of the American Criminal Defense Bar said the case epitomized taking, “relatively minor offenses and trumpet(ing) them as the crime of the century. This is garden variety stuff made to sound like a major law enforcement coup.”
Bad, Bad Jay Dobyns
Operation Black Biscuit was similarly half-assed. Dobyns claims he bought a charter in the Solo Angeles CM, a motorcycle club with chapters in southern California and northern Baja Mexico, for $500. Dobyns did everything he could to impress and ingratiate himself to many Hells Angels in Arizona. Some outlaws took Dobyns to be what he claimed to be-an unlicensed gun dealer and free lance thug-and they trusted him.
Over and over Dobyns tells his readers that he was able to accomplish this because bikers are stupid and he is smart, because Hells Angels are evil and he is good.
The fact of the matter of course, as even ordinary citizens know, is that outlaw motorcycle clubs are a refuge for wounded, working class men. Blake Miller, the so-called “Marlboro Marine” is the most famous recent example of this. A photo of a very weary Miller smoking a cigarette ran in many American newspapers. The photo was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. And, before he even knew of his celebrity the young man had been made into an icon of America’s determination to win in Iraq.
When Miller came home, he started riding with an outlaw club called the Kentucky Highwaymen Motorcycle Club. Many of the Highwaymen, as is the case with all outlaw clubs, are combat veterans.
Dobyns Fools His Friends
Dobyns knows very well who he betrayed. In one scene, for example, he buys guns from a Hells Angel who won two Silver Stars in Vietnam. Clearly, whatever one may think of the Hells Angels or scooter trash in general, what was going on here was that numerous Hells Angels were trying to help Dobyns: Help him do his slightly shady business, earn a living, find a girlfriend, get loaded, have some fun and stay safe in the nasty world of the white, American underclass.
Fearsome though outlaw motorcycle clubs may be to the general public, the great hold they have over their members is not fear but love. Love heals all. And the attraction of a club like the Hells Angels is that the Angels can make a lost man found. Obviously the Angels saw something in Dobyns that he has not yet, to this day, seen in himself.
Jay Dobyns is not exactly what you might call introspective. The closest he comes to self insight is a sudden, blinding satori while listening to Lyrnyrd Skynard’s 70s track “Freebird.”
“I’m just like the guy in ‘Freebird,'” Dobyns confesses to all of us, “who cannot stay, who cannot change, and whose Lord knows he cannot change.” Makes you think, huh?
This “Freebird” thing must have been what Steve Gaghan meant when he touted this book as a way to “understand the harrowing emotional realities of long-term undercover work.”
Is This Story Even Remotely True
The story of the hero Jay Dobyns has been refined and polished with each retelling over the last four years and it is fascinating to see how the story has evolved.
In earlier accounts Dobyns is terrified of motorcycles and a major impediment to his credibility is the fact that he can barely ride. Then, in No Angel, Dobyns brags of riding through the Phoenix rush hour at 95 miles an hour in a pack of motorcycles with the bikes just 18 inches apart. An actual outlaw, may discretely raise his eyebrows. An actual Phoenix commuter may politely clear his throat.
But it sounds good. Doesn’t it sound good?
This book is stitched together with a thousand little lies and distortions and obvious fabrications that make the story sound cogent and that one cannot note without seeming petty. Distances between points on a map are routinely doubled. The difficulty of certain motorcycle rides is grossly exaggerated. The way men conduct themselves in the outlaw world is distorted for dramatic effect.
Whole chains of restaurants are described as lousy. Whole categories of men are described as phonies. The features of individual men and women are distorted to make them seem grotesque.
Everywhere he goes Dobyns is terrified because that sounds good. Everywhere he goes other men are terrified of him because that also sounds good. There is not a single passage about what the wind feels like on a Harley.
