The most recent case against an alleged enemy of the people named George Christie entered its second year this month. Christie was the long time President and most prominent member of the Ventura charter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. He is accused of conspiring – linger on that word, conspiring – to drive his tattoo shop competitors out of business. The charges were filed on July 29, 2011.
Two competing shops named “Scratch the Surface” and “Twisted Ink” were actually firebombed in July 2007 – four years before Christie was indicted. That long interregnum is significant if you understand what “statute of limitations” means. The government argues that “their shutting down would result in greater business for Christie” who owns a shop called “The Ink House.”
Four of Christie’s alleged co-conspirators were also charged. Those men are Kyle Gilbertson, Brian Russell, Richard Russell and Benito Hurtado. Late last month Hurtado pled guilty to misprision of a felony (which means he saw something bad and did not immediately run to tell a judge about it) and he was sentenced to pay a fine of $2,250, pay a special assessment of $100 and serve three years of probation. Four of Christie’s alleged co-conspirators are now cooperating with prosecutors. Two of them are James David Ivans, Jr. and Jared Ostrum “Crash” Plomell and, almost 13 months into the case, the other two unnamed conspirators continue to be anonymous
The case has adhered to a familiar pattern. The core idea in the current practice of federal law is to ensure that the accused are punished even if they are eventually found innocent – even if prosecutors know all along that the accused are innocent. It is the way the government punishes non-conformists and social discontents – particularly outlaw bikers who belong to brand name clubs. It is what federal prosecutors do when the Enzyte ain’t working anymore. Typically, defendants are punished by Swat raid, public shaming, the humiliation and often the assault of their families, the theft of their liquid and tangible assets and some form of incarceration which results in prolonged unemployment. Christie was eventually given house arrest and months after that he was allowed to return to work in his shop. He wears an ankle bracelet that follows him to work and to school to pick up his nine-year-old son and apparently it is sensitive enough to follow him from room to room in his house. He may stand trial beginning January 31, 2013 in Los Angeles. Maybe not. Maybe he will await trial for the rest of his life.
Christie has been wearing a bulls eye for decades. Because, he is bright, articulate and reasonable and because he has eyes that appear wise even on television he became a public spokesman for the Hells Angels about 1980. He carried an Olympic torch through Ventura before the 1984 Olympics. He was accused in 1986 of soliciting the murder of a drug dealer named Tom Chaney and acquitted after a jury trial. “George appeared to be very honest and very sincere, and very dedicated not only to his family, but the Hells Angels,” one juror said. “He was set up.” Three years later Christie actually won an interview with the late Mike Wallace.
In 1998, Christie and most of his family were accused of selling prescription drugs to high school students. After a year of pre-trial detention while presumed innocent, Christie pled guilty to stealing pills from an Air Force base and, now that he had finally admitted he was guilty, he was immediately set free.
As the years passed Christie was accused by police and police propagandists of being a “folk hero” and a “gangster” although he was never actually found guilty at any trial. Christie was “very difficult to investigate,” a “law enforcement analyst” explained to the Los Angeles Times. “He’s so clean. He keeps himself removed. He’s not supposed to be doing the dirty business.”
That remains the government’s song and dance this time: Although Christie never fire bombed or extorted anyone he enticed others to do his bidding through a combination of mumbled incantations, scribbled notes, piercing looks and hand gestures. The proof of this comes from the lips of his cooperating co-conspirators. And, since Christie is now in his early 60s and retired from his club, this may be his old adversaries’ last chance at him.
What helps even the odds in George Christie’s favor this time is that he has had a camera crew following him around throughout the whole ordeal.
Two years ago, while he was still President of the Ventura Angels, Christie decided to take a “journey across America talking to like minded people about the state of freedom” in this nation. The thoughtful British film maker Nick Mead signed on to make this quest into a feature length documentary titled American Ride. The working theme for the film was a phrase Christie coined and used often, “All roads lead to where I’m going.”
A year later fate and the Department of Justice intervened and Christie’s phrase took on a more ambiguous meaning: Where he was ultimately going might be the wide, open spaces but it also might be down in the hole.
Mead’s artistry and intelligence is probably outside the range of experience of the police bureaucrats who think Gangland produces documentaries. He is a poet with a camera who followed Clarence Clemons to China to make a little known film called Who Do I Think I Am? and he has collaborated on proposed remakes of Hombre and Panic in the Streets. In his documentary My First Guitar he interviewed Pete Seeger, Brian Wilson, Bill Wyman, Dave Stewart, Tom DeLonge, Nils Lofgren, Jose Felliciano, Harry Dean Stanton and Les Paul about their first instruments. And, although he is not well known by the general public he is very well known by important and influential people in Hollywood, London and Sydney – the kind of people marketers call decision makers and influencers.
Mead has continued to work on his film, now called The Last American Outlaw, since Christie’s arrest. He has interviewed the accused man and his wife at some length. He took the time to have his dragon tattoo freshened up in Christies shop in the video below. He worries that the audience for his film may skew toward bikers and that it may not have enough action for people who have learned all they know about outlaws from Sons of Anarchy.
Because American justice is glacial and because artists, even film makers, must work more efficiently than lawyers if they are to survive the chances are that you will see Mead’s film before George Christie finally learns where his roads have led him. But, for the next century or so the film will continue to shed light on another interesting question – like who the man our government insisted was an enemy of the people, really was.