The Exciting Life Of Jay
Real bikers go to biker events that are as banal, in their own way, as fantasy football or band camp. Long ago, Hunter Thompson began the long media stalking of the Hells Angels by noticing that same thing: How ordinary outlaws are, except that in the midst of lives of disappointment and frustration these are men who have joined one of a handful of very exclusive clubs.
Dobyns, on the other hand, is the most confidant man who ever lived and he goes to biker events with disco balls, where professional announcers proclaim:
“‘This is Good Time Charlie the Outlaw DeeJay here to tell you we got more Heeeeeellllllssssss Angeeeeeellllllssssss in the Housssssssssssse-ah!’ Spotlights hit the entrance as we walked in. ‘Baaaaaaad Bahhhhhhhhhhb! And his Angels broooooohhhhhhhhsssss!!!!!!’ The crowd, which was respectable but not enormous, parted like the Red Sea for Moses.”
In another movie ready scene, in front of at least 100 witnesses: “…in a fluid motion, Joby turned on her, unholstered a hip-belt .380 semiauto, and pushed it into her forehead. She stopped talking and went cross-eyed. Joby barked in a sudden, deep tenor, ‘Bitch, I will kill you if you do not leave me and my brothers alone right now!'”
Doesn’t that sound great? Won’t that look great in over-exposed sepia tones?
Jay Winds Up Unemployed And Not Even Dead
After Operation Black Biscuit concluded Dobyns was transferred to more mundane ATF duties and he was unable to adjust. A CNN tribute to Dobyns last year suggested that his bosses saw him as a troublemaker and a malcontent.
Dobyns claimed his undercover mission, his great adventure, was not yet over because the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club was planning to kill him and rape his daughter. He has never revealed how he learned of these threats. But in general, the alleged threats against him have been accepted as fact by every author who has recounted Dobyns’ story.
“There was a murder contract on me and there was what was called a green light list, which was circulating in the prison, which was a list of people that various gangs wanted killed,” Dobyns told CNN last year.
The ATF was unable to substantiate the threats. Dobyns demanded to be transferred. The ATF transferred him. About the time Angels of Death came out Dobyns demanded to be relocated and protected in the ATF’s own version of the Federal Witness Protection Program. The ATF refused to do that.
As Dobyns cases fizzled in court Dobyns publically claimed it wasn’t his fault. The ATF was making him a scapegoat. “When defense lawyers lambasted me as a dirty cop, no one at ATF stepped up and represented for me,” Dobyns complained to the Tucson Weekly.
In 2006 Dobyns filed an 83-page grievance complaining that the ATF had falsely accused him of being psychologically unfit for police work and a fraud. He also complained that he was a hero who had been unfairly denied a Medal of Valor.
Late in 2007, Dobyns sued the ATF for $3.3 million claiming that the ATF’s “incompetence” put him in danger. He also accused the ATF of “mismanagement, retaliation, harassment and defamation.”
Last August, just as the Phoenix housing market was sinking, somebody set fire to a bookshelf on Dobyns’ back porch. Dobyns was out of town at the time of the blaze.
The day after the incident, the fire was reported to have caused about $30,000 damage. The same accounts say that the rear of the home was “damaged.” Recently Dobyns has stated that the fire actually did $300,000 damage and that his home was “totally destroyed.”
Shortly after the porch fire, Dobyns amended his suit against the ATF to ask for an additional $800,000 in damages. He cited the fire as proof that someone was out to get him and that the ATF was doing nothing to protect him.
That same day Dobyns was named as a suspect in the arson.
What We Have Here
What we have here, in Dobyns’ own words, is “the best of my memory, but where my memory failed, Nils’s (sic) creative and descriptive abilities filled the void.” This might have been a better book if more of the void was filled with something approaching truth -at the least artistic truth.
For example, in a scene about a quarter of the way through the book that is both cinematic and unrealized, Dobyns goes to buy a gun at a run down house in Apache Junction. Apache Junction is a crumbling suburb on the eastern edge of the Phoenix sprawl and the people Dobyns meets there are loathsome, white trash, meth addicts-stupid, oafish, unlike the heroic Dobyns, undeserving of compassion or respect.
One of them is a little boy named Dale and Dale’s only toy is a used tire. It could be a fine scene. It is sure to make a memorable image in the movie.
And, everybody who has ever actually strolled through the outlaw world knows this white trash kid. Some fraction of bikers were that kid so all of us know what that kid does next. He gets a hammer and he starts to beat that tire, over and over until his hands bleed, and he never stops pounding until he dies.
That little, white trash boy has been the dark angel of an imperfect America since before the Civil War. Mark Twain called him Huckleberry. Steven Crane, Jack London, Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis and John Steinbeck all wrote movingly, hopefully and truthfully about that child.
A poet you might not know, a friend of Robert Frost, a suffragette with a name that now sounds ridiculous, Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn, wrote four perfect lines about that child’s great-grandfather and his great-grandfather’s sister and cousin: The golf links lie so near the mill/ That almost every day/ The laboring children can look out/ And see the men at play.
Jay Dobyns and his ghost writer let it go with: “I added myself to the long list of people who had abandoned him.”
Blame Oprah Not Jay
In defense of Jay Dobyns, it must be said that he is not the worse thing to happen to America in the last few decades. Like, take the environment. We are running out of trees.
So, while in the past poems and novels may have been the spells that conjured up the American dream, there is now no longer paper enough to publish such blatantly artistic things. We must now save all available paper for the publication of the most recently invented literary form-the fabricated memoir.
Dobyns book is one of literally dozens of these enhanced hard-luck stories to be published in the last 12 months. And as is increasingly the case, our supreme leader, the omnipotent Oprah Winfrey is up to her neck in this. Oprah, after all, gave us self-proclaimed tough guy James Frey. Last year she gave us a tough girl named Margaret B. Jones and a kind of a pathetic, old romantic named Herman Rosenblat. Liars every one of them. Liars all.
Shame isn’t the only obsolete virtue in the streamlined, post-modern United States. Shame, truth, trees, your house, your retirement account? They are all gone. Pride, honor, self-reliance, competence? All gone. Art? Gone. We are all finished.
Well, not all.
And Oprah Speaks
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard the Steamship Titanic. Our honorary Captain for the next three minutes will be the famous hero, good guy, suspected arsonist and likely lunatic Jay Dobyns. And here to introduce this fool, give it up for Oprah Winfrey!
“Thank you everyone. Thank you! Thank you! I love you too! Just a few announcements. I want you to know that seats are still available in the life boats for a nominal fee of $1 million. That’s per seat, not per family. So as soon as we finish up here why don’t you go try to save yourselves. The lifeboat company insists on cash or gold by the way. No checks. Heh, heh, heh! So don’t even try. Heh, heh, heh!
“If you look under your seats you’ll see a special gift for each and every one of you! Plastic! Life! Vests! Wooo-Oooo! Yes! Heh, heh, heh!
“I want you to know Agent Dobyns is in the same fix you all are. Now, be nice you bikers in the back. Heh, heh, heh! Oh? What? Oh, I have to go! I have to go right now! My helicopter is here!
“But, let me just say, to all of you and I mean this sincerely, before you all are lost in the heartless and freezing sea please, take a minute to thank heroes like Jay Dobyns. Boot up your lap tops…we still have Wi-Fi right? Steadman? Steadman! Yes! We still have Wi-Fi so boot up your lap tops or your iPhones or your Blackberries or your whatever and click on over to Amazon, or Barnes and Noble or Powells or any other fine electronic bookseller of your choice and give Agent Dobyns some of your money. He needs it.
“He is one of our heroes. He is one of the good guys. Agent Dobyns, come on up and do your little song and dance. No I can’t stay. I have to go. My helicopter won’t wait. Goodbye everyone! I love you! Good luck! Hope to see at least some of you again someday!”